Hi all. I have been meaning to post an update on my journey into this hobby so here goes. I picked up the Sky-Watcher EvoStar 120ED with Stellarvue M2C Mount about a month ago after extensive deliberation. So far, I am really impressed. I have had razor sharp - by my untrained eyes - views of the Moon and countless stars, where conditions allowed, even though I have been viewing under Bortle 8-9 skies and indoors through a window (yes, I know this is not recommended, but it is somewhat of a necessity living in a condo building with a 5-year-old and bright skies until ~10pm). This was with the stock 25mm / 50° EP (36x). I have also had some great looks at Jupiter (+ Galilean moons), Saturn, Venus, and Mars. Looking forward to even better planetary viewing conditions in the months and years ahead. For stars and deep sky, I am picking up magnitude +9 with relative ease most nights.
High mag with the stock 5mm / 58° EP (180x) has not really worked - a bit too blurry to justify regular use. I am chalking that up to being indoors, conditions not being great (hot, humid weather and wildfires), and perhaps EP quality, though I cannot be sure of this last one.
A couple weeks ago I bought the Baader Hyperion Mark IV Zoom (24mm to 8mm) in the hopes of getting higher magnifications on the Moon and planets that are less blurry than the stock 5mm. That has worked to an extent. The Mark IV has provided a lot more versatility, particularly for solar system targets. I get reasonably sharp views between 24mm and 12mm. However, pushing beyond 12mm has not been great so far. A bit more blur than I would like, though seeing conditions have not been great either. Somewhat unexpectedly, I found the stock 25mm EP holds up quite well against the Mark IV at 24mm in terms of sharpness and contrast, and sometimes it even appears a bit better. I appreciate these are different focal lengths so not a true comparison. However, it has made me curious how the Mark IV compares to a traditional set of EPs in the same focal lengths. I imagine a set of TeleVue EPs would outperform the Mark IV, but hoping to attend some local astronomy group events to try those out and see how much different they are.
One thing that surprised me is how much I love the manual alt-az mount. It is allowing me to learn the sky in a way that I don’t think I would with a computerized mount. I knew I wanted to go this route for learning purposes, but I did not expect to actually enjoy star hopping as much as I do. There is something really exciting and rewarding about finding a “faint fuzzy” after hopping from a bright star (for me, typically Arcturus, Spica, or Antares) across dozens of other stars, all greatly aided by SkySafari. It is also a highly relaxing exercise and a great way to unwind after a long day. I recommend any beginners reading this who are on the fence to strongly consider a manual alt-az mount. I have nothing but good things to say about the M2C mount I purchased specifically.
Next steps include actually getting outside! We have a trip planned to a Bortle 2-3 location soon, but I also just want to get outside in my current location to compare the seeing to being indoors. I am sure it will be better, but I am curious how much better since I love the convenience of being at home. Waiting for darker skies earlier in the evening to make this more doable.
I also really want to push the limits of magnification. I want to see Jupiter’s cloud bands more clearly, Saturn’s Cassini division, and some Mars surface detail. I picked up a 3x TeleVue Barlow to have in the arsenal, should conditions allow. I am hopeful that under darker skies with good seeing and not being indoors, I will have some success. Although with Mars, I am resigned to the fact that I likely need to wait until next year (can’t fight celestial mechanics!).
Finally, I am starting to shop for a nice wide field EP, as has been recommended here, because I am really starting to appreciate field of view when star hopping. Learning EP specs has been a big part of this, but is also creating some confusion. For instance, with TeleVue, there are several options like 55mm Plossl (3.06° TFOV), 41mm and 35mm Panoptic (3.10° TFOV and 2.64° TFOV), and the 31mm Nagler (2.82° TFOV). While they are similar in terms of TFOV and magnification, the price varies significantly so not sure what I am missing that would justify the price differences. Any insights would be welcome.
All in all, really pleased that I finally pulled the trigger on a scope and got into this hobby. There is so much to see and learn. Thanks again to all the kind folks on this forum for sharing your experiences.