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  1. This weekend I managed 3 nights of viewing with my new grab and go/travel set up. This consists of: Explore Scientific ED80 Apo Triplet standard version (not alu essentual or carbon) - used from AstroBuySellUK - £375 + P&P Manfrotto 405 Geared Tripod Head - used from Wex Photographic, £160 inc P&P Redsnapper RSF324 photographic tripod - new from Redsnapper, £110 (before discount - use code RED10 for 10% discount) + P&P Firstly the tripod. This has 4 sections and scrunches down into to a really small thin carry case. No problems getting this into hand luggage. It's light (1.8Kg) but sturdy. The locking mechanisms on the legs are extremely solid. It's rated for a 12Kg max load - way more than you need. It has interchangeable rubber feet and ground spikes. The spikes are handy for anchorage. There's a hook on the bottom of the centre column which worked really well for hanging a weight from. I used a kilo or so of play sand, inside a pair of zip lock type freezer bags (one inside the other), hung from a carrier bag. The tripod is strong and stable. It goes very high, even without the centre column extended, I found it high enough to view comfortably at the zenith. Without the counterweight, there is no vibration problem at x20 - x40. Around x 80 there is vibration, but this is easily fixed by hanging a weight off the hook. As above, I used sand, but I think you could use a bottle of water in a carrier bag just as well, so that's one less thing to transport on a plane. The Manfrotto Geared Head is an absolute joy to use. It has 3 axis, pan, up down, and tilt. You don't need the tilt at all. The other pair of axes work perfectly as an Alt Az set up. The head weight 1.6Kg so helps weigh down the tripod but isn't too much to blow your flight allowance. It's also fairly compact, and would easily fit in hand luggage. The movement of the head is super silky smooth. It has adjuster nobs which you can rotate for fine control. In my opinion, they are smoother than the worm gear fine adjusters on an EQ3-2. The adjuster nobs also have a thick rubber collar which you can twist to unlock the axis completely and spin the head round quickly. You can do a 180 turn in about a second in this way - very convenient. The head has no problem at all holding the 4kg+ combined weight of the Triplet, diagonal, Televue 2" eyepiece and a Red Dot Finder, even when pointing at the zenith. No slippage, no danger. I am sure you could use the cheaper Manfrotto 410 Junior gear head with lighter doublet ED80s. They would probably hold the ES triplet fine as well, though I haven't tested this. The Explore Scientific ED80 Triplet. It weighs 3.4Kg without the eyepiece. This is the standard version, which comes with a really nice and hugely solid flight case. You need never worry about your gear in here. Importantly, it also has a heavier-duty Crayford Focuser with an 11:1 fine adjuster. You don't get this on the Alu essential model. It's a very smooth and strong focuser, which operated beautifully with a heavy 2" set up including a Televue Type 4 Nagler that weighs almost half a Kilo. It also has a longer dew shield than the Alu essential, which is useful because I wouldn't want it shorter than this. Finally, it has a very nice di-electric 2" diagonal with some carbon fibre in the body (not sure if it's all carbon). It's a 480mm Focal Length F6 so is great for wide field views. The Triplet does not come with a finderscope, but with a scope with a field this wide, I'm not sure a traditional finderscope would help much at all, as the field of view through a finderscope is so narrow. Instead, I fitted a standard Red Dot finder (by Ostara). To do this, you have to remove the existing finder shoe which only fits a handful of Explore Scientific/Meade accessories. The ES RACI finderscope is expensive so there's not much reason to keep the original shoe. Changing the shoe is a bit of a faff, so if you can find a used one which has had the shoe changed, that's a bonus. To change the finder shoe: 1) unscrew the whole back section of the focusser. To do this, you remove a little screw from the body of the scope, just behind the focusser shoe. This reveals a little black set screw which is a little hard to see. 2) Remove little black set screw. You need the right Alllen key (Hex key) to undo this - the smallest one in my tool kit, I think it's a 1mm. 3) Simply unscrew (twist anti-clockwise) the whole back half of the scope from the front. You need to do this because the bolts which hold on the finder shoe are held on by nuts on the inside of the scope, which fall out once unscrewed. 4) Unscrew 4 x finder shoe bolts from the nuts on inside of scope. Make sure these nuts fall out of the open end of the scope so they go nowhere near the triplet lenses at the front of the scope. 5) Screw on a Synta (AKA Sky Watcher/Celestron) shoe - but note that you need a Synta shoe with wider screw holes than a normal Synta shoe. The "Synta shoe for SCTs" fits fine. However, the original bolts that held on the original shoe have heads which are too tall - if you use them, they will stick out of the inside of the Synta shoe and stop you sliding on your finder. Hence you need some M5 type screws (just with slightly flatter heads than the originals). You can re-use the original nuts on the inside of the scope though. You only need 2 bolts to fit a Synta shoe, so you can re-fit the other 2 original bolts and nuts to plug the holes. I found the Red Dot Finder perfect to use on this scope. I'm sure Telrad users would be happy on this scope too. Using the scope itself: I tested it with the following: 42mm 2" Revelation - x12 mag, 6.1 degrees TFOV 30mm 2" Moonfish - x16 mag, 5 degree TFOV 24mm 1.25" Explore Scientific Maxvision - x20 mag, 4.1degree TFOV 17mm 2" Televue Nagler Type 4 - x28 mag, 3 degrees TFOV 12mm 1.25/2" Televue Nagler Type 4 - x40 mag - 2.1 degree TFOV 6mm TMB Planetary II - x80 mag - 0.6 degree TFOV The scope is an absolute beauty to use. The views are sharp with pinpoint stars edge to edge. Absolutely no chromatic aberation or coma that I could detect. The wide star fields you can get with a scope of this short focal length are stunning. What I did find however, was that the view was better at x20 and above. I believe this is due to the increased contrast caused by higher magnification. x16 was better than x12, x20 was better than x16. Above that magnification there was little difference - everything looked great. Double stars: I managed to split Mizar at only x28 mag using the Nagler Type 4. It was only just split, but it was clearly split nonetheless. This really is a fine set of optics. Red giants: Arcturus looked particularly fine. You can actually see that it is a bigger disc than all the surrounding stars. The Garnet Star (Mu Cephae) looks really interesting, quite red). Clusters: The double cluster is really stunning, crisp with many pinpoint stars, even fairly low to the horizon. I found the object was best around x40, though x 28 was nice too. Globs - M13 was clearly visible at all mags, though not much detail. I need a shorter focal length eyepiece to increase the magnification. I tried the TMB Planetary II but it revealed only a little detail and some barely resolved stars; also the field of view was narrow and the view not so great in general, especially towards the edges which were a little fuzzy. I'm sure this is to do with the quality of the optics in the eyepiece, especially when used immediately after the mighty Televue Type 4s. Not really a fair contest when you consider that the RRP of the Televues is ten times that of the TMB. Planets - Saturn was beautiful and crisp and stunning, even low to the horizon and viewed at just x 28 and x40. At both mags, the rings were clearly visible as separate entities from the planet. I didn't have time to study it as it dropped behind tree cover. Nebulas - M42 is well below the horizon which is a real shame as I suspect it would have looked great. I did not manage to get a view of the Elephant's trunk Nebula - but then I can never see it in the 9.25" SCT from home either, even with a broadband filter (Orion Skyglow) - I put this down to light polution. Galaxies - there is only one in view at this time of year from this location - M31 (plus it's satellite), but I ran out of time to make an attempt at locating this. I doubt that galaxies would be a strength in this scope due to limited aperture, but it has surprised me on other objects so you never know. Portability - In one word, excellent. One night I actually left the scope set up on the mount, just collapsed the tripod legs and carried the whole rig into the house for the night, then had a quick view through an open window. I carried the rig out again the next night. At around 7kgs all in, this is really easy to do. Truly grab and go. Even setting up out of the carry case takes less than 5 minutes. All in all, a high quality and very pleasing scope. The views are generally sharper than my 9.25" SCT. I wouldn't have thought that such a small scope (3.1" i.e. 80mm) would be capable of so much, but the extremely high light throughput and quality optics clearly do their job. The only trouble is, my mighty 9.25" SCT isn't going to see anywhere near as much use!
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