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The Skywatcher Flextube 300p Dobsonian

After many months of thinking and research, the time has arrived when I have moved onto my next scope.  Just over two years ago, I bought my Skywatcher 150p which has been an excellent first purchase.  I doubt I will ever get rid of it because it gives me a reasonable travel options for putting in the car when going on holiday etc.  But, there comes a time when aperture fever takes over, and a turn to the dark side is made.  That dark side, is, THE DOB MOB!

The decision process has been a varied journey.  Just when I thought I had made my mind up, then I would read another review, and I would change my mind.  Eventually, after a visit to Tring Astronomy Centre and a plethora of emails back and forth Neil and Jane, I eventually decided on the SkyWatcher Flextube 300p Dobsonian telescope.  So, this is my attempt at a first impressions, come unboxing, come initial review of the new toy.

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The scope was delivered in two quite large boxes.  One flat pack containing all the components of the dobsonian mount, and the second containing the tube assembly and instructions.  There was some superficial damage on the boxes, but I guess they are the protective packaging and will be subject to light damage in transit.  

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The mount is the first thing that needs to be put together, so I opened this box first.  As part of my research, I learnt that the instructions that come with the scope were not supposed to be as good as the ones available online.  So, in preparation, I printed out the instructions before the scope had arrived and used those.  I checked through the component list to make sure that all parts were present and correct.  I would say that the tools supplied with the flat pack are adequate for the job, but most people would have better tools available in their toolbox.  For two screws in particular, the supplied crosshead screw driver is too small, and you could do with a larger one to get better purchase.

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The base is made from chipboard, laminated in white with the Skywatcher logo present on each side of the base.  During my research, I read some reviews from users who had concerns about moisture penetrating the chipboard.  Whether it happens to my mount or not, only time will tell, but the laminate is sealed on the edges very well, and very durable to the scratch, so providing I take good care of it, the mount should last me for the lifetime of the scope.  All the holes used for constructing the base are pre-drilled and I must say, are very accurate.  Over the years, I've put together plenty of flat pack furniture, and sometimes, our Swedish friends aren't always that accurate with their drilling techniques shall we say.  This is certainly not the case with the mount.  All the holes married up perfectly and the screw fittings bit into the pre-drilled holes very well.  I did have a concern at one point in case the diameter of the screws caused the chipboard to bulge, by my concerns were unnecessary.  However, I was very careful not to overtighten the screw fittings.  The bulk of the fittings are Alan key type, and though one normal Alan key is pretty much the same as another, they are a bit fiddly when trying to use in tight corners.  A better tool to use if you have one is a screw-driver type with changeable head.  Using one of these will make the job easier.

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The final section to the mount construction is the fitting of the turntable.  It is an incredibly simple yet efficient design.  The first thing to do was to attach the 3 small rubber feet to the base.  Previously, there has been an issue according to some review that the screws used to do this were too long and pierced the surface the other side.  However, this has seemingly been addressed with at least 1/4" left.  While these feet will be fine on solid surface like a patio or paving slabs, if you plan on using the dob on grass, I think the weight of the unit in total will cause the feet to sink on softer ground.  I don’t expect SkyWatcher to design according to every eventuality, but in my case, I will need to make some tweaks.  No major issues.

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The turntable sits on a plastic type pad with cylindrical bearings sandwiched in between two circular metallic discs.  It could be an option to add some lithium grease to these bearings, but for the time being I have left them as was out of the box.  The bearing, the base and the rest of the mount are all aligned through a single central hold drilled through all the components and lined with a short plastic tube.  Then, a single bolt is pushed through with a locking nut used to tighten the whole assembly together.  I guess it will need to be taken apart at times to be cleaned.  The gap between the base and the mount is small, but still wide enough for dust and grit to find its way in.  Having said that, for people who see looking after and maintaining their scopes as an enjoyable element of the hobby as I do, this sort of thing would be covered in your routine maintenance.

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4 Nylon bearings are fitted on the inner side of each part of the mount.  These are the bearings that will hold the tube assembly when it is dropped into place.

And so, with the addition of the eyepiece holder and front handle, the construction of the base was complete.  It's solid, it's smooth and looks to be well designed.  As yet, and perhaps someone can help me out here, I can’t quite see the purpose of the front handle.  I don’t know if it’s there to aid lifting the base during transportation, or if it is there to help rotate the mount.  The fixings are quite strong, but I wouldn’t like to allow the full weight of the mount to be held by the handle alone. 

The eyepiece holder is fine, perhaps I could put it on the viewing side of the mount, but to be honest, I probably won’t use it.  I usually have a small camping table next to me with my charts, notebook and EP case on.

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So, the next step in the build process is the tube assembly.  Inside the box was the tube itself, along with a smaller box containing the stock eyepieces, focuser adapters and right at the bottom, the instructions.  It seems a little odd putting the instructions at the bottom of the second box, but I suppose usually people empty everything first if they have the space.  Before I pulled the tube out, I took a look at the stock eyepieces that come with it.  They are the standard 10mm and 25mm eyepieces that come with many Skywatcher telescopes.  In comparison to the ones that came with my 150p, they are similar, perhaps built a bit better, but standard none the less.  These days, I tend to use the 25mm just for alignment of the Telrad or finder scope, and that’s about it.  Also in the little box was the stock finder scope.  The finder scope is quite large and robust.  Some people will chose to replace it as I have.  Other people will put a right angle adapter on it to make the viewing angle more convenient.  A quick look through it showed the definite crosshairs against a daylight sky.  I’m not sure how effective these would be against an inky black sky though.  Before I got my Telrad, I used the stock finder scope with the 150p a little bit awkward.  It did the job, but other finders do it better.  Something that has concerned me with the attachment base for the finder scope is its reliance on a single grub screw to hold the finder in place.  Whilst many will say nothing has happened, the lack of no locking mechanism to back up the grub screw does mean that you have a reasonably weighted metal object begin held sometimes directly above the primary mirror does require caution.

 

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To attach the tube assembly requires lifting the tube onto the mount and resting the tube on the nylon bearings.  These support the tube on their own accord.  I needed to make sure that the tube was put onto the mount with the focuser on the correct side for your preferred side of viewing.  Once the tube assembly is sitting on the nylon bearings, the holes for the tension control handle and other handle line up perfectly to allow you to screw in them into the sides of the tube.

That, in essence, is the main build part of the scope.  All that remains is to extend the tube and fit the finder scope.  The scope comes with two covers.  The first is a shower-cap type cover over the top of the secondary mirror as modelled by the rubber chicken.  I don't think this will last too long and is perhaps just for transport.  I think that I will find alternative protection in the future.

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To bring the tube to its full length, there are 3 thumb screws at the bottom of each of the truss supports.  These need to be loosened, and then the top section can be lifted to extend the trusses to their full length.  Be aware that there are two points at which the trusses click into place.  The first click does not signal the point of full extension.  Continue pulling the secondary section up until you get the second click.  Small catches click into place once the full height is reached.  The thumbscrews can then be tightened again to avoid the secondary mirror sliding back down.  One of my initial concerns when first considering this scope instead of others was how strong the trusses were.  I was concerned that there would be an element of twist between to top and bottom sections.  However, after seeing a similar model in the shop at Tring Astronomy, and now having my own, these concerns were quickly dealt with.  Again, the tube and truss support construction are very strong, and I couldn’t detect any circular or twisting movement.  If I could, it would mean collimation would be incredibly hard, almost impossible, to maintain.
Speaking of collimation, this was the last thing that I did in the build section.  I used my cheshire collimator and then my laser collimator to check.  Collimation wasn't far out at all and just required a quick tweak of the primary to bring the red laser dot onto target.  It was whilst doing this that I came across the trickiest part of the build.  Two out of three of the collimation screws were turning quite readily.  However, the third was incredibly tight.  It took a great deal of fiddling, and even a Leatherman tool to try and loosen it off.  I could see that is was tightened right up as the spring between the bottom of the scope and the mirror was fully compressed.  The collimation screws themselves are well designed and nice and big, so I didn't have much concern about trying too hard.  Finally, with the help of my left sock wrapped around my hand, I eventually managed to loosen the screw off.  It was still quite hard to turn at first, but I spent 5 minutes or so turning the screw back and forth, and eventually it loosened off nicely.  That was, quite literally the only sticking point in the whole process.
In summary, before first light, do I like the scope?  No, I don't.  I love it! :wub:  I am so glad I got it and I look forward to getting it out for first light.  Is there much more to say about the scope?  Yes, huge amounts.  There are upgrades to be done, customisations and various fiddly things that amateur astronomer like to do to pimp up their scopes.  There's first light.  There's building some storage for it.  There's the inevitable purchase of a shroud and possibly more eyepieces.  All in due course.
Thanks for reading.


 

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lovely scope mate, your going to have a great time. just a thought though did you no there was a chicken doing selfies :grin:

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Unfortunately, I have an attention seeking dog that insisted on dropping his rubber chicken in the way during the build!  So, l left it in place.  Kept the dog happy anyway! :grin:

Can't wait to get under some clear skies and get some time looking around Leo!

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Unfortunately, I have an attention seeking dog that insisted on dropping his rubber chicken in the way during the build!  So, l left it in place.  Kept the dog happy anyway! :grin:

Can't wait to get under some clear skies and get some time looking around Leo!

Dogs are great - they just don't care. Nice scope.

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