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Star Struck

Alt-Az or EQ for visual astronomy

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I am fairly new to astronomy and do not know my way around the sky very well at this time.

I am looking to buy my first "real" mount having used a photo tripod and manfrotto video head to date.

I only do visual astronomy and have no interest at this time in doing imaging.

I thought I would get an EQ5 mount and use the setting circles to find my way around the sky with a star atlas. Will this be accurate enough or am I kidding myself. Do I really need to invest in a GOTO setup to make finding my way around the sky easier?

Or, do I buy an Alt-Az mount and figure my way around the sky the hard way?

I would appreciate your thoughts and guidance.

Tony

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Hi Tony

I'm a purely visual observer too, and have used a variety of EQ and AltAz mounts.

One comment I would make is that setting circles are notoriously inaccurate on most mounts, so they won't be a great way of finding stuff.

Most of my observing is done on manual AltAz mount such as the Giro, mini giro or Ayo. These are very quick and easy to set up, and I don't find it any more difficult to find my way around than with an EQ. If anything the eyepiece position is more consistent and the movement more natural.

I find EQ mounts a bit too much effort to set up for visual, but one thing you might want to consider is a mount with encoders such as the AYO II which you can add them to as an option. These work very well as a push to finding system when paired with SkySafari on a smartphone.

My latest wheeze is an AZEQ6 which I am using in AltAz mode. It is a bit of a beast, but I need the load capacity for my 6" frac. This works extremely well both for simple tracking of planets and also as a full go to. The AZEQ5 suggested by Tinker is a smaller brother to this and would work very well.

The questions to be answered are around budget, portability and ease of setup. For £150 or so you could have a simple AltAz mount, lightweight and quick to setup, or for a larger budget perhaps an alt az with encoders, all the way up to the heavier, more expensive but very capable AZEQ5.

Stu

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I'm new to this, and only doing visual stuff. I use an EQ mount. I find on higher magnifications, being able to turn a knob to return an object back to the middle of the eyepiece is a huge bonus. I roughly level the tripod, point the mount towards where I know North is, and that's good enough for planets and the Moon.

Can't help on setting circles, I haven't used mine yet

A good finderscope is a huge help either way

Richard

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I too started astronomy with a Manfrotto tripod & video head when I purchased my 'first' real 'scope, (TeleVue Ranger). After a while I purchased an ETX105 and then a s/h Giro DX so I could mount two of my 'scopes on one mount and without loosing viewing time. Last year (2014) I purchased a s/h Vixen GP.

Personally though I think it is down to the individual. If you don't want the fuss than go for an alt-az. If you don't mind fuss and star-align then a goto. If you want to do astro-photography, especially deep-sky, then it has to be an eq. I am not saying that astro-photography cannot be done with an alt-az or goto. It can, with short exposures. The Moon, Solar & major planets are easy-ish targets with an alt-az or goto.

Edited by Philip R

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EQ mounts are great but can be frustrating when you simply want to sweep around the circumpolar sky. Exploring constellations visually is a joy and an altaz is ideal for this. Some come with slow motion controls and either the giro style or double armed fork are more stable than the single arm fork designs.

Attached are images of two altazimuth mounts, one single armed and the other a twin arm fork. The first is an AZ4 and the second a Hercules Helix fork and is far more stable.

Mike.post-41880-0-03434000-1431434155_thumb.jpost-41880-0-37365900-1431434207_thumb.j

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The problem is not now, in a way either would do, but most people say "visual only" then in 4 to 6 months ask how to attach a camera to go DSO imaging.

Setting circles are something to be learnt, they are not I think as simple as dial in the values, so in that case goto may be something to think about.

Even the aspect of tracking is something that I suspect you will find useful/essential otherwise you are chasing things over the sky to keep them in view. Can be learnt but takes a bit of time and at first you want to see things.

What budget are you contemplating and is it mount only or scope as well?

Reads that you have a scope but would an EQ5 (say) mean a new scope now or soon?

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I much prefer star hopping in EQ, but then I am weird (my mind must be twisted through 53 degrees :D). It also depends on the scope. A Newtonian can be a pain to use on an EQ mount, an SCT is a doddle.

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I have my share of Eq mounts, from small to huge.  Generally speaking, the setting circles on all but the most expensive ones are pretty much useless from a precision perspective, and a pain-in-the-kester to use in any finding application.  I think everyone should have one heavy duty Eq mount with a tracking motor.  Any more that that is a waste of time and money for visual work.

I used to be enough of an Eq snob that even my grab-n-go scope sat on one.  It is zero-fun grabbing an alligator by the tail when trying to make a complicated star hop with an Eq mount.  About a year ago, I decided to simplify my visual life and give-in to the Alt/Az mount idea... life is now great.

Here's one of my favorite visual Az/Alt rigs.  It's a simple Twilight II with an 8" pier extension and an Az circle.  Slap a Wixey inclinometer on one scope and it'll put the target within half-a-degeee of the eyepiece center everytime.  Wanta star-hop?  No problem.

(The ST-80 on the left of this pic serves as a finder for the AR152 on the right.  I've had several combinations of scopes on this mount, and it handles them all like they aren't even there... given a sixty pound load-rating.)

post-38191-0-91141500-1431436198_thumb.j

Edited by Lowjiber
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Some lovely setups above :)

Might be worth mentioning that you can convert an manual EQ mount to Alt/Az by setting the declination to zero. It's not a perfect Alt/az but it can be handy.

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Some lovely setups above :)

Might be worth mentioning that you can convert an manual EQ mount to Alt/Az by setting the declination to zero. It's not a perfect Alt/az but it can be handy.

Actually, setting dec to 90 might be better. 

Edited by Chris Lock
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Tony,  am fairly new myself, dabbing around with astronomy since 2012.  Find an astro club nearby your home, one that can loan you equipment to test with.

I did so and chose a AltAz Goto that served me well, both for optical use as AP (yes, AltAz can be good for AP: tlaq.se/Astronomy).  Have had excellent tracking with 30 sec subs as standard, often up and running within 10 min on my balcony from "Parked" without aligning (made a tripod base, resting on the roof under my deck, with recesses in the corners for exact placement of the tripod). I some times tracks objects for 2-2.5 h, limit is my camera's batteries, best which has a limit of some 420 30 sec subs, worse 100 subs.  For visual observations and with max 5 kg tubes, you have perfect operations. 

Though I had over good 150 obs nights with my Skywatcher Synscan Az GOTO, today I would have chosen a Celestron  4/5SE mount, since it has a built in EQ mode, allowing for +30 sec exposures. To be blunt, most newbies in this hobby that I met, choosing a GEM mount, they leave pretty fast, their GEMs a dust collector in a corner. A AltAz is the optimal newbie mount, particular if going visual. A bit more than a manual one, but worth every penny. 

You only need to align the tube horizontally and pointing at north (the better precision, the better tracking, max +/- 5 deg), then fire up the handset, set time, align two stars ca 45 deg east resp. west of north or south meridian and between 45-60 degr up. I nowadays also run wintertime all year round, since it given me better tracking, late spring/early autumn. 

Though the Maksutovs' do have good build quality, start with a f-4 - f-8 tube. Shy away from the +f-10 tubes, My Mak is just collecting dust, while my 1960:ies (yepp, bad glas, but) 400 mm tele and a Skywatcher Evostar 80ED at times works 10-15 days a month. A 102 mm refractor like Skywatchers Startravel 80 (not for AP) or their Heritage-114P tube (same regarding AP) or Orion's similar Newton is a good starter. With a good 2x Barlow, you have a good beginner's kit also for planets.  

Regarding Heritage-114p, being a decent low budget Goto starter, there is a couple of guys here in SGL modding it, running the Goto kit in wedged EQ mode. But if not changed lately, the 114p mirror is fixed, my experience of it is that primary focus 5 mm down the focuser, while some pictures of the Orion indicates that can be adjusted, maybe raised for AP.  

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I found this video useful some time ago. I'm sure it isn't the same for all scopes but certainly a great deal of them.

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Such a pity the Astronomy and Nature Centre, as it was, is no more. However the videos are all still v useful.

Well done R Dalby et al.

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Such a pity the Astronomy and Nature Centre, as it was, is no more. However the videos are all still v useful.

Well done R Dalby et al.

I have learnt so much from them. A fantastic resource. He has a great presenting style too. It's a shame when a bricks and mortar store closes.

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Actually, setting dec to 90 might be better. 

good luck with that :). sw mounts start cry above about 55 degrees :(

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Thanks for all the replies, much appreciated.

I went with an Alt-Az mount in the end. So much easier to use and far less setup.

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For my twopence worth, if your not imaging and you're happy with a go to then altaz is easier. However, if you're not going down the goto route, personally I'd say eq every time. I should say that I really struggle with finding faint objects by star hopping (see below) but find things easily using setting circles on my EQ6 and EQ3-2. My longest focal length scope is a Celestron C8 and I have my targets in the eyepiece first time 95% of the time using setting circles (way more accurate than using goto on my AVX mount!).

I am trying out using altaz coordinates on my Dob but not terribly successfully yet!

Hope you thoroughly enjoy whatever mount you end up with.

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I'm pretty new to this astro lark and started off with a EQ mount and I found it to be a pain to be honest. AP doesn't interest me at the moment and I enjoy taking my time finding stuff and zoning in on my targets for the evening.

Plumped for a porta II mount and the difference in useability, setup and quality over the rubbish mount supplied is night and day.

Yes, one day I may start looking into AP but then that just gives me an excuse to buy new gear!!

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