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IanL

Baader Diamond Steeltrack RT Focuser - First Impressions

31 posts in this topic

After a long wait for the new version of the Steeltrack focuser to become available, I have finally obtained one from Teleskop-Express (Germany).

I needed one to replace the stock focuser on my Skywatcher 80ED Pro. The old focuser proved serviceable when used with my lightweight DSLR, but it is not up to the job for my pre-loved Atik EFW2, SX CCD plus the Skywatcher 0.85x reducer. Despite trying to improve it by tightening up the mechanism and grinding flat the focuser tube bearing surface, it would not lift the new gear consistently or reliably. The Steeltrack looked like a good replacement but was no longer being made, and I didn't think a cheap and cheerful ED80 really warranted a new Moonlite or Feathertouch (I doubt my dear wife would have either).  Fortunately the new version of the Steeltrack has just been released after a long wait.

I purchased:

1 x Baader Diamond Steeltrack-RT Focuser (part number BA2957210)

1 x Baader universal Adapter for TS ACUR2 and Steeltrack Refractor  (part number BA2957085)

1 x Baader 2" Clicklock Clamp S58 (part number BA2956258)

Total Cost 457.90 Euros including UPS shipping to the UK (£334 quid or thereabouts).

The universal adaptor contains a number of parts that can be used to fit to a variety of refractors, including the ED80, but bear in mind there are other adaptors available for some tubes so I guess it should be called the "universal-ish adaptor".  The Clicklock clamp replaces the standard three-point compression ring fitting on the focus draw tube. Since I already use a (different) Clicklock and like it very much, I decided to go down that route, though the standard adaptor looks perfectly serviceable.

Fitting was relatively straightforward, just a question of assembling the adaptors and focuser, undoing three screws at the back of the ED80, sliding out the stock focuser and sliding in the new one, and re-inserting the existing screws.  There were a few niggles, which I'll cover below.

The Good Things

- Overall, the build of the focuser is very solid and well engineered. Surfaces are well finished, anodising is good and there are lots of screws holding everything together.  Holding the stock SW focuser and the Baader in each hand, it is clear they are in different leagues engineering-wise.

- The focus action is incredibly smooth, both on the normal and the 10:1 fine control knobs.  There is no slipping, jerking or friction apparent in the mechanism.

- The lifting power is claimed to be 6Kg.  I tried the focuser with a 5Kg counterweight sat on top of the draw tube on the bench and it lifted and lowered it perfectly, no adjustment needed out of the box so I think the claim is justified.

- The lock screw mechanism is definitely required to hold focus with heavy loads.  The Crayford drive mechanism doesn't slip at all, but a heavy weight pulling or pushing on the tube will quite happily drive the focus knobs.  (Oddly enough the old SW focuser wins here, as stiction in the mechanism tends to hold things in place when you release the focus knob). The lock screw appears to bear on the drive shaft rather than on the tube or somewhere else.  As far as I can see this means the image won't shift or tilt when locking, but that remains to be seen in practice.  Certainly it only requires a small amount of pressure to lock the mechanism solidly with a normal load applied.  In any event, focusing would likely require both hands if pointing high up, one to hold the focus knob still and one to tighten the lock.

- There is a ruler scale on the draw tube; useful as I suspect this focuser will be used a lot by imagers looking to upgrade inferior kit.

- The fine-focus knob has both a chunky knurled section for hand operation, plus a section profiled to take a small drive belt for the optional Steeldrive focus motor.  (I plan to make a DIY focus drive, but it is good that one doesn't have to remove the existing knobs to connect a belt).

- The focuser body is rotatable, again very handy for imaging as one generally doesn't want to mess with the camera and draw tube adaptor in the dark for fear of accidents.

- Allegedly the focus mechanism can be removed and reversed if you want the fine control knob on the other side of the tube.

The Less Good Things

- There is no manual or other documentation supplied or available on-line (even in German), other than marketing materials.  It took a bit of guesswork to figure out which parts I needed in the adaptor for my set-up - wasn't too hard to figure out but why not explain it?

- Nor are there any instructions on reversing the focus mechanism for left-hand use or increasing the tension.  Not that either was necessary in my case, but the marketing blurb says you can do it.  There are a plethora of screws on the underside and top of the focuser, and I wouldn't like to have to guess which does what.

- There is no finder shoe.  Apparently a separate kit is available to fix a finder, but bear that in mind if you are a visual observer (doesn't matter to me as an imager).

- The focuser rotation mechanism works by loosening the large locking ring at the back of the OTA.  This has three knobs a bit like a capstan or ship's wheel so it is pretty easy to undo and tighten as needed.  The problem is that the locking relies on friction between anodised surfaces inside the locking ring and on the screw adaptor that fixes it to the focuser body.  It is a bit of a performance to hold the focuser body still at the desired angle whilst locking it, as there is a tendency for the body to rotate as you reach maximum tightness.  It is also possible to rotate the body with moderate force whilst locked - probably not an issue in practice but might be worth investigating whether a thin ring of friction material between the mating surfaces would help.

The Bad Things

- The "S58 dovetail clamping mechanism" for holding different adaptors on the draw tube turns out to be a ring of six tiny hex-head, cone tip grub screws.  These fit behind a very small circular dovetail ring. Changing the standard three-point clamp for the Clicklock was a horrible task (as is any job involving tiny hex-head screws in my view).  These tiny screws have a tendency to round out the head at the slightest provocation, even when using high-quality keys, and the threads on both the screws and the focuser body seemed to be poor compared to the rest of the piece.  I'm not super-happy with the fit - it doesn't look like the clamp has any chance of falling out but there is a tiny amount of play left despite my best efforts.  If I was more mechanically inclined, I'd be tempted to tap the holes out to M3 and use some bigger grub screws.  The threads on the existing ones appear to have a major diameter of 2.3mm which is not a common size as far as I can see, so don't lose any down the back of the sofa (they might be M2.5 since the hex head was 1.3mm so maybe my calipers are a bit off, but hard to tell really).

- I'd have preferred to screw-fit my SW 0.85 reducer to the draw tube, but there doesn't appear to be an adaptor for that available (which is a bit of an oversight given the market this focuser is aimed at).

Overall

This is definitely a major step-up from the stock SW focuser on the 80ED.  Time will tell whether it works in practice but first impressions are generally good.

post-18840-0-29800900-1442410374_thumb.p

post-18840-0-64338000-1442410407_thumb.p

post-18840-0-26616200-1442410428_thumb.p

Edited by IanL
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Thank-you for the report Ian :smile:

Unfortunately us UK retailers must wait until early-October for our first delivery of Baader SteelTrack focusers. Very frustrating!  :(

Steve 

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Great write-up Ian, cant wait to get mine delivered as well :Envy: 

Have you done any tests for "collimation" - orthogonality ?

Looking forward to first light results!

Clear skies

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Thank-you for the report Ian :smile:

Unfortunately us UK retailers must wait until early-October for our first delivery of Baader SteelTrack focusers. Very frustrating!  :(

Steve 

  

Sorry I couldn't buy from you guys as well but I guessed they would be super popular and didn't want to miss my chance after a long wait.  Looks like TS are now on back-order too so I don't think there will be any shortage of orders when they do turn up here.

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Great write-up Ian, cant wait to get mine delivered as well :Envy:

Have you done any tests for "collimation" - orthogonality ?

Looking forward to first light results!

Clear skies

Not yet, if it ever stops raining here I will try to get outside and give it a proper test.  I can't see that there will be any significant issue to be honest as the whole thing is very well put together.  I think you will be pleased.

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I must confess that this report has steered me toward the Moonlite purchase in due course. I have a Baader Steeltrack and really like it but the niggles with this one seem to suggest that for about the same price you can have a Moonlite and have less niggles? May be wrong.

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I must confess that this report has steered me toward the Moonlite purchase in due course. I have a Baader Steeltrack and really like it but the niggles with this one seem to suggest that for about the same price you can have a Moonlite and have less niggles? May be wrong.

I can't say whether a Moonlite would be better, and perhaps I'm overstating the niggles but I did want the review to be honest rather than just focusing (!) on the good points.

- The lack of documentation is not a big deal, just seems to me it wouldn't be hard to supply a basic set of instructions as a PDF on their web-site.

- The Moonlites don't look to be rotatable as far as I can see, which would be a big downside for me as I can never get the framing right in my head when setting up, so the mechanism on the Baader is still a plus in my book.  It locks more than sufficiently well for imaging purposes, it is just a bit awkward keeping the right angle as you're reaching the final turn of the locking ring.  With the Moonlite you'd be forced to rotate the camera in the draw tube as far as I can see (?), and if you didn't like the Baader mechanism you can do the same thing.

- Changing the adaptor at the camera/eyepiece end wasn't great, but with the kit in place I can't see any shifting around.  You could just go with the factory supplied compression ring and avoid the whole problem - again it looks similar to the Moonlite's one.

-What I will say is that having used a couple of low-end Crayfords now, the new Baader mechanism is excellent by comparison.  It seems to combine unbreakable friction with uncanny smoothness.  I keep going to rack the thing in and out just for the feel of it.  I don't know how the Moonlite mechanism stacks up by comparison, but I cannot see how it would beat the Baader.

At the end of the day you pay your money and go with what you prefer.  There isn't a huge difference in price and I guess this is one of those occasions where getting hands-on with both would be the only real way to decide.

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Got bored waiting for the new steeltrack and bought a Moonlight, lovely bit of kit but no graduation scale which is a bit annoying.

It is rotatable.

Dave

Edited by Davey-T
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Got bored waiting for the new steeltrack and bought a Moonlight, lovely bit of kit but no graduation scale which is a bit annoying.

It is rotatable.

Dave

OK thanks for clearing that one up.

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I suppose my requirements are less demanding as a visual only observer

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a few more wheels on it and you'd think it is a locomotive. What a thing!

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Unfortunately us UK retailers must wait until early-October for our first delivery of Baader SteelTrack focusers. Very frustrating!  :(

Sorry I couldn't buy from you guys as well but I guessed they would be super popular and didn't want to miss my chance after a long wait.  Looks like TS are now on back-order too so I don't think there will be any shortage of orders when they do turn up here.

Your thread has caused quite a stir in the industry because it suggests German retailers might have a head-start over UK retailers. Thomas Baader has made it clear in an email this is not the case. The new Baader SteelTrack focusers have not been released early. When they are released (later this month) stocks will leave Mammendorf at more or less exactly the same time and all distributers will receive stock.

The German retailer received three pre-release samples to be displayed at the astronomy fair AME2015 in Germany. It is unclear why the retailer sold one of the samples but I guess it has enabled IanL to post details and photos here at SGL, which is good :smile:

UPDATE: Baader Diamond Steeltrack focusers are now available here in the UK. 

HTH, 

Steve 

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Your thread has caused quite a stir in the industry because it suggests German retailers might have a head-start over UK retailers. Thomas Baader has made it clear in an email this is not the case. The new Baader SteelTrack focusers have not been released early. When they are released (later this month) stocks will leave Mammendorf at more or less exactly the same time and all distributers will receive stock.

The German retailer received three pre-release samples to be displayed at the astronomy fair AME2015 in Germany. It is unclear why the retailer sold one of the samples but I guess it has at enabled IanL to post details and photos here at SGL, which is good :smile:

HTH, 

Steve 

Well if that is the case I had better buy a lottery ticket this week then!

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That's a really great write up.

I'm a bit surpised that with such a lifting capacity the lock screw is needed. I've never encountered a lock screw which didn't slightly (or less than slightly) affect fine focus but there's always a first time. WIth an R and P I think there's no danger in running the lock screw just partially when going for the last focus but would this be OK on a Crayford? Not sure.

The old style Steeltrack we used on Yves 14 inch actually did very well. It was motorized and belt driven.

Olly

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Well if that is the case I had better buy a lottery ticket this week then!

I would if i where you :D

I was ready to ask you where you got yours from since all suppliers seemed to have it on backorder!

Thanks for the clarification Steve.

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That's a really great write up.

I'm a bit surpised that with such a lifting capacity the lock screw is needed. I've never encountered a lock screw which didn't slightly (or less than slightly) affect fine focus but there's always a first time. WIth an R and P I think there's no danger in running the lock screw just partially when going for the last focus but would this be OK on a Crayford? Not sure.

The old style Steeltrack we used on Yves 14 inch actually did very well. It was motorized and belt driven.

Olly

On most Crayfords the lock screw either bears directly on the draw tube or perhaps on the rear of the drive shaft centre 'bearing' (which on the SW focuser is a block with v shaped cut and Teflon pad in which the shaft sits if I recall), thus increasing the friction between the shaft and flat on the draw tube.  Either way there is a definite tendency to deflect the tube a bit or a lot.

On the Baader the position of the lock screw is offset well to the side of the centre line of the focus tube, and it looks like it basically locks the shaft from rotating rather than trying to increase friction on the tube directly or indirectly.  The really high friction between the drive shaft and the steel rail attached to the bottom of the draw tube stops the tube from slipping when the shaft can't rotate.  I guess the mechanism must be similar to the Moonlite shaft brake; there is no deflection of the tube as you don't need to tighten the lock screw much, plus the roller bearings run on two flats at the 10 and 2 o'clock positions on top of the tube.  They look much better engineered than the two tiny bearings in the SW focuser so there is less opportunity for the tube to move out of line.  I assume any bearings in the drive assembly are similarly high grade.

With regard to the drive shaft being driven by the tube when unlocked, there is no problem at 45 degrees with my approximately 2Kg of gear attached.  On the bench with the 5Kg weight sat on top of the tube, the drive shaft and knobs ran freely when released, so I'd assume with a really heavy setup at high elevations you would need the focus lock to avoid slippage.  You certainly can part apply it when near focus - I haven't seen the internals but from the feel of turning the knobs when it is part tightened there's no grinding feel or anything to suggest you shouldn't.  The marketing blurb says you can increase the bearing pre-load if needed for a heavy setup, but no idea which screws to adjust to achieve that.

Of course if you were using a stepper motor drive and belt the motor should hold focus without locking.  If you thought the old Steeltrack was a good product, I don't think there would be any concerns with the new one.

Edited by IanL
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I've been fortunate enough to get hold of one of these units from DH.  Maybe only people with great first names are allowed them?  Actually for me it was because I had a lot of experience with the first SteelDrives and SteelTracks when they came out so Baader wanted me to test one of these units with my SteelDrive that they knew I had.

I took the liberty to take it to bits to have a good look as I did with the previous versions I used on both RT and SCT.  It is simple design really and sturdy.  Build quality is great, the unit feels solid and strong.  The top rollers look sturdier than previously but what stands out the most is the Diamond around the shaft, this is what is giving the grip, and I can say it does live up to its claims. Unlike the stock SW Crayfords where it was suggested to file down the drawtube as a quick fix to help with grip (ok so this is like comparing apples with pears but I've been there with the stock SWs), this obviously works directly out of the box.  Comparing it with my WO R&P I'd say it was equally as competent but with less shift and tilt/flop than the WO R&P.  My GT81 R&P is very sensitive to temp conditions and quite easily it can become sagging.

The new SteelTrack is the big brother of the previous SteelTrack.  In my testing I never had any slippage and the drawtube was true to the OTA.  The key is not to mess about with it and adjust things you're not sure about as it will lead to problems.  This is something I found out the hard way with the old version until I understood how it worked and how it could be adjusted back to default.  You probably don't get a manual because there is no need to adjust anything but.  Documentation lacks on a lot of astro purchases it seems to be industry wide in a lot of cases.

The Vernier is useful, I can do 16 rotations of the SCT focussing knob and set the SteelTrack to 10mm (allowing inward and outward motion if needed) and be pretty much in focus saving me a lot of time setting up a camera after a visual session.  The Vernier scale also starts in the right place too, I think previously you had to deduct 1mm for true distance.

The locking screw is applying friction to the shaft itself.  So you can actually run it by slightly applying a bit locking if needed and it does not push into the drawtube at all.  Olly I doubt the locking will be needed given how much weight/force the Crayford can take, but it's there anyway.  It doesn't harm adjusting it with a bit pressure for the whole focussing run I don't think a final tighten would be needed (if imaging you wouldn't want that anyway as you may need to adjust for temp, at least in my workflow).  I didn't do a test with weights but I did attempt to pull it apart using my hands and I can say it has a very strong hold.  Shooting at the Zenith I saw no shift in the focuser and to be thankful very little flop in my C9.25 too (although the OTA does need collimating a little bit).  

I use a SteelDrive on the unit and it works very well powered through a USB hub, even with a bit pressure applied to the locking knob.  Because the SteelDrive allows manual movement it couldn't be used to lock the focuser (something like a Lakeside could, not that it's needed).  

My kit consists of Atik 460EXM, Atik OAG, EFW2 and ASA 0.7 reducer and QHY5LM-II. I was shooting very near the Zenith. 

NGC6888 work in progress

NGC6888

I didn't find any issues with the rotator locking.  There are some grubs to tighten carefully (I have a habit of mashing them with too much force) and a main knob which can then be used for locking rotation at the desired angle.I tend not to use this though and just stick with the camera at one angle as I am too lazy to build more flats.  I would normally rotate the scope in the rings anyway (except the C9 doesn't have them).  So I'm happy at 90 degrees but if I wanted too, I could rotate without issue (I would probably rotate the camera ;-)

I agree with all the good points and I cannot comment on the not so good or bad.  I use the 3 point clamp which I find better than single clamps, and actually I prefer it over my Clicklock which seems to slip and slide around due to my heavy handed brutus.

The SCT version screws directly onto the SCT so a nice solid fit.  I think there was an adaptor but this was screw too.

In summary the unit is great and up to the job.  I don't have to worry about it:

1. It can hold up to its payload claim.  For imaging it is ideal, and for visual you will definitely not have anything to worry about.
2. There are no issues with orthogonality.
3. The Vernier scale is useful.
4. The fine focussing knob has can accommodate HTD timing belts, like what you get with the Baader SteelDrive.
5. Focussing is a lump free smooth action.  Listen carefully and you may be able to hear the Diamond coating making contact with the shaft, this is what is giving grip.
6. The SCT adaptor is screw fit giving perfect alignment as expected.  The RT is adaptor needs to accommodate varying diameters of OTA so not as simple as the SCT I guess, it was a little more tricky on my refractor with the old SteelTrack but once on I didn't have any further problems.

post-15076-0-05033800-1442587429_thumb.jpost-15076-0-13125200-1442587432_thumb.jpost-15076-0-09534700-1442587435_thumb.jpost-15076-0-64326200-1442587443_thumb.jpost-15076-0-01391700-1442587447_thumb.jpost-15076-0-02669500-1442587450_thumb.jpost-15076-0-95945700-1442587452_thumb.j

Edited by ianaiken
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It does look like a very nice bit of kit.  I love that they cut the teeth for the belt drive into the focuser knob, too.  Not that I've actually got around to motorising my (old model) Steeltrack yet, but it's a smart idea.

James

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Now they are officially released just a quick update. My schedule and the weather finally cooperated last Saturday so I have used the beast in anger at last. The results are good. Focus action is smooth as expected from the bench test, no problems with sag or slippage at all.

All in all a very worthwhile upgrade.

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I've got to agree with Ian.  I used mine for imaging NGC6888 and also some Lunar imaging earlier this week, the action is smooth and enabled me to get precise focus in not so good conditions at 5.8m focal length on my C9.25.

NGC6888 - http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/253950-ngc6888-with-c925/

Lunar Imaging - http://stargazerslounge.com/topic/253951-mare-crisium-and-crater-petavius/

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Ian,

Can you help me with the focuser light-path difference of BDS vs SW crayford? Thanks

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Ian,

Can you help me with the focuser light-path difference of BDS vs SW crayford? Thanks

There is a drawing with measurements on the Baader site here:

http://www.baader-planetarium.de/sektion/s35/s35.htm

There is no drawing for the SW adaptor though so you need to add a bit more. The Steeltack plus tube adaptor is a bit longer than the stock SW. I will try to measure tomorrow and report back. So you need to rack the tube in a bit more than with the stock focuser. There was still plenty of travel left though. What will you be using on the focuser?

Edited by IanL
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Ian,

I'm thinking of binoviewing with heschel wedge, therefore shortening the light path is important.

I've checked with Baader support about the BDS, light path is 12+58+7+4.9=82mm with the short eyepiece holder.

The stock focuser measures about 122mm long without taking it loose, so the light path seems to be something up to 30mm shorter with BDS. I'll be very interested in your measurement. :smiley:

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