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I have what might be a silly question regarding alignment of the start adventurer:
Are you able to align the mount without being in sight of Polaris?
I'm weighing up my mount options and was curious if this is possible. Most of my AP will be done from my balcony and unfortunately the North star isn't visible at all from this point.
FLO sent me this beast of a mount for review, and after a few months use I've finished said review. If you don't want to read, then scroll to the bottom to see the video. If not, let's go.
From the top, the dual type Vixen/Losemandy type puck, and at the back of mine it had 3 5521 type power ports for powering equipment, and 3 USB ports (2 powered) for connecting to the internal USB hub network. Whilst I didn't exactly use this network, it's still very handy to use, especially being on the puck - it means you don't have to worry about any slack on your cables and they won't pull. A handy feature. The power ports seem to be of a different type to 99% other astronomy hardware though, which means you'd need to get different connectors, a major inconvenience which still will make itself known later.
The mount includes an iPolar system, which is absolutely awesome. Sure the UI looks like it's straight out of Microsoft Paint but it's certainly function over form as it's quick and uses plate solving to align. This means you can polar align even with a semi-obstructed view to the pole. It's powered by a USB2-B port at the back of the mount with no need for external power. There is no manual polar scope on the mount so a computer is a must for polar alignment.
The carry capacity of 31.8kg is a hefty amount, though it's advised to not exceed 21kg for astrophotography. I never loaded it up with this much equipment however the sheer build quality and performance of this mount leads me to have no concerns whatsoever about using that much weight, or even all the weight. It's always advised to use underneath the stated maximum capacity anyway.
The altitude adjustment knob is a hefty coarse worm gear style affair. Embossed with the iOptron logo. It's a nice way of adjusting, especially when coming from GEM mounts where you have to undo/do up two individual bolts. However on my mount it was let down by an abhorrent squeak it made when raising it whilst the mount was loaded up. When going down in altitude sometimes the gear would jump a bit and let the mount down even further than I wanted. Azimuth adjustment was fluid and great.
The control panel includes its power port, power switch, hand controller port, ST-4 port and the USB port. The USB port can be used to control the mount via computers, and is also the other end of the internal USB network. It is USB2-B.
A major issue I found was the power port. It wasn't the standard type DC centre-positive tip style that all my other astro equipment used. IT's also a standard female type port, whereas I would've liked to have seen a screw type connector for this price point. But yes, the biggest gripe was the different style port, which meant I couldn't power it using my power box (without getting more cables), and had to use the supplied plug.
The carry case is a substantial and very sturdy box. It's foam cutout and very tight in holding the equipment. All but the counterweight goes into this box and I believe it could really survive quite a harsh fall. It's very well built.
Slewing with the CEM70 was quick and fluid, it was also quieter than I was anticipating for such a large bit of machinery. Using its own dedicated software through the laptop was intuitive and there was little to no learning curve. The axis clutches, whilst using a small switch, feel solid and substantial with a nice meaty clunk when engaged. One lock position is the EQ Home position which makes life a lot easier.
When guiding, I was regularly getting values of 0.4-0.6" total error. This enabled me to take extremely long exposures if I so desired, though I mainly did 5 minutes, I was able to do 10 under testing. Unguided (just sidereal tracking) I was only able to achieve 2 minutes before trailing was found with my Evostar 80ED (reduced to 510mm) and ASI 071mc Pro. Now in full admittance the mount was unbalanced as the Evostar package was too light for the mount.
The counterweight, if moved too high up the bar, will strike the body. So you would need to buy a lighter weight if you wanted to balance a lighter load on the CEM70.
Also when attaching it to a tripod or a tri-pier, you do need to bolt down 2 spring loaded bolts down with the supplied allen key. Now this is a bit fiddly and adds several minutes to the setup and tear down times. Though I suspect iOptron made this mount with a permanent setup in mind so if you're putting this into an observatory then this won't be a problem. For me, who setup and torn down the rig each night when using it, became a bit of a chore.
Overall I found the CEM70 to be an extremely capable mount with a lot of features. Whilst there are niggles that detracted from the user experience; the altitude gear squeak and the non standard power ports. Other features improved the quality of life and user experience enough to vastly outweigh the drawbacks. The iPolar system is particularly capable and excellent, the carry capacity, build quality also and guided performance, as well as the internal USB hub.
I think this would be a nice investment if you were looking to mount larger scopes on, or decking out an observatory. I can't afford one but if I was making my own permanent setup I would severely consider buying one.
If you're interested you can find more information at the links below (if you did buy through these links, I'd earn a few pennies to help support these reviews).
iOptron CEM70 w/o iGuider: https://bit.ly/CEM70
iOptron CEM70 w/ iGuider: https://bit.ly/CEM70iGuide
iOptron Tri-Pier: https://bit.ly/CEM-Tripier
Thanks for reading everyone. What are your thoughts about this mount? I hope my review has been helpful for you clear skies all, keep looking up and keep them cameras clicking.
It seems that I got less active lately in this hobby, mostly due to the pandemic, directly or indirectly.
However, I'm planning to move from where I'm living now in the close future so I started replacing my gear with lighter and better items.
One of the items was the mount. I still have a tuned SkyWatcher AZ-EQ5 and a stock SkyWatcher EQ6-R. I used both quite a lot, I passed with them long time ago 1000h of exposure. And recently I bought an iOptron GEM45.
The AZ-EQ5 is in the lightweight mount class, but performs quite poor for astrophotography. The original RA worm was a crappy one and I sent the mount to DarkFrame for tuning. I received it back the same, I only lost time and money. I then purchased 2 new worms from China via OVL with some help from FLO. The new one (I didn't test both) have a larger PE than the original one, but a smoother one. The p2p PE of the new worm results in a >60" deviation. When pointing close to the NCP, it guides well below <1.0" total RMS. When pointing towards the celestial equator, the performance drops significantly to 1.0"-1.8" RMS. I always need to use short exposures in PHD to guide it smoother.
In total I spent for the AZ-EQ5 perhaps more than 1800 euros with the tuning, the new worms and deliveries. A lot pricier than stock in the end, but it still has 2 big advantages: mine came with a foldable (towards the mount) pier style tripod and it's light, I can carry the mount with the tripod folded in one hand. The mount and the tripod weight less than 15kg. The other advantage is that I can use the second saddle for the second scope. I used this combo more than a couple of times, with short focal length refractors and all went well. A SW 72ED + an ASI1600 + a finder/guider mounted as counterweight as close as possible to the RA axis, perfectly balances a SW Esprit 80 and a Canon 550D.
The EQ6-R is a lot heavier mount. The head itself weights about 17.7kg, it has a handle, but even standalone it seems a lot harder to carry than the AZ-EQ5 assembled on the tripod. The 2" tripod for the EQ6-R weights about 8kg. Definitely I cannot carry both the mount and the tripod in a single trip for a longer distance. The performance and weight capacity are decent though. Mine has quite a large backlash on both axis, I cannot feel it at hand, but it's obvious when slewing at slow speed. It doesn't bother me for imaging, anyway, since I balance the mount a little east heavy. At most I put a single 200/1200 newtonian and camera on it or a dual setup consisting of a 150/750 newtonian and + a 102/714 refractor and camera, one on top of the other. Weight was not an issue, but a larger momentum + wind affected the guiding performance a little. Towards the NCP it guided excellent at 0.4"-0.6" RMS, but closer to the celestial equator, the performance varied and dropped for this mount too. On Orion, at times the guiding stayed below 1.0" total RMS, but many times it went worse than 1" total RMS. I believe that I never put a scope on this mount and looked through it, I only used it for AP. One thing that bothered me for a while was that the mount was stalling at times due to insufficient power. None of my domestic 12V power sources that I used for the AZ-EQ5 was good enough so I used a 15V 8A source to power the mount. I recall paying around 1300-1400 euros for the mount about 2 years ago.
I used the SynScan app on Windows to drive the SkyWatcher mounts. The app mimics the functionality of the hand remote. The AZ-EQ5 doesn't have a polar scope and I believe I never used precisely the polar scope on the EQ6-R either. The app allows you to perform a 2/3 star align, then it figures out the polar error and you can then perform a polar alignment routine aided by the software. You can select a star for polar alignment, slew to it automatically after select, align in center, then the mount moves a little and the software tells you to adjust the altitude and bring the star in center, then it moves again and tells you to adjust the azimuth and bring the star in center. Simple as that. If you're way off initially with the polar alignment, you might need to realign once or twice again. The SynScan app + drivers are also much simpler than the EQASOM and can be used for controlling the mount from other programs via ASCOM or for pulse guiding.
Now, to the more recently acquired mount, the iOptron GEM45. I spent a lot of time researching what mount would suit my needs. Lightweight, good performance and not astronomically expensive. After many reviews read for the CEM40, I decided to go for the GEM45 as both share the same components. I only saw CEM60's and the older 45 eq. All my astrofriends' CEM60's perform better and more consistent than my EQ6-R.
The GEM45 is supposed to have a PE resulting in an error less than 14" p2p. The graph for mine says that it's less than 10".
The first thing that I noticed when I received the mount it was how small the box it came in was. The mount head is light at about 7kg and the tripod 5-7kg. The second thing that I noticed was what a poor design was made for mounting the mount's head on the tripod. It is unbelievably stupid compared to the SkyWatcher mounts and it's horribly difficult to mount and tighten the mount on the tripod in dark and cold.
Again, comparing to the SkyWatcher, a minus is that you always need to disengage very carefully the gear switches and never leave them engaged. The mount does not have a friction clutch as the SkyWatcher has and hitting or pushing hard the components can lead to damaging the gears. So the mount seems very sensible to handling, it requires a lot of care and mounting the telescope(s) on the mount while holding the CW rod with the other hand can be quite damn hard sometimes. However, there is no backlash.
After setting all the hardware, the next thing was to connect the remote control + the software. It was clear the day I received the mount. It arrived at 5PM and at 8PM I was out of the city with all the software installed.
The iPolar was easy to use, however, you need to connect a separate USB cable for this, the mount does not have a USB hub.
You can perform a star align from the hand controller, but not from the Commander app. You can perform a polar iterate align from the hand controller, but not from the Commander.
Speaking of star alignment, if you choose a 2 or 3 star alignment procedure, I was used to the fact that the first star can be way off when initiating the alignment. The SkyWatcher mounts' software (hand controller or PC app) took into account the error and corrected it for the next stars. iOptron's software (hand controller only, the PC Commander can't align at all) does not. So you need to search again for the second (and third) star to bring it into the view and center it. Only then the model is taken into account. Moreover, the polar iterate align is a pain and, surprise, the polar iterate align and a retry of star alignment after polar adjustment does not take into account the model it computed at the previous star alignment so all the stars are way off if the zero position is not set very accurate. Searching automatically for zero position seems rather a poor joke. So, after being used to the SkyWatcher software, the iOptron seems soooo limited and counterintuitive.
Due to this, I had quickly to learn to drift align with PHD when Polaris isn't visible (it my the case at home on the terrace).
Leaving all the poor engineering and software designs, things are getting better. The mount looks very nice and rotates around both axes very very smooth. You can also pull cables through the RA and DEC axis and have them available at the DEC saddle. There's only a USB 2.0 connector on the saddle, that was rather useless for me so I needed to pull a USB 3.0 cable. However, the 12V power available on the saddle is very welcomed to power the cameras' coolers.
As I type, I'm imaging with 2 ~70mm refractors one on top of the other + 2 mono ASI cameras. Both scopes weight about 10kg. Guiding performance is always below 1.0" total RMS, ranging between 0.4" and 0.8" total RMS, regardless of the pointing position on the sky. If I manage to convince either the mount or PHD to compensate for the PE, I believe it should perform much better as the error increases to >0.6" only when the guiding switches from East to West or viceversa. Plus, being backlash free, it responses very fast to dithering commands and settles quick and, with the small refractors, it didn't seem bothered almost at all by a mild wind.
In the end, I'm very happy with the consistent very good performance of the mount, but still disappointed by the mount attachment to the tripod and the poor designed software and alignment procedures.
I'll come back with more reviews for cameras and telescopes that I own or owned. And images, after I manage to process them. I've more than 100h of data waiting in the queue to be processed.
Clear skies and stay safe!