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SkyWatcher SKYMAX-127 AUTO SupaTrak


Jove
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This is a review of my first telescope. Having only used binoculars

before I don't have much to compare it against, but

perhaps my impressions of it may be useful to someone looking for their

first telescope. There are probably some areas

where I'm not yet getting the most out of the scope yet, and if any more

experienced hands have any tips I'd be very grateful

to hear them!

Criteria

--------

When choosing a telescope, I was looking for something that would:

1. Be easily portable - I store it in the house (no garage or shed) and

wanted something I could set up quickly

2. Be compact for storage - I don't have a lot of room indoors so needed a

scope and mount that I can put away easily.

3. Be capable of viewing a wide range of targets, with a bias towards

bright targets like the moon and planets (Live in London

so most observing is done under mag 3.5 - 4 skies)

4. Have some kind of tracking capability

5. Cost less than £500

After some months of deliberation I settled on the SkyWatcher SKYMAX-127

"SupaTrak" telescope. It's a 5-inch (127mm) Maksutov-Cassegrain

that comes with a tripod and an motorised "single arm" Alt-Az mount. It

is supplied with 10mm and 25mm eyepieces, a star diagonal, a 2x Barlow,

a 6x30 finder scope, and a little tray that sits between the legs of the

tripod. As the scope was well under my budget I also bought an accessory

kit consisting of 40mm, 20mm, 15mm, 12mm and 9mm eyepieces (Plossls), another 2x Barlow

and a moon-filter.

The Kit

--------

The OTA is quite compact, it's a 127mm (5 inch) aperture, probably around

40cm long. It's suprisingly heavy, but I don't think anyone

would find it a struggle to move around.

The tripod is aluminium and quite solid, and amply tall: I'm 6'3" and don't have to stoop uncomfortably, and the eyepiece is often at a level that allows me to observe from the comfort of a garden chair (a real bonus when trying to sketch or write notes).

With the legs collapsed, it stands around 2 feet high and is small enough to unobtrusivley sit in the corner of a room. It's fairly sturdy and I have never felt it might topple over. The little accessory tray clips securely between the legs of the tripod and is handy for holding the battery pack for the

mount and anything that you want close at hand while observing.

The Alt-Az mount just screws onto the top of the tripod with a single bolt and seems very secure there. The OTA fits onto the mount with a dovetail, secured with a single bolt - again this seems very sturdy. By looseing the dovetail bolt the OTA can be moved backward and forward to adjust the balance, for example if you mount a camera on the tube.

I wondered if you would have to use the motors to slew the scope around - the mound is little odd in that it's possible to push the scope up and down but not left to right. While the

Altitude won't slip it doesn't need much force to move it, and if you accidentally lean on it you can move it which might mean you lose what was in the eyepiece and possible mean you have to go through the tracking calibration process again.

Still, it's easy to avoid doing this, and it was only happened once when I was new to the scope.

Set Up and Use

----------------

The Alt-Az mount is not a goto mount (though there is a goto version available) but it does have the ability to track objects in the sky. To make this work there is a simple calibration process:

1. level the scope

2. use the motor to point it north (this is why they give you a compass!)

3. switch the mount off and on (which seems to mean disconnecting and reconnecting the power)

You can also, optionally, set your latitude for more accurate tracking by slewing the scope to an altitude equal to your latitude, pressing a button on the control pad and cycling

the power again. You only need do this once.

Once the above has been done, which only takes a minute, the scope is ready to use and track objects.

All movement of the scope is achieved by pressing one of the four directional buttons on the controller - there are three speeds. The fastest will slew 180 degrees in around 20s. On its fastest speed the drive is quite loud!

The most obvious thing to the telescope newbie when looking through the scope is that the finder view is flipped north-south and east-west, whereas the view through the main scope is only flipped east-west - it took me a little while to get used to having to press different buttons to make the view move in the direction I want when looking through the finder or the scope. The finder has a field of view of around 5 degrees, comparable to my binoculars, and so star hopping between stars that close to isn't too hard - I can often fit two landmark stars in its FOV. With what comes in the box, the 25mm EP will give a rather narrow FOV - a touch over half a degree, someone described this a like "trying to read a newspaper through a straw", and I can sympathise to some extent! The 40mm EP is a godsend, its FOV is just under one degree, making it much easier to hop around, as well as improving the scope's ability to give good views of open clusters.

Views

------

I was expecting this scope to give me good views the moon, planets and other bright targets like double stars. Living in London in I am plagued by LP so thought it sensible to get a scope that will handle those targets well, rather than something that can manage faint fuzzies on paper but might give poor views with the level of LP I have. I would say the scope does what I expected it too, and I look forward to hunting some galaxies and nebulae when I get out to darker skies in the country.

The moon is a magnificent sight in it - at higher

powers you can look at quite small features and see the shadows cast by the cliffs and craters along the terminator. Using the motor drive you can fly down the terminator, which is a lot of fun :headbang:

The planets look great too. Saturn is stunning (obvioulsy :p), showing a little colour and, in moments of good seeing,

a little banding can be seen for an instant. The gap between the planet and the rings is visible. Titan and Rhea can both be clearly seen using a 12mm EP, I've glimpsed other moons with averted vision (they are tiny specs!). I've not seen the Cassini division but that may be due to the current 'edge on' view of the rings.

I have found Mars a harder target. With patience some patches of colour can be made out - the polar cap and one or other of the darker regions. Some kind of filter might help as the image is very bright and would benefit from enhanced contrast.

I've had some good views of double stars - Castor, sigma Orionis, gamma Leonis and a few others. The four main

stars of the Trapezium are clearly visible - I've not studied this area very closely, so it may be possible to see more.

Some Open Clusters (eg M45), look nice but suffer from the narrow field of view, other smaller custers (eg M35) come up well in the 40mm EP (37.5x).

Brighter nebulae (e.g. M42) show nebulosity clearly enough, but there is not much structure, they just look like fuzzy patches. Given the LP problems inherent on observing from a big city, nebulae have not featured highly on my list of targets - I'll save them for when I have a big garden in the country with a colossal Dob ;) (one must dream...)

I expect observing of Globular Clusters to suffer from the same problems as galaxies - diffuse objects lost in sky glow. That said I did manage to track down a Globular in Coma Berenices - it looked like a smudge - you couldn't really make out stars in it. I had been looking for M53, but looking at my scribbled sketches I think it may have been the Mag 9.8 NGC 5053, if so then I'm pretty happy that I could see it at all, and will resume my hunt for M53 another night.

Similarly I've not managed to find any galaxies

yet... though I have looked for some. In another thread on SGL I learned that this is likely to be down to the fact they have relatively low surface brightness and I am afflicted by bad light pollution - I will report back once I have given the scope a trial under darker skies. I see no real reason why brighter galaxies should not be visible.

I mentioned that the scope can track objects, and I have found that so long as the scope is calibrated reasonably accurately, and is level (the mount has a spirit level to check this), then the tracking is pretty good - it held Saturn in a 12mm eyepiece

field of view for a good few minutes while I popped in to make a cup of tea and warm up. It wont be good enough for long exposure photography (plus, being Alt-Az you get

field rotation), but might be ok for webcam photography (is this likely?).

Any problems? Not many, most of my frustrations are down to my poorly developed navigational skills and not knowing what I ought to be able to see under London skies.

Being new to all this I think the thing I most wish the scope had is some kind of zero power finder like the Telerad. That said, after a few observing sessions I am getting much more comfortable with the scale of the sky, which is for me an essential prerequisite to being able to star hop.

If not a telerad or similar, then I would replace the finder, if only because the finder that came with the scope is a "straight through" finder with no diagonal, so when looking at high altitudes you can have to get down on the ground to look up through it!

One other problem I have found is that when it is windy the scope can vibrate quite a bit making it difficult to get steady views.

You'll probably want to invest in some rechargable batteries

as the mount runs on 8 AAs, or you can use a powerpack or a mains adapter.

All in all I'm very pleased with the telescope. If you are considering it as your first scope and have not much experience

star hopping I would reccommend getting a wider field eyepiece than the 10 and 25mm provided, I use the 40mm a lot for finding my way about. A 'zero power' finder might come in handy too!

I bought the scope well aware of it strengths and weaknesses, I knew it wouldn't be a great performer on DSOs under LP ridden skies - but to view them I think I'd have needed a gigantic Dob or EQ Newtonian (or have sprung £1000+ for a large SCT) which I don't really have space for, and would have been much less likely to have set up night after night - "Get the scope you'll use" is a wise piece of advice and the compactness and portability of the MAK 127 makes it a winner for me on that basis. It's great for bright targets - the moon, planets, double stars, and for me has been a wonderful introduction to telescopic astronomy.

Edited by Jove
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That is really some sound advice there, Jove, especially for a beginner like me sans telescope. I've been looking for an insight into this particular model for some time and this review really fits the bill - nice one! The 127 is definitely on my shortlist.

Regards

Gareth :headbang:

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Very good review Jove.

I live in London too and recently hefted my 127 down to the south of France where the skies are clear. I can confirm that you can see galaxies and nebulas beautifully with the telescope - it's the lousy LP that's to blame in The Smoke.

AG

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It's good to learn that I should be able to pick up some DSOs if I go to darker skies - I'll report back what I manage to see when I do.

Those are nice reports Andrew, your experience of looking for M66 sounds exactly like mine - all the stars are there but a hole where the galaxies should be! Looking at your sig I'm curious as to how you've 'pimped' your scope!

Edited by Jove
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Hi Jove,

My 127 came with a red-dot finder which I didn't find too useful under our light polluted skies. I was trying to find objects from Turn Left at Orion, but couldn't see the guide stars. My first upgrade was to bin the red-dot and replace it with a combination of a 9x50 right-angled finder and a rigel quikfinder. The quikfinder allows me to get in the general area (it's really just a deluxe red-dot) and the finderscope allows me to find what I'm after (I can see the guide stars now). I see that your 127 already has a finderscope so hopefully you wont have these problems.

My other upgrade was to replace the 1.25" diagonal with a 2" one. As well as being a better mirror surface, I'm interested in trying some wider field stop eyepieces. With a 1.25" eyepiece, the widest FOV is just over 1 degree. I know that the baffle tube inside the Mak is just over 30mm but I should be able to get some illumination on a wider FOV eyepiece. Macavity, here on SGL, has tried it and there is information on the Teleskop Service website too. (I also seem to remember an article on Modern Astronomy's website?) I'm in the market for a wide-angle 30mm EP anyway to go in my new (to me) 12" dob.

Andrew

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Very good review Jove!

I know what you mean about the scope moving in Alt when any pressure is placed on the OTA. If you tighten the nut under the bolt that clamps the OTA to the mount this will stiffen the Alt movement. If like me you decide to attach a camera to your scope then this adjustment is a big help to prevent any slippage in Alt. Obviously a webcam is better being much lighter and yes it's a good scope for imaging the planets and especially the moon!

I reckon there are more folk owning a Skymax 127 on here than anything else lol

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  • 11 months later...

I have the Synscan GOTO version and when have been able to ue it I agree with most of what Jove has said, nearly did my back in using the finder with anytjing higher than Beletguese, I think external power is a must especially with the GOTO. I agree it's heavier than expected. I bought an EQ2 off fleabay, with the intention of mounting it on a pier, but I don't think the EQ2 will take it. £65 quids up the shoot.

Geoff

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Actually managed to get out night before last with my SkyMax 127 Goto and - with utter amazement - I put in M31 and actually got a cracking view of Andromeda with the bog standard 25mm EP that came with the scope - it was definitely one of those 'dancing around the garden' moments.

I'm after a wider FOV EP now - do I need to go all out and get a Televue 32mm plossl or is ther a 'budget' version that will do the trick?

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Jove,

A very helpful review !!- I am new to Astronomy and currently have begun the interest with 10 x 50 binos to get a feel for the night sky.

On the cloudy nights I have been researching next step - the purchase of an easy to use and portable scope to use both at home and whilst caravanning.

The Skywatcher Mak 127 is now top of my list!!

However I do have one or two queries regarding the type of mount. I like the Supatrak and GOTO systems but should the batteries go flat can the scope be moved to objects manually?? Or is it fully charged batteries / mains adapter for any kind of movement?

Also how easy is it use the direction buttons without giving your eyeball a nasty surprise!!??

Any thoughts / experiences from users would be greatly appreciated!!

Many thanks

Robin

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I have only used the 127 GOTO through a 12v mains adapter - I've not used the battery pack. I did have a mishap with the original adapter that came with scope - in effect the cord snapped after 1 month - I bought a better quality replacement and no trouble since. The scope cannot be moved manually - no power - no movement. The GOTO is excellent for a starter scope - initial set-up is easy and as long as you input accurate details (coords, time etc) GOTO is accurate and tracking is also.

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I have only used the 127 GOTO through a 12v mains adapter - I've not used the battery pack. I did have a mishap with the original adapter that came with scope - in effect the cord snapped after 1 month - I bought a better quality replacement and no trouble since. The scope cannot be moved manually - no power - no movement. The GOTO is excellent for a starter scope - initial set-up is easy and as long as you input accurate details (coords, time etc) GOTO is accurate and tracking is also.

Wilsmaboy,

Thanks for the heads up on the need for power for the GOTO to work - the info will help me reach a decision as to whether to go GOTO or not.

I am pleased you are happy with your GOTO and are now OK with your new adapter cable.

Robin

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Must admit that the more I read on this site the more I want to upgrade to a better GOTO equatorial mount because I'm really getting the 'imaging' bug and the GOTO Alt Az on the Mak 127 isn't really suitable for long exposure imaging.

I'll probably keep this one going for the web cam imaging of planets/moon and save up for the EQ5Pro SynScan mount and a faster scope.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Great review. My Skymax has suffered from cloud cover on almost every available night since I got it, so your run through of what you've seen in heavy LP area gives me hope that eventually I'll see more than fleeting views of Orion and Saturn - good as they were of course!

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Hi there,

I have just recieved my Skymax 127 Auto today :D and have enjoyed reading this post, but i do have some questions relating to setup for astronomical use.

OK so i have the scope in position for viewing, power connected

  1. I obviously level the scope with the built in bubble.
  2. Then you adjust the OTA so it is reading "0" on the latitude scale (can you move the OTA by hand or do you have to use control pad).
  3. Then it says to point the telescope to face north, this i know has to be done with the control pad, but do you keep the OTA set at "0" degree's and use a compass (not supplied with mine) or do you aim the OTA at the North star (i only ask this as in my instructions Fig.e. the picture shows the scope inclined pointing towards North) so are we using magnetic north or the celestrial north pole.
  4. Unplug the power supply and plug it back in.

Do you then set the local latitude and i believe this is only done once unless you move your scope a fair distance away from the set location.

I just want to make sure i set it up right for it's first light.

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I don't have a 127 Mak but may I say what a great review you've written. If I was back at the beginning of my astronomical journey, then I think your post would have me seriously considering the mighty Mak :)

Nice one :D

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I have just recieved my Skymax 127 Auto today :D and have enjoyed reading this post, but i do have some questions relating to setup.

Hi Gaz,

2) I think you can manually set the altitude on the scope but you do need to use the controll to adjust azimuth.

3) Point the scope at polaris then adjust the altitude to 0, should be good enough.

4) Yes

Yes you only need to set your local latitude once, and again you can do this by pointing at Polaris.

Rob

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Great review. I just want to add that globulars actually make a great target for a small mak. Use a high magnification on M3, M13 or M5 and you can start to resolve the faint stars making up these clusters. The effect is very subtle in a small scope, but definitely worth it.

Another DSO target-of-choice for a small Mak is the planetary nebula - M27 and M57 both look good even with some light pollution as you can use high magnifications on them.

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Hi Gaz,

2) I think you can manually set the altitude on the scope but you do need to use the controll to adjust azimuth.

3) Point the scope at polaris then adjust the altitude to 0, should be good enough.

4) Yes

Yes you only need to set your local latitude once, and again you can do this by pointing at Polaris.

Rob

Thanks Rob, it's cloudy out so no viewing tonight.

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