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Skymax 180 - an enigma of a telescope


Astro_Baby
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Lots has been written about the Skymax 180 Pro so I am going to keep this short.

Last night I finally got to use it and it showed enough mettle to make me believe it could be a real planet killer. The moon was full and extra ordinarily bright so conditions werent perfect but lunar detail was astounding at even low power magnifications. The 180 was thoroughly cooled down and the air was extremely cold and stable. I could well beleiev on Lunar on a partial moon would be simply mindblowing.

Saturn came up late in the evening and the scope had reached thermal equilibrium some time before so was totally free of any nasty tube currents. Unfortunately by the time Saturn appeared the sky was showing faint traces of wispy high altitude cloud. None the less the scope rendered an extremely large and very sharp view of the ringed wonder.

While waiting for Saturn I pottered about looking at other objects and among these was M42. My own view on this was the view was not significantly ahead of my my TAL 100RS on a dark sky but my partner felt the Skymax got more detail out of the nebula cloud. With a full moon up the scope was obviously not under ideal conditions for a deep sky object but the view was none the less rather impressive.

A quick view of M45 proved how narrow the field of view was with the Mak and the Pleiade were not a good traget. The double cluster similarly - the scope would only fit one of the clusters in with a 30mm eyepiece.

Stars showed sharp right to the edge even with indifferent eyepieces and a collimation check showed the scope as being in perfect collimation.

The scope had a recent mod done to it to grind down slightly the finder shoe. On the scope as delivered (and I am told this was common with the firts few batches of scopes) the finder shoe was set flat against the rear cell of the scope. Unfortunately the rear cell is not actually flat - it forms a shallow cone shape towards the rear which meant the finder was about 1.5mm out of line with the main optics. It doesnt seem much but it was enough to stop the finder ever being able to be adjusted to match the main scopes optics. This has now been resolved by removing the finder shoe and grinding it down a bit.

IMage shift was nowehere near as bad as on other Maks I have had a go with and on lower power magnification hardly noticeable. At high powers it bacame mildy annoying but worse was the amount of vibration that gets put into the optics when you twiddle the focuser.

An extrenal Crayford would sort this out and to be honest the scopes optics deserve it.

I also viewed not with the supplied Skywatcher diagonal which is atrocious but with the TAL 1.25" diagonal which can take on all comers with its quality.

Eyepeices used were a mic of Vixen NPLs, TMB Planetary IIs and Baader Hyperions. The scope seemed to work well any of them but the noceset views were obtained with the Baader Hyperion 13mm and the TMB Planetary II in 9mm.

As an aise while we were observing a collection of hikers appeared out of the bushes who had been on an all night hike to look at toads, bats and newts. I invited them to round off the night with a view of Saturn and all of them who had a look were suitably impressed and amazed. So the 180 was a real crowd pleaser on its only operational outing.

With all of that the scope is an enigma to me. Its views of the moon and Saturn were wonderful, its short run on deep sky was impressive and yet I really cant decide if I like this scope.

I like its compactness, its also very pretty to look at in its gold color scheme, its not too heavy and relatively easy to transport but I really canty decide if its planetary performance alone is good enough to justify it being retained by me.

Theres just enough in it to make me want to hold on selling it but not so much that I would give up another scope for it.

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I'm starting to think that this scope may be the best option for me with regards to planetary on a budget.

My only concerns up till now have been the focuser/image shift/vibration as mentioned. I would be interested to know if and how a crayford could be fitted. If it could then this would be ideal.

Anyone have any suggestions or thoughts as to this?

Tony

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You can get an focuser that fits on the back of the scope - they would cost anywhere between about £100 for a Skywatcher/Revelation/GSO one with a fine focus up to about £400 for the Moonlite one. The scope (well mine anyway) came with the adapter ring to put one of these one - they just screw onto the back of the scope.

Bear in mind a SKymax 180 takes a long time to cool - anywhere up to 4 hours - although it was cold last night mine hit the right level of cool down after about 90 minutes and after 2 hours was perfect.

Bear in mind also that the scope wont get the best from 2" eyepieces as the baffle tube in the scope is quite narrow so you'd get vignetting at the edge of the eyepiece filed of view. This is probably not an issue for anyone doing planetary though.

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Hi AB, my partner and I were in an astro shop last week and my partner was quite taken by the 180, even asking the price and finding it 'quite reasonable'... It's a massive scope, I'm tending more to C8 myself although that is of course hundreds of euros more.

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You can get an focuser that fits on the back of the scope - they would cost anywhere between about £100 for a Skywatcher/Revelation/GSO one with a fine focus up to about £400 for the Moonlite one. The scope (well mine anyway) came with the adapter ring to put one of these one - they just screw onto the back of the scope.

Bear in mind a SKymax 180 takes a long time to cool - anywhere up to 4 hours - although it was cold last night mine hit the right level of cool down after about 90 minutes and after 2 hours was perfect.

Bear in mind also that the scope wont get the best from 2" eyepieces as the baffle tube in the scope is quite narrow so you'd get vignetting at the edge of the eyepiece filed of view. This is probably not an issue for anyone doing planetary though.

Thanks AB,

The vignetting wouldn't be an issue as it would be a dedicated lunar/planetary imaging scope. I'm also assuming an observatory install so cool-down wouldn't be an issue. Starting to sound very tempting.

Tony

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Finally, AB! And you found that it performs well! Well, hey - what a surprise...:hello2:

As to whether it's live-with-able, well that's a tricky and individual decision. I sold mine to help fund my 12" Dob, but it wasn't because I disliked it - only because I needed the financial assistance from selling it.

Very nice scope.

Ant

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Yeah but it wasnt whether it would perform well it was whether it would preform to my needs and I am still not sure about that.

Actually I think the cool down time is over estimated - it went from a warm house to a freezing field and reached equalibrium very fast really - about 90 minutes. A couple of fans would resolve that and shorten cool down, a Crayford would resolve the focus shift issues and voila - you have a very powerful planetary scope.

The issue I am struggling with is do I want a very powerful planatary scope thats rather specialised to that task.

For me I have too many scope really. I want to get down to two. Soooo....

Do I keep the 200 Newt because its got the best DSO performance - or flog it bnecause its big and heavy and bulky and needs a tons of accessories to be carted with it.

Do I keep the TAL 100RS because its beautiful, always performs well and does planets rather well - or do I flog it cos its insufficiently powerful.

Do I keep the Skymax 180 because its good at compact DSO and Planets - or sell it because its heavy, has a slow cooldown and needs the Mel touch to make it fully usable.

Do I flog all of them and go for something else - a large APO perhaps. Or do I sell two and get a medium APO or sell just one and live without it.

Choice is a curse in this respect and I ams till trying to work out for me what I really need rather than what I would like to have :hello2:

Thats whay the 180 is such an enigma for me - if it had been slightly better at open DSOs it would have repaced the newt, if it was brilliant at pkanets but totally usel;ess for DSOs it would have been sold. Its none of those - its a complex bit of kit that has the potential to do an awful lot - but do I really need it when I own a TAL which is a good planetary scope and a 200 Newt which does DSOs better.

Could I for instance use the Mak for planets and compact DSO and use the TAL for wide field DSO ? Yes possibly but I didndt see enough targets last night due to the moon to give me a steer on that - so the court is still out I guess.

Sighs

Edited by Astro_Baby
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I want one of these just for planetary with a bit of luna.

I would agree that the focuser is the first thing to upgrade, which for me would be electrical, i have had a 4se and a lx10 and image shift is pants, i really don't like it.

As for an ideal scope for yourself, i honestly dont think it exists there are just to many options and not one covers them all. You probably could narrow it down to 2 scopes a Dob dso / widefiled and a Long focal lenght refractor for everything else.

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Thanks for posting this - I too got a first light with my Mak 180 last week.

As I'm primarily into DSO imaging (and am saving up for a mono CCD, LRGB filters, filter wheel, and ultimately narrowband filters), I bought the Mak 180 for those slightly cloudy nights when I can perhaps grab a 5-10 min slot in the clouds for a quick AVI or two of the moon or planets or on one of those desperately clear full moon nights that mostly prevents RGB DSLR imaging. At f15, I hadn't really considered it for use as either a DSO viewing or imaging scope (although I think there may be possibilities)

Setup

As Mel, I didn't find any problem with cooldown, but then again I had left it outside balanced from early pm for at least a couple of hours before I started. However, trying to 3 star align at late dusk was certainly not as easy for me as when using an f5/f6 scope (but I guess that's just a personal thing)

Viewing

Moon - Although it was a full moon, a close-up view through a 7mm Nirvana (no filter) was amazing, although it did almost burn my eye out! The seeing wasn't at all good (skimming above the rooftop), but looking at the craters around the limb was superb, and I can't wait to see what it looks like when there's a terminator. A 34mm 2" Meade 5000 SWA wasn't quite wide enough to contain the whole full moon, but the view was very sharp with a 24mm Meade 5000 SWA. Very satisfying...

Saturn - Again nice views, when using the 24mm, but I must admit I was expecting to be able to see more with the 7mm (maybe the Cassini division or would that have been hoping for too much?). There didn't appear to be any focuser slop issues, but I simply couldn't seem to bring the 7mm to good enough focus. However, again I think (hope) most of my problems were down to poor seeing as Saturn was also skimming across the top of the rooftop...

Webcam Imaging (Phillips SPC880/900)

The Moon again was fairly easy to focus although the seeing (shimmer) was REALLY atrocious. I took a quick 1000 frame / 10fps AVI anyway and considering the quality of each frame going through I was quite surprised with the result. However, owing to the seeing conditions, I didn't reach for the 2x barlow...

Saturn - I failed dismally at this - The FOV of the Phillips webcam is (I believe) roughly equivalent to a 6mm eyepiece... As with the 7mm eyepiece, I couldn't bring it at all to focus (again, hopefully due to seeing?)

I'm hoping that this probably isn't a fair test owning to the turbulence over the rooftop, but given that I'd been anticipating using a 2x barlow on Saturn one day (and maybe even getting a 3x for a SERIOUS closeup), next time I'm going to take the scope out into the countryside to have another crack at Saturn...

Summary - I need to give the scope a few more outings to prove itself under better conditions...

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Interesting report of what seems to be a very capable, if specialised, scope. You do see a fair amount of these coming up for sale so, on the basis that they are very competant scopes, I guess that others must find themselves in the same quandary over how the scope "fits" into their equipment pool.

FWIW the mak-newtonian design seems to offer the best of both worlds with the small secondary giving superb planetary performance while the fastish focal ratio allows nice low power, widefield views as well. Cooldown times are shorter than for an equivilent mak-cassegrain but the "price" you pay is a longer, heavier tube with more demanding mounting requirements of course :hello2:

Thanks for posting your thoughts Mel :hello2:

Edited by John
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Hi John - Yes... I already own an MN190, but was after the extra FL that the Mak 180 provides. It might be an interesting comparison to try a 3x barlow on the MN190 (3000mm/f15.9) vs the Mak 180 (2700mm/f15)

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Thanks for the write-up.

As far as I'm concerned, it's a no-brainer for having a multiple scope set-up if your budget is under the 1k mark.

I'm tossing up whether to spend on this scope to complement my 200P (and soon to arrive ST 80,) or whether to hold on to my cash until I can stretch to an Edge HD and make use of the Hyperstar function. For 700 notes, as a planetary scope, I think it's pretty good value for money.

Did you observe exactly when after the start of cooling, the thermal disruptions ended?

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The Mak is a very good planetary scope, and may have the (slightest) edge over a C8, but the latter is the better all-round instrument. With a 2" visual back (and yes, I should add an external Crayford) and a 40mm Paragon I get the entire Pleiades in one FOV. The same holds for the double cluster. The OTA is also much lighter than the Mak (5.7 vs 7.8 kg) due to the thinner corrector plate. In some stores, the C8 OTA is actually cheaper than the 180, like in the link below.

Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope SC 203/2032 C8 Aluminium OTA

Edited by michael.h.f.wilkinson
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I seem to remember reading somewhere that you'd need a 14" SCT to beat the Mak on planets. No idea if thats true.

For me the scope was cooled for an hour before went out by putting it in the bathtub with the window wide open. Then it was left for about 2 hours befire we got Saturn. Well I say it was left in truth we pottered about looking around with the Synscan to see what else might be available to see.

The weather was also VERY cold at only 2' above and there was a slight breeze which added a wind chill factor. The scope seemed to cool quite quickly in truth but it was very cold which probably helped it shed heat fast.

I know it sounds mental but I wondered if a sort of refrigerant jacket might be the answer for these scopes. It wouldnt be hard to make, use flexible hose inside a kind of nylon sleeve that voes over the scope. Charge with refrigerant and have a small heat exchanger and pump.

If i decidedi to keep it I'd take it to bits and fit a pair of fans on the rear with a pusher and a puller with filters to keep the grot out. Jury is still out on that.

I cant afford an APO if I keep the SkyMax but the SkyMax has the potential to be very portable if its done right and I am not sure what I would rather have.

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I seem to remember reading somewhere that you'd need a 14" SCT to beat the Mak on planets. No idea if thats true.

/QUOTE]

That is something that I have heard as well, and I find utter tripe (otter tripe? (sorry;))). A similar (and less severe) comparison would be between a Mak127 and a C8, and the C8 wins easily on the resolution front. Contrast-wise the Mak127 is perhaps a tad better, but the gain in resolution is so great. In all, the C8 really is the better planetary scope than the Mak127 (which is also a brilliant scope for its size).

We had a good quality 8" Mak as a telescope for the practical system when I studied astronomy here, and my C8 could match it in resolution, even if the contrast was a tad less. Given the same class correction in both optical system, the (203mm) C8 should have the edge over the 180mm Mak resulution wise. The Mak has the smaller central obstruction (but not by much) and should have the edge contrast-wise. A C14 (and also a C11) blows the Mak 180 out of the water resolution-wise, though the atmospheric conditions may limit that. The main reasons I chose a C8 over either a fast Newtonian or a Mak were portability and all-round performance.

Yesterday I spotted Mercury just above the hedges of the garden, and I had my C8 set up in about 5 minutes (not perfectly polar aligned but good enough for a look at Mercury). You could do the same with the Mak (even though it is a bit heavier). Later I moved the scope to a better vantage point and did some deep sky stuff (starting out with the Pleiades to align the 70mm finder), and this is where it decisively beats the Mak in terms of field of view (1.38 deg).

A fast Newtonian is also a good all-rounder, but less portable (unless it is a dob), and more prone to collimation issues.

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here is a philips spc900 webcam image of saturn,taken last april with my skywatcher 180 mak +televue 3x barlow. the gain was pushed quite high to get the image,with a bit too much noise and 'pixellation' becoming apparent - but i am very pleased with the result!

cheers,phil

post-23446-133877554779_thumb.jpg

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Cheers Phil... So it truly IS possible...!!!

Thanks VERY much for posting - Something for me to aim for... I have my big battery now, so I won't have to shoot across the rooftop any more (:D)... I'll have another go next time out.

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you're welcome andy. here is a mono image of mars from january 2010 with the 180 mak + 3x barlow - this time using a dmk21 ccd. this was my first attempt at imaging with this cam.

also, a colour image from the spc900 webcam.the 180 mak can really capture fine detail when i get the focus spot-on,which can be difficult to achieve with the image shift at 8000mm focal length!

cheers,phil

post-23446-13387755481_thumb.jpg

post-23446-133877554827_thumb.jpg

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