This year has already brought major upgrades to my telescope equipment. I've added the Primalucelab Eagle telescope control unit to make set up a lot faster and easier. This month I decided to go ahead and pull the trigger for a new mount, autoguider, and autofocuser. For the most part, nothing was wrong with my previous equipment, I just wanted more sensitive and accurate instruments.
The QHY 5-II monochrome camera is replacing my Orion StarShoot Autoguider camera. I chose to upgrade this camera because the Orion SSAG has served it's purpose for getting me started in the hobby. It was also first generation so it was slightly outdated but it still did it's job. It had given me fairly straight RA/DEC correction graphs. The new QHY autoguider should give me much more stable photos paired with my new mount. I picked this camera as a recommendation from a few friends and Primalucelab (a local telescope store where I live). It would seem this camera is quite sensitive compared to the 1st gen Orion SSAG.
I've replaced my RoboFocus autofocuser with one that's easier to mount without 3D printed parts that I had to custom make. The FeatherTouch focuser easily accepts the Focus Boss II and motor assembly without any extra hardware. This is probably the most well needed upgrade since I never could get the RoboFocus to properly link to my Mac rendering it useless. I quickly gave up on trying to use it and cut my losses.
Lastly, a new Astro-Physics Mach1 GTO will be replacing my iOptron iEQ45 mount. I was quite overwhelmed when the boxes finally came in the mail. The quality of the AP mounts have always been better than most but it's different when you have one you can call your own. The stainless steel counterweights are quite expensive but match the mount perfectly giving it a very fresh, professional look. Unfortunately, for my wallet, my set up required 3 (almost 4) counterweights that weigh 9lbs each. Something I love about the Mach1 is that you can route all the cables through the mount so nothing will snag. This also makes set up and tear down a lot easier without dealing with all those wires. The iOptron mount got me where I am today so I can't say too many bad things about it. To be frank, I thought the quality and customer service rather lacked. I've been told by others that I should contact iOptron about the new Pro version so I did. It would cost nearly $900 to trade the mount in for the Pro version. I figured that $900 would be better spent elsewhere given some of the problems iOptron has caused me. I should also mention it was very difficult trying to get the mount to connect to the computer for control. I cannot say that I recommend the iEQ45 but like I said, I've heard the Pro version is so much better. For the size and the price, I would recommend a SkyWatcher/Orion mount.
I haven't had a chance to give these components their first light due to bad weather these winter months but it's starting to clear up and a few friends of mine have asked me to tag along. I know that this new equipment will help me produce my first color images that are finely tracked and focused.
As some of you may know, I've recently moved to Italy. A co worker of mine informed me there was a new telescope shop that had opened up in his city. Roveredo in Piano is on my way to work so I decided to stop in and visit Filippo, who is one of the owners of Primalucelab. The first thing I noticed when I walked in, past all the telescopes, was a little red and white box with antennas. "What is that?!" I asked.
Filippo proudly told me that the Eagle is a telescope control unit that allows wireless connectivity and control of my telescope using a phone or tablet, such as an iPad. Still cold from the windy conditions outside, it wasn't a hard decision to purchase the telescope control unit. It took about a few hours for Primalucelab to install drivers that my telescope required. The following day I brought in all the equipment I owned and set it up on their sales floor. The Eagle was mounted directly onto the rails of the imaging train and the lengths of the cables were reduced to cut down on clutter and snagging during slews.
One of the major problems the Eagle has helped me so far with has been power. Majority of the components on my telescope are American made without a dual voltage feature. Primalucelab produced all the necessary cables to connect all my devices to the rear of the Eagle using special jacks that will not allow accidental disconnection. The Eagle features five power ports, 1 which is for providing power to the unit and the other four are for providing power to your devices such as CCDs and mounts. There are also five USB ports (one being USB 3.0), an ethernet jack, and HDMI port. The powerful twin radio antennas can broadcast a wireless field to connect your iPad or computer from a remote location such as a home or car.
This version of the Eagle draws approximately 0.5A of power because it has a [low power consumption] Intel Atom processor that can easily run programs such as MaxIm DL and Voyager. About the only thing I am disappointed in the Eagle is the CPU having a difficult time running 3D starchart programs such as SkyX Pro. I would expect that for the price of this computer that it would be able to run these programs. For about 700 euro more I could have upgraded to the Eagle Observatory edition which uses a much faster processor and has a couple more ports at the expense of an additional 0.5A. Regardless, this isn't really much of a setback for me.
Here is a photo of myself and my telescope with the Eagle mounted on the rails under my guide scope. The installation was very simple; in fact I didn't have to install it, the Primalucelab team did!
Overall, I'm very impressed with the Eagle TCU as are others who see my telescope. It was an expensive upgrade but a necessary one. If I had to pick two things that I liked the most about the Eagle it would be wire reduction and being able to stay warm during the winter. I'm no expert with the Eagle so I will leave questions to Primalucelab. You can contact them by clicking their logo below.
DISCLAIMER: I should also mention that Primalucelab didn't pay me or ask me to review the Eagle. I paid full price for the Eagle like you do.
If this review was helpful, please let me know as this is my first review on a product that I have used.
This past weekend I had a fabulous opportunity that not many people get to see the innards of the McDonald Observatory's famous telescopes and domes through a special tour guided by my friend Coyne. In addition to seeing the telescopes, I was lessoned how their photographic capabilities were used for scientific purposes. Not only am I amazed at the size of the telescopes but also how a couple of the telescopes could be altered with different mirrors to be used for different aspects of astronomy. One of my favorite rooms of the McDonald Observatory was the library. It had McDonald's private collection locked away behind glass for few to see along with the original time piece of the observatory.
Upon arrival at my camp grounds I was worried about the clouds sticking around and ruining my chance to get any night time photographs of the Milky Way. During the past month I put together a bracket using some Losmandy products so that I could capture the Milky Way on a electronic mount that was autoguided. Due to the monsoon rains almost being over in West Texas, the clouds cleared up both of the nights of my stay as predicted by the observatory. The sky was amazing. Starry, crisp and clear thanks to my new glasses! The last night that I was there, with the permission of Coyne, I went up to one of the observatories and shot the Milky Way with a 41 minute exposure at 100 ISO; below are the results. Despite the high winds on top of the mountain, the autoguider kept the mount on track with little issues.
I was amazed at how clear the sky was and at how many stars were present in the sky. I've never seen how dark the sky could get because I've always lived in or near a larger city. I hope to return someday to the observatory to visit my friends and see the gorgeous colorful skies Fort Davis has to offer. Thank you again Coyne and Vicki for all you did to make my trip possible. See you soon.