So, first a disclaimer, I mean it when I say first impressions; this is not a full product review. I will do one, but usually after a few months of using something. I just hate product reviews that are “looks beautiful”… “feels nice”…. can’t wait for the clouds to clear!
Spare me. Spare us all.
Well, I’ve used it once, so I get to write something down, right? I’ve been asked what I think of it, so let me just kind of wet your appetite for more perhaps.
Well, it does look nice. Feels like it’s quality workmanship, but golly it sure is cloudy lately.
Okay, maybe I’m being too hard on people for the above because really, it is actually true. Sky-Watcher USA sent me the 180mm version (fl 2700, f/15) to try out for them. It is summer time in Florida, which means time under the stars is going to be PRECIOUS, and I got a 1/4 night a few nights ago and decided to give this girl a whirl. My intent is to do some solar system imaging with this. The moon is how I got started in astrophotography and I am missing those days. I’ve also dabbled in the planets, and want to get back to doing more of those as well. Saturn is in prime time, and it’s not too late to get some time in on Jupiter. Plus for that kind of imaging, you don’t need several hours of integration time, and you can do it under light pollution. Why you can even shoot the moon when… there’s a moon out! The ‘quick and dirty’ aspect also wins this time of year when I may literally be shooting between gaps in the clouds!
First dance (by the way, she has been christened “Sparkles”… all my scopes get names), I decided to do something that shocked my friends and family. I decided to put in an eyepiece… gasp. It surprises some people that I have these, but I do enjoy visual astronomy too from time to time. What I wanted to see this night was Saturn in particular.
I have to insert a commercial here… the Paramount MyT is really great for visual astronomy with TheSky HD… just say’n… anyway, I was setting up for the first time post Texas Star Party, so I did a rough polar alignment as soon as it was dark using one of the big dipper stars (you don’t need Polaris to polar align a Paramount), and a short visual TPoint run with a few stars. Saturn it turns out was behind some trees, so I thought I’d try M13. I used the included 28mm eyepiece which yielded 96x magnification. I’ve tried M13 with an 8” SCT long before and I must say I was not impressed. This was a long time ago though, and I’ve gotten better at just about everything, including collimation (more on this in a sec). In Lake Mary Florida, near a high school and shopping center… with averted vision I could make out the powdery glisten of the stars in the core. Globular clusters are my favorite… looking directly at it of course it was a smudge, but just gaze a little to the edge of the cluster, and POP, out come the resolved stars. Gorgeous!
Finally Saturn cleared the trees. Ah, there is nothing like Saturn in an eyepiece! I switched to my 13mm Nagler, a bit higher quality eyepiece, and this also boosted me to 207x magnification. A bit larger Saturn greeted me, with several of the moons. Titan was really obvious, as was Rhea, Tethys, Enceladus, and Dione. There’s an app for that by the way (and yes I wrote that too<g>). For the conditions that night, I did not push the magnification further. Saturn looked okay but faintly fuzzy, but at moments it would stabilize and be sharp as a razor. I knew I was at the limits of seeing that night and I was pretty happy as it was.
This optical design is optimized for image sharpness, not bright images. At f/15 I’m not even going to try deep sky long exposure astrophotography, but it’s ideal for the moon, planets, and even with a full aperture solar filter, the sun. The optical “spot size” is best right in the middle too so again for planets this is perfect as long as you center your target. While I could go on and on about how the optical design get’s credit for the great views, I’m going to say a good 80% of the advantage is actually from the fact that the system was well collimated. Collimation is the NUMBER ONE cause of poor images, and this is why I love optical designs that require little to no (emphasis on the NO) collimation. The Mak-Cass is such a beast and I may never have to touch the collimation. I have a two SCT’s (one is technically an Aplanatic Schmidt) and if you breath on them, they need to be recollimated… much less toss them in the car and go somewhere. I had not considered that the Mak-Cass would be a good grab-and-go scope for visual observing, but I’m going to have to consider this. It is certainly easier to transport than my Esprit 150, and the lack of collimation gives me a refractor-like advantage over lugging out an 8″ or 9.25″ SCT. I might even try rotoscoping on a birding adventure… although the smaller versions might be better for that.
The focuser worked well. There is no reduction gear for fine focus, but at f/15 you have a larger depth of field, and I found I did not need it. Plus for visual, your eye can accommodate a little bit so I had zero issues finding a sweet spot on both M13 or Saturn. I’m not sure how this would work for imaging though, and I’m not going to take any chances. I’ve already popped on my Optec motorized focuser (I have a variety of adapters), and will be trying to image with it soon. The motorized focuser does just pop on and off very easily, even in the dark so it’s possible on a single evening I could do both some visual and some digital observing with it. Time will tell, and I’ll let you know how things go… as soon as the weather clears up 😉