Did I buy an expensive lemon?
I purchased brand new EQ8 German Equatorial mount from Skywatcher in December 2013, to replace my trusty old EQ6 Pro mount. The EQ8 was toted to have a sturdy build and a decent payload capacity. At the same time I bought GSO’s new 12 inch Ritchey–Chrétien Carbon fibre truss telescope to adorn the mount.
Once out of the box, immediately it required updated firmware to fix known problems. Did you get that? KNOWN problems! This thing was just new on the market, being sold with problems. There were no independent customer reviews available yet. Yep, sucker me.
The drive algorithms in both right ascension and declination were clunky and scattered. At times it appeared confused. Astronomy friends of mine, Tex and Cathy, helped out on the phone and guided me through the update process until we got the drive motors singing properly.
After the firmware update I was told by many considered to be experts – to connect it to the computer and let software run it for target acquisition, alignment and image capture etc etc. I was told to throw the hand-controller over my shoulder and never look at it again.
This was always my intent anyway as I wanted to use the rig for astrophotography and run target selection, guiding, image capture and processing from the computer.
This is where I ran into trouble, With such a powerful telescope sitting on top, (GSO 12inch RC Truss ), my field of view, (FOV), in the night sky was akin to searching the heavens with a long black drinking straw. Every time I set coordinates on my aligned mount, the telescope would go in the right direction but would be off by quite a margin. Dim targets were impossible to detect by eye through a finder scope or even with a short exposure. Was the target in the FOV or just out? If out, in which direction and how far? There was no way to tell but by doing a spiral search of the sky, taking pictures and stretching the histogram in the vain hope I might chance across the fuzzy targets.
I trialled other programs, tried re-writing it’s alignment points again and again, building a brain. I discovered that the built-in encoders inside the drives were in conflict with pretty much every software program you could think of. Then I had to download an open source software program called EQ8 tools, just so I could disable the encoders every session. This solved one problem, but it was still way off and I would waste all my nights just trying to find a target with no time left for photography. This nearly killed astronomy for me completely.
I kept being told to buy more and more expensive software and that would fix it. In my opinion, I shouldn’t have to buy more software for a machine I spent nearly five thousand dollars on brand new. Shouldn’t it just work? I demand nothing less. Unfortunately life, jobs and three new children took priority and the mount went un-tackled for long periods of time.
I thought a lot about bulldozing the hobby and the building. My good friend Logan T, ended up taking my mount to his property out of town and put his telescope on top of it with a rice-grain-sized chip on the camera. He used very expensive, ($1000+) SkyX software from Software Bisque and it worked perfectly, telling us that it was purely a software issue, not mechanical.
Logan eventually managed to contact a technician from Tasco, (who seem to have taken over the servicing of Skywatcher) who advised me to download a program called Sequence Generator Pro. This program uses plate-solving to identify the star patterns it is pointing at, then correct accordingly, taking a confirmation photograph when it’s done. The program is difficult to configure and asked me a lot of questions in the setup that I have no idea how to answer. Logan remote desk-topped in on a number of occasions and got it configured for me. We sent the mount to two deep space targets and it centred both of them without a hitch.
It is a 45 day trial program, after which I have to pay $99 dollars to buy it, but at least when I do, I know it works, unlike so many others that were promised to me that would. I still shouldn’t have had to, but it seems I have no choice.