I got back from Astro Pete’s a short while ago after helping set up and play with the new SkyWatcher EQ8 mount. So where do I begin? As I mentioned earlier today I cannot comment on the “actual” performance of the mount yet as I have not been present with one running and imaging but I will share what I have found with today’s experience.
All the boxes were quite large as would be expected from such a large mount and all arrived in perfect condition so it was with some relief that we would not be returning a damaged unit and not get to see it set up. It is also worth noting that all components were shipped in double cardboard boxes (very thick) as well as plenty of protective foam layers to ensure it did not move or get damaged in transit. I think any courier would struggle to damage this mount in transit no matter how poor their service. This is a credit to Sky Watcher. The mount head also comes in a good quality carry case on wheels, it’s hard to impress but this box was really good. It held all the little bits and pieces in pre cut foam segments as well as the mount head and all of this was in a proper heavy duty box with wheels, so when your moving this thing around you can be assured the mount head is secure and safe.
First impressions are lasting ones and my first impression of the EQ8 Mount is a good one. Sure the EQ8 is not an AP1200GTO but hey it’s not $12K either. The EQ8 mount is a quality built unit for what I think is a very fair price. It is built solid, finished well, and moves very smoothly. I believe it holds great promise when finally used in anger and will pose a very big challenge for other manufacturers to step up in price and load capacity.
The tripod is very solid (well it’s almost more a pier with legs than a tripod, It can be adjusted quite a bit in height to suit almost everyone’s needs and has three adjustable feet to assist to provide both good sound footing on dirt / grass and also to assist with levelling the whole tripod. It can easily be lifted and set up by one person, however it will be a challenge in awkward postures (like putting it in the back of your car) so some caution needed when handling it. Attaching the mount head is done so via a knob on the side of the pier that drives the centre bolt into the mount head, the head is also secured by two allen bolts once it has been polar aligned.
The mount head again is quite heavy but is able to be lifted by one person from it’s usual carry case and is easy enough to place on top of the tripod head, once secured by the centre bolt it can be easily adjusted in azimuth and altitude to gain polar alignment. These mechanics of these adjustments have been very well thought out and are very well executed by Sky Watcher. Altitude adjustment is via a very large worm gear and is smooth and easy to make small changes. Additionally the Tripod head has three Teflon pads to ensure smooth movement in azimuth and this works really well.
The RA and DEC axis movements are “very” smooth with the clutches disengaged and indicates the bearings used are good quality and well lubricated. With the clutches engaged I cannot feel any play in the worm gears at all signalling the alignment and quality of the gears are excellent. I did find the clutches very different in application to mounts of past by Sky Watcher, there is a limit as to how far you can tighten these clutches and they still provide some degree of movement, this is taking a page out of the Losmandy books. What this means in the real world is that balance is very important when setting up the mount and scope to ensure there is no slippage when slewing, on the plus side this means if you were to suffer a cable snag or mount crash it will not cause any damage to the mount. So I think the extra work in balancing your equipment is well worth safety the clutches bring, this will also take a bit of getting used to by those accustomed to the old style clutches. It also allows the push to function as advertised by Sky Watcher with the encoders tracking the movement.
The RA and DEC Drive are labelled as direct drive on the EQ8 Mount and this is partly true, the DEC axis is truly direct drive and the motor couples to the work gear directly, this is not so true of the RA drive as it has a 1:1 belt drive system between the motor and the worm gear. I don’t believe this will have any real affect on the systems performance and was a design consideration for motor placement. As far as the drive system running, it does not sound at all like the coffee grinders of past and has a smooth and low volume mechanical whir when running at speed. When driving at Sidereal rates it is all but silent.
The Counter Weight bar is huge to say the least, it is very solid and will easily hold 30 – 40 KG of weights, it was good to see that the bar now screws into the mount head and is not actually a part of the DEC rotation mechanics, this ensures a smoother movement for all 360′ of rotation and I think was a really good choice by Sky Watcher.
Some other small things to note, the power cord has a special two pin plug, this is great as it screws into the socket and will not be easily pulled out but bad as you need to buy a new cable if you want to adapt it to a power supply directly.
The on off switch is on the front face plate, it is good quality but one might argue in the way of cords etc. to be bumped off.
The clutch knobs when fully engaged are hard to release as they fall hard up on a surface of the mount and you need a good finger nail to release it again.
The counter weights are large (2 * 10 KG weights) but if you plan to carry a big scope and gear plan to get an extra one at the time of purchase. We have a ~20KG 12″ scope on top of the EQ8 and this had the weights at the full extension of the bar.
The SynScan Hand controller bracket really seems like an after thought as it attaches to the back of the tripod and will break easily if bumped and the cord may get tangled on large slews to the opposite hemisphere.
You will need some tools to assemble and dis-assemble the mount and tripod, this is not so bad as all you need to complete the task is supplied but be sure to pack it all as you will not get far without it in the field.
EQMod did not work with the EQDIR cable, this was a big issue for me as I run all my current gear from my PC/Laptop, I am sure there will be a large number of others wanting this functionality as well so rest assured once these get out to the public and in touch with the EQMod team I am sure this is just a matter of time till it is corrected.
All in all a very solid well built mount, for the price this will be very hard for other manufacturers to beat. The over all quality is great and shows SkyWatchers (Syntas) commitment to improving their game when it comes to quality control.
While this mount is heavy it is not over the top and is still somewhat portable, we managed (first time use) to assemble admire and dis-assemble the beast in less than two hours, I am sure the discerning astronomer will easily forsake some convenience for the numerous improvements this mounts brings, a slight more time to set up but hey you could strap your kids to this thing :). so well worth it for the load capacity alone.
Remember, I haven’t had a chance to verify it’s real world performance as yet but it is off to a great start, it looks and feels all the goods and I am sure will come through in the performance factors as well. Lets just hope the EQMod front is fixed quickly.
I hope the review was of help to you. A special thanks to Peter from Astro Pete’s and from Martin for sharing his experience in opening up the new EQ8 Mount and letting us have a play and feel.
Below are some pictures from today, I am sure you will find many others in the coming days to add to this.
Images from previous posts and the internet I found. You can see some subtle differences in the mount between pre prod and post prod.