Submitted: Thursday, 16th March 2006 by Allan Gould
I thought that I would write a review of the HEQ5-Pro mount that I use with an 8” SCT, 70 mm guide-scope etc.. I have had this mount for a month or so and I have been extremely impressed with it so far.
I purchased the mount from Andrews Communications and it arrived within a few days (after ordering/negotiating over the phone) in two well packaged cardboard boxes. One contained the tripod while the other contained the head. Both have Styrofoam molded packaging which I have saved for transporting the unit to a dark site. The mount also came with a 12volt cigarette lighter adapter, allen key and spanner as well as cabling for the handset. Two instruction manuals (which are also available on-line and easy to understand) were also included as well as two counter weights and a mounting bar for a scope.
If you have had experience with a GEM mount, the whole setup was extremely easy to quickly setup and within 20 minutes I had my scope and mount roughly polar aligned South and at the approximate Dec using an inclinometer. The mount does not come with a bubble level integrated into the mount and so I had to use a spirit level to level the tripod and then a compass to align approximately North/South. Beware that the threaded bolt that anchors the head to the tripod can come pre-magnetised which will throw your compass reading out from true North, therefore I aligned without this in place initially and then put the mount together. The supplied mounting bar attached to the OTA is securely attached to the mount using two captive mounting bolts with largish knobs. I also liked the fact that the counterbalance bar slides into the GEM head for storage and is released with a single twist of a lever. Tightening this made the bar secure and the counterweights were easy to slide on and retained with a locking bolt at the end of the bar. Analogue setting circles are on both axies and easy to read. I powered the scope initially with a transformer unit I normally use with my Losmandy G11+Gemini mount but also used a 17 Amp sealed battery.
The setup procedure was simple - entering the usual time, date, location and time zone parameters. Unfortunately you have to go through this step wise each time you power up the mount. Next was the alignment procedure which gives the choice of a one, two or three star alignment. The latter apparently takes into account cone error between scope and mount alignment. Tapping the mount demonstrated a high degree of stability as vibrations damped out in under one second.
I was amazed at how quiet the motors were when they ramped up to 800x sidereal and went to the first star. Impressively quiet [quieter than LXD75 mounts]. Under high magnification there is no vibration apparent from the motors which were smooth and inaudible when tracking. The software that came with the mount was version 2.5 that did not have a good selection of stars for the Southern Hemisphere i.e. no Canopus?!?!?!?!?!?. I sent the handset back to Tasco for the chip to be re-programmed to version 2.5a [a for Australia?], this imputs a far greater selection of stars, but you had better know all the weird star names if you are going to get those alignments to the correct stars spot on.
Anyway, the goto is impressive if you are well polar aligned – quite accurate but I found that if you only roughly align then gotos are NOT that accurate even with a 3 star alignment. This brings me to my next point, in that the mount does come with an illuminated polar scope. I found that it was unusable for two reasons. The first was that the mount was shipped with a northern hemisphere reticule and the second is that the LED is way too bright and on continuously while the mount is powered up. Tasco is getting a Southern hemisphere reticule for me that will be easy to interchange and I will have to lower the brightness of the LED somehow.
I did a drift alignment due to the above problems with the PAS and goto was spot on thereafter. Both Alt and Az adjustments were easy to make with the provided levers and knobs.
From the advertisements the mount is painted white which makes it easier to see at night and also pretty to look at, but there is always a downside, in that any small bit of grease or dirt does tend to show up. The paint job is quite good and a wipe with a cleaning rag restores it to pristine condition. The same with the stainless steel legs of the mount.
What has surprised me is that this mount is a power hungry beast compared to an autostar/ds motor conversion I made a while back with a CG5 mount. The latter mount would run for 3-4 nights on a single charge of a 7A/Hr battery, the HEQ5-Pro mount only lasted one night on a 17 A/Hr battery before the on LED started blinking to indicate low battery power.
Making a serial RS232 adapter enabled me to control the scope with Earth Centered Universe running on my laptop or using a Palm Visor running Planetarium by Andreas Hoeffer. This increased the database of the handset which is limited to 13000 or so objects. However the handset does NOT include a SYNC function which I think is a huge limitation for the scope. If you are a small bit off in goto then you can’t re-correct the model and get better pointing. There are rumours that SynScan will release a handset at some time that will have the SYNC function as well as to be programmable from the internet e.g. Autostar etc. At the moment I am trying to implement a Bluetooth connection and a PPC running The Sky software which would make this a great platform.
The PEC function works well and appears to improve the guiding on a star but this was done using an illuminated reticule with no real hard data. I will get some PEC data and make an addendum to this review when I have it. The mount appeared to have smooth and low PE. The PEC information is retained if the scope is powered off but you will have to re-do the 10 minute training if you release the clutches. Using CCDops, I calibrated the mount in both RA and DEC. The mount appeared to have no tracking errors straight out of the box and with NO backlash apparent in either axis. Incredible performance - in a mount costing this amount. This calibration was repeated for each axis several times and each time the parameters appeared constant.
The autoguiding port works well and guided cleanly with an ST7 camera or with Guidedog controlling a modified webcam through a GPINT parallel port adapter (Shoestring astronomy). This makes the mount exceptionally well suited to DSLR or CCD work at either the high or low end of the scale.
The other reason I bought the mount is that each separate component of the mount is easily portable and sets up to a solid bit of kit for visual or astrophotography at a remote site. I would describe it as quick, clean, efficient and quiet - so much so that you enjoy the view and forget the mount - which is as it should be. One other thing is that apart from the power and handset cables there are no other connections to foul the mount. Some have so many cable connections that something always goes wrong. So far I have not much to criticise except perhaps the functionality and depth of the handset software, which if the new handset appears [if the rumours are correct] will take this mount into the GM-8 class at 40% of the cost.
I must state that both TASCO and Andrews Communications have been good companies to deal with and have offered good after-sales service and I must mention that I have no affiliation with either.