My Hardware

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September 10, 2009

Yeah!  The Meade 8" LX-10 telescope I bought off Ebay has made it here from Colorado.  I've set it up in my office to have a look, and my initial impression is that it is very sturdy and well built.  I can't wait to get it outside!  I can remember always wanting one of these scopes as a kid, ogling over the ads in Astronomy magazine.

September 13-18, 2009

I've had 3 separate nights now to tryout my LX-10.  All-in-all I'm happy with it, but it does have some deficiencies that I would like to correct.  These are described in more detail on my Hardware Modification Blog pages. 

October 2, 2009

The used Lumicon 80mm Super Finder that I bought off Ebay arrived today.  Boy, it sure is solid!  My initial impression is that it is well built and will do a nice job as a finder and grab-n-go telescope.

October 20, 2009

I've had some time to use and assess the 80mm Super Finder, and I'm not very happy with it.  It was played up as a good grab-n-go refractor, but the helical focuser sucks and the view is very poor through it.  Views of bright objects like the Moon (or during the daytime) are totally washed out, probably due to the lack of any baffling or flocking on the inside of the tube.  After some mulling, I've decided to gut the telescope and rebuild it to meet my needs.  See the 80mm Refractor Project page for more details.

November 20, 2009

All the other accessories I ordered (eyepieces, filters, cases) are now in.  Hmm, I may have got more stuff than I need.  Oh well.  I certainly have lots of different things I can try now!

May 20, 2010

The LX-10 with piggybacked 80mm home built refractor seems to be working pretty good so far.  Haven't had a lot of opportunity to use the 80mm for more than just a finder scope yet.  I've also completed the bulk of the modifications that I wanted to do to the LX-10.  Everything seems to be working well now, and I am looking forward to lots of observing through the warm summer months.

July 13, 2010

It has been a busy summer so far, with a lot of travel for work and pleasure.  This is the first opportunity I've had to sit down and reflect on what I've been doing astronomy-wise. My May-June has been filled with activities related to my new telescope, a Chinese built 80mm f/6 triplet apochromatic made under the brand name "Maxvision".

A few of you may recall that over the winter I built myself an 80mm f/5 achromatic, as much for educational purposes as for the practical purpose of having a wide FOV telescope to use in conjunction with my LX-10. I was pleased with how my build project turned out from a mechanical perspective, and the pairing of the 80mm f/5 with the 200mm f/10 worked very nicely for star hopping to deep-sky objects from my downtown backyard. However when I used the telescope for grab-and-go applications, like say for viewing the moon or planets, I found the view still not great above 75x. Contrast decreased with magnification, as well the image becomes more noticeably blurred. Am I seeing simply the performance limitations of an achromat? Would an APO perform significantly better? Hmmm, what to do, what to do…

Out of curiosity I searched around online to see what used APO's sell for. Well apparently people don't often sell their APO's once they have them because I couldn't find any used ones, or atleast used ones that were any significant savings over a new one. We all know what new ones go for, $600-800 or even higher if you get a real gem. But then I came across a website that direct sells Chinese made products called "" (\alog-1.html). I wasn't sure what to think at first, but further searching around revealed that the particular telescope I was looking at, the ED80, is sold by commercial outlets in Europe under the name Maxvision. It also appears that these scopes are made by the same factory as the Meade brand APO's; you can in fact order the telescope in the Meade blue/white colour scheme. I figured "what the heck" and requested a quote…$360USD plus shipping (incl. optical tube, removable dew shield, Crawford style 2" focuser, mounting dovetail, custom padded metal carry case). So I ordered one. The company sales rep was actually very nice to deal with, polite and responsive to my questions.

When it arrived, my first impression was that all-in-all it was a relatively good quality telescope. There were some minor glitches on the mechanical side: the focuser was held on by three 3mm set screws that were loose (I replaced with 10-32 set screws), the fine focus knob came loose after I used the scope for a while (I put lock-tite on the set screw), the bolt holding the mounting wedge to the tube was loose (I tightened it). Other than those three minor things, I am happy with the appearance and construction of the telescope. The optics appeared of good quality, nice green multi-coatings. I did a quick star test, and to my untrained eye the diffraction pattern looks good.

I set up my two 80mm scopes in the back yard to do a back to back comparison. First I looked in daylight at terrestrial targets (40x): the apo was noticeably sharper than the achromat and more contrasty. I then looked at Saturn (60-100x): the achromat had a distractingly obvious blue-purple halo and thus somewhat blurry edge detail, the apo had no noticeable halo and was very sharp on edges with better contrast to the background sky. For shits and giggles I tried my 45deg correcting prism and 2" 90deg mirror diagonals in the apo…I could focus with both! The apo has 100mm of focuser travel, while the achromat has only 80mm. Next I aimed the scopes at the waxing half moon (60-200x): the achro had okay contrast but the sky was definitely grey not black, the apo's contrast was very obviously much better with a nice black sky around the edges of the moon; the achro showed the fully illuminated part of the moon as washed out with little visible detail, the apo showed very nice texture details and subtle shadings in the fully illuminated areas; achro focused sharply along terminator but had a kind-of double or blurred image at higher magnifications, the apo focused sharp and crisp with no blurring or ghosts right up to 200x; I could see pretty much the same level of spatial detail with both telescopes, but the view in the apo was very clearly superior to the achromat.

I have posted some pictures of the telescope below, including a scan of the "test report" that accompanied the scope. This brings me to my closing question: can anyone explain to me what the "test report" numbers all mean? I read what I could find online, and based on that I think this scope has "okay" optics, but can anyone give me a better interpretation? Thanks.

July 23, 2010

I am very happy with my Chinese ED80.  Okay, its not a Televue or Takahashi, but for what I do with it, it works great!  Certainly miles better than an achromat.  It has some faults on the mechanical side (sloppy eyepiece holder, loose screws, dust on objective on inside), but I'm fine overlooking those considering how much it costs.  At the cottage I used it extensively on a simple Stellarvue M1 alt-az head on top of a camera tripod, and it worked great on deepsky objects...much better than I was expecting actually.  Using a 40 or 26mm Plossl for star hopping and a 6.7mm UWA for closeups, I could find nebulae, galaxies, clusters, whatever.

July 30, 2010

I purchased a used Toshiba IK-WB11A netcam off Ebay with the intention of using it for astronomy.  I am familiar with the camera as I already use two of them as nanny-cams in my kids' rooms.  They are colour security cameras with high resolution (1280 x 960) and good low light sensitivity.  I figured what the hell, let's see what they can do when attached to a telescope.  I first tried the camera outside just looking at the night sky...hmm lots of hot pixels when at the max exposure of 4sec.  Still, looks promising.

August 12, 2010

I am finding the stock LX-10 fork mount a real pain in the ass to use.  Oh it tracks fine once you have it aligned, but finding things in the sky is next to impossible.  Because of the light pollution in the city, star hopping with the 8x50 finder or even the 80mm is a pain.  Plus, the RA drive is slow when you use it to move, and there is no (decent) drive on the DEC, so moving around the sky to find anything is very frustrating.  I am also having trouble with the mount RA drive stalling when I have the 80mm piggybacked.  All this has pushed me to buy a used Orion Atlas EQ-G mount, with full GOTO.  Dang, the costs just keep piling up!

August 29, 2010

Finally have the Atlas mount in and everything suitably adapted to it.  Oh, is it ever sweet.  What the heck was I doing before with that ancient LX-10 fork mount?  This is positively civilized!

I have also had a couple opportunities to assess the Toshiba netcam.  I modified the stock camera to make it usable in prime focus on my telescope.  To do this I had to totally disassemble the camera, and remove the CCD head from the pan/tilt ball.  I then custom built a new front plate for the camera housing, with a cannibalised front off an old security camera to get the C-mount interface.  I was pretty happy the way it all went together.  When I tested it on my telescopes, I found it amazing for viewing and imaging the Moon.  It is so-so on planets (great resolution but can't control contrast & white balance), and simply way too noisy/hot pixels for deep-sky viewing.  Well, it was worth a try.  My interest in imaging the moon is sparked at least, see my Moon Phase Project page for more details.

December 9, 2010

It has been a reasonably good Autumn for observing, with 1-2 days per week with good sky conditions.  I have had roughly a year now to assess my main gear and accessories.  At this point I'd have to say that I'm pretty happy with my current configuration.  The Atlas mount with the GOTO is so nice.  I now can spend most of my time actually observing as opposed to hunting for objects.  I can choose to mount just the LX-10, just the ED80, or both depending on what I want to do.  The modified Meade field tripod is super solid and actually at an okay height for me with the Atlas mount on it.  The LX-10 (with focuser fixes & proper collimation) works great, and the ED80 has been great too.  The ED80 images of the Moon with the Toshiba netcam have been amazing.  All-in-all I am quite pleased with my current telescope setup.  For accessories, the 40mm & 26mm Meade 5000 series Plossls are great, combined with the Meade 6.7mm UWA, I can view pretty much anything.  I do on occasion use the 10mm Televue Radian or 2-4mm zoom Televue Nagler for planetary stuff or Moon viewing.  For filters my main ones are: Baader Moon & Sky, CC30M, Antares variable polarizer, and Astronomik OIII.

January 15, 2011

Since spring of 2010 I have frequented the NightSkiesNetwork website to watch the many live video astronomy broadcasts there.  The capabilities of the Mallincam video astronomy camera quickly impressed me.  Over time, comparing what others were able to observe with their Mallincams versus what I was able to achieve with eyepieces, I was eventually convinced that video astronomy was the way to go.  I was unsure for a long while; did I really want to further complicate my observing with a camera, video cables, monitors, etc.?  Well, I finally caved and put a Mallincam Xtreme camera on order before Christmas.  Rock gave me a good deal, and had it ready for me in a couple weeks.  Out of the box it was easy to hook up and get going, especially with the control software.  I was able to get "okay" images pretty easily.  Now starts the learning curve to get "great" images.  Luckily there is lots of friendly and helpful people on NSN to help.

February 27th, 2011

I happened to come across a local member of the OAOG who was selling his Mallincam Jr. plus other accessories.  He had a MFR5 focal reducer which I wanted, plus a Digital Video Enhancer (DVE) which Rock doesn't sell anymore.  I ended up getting his Jr. and MFR5, but he had already sold his DVE to someone else.  My intention was to use the Jr. as a guidescope camera, and perhaps for grab'n'go sessions.

I already had a 8-48mm zoom lens that I got for free, but over the last month I've also purchased a number of different focal length CCTV lenses (C-mount) for use with both the Mallincams and my modified Toshiba.  In all I have purchased:  2.7mm  (fish-eye), 4mm, and a 17-102mm zoom lense.  I also converted the 6mm lense originally provided with the Toshiba into a C-mount lense for use on either camera.  The zoom lense I bought used off eBay.  When it arrived I was dissappointed to discover that the optics had fungus growth all over them on the interior.  I got a rough quote of $150 to $200 to professionally clean, and even then the camera store guy had low expectations of success and suggested I junk it and buy another one (!).  I relayed this information to the lense seller, and asked for a partial refund of $120 (I paid $150 with shipping) and actually got it, without even providing pictures or official quotes or anything!  I purchased a cheap set of lens spanners and took the lens apart myself to clean.  I had it apart, cleaned, and re-assembled in about 2 hours.  I dare say things turned out pretty good in the end!  I later adapted the lense for telescope mounting by bolting a segment of dovetail bar to the lense casing.  I also got the necessary adapter rings to allow me to put standard 2" astronomical filters on the front of the 8-48 and 17-102 lenses.

April 1st, 2011

Just off of  a nice long stretch of relatively clear spring weather.  I was able to setup my mount and telescopes outside in the backyard on March 19th and leave it there for 11 days straight.  I was able to observe on 8 of those 11 days!  It was a great couple of weeks; deep-sky with the Mallincam, Moon and Saturn with the Toshiba. 

I am extremely pleased with the setup now.  It works great!  I have my laptop outside with the telescopes and mount.  It runs Stellarium and connects to the mount through Stellarium Scope and EQMOD.  I also run a simple video capture software AMCAP on it to display the video stream from the MC Jr. that is in the ED80 and acts as a remote finderscope.  Once the main scope is lined up on a star, I use the Window's free widget "crosshair" to place a cross hair on the screen to mark the star on the finderscope display.  Sweet!  The S-video and Serial cables from the Mallincam Xtreme run 50' down to my PC in the basement.  I tried using wireless to connect to the laptop from in the house (using VNC), but it was too slow and unstable, so I've ended up running a 50' Cat5 cable along with the S-video and serial.  The wired LAN outside also fixes the problem I had trying to use the Toshiba camera wirelessly.  I can now sit comfortably in my basement, and do everything I need to do to be able to observe.  I even found a way of tidying up the cables so the mount can flip around all it wants and not get tangled.

Now all I need is a permanent observatory...


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Last updated: 03-Mar-12

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