Review of the iOptron SkyHunter AZ/EQ mount

I received the iOptron SkyHunter AZ/EQ mount for testing. This is a compact mount with GoTo and two modes – alt-azimuth and equatorial. The declared load capacity is up to 5 kg.

iOptron SkyHunter AZ/EQ

Some characteristics of the mount:
Maximum load: 5 kg
Mount head weight: 1.3 kg
Metal frame structure
Built-in rechargeable battery
Slew speed: 4.5 degrees per second
Periodic error: less than 10″
Worm gears: aluminum alloy, 144 teeth, bearing-mounted
Worms: bronze, on bearings
Worm period: 600 seconds
Transmission: Synchronous belt
Built-in Wi-Fi
Remote control with LCD screen, Go2Nova GoTo system.
There is no pole finder, but there is a version+ with an electronic pole finder. This is exactly the version I had for testing.

The mount is supplied in two boxes (along with a tripod).

In the box:
– mount head
– equatorial wedge
– counterweight
– counterweight Shaft
– pier extension
– tripod
– hand contoller with cable
– cable for charging and connecting to a computer
– electronic polar scope with cable
– manual (including in Russian).

Some of my measurements:
Mount head: weight 1.28 kg, dimensions 200 x 150 x 85 mm
Wedge: weight 0.47 kg
Counterweight: weight 1.4 kg, diameter 78 mm, height 40 mm
Counterweight shaft: weight 0.5 kg, length 200 mm, diameter 20 mm, thread diameter 9.38 mm
Pier extension: weight 0.66 kg, length 190 mm, diameter 82 and 58 mm
Remote control: weight 0.16 kg.
Tripod: weight 2.3 kg, length 680 mm, extends to 495 mm. Diameter 32 mm.
Total weight: 6.77 kg.

The body of the mount is partly metal, partly plastic. Vixen format mounting pad. At the bottom of the mount there is a 3/8″ threaded hole for mounting on a tripod. Fixing and loosening of the axes is carried out by two red flywheels. There is a hole on the body for the counterweight shaft. The shaft can also be screwed into the flywheel on the elevation axis, there is a thread there, but this will close the hole in the azimuth flywheel, which can be used to roughly install the polar axis. The housing has a bubble level for initial alt-azimuth mount installation and serves as a base for mounting the iPolar electronic pole finder. There are also two hidden hex screws for adjusting the pressure on the worm gear.



On the side of the mount there are two M3 threaded holes for installing the iOptron iGuider autoguider.

By sliding the cover at the bottom of the mount, you can access the battery:

The iPolar electronic finder looks like a small metal cylinder with a few screws and a USB Mini-B connector on the side. Metal threaded lid. To protect the lens from fogging and side light from flashlights, I recommend adding a lightweight homemade lens hood of a suitable diameter (for example, from a plastic tube). To use the finder, you need a laptop with iOptron iPolar software installed.


Place to install the iPolar pole finder
Place to install the iPolar pole finder
iPolar installed
iPolar installed
iOptron iPolar app interface
iOptron iPolar app interface

Iterative installation of the polar axis without a pole finder using the remote control is also possible (MENU > ALIGNMENT > POLAR ITERATE ALIGN), however, the initial installation, although visually through a hole in the wedge, is necessary.

Connectors:
– USB Mini-B (for battery charging and control via PC)
– six-pin connector for the remote control.

Control elements on the body:
– power (on/off)
– three buttons ◄ ● ► (right ascension motor control, selection of mount speed – solar, lunar, half 1/2x, sidereal 1x, as well as operating mode in the southern hemisphere S)
– Wi-Fi reset button hidden in the hole.

Light indication:
– LEDs indicating the mount mode near the three buttons
– side battery status LED.

To enable operation in the southern hemisphere, with the mount turned on, hold down the ● button until the LED with the letter S begins to blink.

Switching AZ/EQ modes without using the remote control is carried out by holding down the central button ● when the mount is turned off and then turning on the power. After switching from equatorial mode to alt-azimuth mode, all five LEDs will blink and stop lighting. Switching from alt-azimuth mode to equatorial mode is carried out in the same way; after execution, only one LED indicating the mount speed will be lit.

You can also switch the mount mode in the remote control menu
MENU > SETTINGS > SWITCH TO AA MODE
MENU > SETTINGS > SWITCH TO EQ MODE

The zero position of the mount is in equatorial mode – the pipe looks at the world pole, the counterweight is from below.
The zero position of the mount in alt-azimuth mode is – the mount is turned to the north, the pipe looks at the zenith.

The wedge is small, compact, almost entirely metal. There is a bubble level. There is also a small limit screw that needs to be set according to the latitude of the observation location.


Shaft with counterweight
Shaft with counterweight



Tripod, upper part
Tripod, upper part

The remote control is large, with a large screen, orange backlight. There is a screen heating function. There is a red flashlight on the back of the remote control. There is no fastening for the tripod, only a small rope-lanyard. There is a connector at the bottom of the remote control. The remote control interface is in English or Chinese, the menu is intuitive, but I definitely recommend reading the instructions before use.



Torch
Torch


Various uses of the mount

Использование монтировки в AZ-режиме без противовеса
Using the mount in AZ mode without a counterweight
Использование монтировки в AZ-режиме с противовесом
Using the mount in AZ mode with a counterweight
Использование монтировки в AZ-режиме с противовесом
Using the mount in AZ mode with a counterweight
Экваториальный режим
EQ mode
Режим трекера с легким фотообъективом.
Tracker mode with lightweight photo lens

The mount operates almost silently in tracking mode. When slew at maximum speed, the mount is quite loud. The measured highest slew speed along one of the axes is about 3.75 degrees per second.


How to use a mount as a tracker (sample algorithm)

– Place the equatorial wedge on the tripod, and then the mount.
– Perform an approximate alignment of the polar axis by looking through the hole at the bottom of the equatorial wedge so that the North Star is visible in it. You can also shine a laser pointer through this hole to roughly aim at the North Star. The mounting platform should be on top. If necessary, turn it by loosening the altitude (declination) axis flywheel.
– If the camera lens is heavy, I recommend also screwing on the counterweight shaft and checking the balance of the mount. Install the camera onto the mount using adapters (mounting plate + ball head, not included).
– Turn on the mount, check the mount’s operating mode using the LED indication, and if necessary, switch it to equatorial mode. Select the required mount rotation speed (for example, 1x) by pressing the ● button
– Check the polar axis alignment again through the hole in the finder. For more precise setting of the polar axis, use the iPolar electronic finder (a laptop is required for use), or iterative setting of the polar axis through the remote control menu.
– Point the camera at the object.

The mount can be rotated: manually by loosening the locking flywheels, or from the remote control, or via Wi-Fi through the application, or using buttons on the mount (only in the right ascension axis). GoTo does not work in this case, only object tracking. For landscape astrophotography and shooting bright objects, alignment may not be necessary.

A slightly different, but more detailed algorithm for using any equatorial mount in tracker mode is in my article.

 

iOptronCommander application for android
When you turn on the mount’s power, a Wi-Fi network with a name in the format SH_XXXXXX becomes available.
You need to turn off mobile data, then connect to this Wi-Fi network and launch the application.

The application has only a horizontal interface. To connect to the mount you need to press the only button on the screen:

Primary screen:

SLEW — menu for slewing to objects:

TIME & SITE — time and place of observation. It is possible to synchronize this data with a smartphone:

MOVE/SYNC — menu for manual mount guidance with virtual buttons and the ability to select speed:

ZERO POSITION — setting the start position of the mount:

MOUNT SETTINGS — Some mount settings (tracking and slew speed):

The mount is not detected through Stellarium Mobile Plus, but the manufacturer claims support for the Sky Safari application.

Testing
The mount test in tracker mode was carried out using a Canon EF 40/2.8 STM photo lens, an Optolong L-enhance clip EOS filter and a Canon 550Da camera. The shooting took place in the center of Anapa. The polar axis was set first by eye through a hole in the wedge and then using a laser pointer.
At shutter speeds of 30, 120 and 300 seconds, the stars in the center are clear, without shift.

Фокусное расстояние 40 мм, выдержка 30 секунд
Focal length 40 mm, shutter speed 30 seconds
Фокусное расстояние 40 мм, выдержка 120 секунд
Focal length 40 mm, shutter speed 120 seconds
Фокусное расстояние 40 мм, выдержка 300 секунд
Focal length 40 mm, shutter speed 300 seconds

When using the Samyang 135mm f/2.0 ED UMC Canon EF photo lens, the requirements for the accuracy of setting the polar axis have significantly increased. The maximum shutter speed at which you can use the setting “by eye” without a pole finder is about 30 seconds. With a full installation of the polar axis, a shutter speed of at least a minute is possible, but the influence of periodic errors may already be felt there. When using shutter speeds longer than 2 minutes at a focal length of 135mm or greater, I recommend using autoguider to reduce periodic error.

Фокусное расстояние 135 мм, выдержка 30 секунд
Focal length 135 mm, shutter speed 30 seconds

Pros
+ Compact.
+ Build quality.
+ Tracking accuracy.
+ Belt drive.
+ High slew speed.
+ Almost everything you need is included — wedge, axle and counterweight, pier extension, tripod.
+ Convenient remote control with a huge heated screen and a built-in battery (for saving time and date).

Cons
– The Android app is crude, slow, and has a limited number of settings. Controlling from the remote control is much more convenient and stable.
– Personally, I need the optical pole finder.
– Fixing the azimuth/right ascension axis works strangely.
– Plastic parts in the tripod.
– No Russian language in the remote control and application.

Separately, I would like to give my opinion about the built-in battery. On the one hand, this is convenient, since an external power source is not needed. Operating time is stated to be up to 10 hours on a single charge at an ambient temperature of 20 degrees. The English instructions state that the mount can be powered via USB while in use, but the Russian instructions state that this cannot be done. In addition, although the mount is stated to operate at temperatures down to -10 degrees, I am not sure that the battery will not discharge quickly at low temperatures. The good thing is that the battery can be replaced if it fails.

Summary
The iOptron SkyHunter AZ/EQ is a compact, versatile mount for both visual observation and astrophotography. In terms of carrying capacity – in azimuth mode it can easily handle a Schmidt-Cassegrain with an aperture of up to 150 mm (for example, Celestron C6), or a refractor with an aperture of up to 102 mm, or a mirror telescope up to 130 mm. I recommend not exceeding the maximum load, and even better, not loading the mount in azimuth mode by more than 3.5 kg. In equatorial mode, the mount can be successfully used in tracker mode, or with photographic lenses and telescopes weighing up to 2.5 kg.

You can get acquainted with the inner world of the mount in an excellent review from Ivan Ionov.
Warning: Opening or modifying the mount yourself will void the warranty!

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