I ordered pretty much the entire rig at the same time– the mount, OTA, camera, filter wheel, filters, guide camera, tripod, and an extra 10 lb weight for good measure. I already had a guide scope that I planned to use. About half of the equipment was in stock when I ordered, but I was aware that my mount wasn’t going to arrive at the same time as everything else; it was quoted as about a six-week lead time.
Ha. So you noticed that I said “quoted”. While the mount was the first thing on my initial list, you may have noticed that it is pretty late in the game as far as the unboxings go- it actually took almost twice what they quoted. But let’s save that for the end of the post, it’s not important in the scheme of things (especially since my friend, Greg, has been waiting for his mount almost a year).
The Mount Choices
First and foremost, I needed a sturdy mount. I researched and researched. Analysis paralysis started setting in. I am sure that you can guess the different contenders. The frontrunners were:
- Various Astro Physics mounts
- Looked into both basic and absolute encoder variations
- Software Bisque’s Paramount MyT
- 10micron’s GM1000 HPS
- Losmandy’s G11GT
- Both the CEM60 and the new-at-the-time CEM120 from iOptron
- again, both the basic and absolute encoder variations
I spent times on the websites of (most of) the other players as well, Celestron, Orion, Meade, etc. None of those were really in contention, but wanted to see what they had to offer. This isn’t an in-depth comparison of features, bells, whistles, or specs, but rather my recollection of the thoughts that went through my mind.
Let’s talk about goals first. I wanted something that was really going to help me get out of my own way. That meant, to me, a rock-solid mount with good tracking capabilities. I would need to be able to Luckily cart it up to my “dark” site, about 50 minutes away if you count the stop at chik-fil-a (unless it’s a Sunday). That means that it has to have a reasonable weight. Often when people think about the weight of the scope they look at the spec sheet and say “oh, I can handle that”. They don’t think about whatever the mount will be transported in. In this case, a pelican case.
I really considered the CEM120, but when you look at its weight (57 lbs) and add in a decent size pelican case (~30 lbs) you are getting pretty close to 100 lbs. That’s more than I am comfortable with. Add in the fact that, at the time, the pier/tripod options were in question for the CEM120. The CEM60 was a much more reasonable 27 lbs (plus the case ). People that have these higher CEMs really seem to like them. The encoder option was intriguing but the quality of them came up quite a bit when researching (though, people did seem to like that you could get them on both axes). Eh, OK. Short list.
The 10micron was one that REALLY piqued my interest. High-quality, absolute encoders, great sounding numbers for tracking, etc. Weight wasn’t great but not horrendous. Cost was definitely an issue with this one, because the tripod for it was pretty steep (like, in the ballpark of the CEM mounts). Aside from cost, I found very little information on using these mounts. Some pointers to modeling software, learned that someone very involved with the platform passed away a few years prior, leaving a gap in the community. I would bet that people that have these mounts absolutely love them, but I did eventually cross them off the list.
So, the Losmandy… What can I say? This is like the “odd-man-out” in the bunch. This is the mount that, to me, looks the most old school, tried-and-true in the bunch. The GT brought some modularity to this one - overally it is quite heavy, but the RA and DEC axes come apart as separate pieces, making the single heaviest thing, well, still 44 lbs. But, it could have been worse. Price-wise, it was closer to the less expensive side of the house. Short list.
I’m going to talk about the last few choices together. Not because they are that similar, but rather because they seem to always show up together in the forums. The Astro Physics Mach1GTO (or the 1100GTO) and the Paramount MyT. Very similar price points, very different support models (yeah, the 1100 is more, but it has encoders available - I might get lost, but the mount won’t). Different software - the MyT comes with TheSkyX Pro, while I gather that most people with the Mach1GTO are using SGP. Having had little exposure to either, I was going to wing it.
Since someone spoiled the fun and put a picture at the top, you know which way I went. But why?
Phone a Friend
One of the first suggestions people get when asking about gear for astrophotography (after someone suggests they buy The Deep-sky Imaging Primer, Second Edition) is to find a local club, talk to the members, and get hands-on experience. This is what I did (after I bought the book, of course). Signed up to be a member of the Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club and went to a star party. Lo and behold, there’s someone with the mount I was most focused on. It was pretty brand new to him as well, so we talked and learned. That was several months before I got mine, so I have someone that can help me with the quirks and foibles. I likely could have found someone with a Mach1GTO, but I don’t think that I will see a 10micron out there anytime soon.
After choosing the mount, it is pretty evident which tripod or pier you want to go with it (well, except for the initial release of that CEM120). I opted for the Pyramid Portable Pier, from Software Bisque. Be careful - there are two varieties of this pier - one, which is for the ME/MEII/MX, and one which is for the MX/MX+. When I was researching them, the specs on Bisque’s website for them were identical, I pointed it out and they now have them correct. Luckily, OPT swapped the pier out free.
OK, now the part you came for. Unboxing pics. If I can figure out how this works…
Unboxing the (wrong) Pyramid Portable Pier
If you click on a picture in the gallery you can then just scroll through with the left & right arrow keys.
These pictures are actually of the ME/MEII/MX Pyramid Portable Pier- the right has a smaller plate.
Unboxing the MyT and accessories
Earlier I mentioned the quoted lead time for the MyT. As it was supposed to get shipped out, the folks at Software Bisque performed quality control. It turned out that a whole batch of the mounts had problems in the anodization process, and needed to be re-dipped (or whatever they call that). While it was inconvenient, I sure didn’t want to explain a speckled mount to my wife .
Besides, the mount wasn’t what took the longest to get here. What did may surprise you…