LX80 Multi-Mount First Light Report/ Review of Mount in Equatorial Mode (Visual)
I had a great night last night. I setup my new mount in the house just to get the feel for how everything worked. There were no problems at all with this and no missing or broken parts. There were a few tiny scuffs, mostly on the tripod, but nothing to worry about. At this point, I couldn't really feel any play in either axis.
Since things went so well, I took the next step and decided to load it up with my three imaging scopes, you know, just to see how it handled the weight. I went ahead and tilted the mount for equatorial operation, and added the counterweight bar. This was my first complaint, the bar is an anodized black, and it is completely impossible to install the anodized silver counterweights without scuffs and mars everywhere; wish they had just stuck with the old standard chrome. This is a minor complaint, though. My three imaging scopes are my AT6RC (13 lbs.), my 5" Vixen Reflector (9 lbs.), and my WO 66 (3.7 lbs). All totaled, allowing for my electric focuser, dual mounting bar, piggy back rails and rings, and finder scope, that's probably a good 30 lbs. total. Once all this was on board, I could definitely feel the play in the RA axis. I was getting nervous! Trying to remain positive, though, I hooked up the Audiostar and decided to do a mock alignement and some mock gotos indoors. Autostar setup was easy, as I am pretty used to it from my ETX. When it came time to align, though, and the mount slewed to the location of the first star, as it stopped moving in RA, the scopes looked to be bouncing like they were riding a pogo stick. It didn't take too long for this to stop, though, so I'd say damping time was probably around 2 seconds.
I was obviously becoming very concerned by this point, so I took a break to walk outside. It was around 9:00 and the sky was beautifully, moonlessly clear. As I looked to the East, a couple of Geminids flashed by! Then a third, a long duration, small, greenish fireball lit the sky from north to south in the eastern sky. Spectacular! You know I had to get the mount out there, by this point, I'm sure. I was tired from working all day, and I didn't want to disassemble everything inside just to reassemble it outside, though, so I took the scopes off and along with my son we carried the mount out to the driveway. The handles on each side really aid in this. This is a really nice feature, that just seems so logical.
Since I am used to aligning with a polar scope, I do not like the routine of the LX80 for polar alignment. But by using the 0 degree markings on the mount and actually physically moving the mount to get Polaris in the field of view in my eyepiece, I was able to approximate a fairly accurate polar-scope type alignment (not drift, I know, but it should work pretty well). Anywy, after getting it polar aligned and reattaching and carefully balancing the scope assembly, I plugged in the Autostar, did a reset and began my real alignment. I might mention, at this point, that one of the complaints I have read so much is about it having no way to hang the hand controller. Meade has taken care of this by now including a handy metal hook that attaches to the back of the Autostar and hangs perfectly from one of the aforementioned carry handles. It is a simple and elegant solution!
Using "easy" align, the mount first slewed to Vega. It was in the field of view of my 32mm eyepiece, but I did have to center. Next, it slewed to Pollux. It was well outside the eyepiece, and I had to use my finder to get it centered. During this, I could see the damping problem anytime I slewed in RA, but it was more of a nuisance than a major problem. Autostar did its calculations and "Align Successful" appeared on the screen. "This is going too well, I though to myself." The obvious first target was Jupiter. As it slewed toward the planet's location, I got to hear the rather juvenile Audiostar description of the planet, but it was kinda nice in a 'nerdy' kind of way. As far as the motors, they were not silent by any stretch of the imagination, but they were not loud and did not sound strained at all. I could easily hear the Audiostar over the moving gears.
As the pogo bouncing of the RA axis stopped, I must say, I was afraid to look in the eyepiece. But I did, and there it was. Jupiter was dead (and I mean DEAD) center. As I looked in the eyepiece, I noticed something that was the most pleasant surprise of all, though. There was no movement or 'jitters' at all. This was, quite frankly, a shock, since the RA axis is so loose and springy. But the view was actually more steady than with any other mount I own. Oh, if I were to bump the scopes, I could see the play in RA, but I would see similar should I bump something while looking through a scope on any of my other mounts. The point is, at the eyepiece, there was no motion. My face against it produced none, and using the focuser (electric, mind you) produced none. I'm sure manually focusing would give it some jitters, but I do not think it would be too terribly unbearable.
I was becoming optimistic once again. And over the next hour I slewed to the following targets in this order, M42, M35, M36, M37, M38, M81, M82, and M1. Every single one was again bulls-eye center! Finally, I slewed to M31 which was my only target in the west, and it was the only thing I went for all night that was not perfectly centered. It was at the extreme edge of the field of view, though, so it was still visible in the eyepiece. I'm sure my less than perfect polar alignment and leveling were the problem with it. Finally, I slewed back to Orion once more, and it was again dead on.
I went inside to give the mount my last test. When I came back out, some 30 minutes later, M42 was still exactly in the middle of the eyepiece. That proved that the LX80 had excellent tracking over a half hour period. I wish I could have left it longer, but I was tired and needed to get to bed.
So, in a nutshell, these are my impressions:
A few minor cosmetic issues aside, the Mead LX80 Multi Mount is a solid performer, visually, in equatorial mode, at 30lbs. load. This will probably be contrary to what others have said, but, I believe it to be absolutely true. There is a "springy-ness" to the RA axis that, in my opinion, looks much worse than it really is. It has been written elsewhere that the mount's problems are the result of the spring loaded worm gear. When the mount stops a slew in RA, you can definitely see this issue. Still, after the motion stops, there is very little, if any, detectible shakes or jitters at the eyepiece. Using an electric focuser probably helped matters in avoiding the 'shakes,' but I intentionally grabbed hold of the eyepiece several times, and any motion I saw was gone in a fraction of a second. After careful balancing and a fairly accurate polar alignment, gotos were extremely accurate and slews were pretty quiet with no apparent motor strain. Ten targets were hit, with nine perfectly centered and the other within the field of view of a 32mm eyepiece. Tracking was very good over a half hour duration. In short, I am happy with the performance visually, next I will try it photographically and see if the RA issue gives me any problems.
I am including some photos. The first two are with the mount setup inside, and the final one is with it in the field and aimed at M31. It was a good night!
M111 - The Rambling Messier
Celestron C9.25, C80ED, 5SE, and 102GT, Skywatcher 200N, Astrotech AT6RC, William Optics 66SD, Meade ETX90, Orion 15 X 70 Binoculars, Skywatcher EQ5P, Meade LX80, Canon 450D and Modified 1000D, Olympus E410