EQUIPMENT
THE SKY-WATCHER AZ-GTI ALT-AZ AND SKYMAX 102
Sky-Watcher’s
new dream
team
AZ-GTi
Design:
WiFi GoTo alt-azimuth Mount (3/8-inch
screw thread)
Controlled by free SynScan app
(Android and iOS) or SynScan hand
controller (available separately)
Can be interfaced with third-party
planetarium software
SynScan app alignment method:
brightest star alignment, north-level
alignment
Features Freedom-Find Dual-Encoder
technology
Pointing accuracy:
up to 10 arcminutes (RMS)
Tracking rates:
sidereal, lunar, solar, alignment-free
solar tracking
Power supply:
8AA batteries or external power
supply (DC 7.5–14V, 0.75A)
SkyMax
Steve Ringwood tests the dual package
of the Sky-Watcher AZ-GTi alt-az mount
and the new SkyMax 102 Maksutov
telescope and finds that smooth motions
and crisp views are their stock in trade.
A general view of the Sky-Max 102 on the AZ-GTi,
showing the eyepiece configuration and red dot finder.
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astronomynow.com • January 2018
Design:
Maksutov
Aperture:
102mm
Focal ratio:
f/12.7
Focal length:
1,300mm
Supplied eyepieces:
25mm and 10mm (52× and 130×)
Finder:
unity – red dot
Package price:
£419 SRP
REVIEWED: THE SKY-WATCHER AZ-GTI
U
nless you are into long-duration
astrophotography, the development of
alt-az GoTo systems has almost obliterated
the need for the sometimes entangling
equatorial mount. Simple, intuitive pointing
and easier instrument balancing means that
such mountings are ideal for many observers –
particularly those using telescopes for the first time.
In this package, the advantages of an alt-az
configuration have been mated with a 102mm
(four-inch) Maksutov telescope – an ideal compact
optical system that is easy to deploy – with an
aperture that will yield most of what the sky has to
offer at a focal length that can deliver fine detail.
It seems a dream team – and I was eager to see
whether it was a marriage made in heaven.
The AZ-GTi GoTo mount
Out of the box, it looks almost too small to be
a GoTo mechanism. Yet I found that the neatly
styled L-shaped mounting was easily capable of
throwing its two-kilogram SkyMax around the
sky with not a quiver of strain, even when I used
large eyepieces. Indeed, sporting a 45mm SkyWatcher/Vixen type dovetail saddle, it is capable
of hefting five kilograms.
I was sent no hand controller, for the best trick
this mount has to offer is that it can be controlled
cable-free through its own WiFi connection with
a smart device (iOS or Android), using the free
Sky-Watcher SynScan application. It took only
moments to download and install this app on
my Samsung Galaxy S5. (It is also capable of
interfacing with third-party planetarium software.)
Initialising SynScan, there is a brief partnering
procedure to connect the mount to your device.
The software’s main screen then offers a plethora
of functionality – not being a conventional hand
paddle with limited text display, the screen is full
of detail and options – and at night the screen
switches to red-light mode. Of course, before
I began the planned mechanical and optical
challenges, stellar alignment was required to
enable GoTo functionality.
Touching the ‘alignment’ icon presented me
with options of ‘brightest star’ or ‘north level’,
of which I chose the former. The software
immediately provides a list of available stars.
Some of these I thought were a little obscure –
particularly to a novice who might need to run
for a star atlas. Making it easy for myself, I chose
Vega. Using the screen’s directional ‘pads’ and the
telescope’s red dot finder, I was able to accurately
slew the SkyMax to my prey in just a few seconds.
Pressing the panel’s tick mark to indicate my
alignment’s arrival, nothing happened. Mentally
shrugging, I veered off a little, returned Vega to
the eyepiece field’s centre and pressed the tick
The tube livery is black, with
embedded frosty sparkles,
and looks quite smart.
again (perhaps this time a little harder!). Again,
the software refused to acknowledge my action
and did not move on to further functionality.
Burrowing into the help pages, I found that the
tick confirmation is only enabled if the ‘up’ and
‘right’ direction buttons are previously pressed
in sequence. Thus, you can only complete
alignment when, once aligned, you mis-align
it by short presses of these buttons – or you
judge carefully a deliberate mis-alignment
low and to the left, so that in enabling
the tick confirmation you arrive aligned
as a result. This is totally bizarre. If I
centre a star, I should be able to simply
press enter (tick-wise) – end of
story. Pressing other buttons as an
initiation sequence that results in
The AZ-GTi head atop
movement from the position you
the tripod and optional
are confirming makes no sense
254mm (10-inch)
column extension.
to a user – nor, I would have
All images: Martin
thought, to a software or
Ringwood.
hardware engineer.
Once the first star
alignment has been
confirmed, the mount
automatically slews to
the second star – where
you repeat the minor
corrections and confirm.
Apart from the oddity
above, the SynScan GoTo
system performs superbly;
screens are easy to follow
and wonderful to use. There
are no battles of confusion;
data is presented in a very
user-friendly fashion and
each screen almost strains
to be helpful. When you
alight on a target (there is
a rather exciting proximity
countdown as you do so), the
screen is full of co-ordinates and
other information. While observing
a planet, you can even see its
stellar co-ordinates slowly change
dynamically. That’s cool.
The control panel features a hand controller port, DC
external power socket, SNAP port, power switch and
power/WiFi LED indicator. The SNAP port, via an umbilical
to a DSLR, allows control of camera operation.
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EQUIPMENT
Hard to lose alignment
Below: A close up of the red
dot finder.
Bottom: The tinny eyepieces
are so light that initially I
thought their cardboard boxes
were empty!
I used the stellar and deep-sky lists offered by
SynScan to leap about the sky – but my efforts
did not dizzy it for one minute. There were a
few times when my target was not central, but
it was always in the field of a moderate power
eyepiece. That is impressive. What’s more, it even
alighted accurately on the Moon – a target that
perversely is a problem for many GoTo systems.
The second feather in this particular cap is that
the mount features Freedom-Find Dual-Encoder
technology. This enables you to manhandle the
telescope tube to any new position, without
losing the captured alignment or GoTo facility.
So even if your target is not in the object lists
(or even if it is) you have the option of directing
the telescope towards it without recourse to the
SynScan control screen – and thence continue to
use the GoTo functions regardless.
The mount features
Freedom-Find Dual-Encoder
technology that enables
you to manhandle the
telescope tube to any new
position without losing the
captured alignment
One unexpected discovery concerned the
use of a smart device itself. In a conventional
handset a finger is capable of feeling the raised
3D buttons and, with familiarity, which button
is which. On a smooth glassy screen there is no
positional feedback, so imparting instructions
requires the screen to be looked at, particularly
during navigation when I found that the screen
and eyepiece field have to be viewed almost
simultaneously. Although the SynScan screens
are red light-illuminated, having to keep glancing
between the eyepiece field and device screen
can be quite irksome. In the winter, I wonder how
stubby-fingered gloved hands will fare. It is worth
noting therefore that along with the untethered
advantages of WiFi, the mount can be used with a
conventional wired SynScan hand paddle.
The telescope
Maksutov optical systems are amazing. The folded
light path enables astonishing focal lengths
to be collapsed into very short and practical
dimensions. In the case of this f/12.7 system, the
light path is compacted into an instrument little
more than a fifth of its 1.3-metre focal length.
The tube livery is black, with embedded frosty
sparkles. It looks quite smart. However, I did
notice that because of this colour’s good infrared
absorbance, just a few moments in sunlight
heats the tube up quite quickly. It is probably
wise to separate solar and night-time observing
by quite a few hours. While I’m mentioning
sunlight, I did test SynScan’s safety credentials
by directing the software to point at the Sun. A
message appeared saying that my target was
near the Sun and did I want to continue. Top
marks for an earnest if slightly muddled caution.
The supplied star diagonal goes into a 1.25inch focuser featuring the double thumbscrews
that have been appearing on equipment lately.
Someone somewhere must think this is a good
idea; but I have to admit I have not ‘got it’, yet.
Having to undo and retighten screws twice when
changing eyepieces seems oddly overdone to me.
I began by using the supplied eyepiece; a
‘Super 25 Wide Angle Long Eye Relief’ according
to its label. Filling it with a convenient field of
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REVIEWED: THE SKY-WATCHER AZ-GTI
stars (provided by the Pleiades open cluster),
their appearance at once prompted me to
swap the eyepiece out for one of mine, a fairly
average 25mm Meade Plössl. I have hardly
ever seen such a stark difference between two
eyepieces of the same focal length. Although not
an especially expensive or exotic eyepiece, the
Meade supplied a field that was so much cleaner,
sharper and darker than the so-called SuperPlössl supplied. A pet irritation of mine, I simply
do not understand the logic behind supplying
an instrument with eyepieces that are unable to
show the best of what the telescope is capable
of. The inexperienced, especially, will assume the
worst and condemn the whole telescope. How
many of these, eagerly purchased, have ended
up discarded shortly afterwards – along with a
nascent scientific curiosity, perhaps?
In this respect I would much rather eyepieces
were not included; since by this penn’orth of tar
they ruin the whole ship. There was also a ‘Super
10’, but as a service to the telescope, I continued
only with eyepieces of my own.
Deep-sky delights
I decided to begin the telescope’s assessment
with a few deep- sky objects. Hitting SynScan’s
deep-sky icon, the app obligingly supplied me
with familiar objects that were currently above
the horizon – exactly the list I wanted.
With an appetite whetted by the enhanced
view I had achieved of the Pleiades, I opted for
the twin stellar splash of the Double Cluster in
Perseus as a challenging demonstration of the
telescope’s mettle. At 52×, my 25mm could not
quite encompass both cores so I switched to
33× with a wider field, but rather heavier, 40mm
eyepiece. The telescope took this on board with
alacrity – no whine of straining gears or drifting
field. The switch was rewarding. The sky now free
of the seemingly eternal summer twilight, the
star field’s twin clusters veritably glowed against
a velvety black background. Focusing very
carefully, star images held very well to the field
extremity – the clusters looking like a
pair of molten shotgun blasts against
the night.
Much closer to the zenith,
the Andromeda Galaxy was an
irresistible temptation. Despite the
angular distance from my previous
target, the AZ-GTi successfully
navigated the gap and brought
itself to a well-centred stop on the
galaxy. I have to say that watching
the angular countdowns on the
screen while a slew was taking
place became rather fun.
M31’s lenticular glow was a
joy – and bright; the core looked
quite condensed and stellar. Looking for
something more diffuse and challenging,
I requested SynScan to take me to the Veil
Nebula in Cygnus. I find this object often
Left: the SynScan splash
screen with initial icons. I liked
the fact that the directional slew
pad included diagonal
movement.
Middle: during a slew
towards its target, SynScan
provides a proximity countdown
in RA and Dec.
Right: SynScan automatically
lists objects currently available
to the observer.
The AZ-GTi head can handle loads of up to five
kilograms, attached to the dovetail saddle that allows
trouble-free optical tube deployment.
105
EQUIPMENT
eludes detection in small telescopes, but the
SkyMax successfully presented it to me.
With the Solar System’s most flamboyant
members (Jupiter and Saturn) having deserted
the sky during summer’s death throes, the only
planets available to me were the icy discs of
Uranus and Neptune. Uranus, at least, was trying
hard to please by being near opposition and
reaching an orbital declination that raises it
higher in the sky with each passing year.
Using an 8mm Hyperion (163×), I was very
impressed by the clarity of the pale green disc.
This was no doubt given a lift by our planet’s
closer approach to it during the October
opposition, but nicely seen just the same. In
SynScan’s list of available planets, Neptune sat
just beneath – so it took just a matter of seconds
to swing east to the night’s second planetary
target. The difference in colour is marked;
Neptune firmly sitting in the blue–green noman’s-land of turquoise.
Magnificent Moon
Low on the eastern horizon, spreading its light
steadily further across the sky, was an old friend.
The waning gibbous Moon was determined not
to be left out.
I had no trouble in capturing the whole disc
in a 40mm eyepiece. The descending arc of the
Apennines abutted hard against the terminator
and a familiar near-equatorial clutter of large craters
jostled for attention.
Despite a low altitude, the crispness delivered by
my 40mm promised more, so I moved again to the
8mm (163×). I was rewarded with rich detail within
the daisy-chain peaks of the Apennines. Crouching
against the terminator, the 130-kilometre crater
Albateginus was in deep relief, an arena of inky
black shadows and bright terminator incursions.
Seeing that the air was unusually stable – and
so far the resolution so good – I replaced the
8mm with a 2.5mm Nagler (520×), straining all the
rules of sensible magnification by at least a factor
of two in doing so. Yet despite the fade of light
from the additional workload, detail worth seeing
was still being yielded. (Compliments to Al Nagler
too, of course.) Using the delicate minimum slew
speed offered by the SynScan, I drifted slowly
I really liked using this kit
– it is rapidly deployable
and the SynScan
software is well designed
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astronomynow.com • January 2018
southwards along the terminator and alighted
on the mammoth 225-kilometre excavation of
Clavius. Spending time there at 520× is something
I will remember.
I really liked using this kit. It is rapidly
deployable and the SynScan software is well
designed. Zipping around the sky and visiting
all manner of objects presented it with no
challenges. It lends itself well as the choice of a
first instrument, too.
The Maksutov is a beautifully
compact and stable optical
system.
Steve Ringwood is a regular contributor to Astronomy Now.
The combination of a
compact Maksutov and a neatly
engineered mount make for a
great team.
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