The Ultimate Travel Rig

I bought my Tak FS60cb  second hand and  paired with a no longer produced and relatively cheap Borg x0.7 super reducer. New the Tak FS60cb with it’s dedicated reducer costs £1173. Probably the best travel scope out there but not budgety . If you swap the scope for the bargain Sky Watcher 72ed then the whole set up becomes very affordable whilst also being very powerful. Heads up this set up works best with a mono camera which means you need to buy a filter wheel and filters too.

Inspired in part by Stellina and refined through experimentation the ultimate biscuit travel rig is powerful and relatively cheap but to get this set up singing calls for a high level of geekery. Before I guide you through the theory of what makes this rig  good, lets lay out the blue prints so you can see what she’s made of.

The Telescope

Don’t be fooledc by the size, small scopes like this pack a massive punch.

Takahashi FS60cb

The Tak FS60CB has a fluorite crystal front lens which reduces colour fringing making this scope ‘tak’ sharp. If you combine it with the dedicated reducer you get a fast (F4.2) sharp scope capable of resolutions of about 2 arc seconds which just happens to be the resolution of the mount (we measure mount wobble in arc seconds too) its all part of what makes this such a good little astrophotography set up. Everything is in balance. You might want to spend a bit less money on the scope though. Below are what I’ve heard are good although I’ve not actually used them.

 Dedicated  FS60cb 0.72 reducer

To take the very best shots you can you absolutely need this – for visual you don’t

Alternative Cheaper Scope

This is the best value ed glass small scope there is although full disclosure I’ve not yet used it. I have used some other small ed refractors and been disappointed with them. This scope has been recommended to me from a number of nerds I trust.

 Sky Watcher Evostar 72ed

0.85x Reducer/Flattener and adapter for 72ED PRO

OPTIONAL (but recommended)

The Mount (Sky Watcher Az-GTI)

An extremely powerful, little and affordable mount (but its a bit geeky).

I LOVE the Sky Watcher Az-GTI mount  (I talk about this mount here). You can control gti via wifi through an app on your phone (just like Stellina!) or on your laptop (recommended) .To really make this mount sing you have to align it with the rotation of the earth. That means buying some kind of wedge and counterweights and installing a firmware update which allowsit to work in eq mode.

AZ GTI Mount comes as an Alt Azimuth mount.

You find the same shafts and counterweights on the old eq1 mounts 

You’ll need some kind of wedge to convert the AZ GTI Mount into an equatorial mount. 

The Skywatcher AZ GTI mount doesn’t have a polar scope, so after an initial rough alignment – simply by angling the mount to 52 degrees( which is my latitude in London) and pointing it North – I then use sharpcap software‘s polar alignment tool along with an adjustable wedge or tripod of some kind to align the mount to the rotation of the earth to with an accuracy of about  1 arc minute. Having a good quality adjustable wedge really helps you get excellent polar alignment… I actually use an old Meade deluxe field tripod instead of this  cheap wedge from skywatcher which is really designed for low focal lengths where you don’t require very accurate polar alignment. I actually sometimes get everything close with this wedge and then adjust the tripod rather than the wedge to polar align more precisely. 

William Optic’s wedge

Skywatcher ‘s little adjustable wedge  isn’t very precise but with a bit patience it does work.  William Optic’s wedge is more expensive but from what I can see and the glowing reviews I can safely say its much better than Skywatcher’s offering although heads up I’ve never actually used it.

Skywatcher AZ-GTI Summary

PROs

  • Cheap

  • Surprisingly good at tracking especially in eq mode (less than 2 arc seconds wobble when guiding).

  • Super Portable

  • Has GOTO function via phone app

  • Can connect to a computer via wifi allowing the use of serious and powerful astrophotography software like Nina

CONS

  • Is intended as an ALT AZ Mount. In order to make it work in EQ mode you need to install firmware and cobble together a suitable mount which can be polar aligned. Brief description here

  • No polarscope

  • Need to acquire counterwieght and counterweight shaft.

  • Complicated

  • Can only carry small scopes

STOP PRESS!!!!

 Skywatcher have just brought out the Star Adventurer GTI which I am confident will be even better than the modified AZ-GTI above.  I’d get this if you can afford it. It is nearly twice the price of the AZ-GTI mount though. I suspect Sky Watcher didn’t realise the power of the AZ-GTI in EQ mode or they wouldn’t have released the firmware hack for this inexpensive mount for free. Anyways the Star Adventurer GTI has a polarscope which makes it easier. I haven’t used it. I’m sure it’ll be good because all skywatcher mounts are excellent but I would be surprised if it was as amazing as the EQM-35 which is only a little bit bigger and a little bit more expensive. 

The Camera

The final most important part of the ultimate travel rig is the camera. A small pixel camera combined with a sharp scope is able to achieve similar resolutions to much larger scopes. You do need to spend longer shooting because small scopes catch less photons BUT as this is a travel scope I’m betting you’ll more than make up for that disadvantage by shooting from a beautiful dark location.

The   ZWO’s asi178mc or asi178mm. This is a very fine lunar, solar and planetary camera (see here) can also be used for deep space astrophotography. To be honest the credit for choosing this camera really goes to the roboscope Stellina  although I had run a few tests on the imx178 sensor a few years before. The colour version is fantastic  but for extra flexibility and performance you’ll need the mono version with zwo’s mini filter wheel (see here).

ZWO ASI178MC

Cooling: I have made a peltier cooler for my asi178. You can see it in action in this VIDEO There was a time when you could buy a cooled version of this camera but sadly no more.

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