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Something old (Explore Scientific ED102CF) and something new (ASIAir Plus & 5v EAF) ...


IowaAstro
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First time posting on this newly found site - hope this isn't too long and you enjoy the content, and welcome the feedback...

 

My return to visual and astrophotography began two years ago.  Was approaching the end of the runway for my career, and always enjoyed reading the popular astronomy magazines, but never knew The Backyard Astronomy Space or Cloudy Nights existed, nor took the plunge to buy the equipment and tackle the learning curve.  Well, the plunge became an obsession and I’m a daily reader of The Backyard Astronomy Space, and constantly scanning the classifieds to buy and sell visual and AP gear.

 

I thought my wife said “No, more telescopes” but she really meant “No more telescopes” – funny how a mere comma can make such a difference in a conversation!

 

So, what’s old? A recent, impulse purchase of a used Explore Scientific ED102CF triplet APO refractor (Serial No. 10207000417) from the original owner who took meticulous care of this delightful scope, and was listed in the Cloudy Nights Classifieds.  So, if you’ve got the same ED102CF with the serial number proceeding or following mine, would welcome a PM to let me know – we could be neighbors too.

 

Ironically, we (the original owner and I) both fell for this refractor after watching the YouTube video by Trevor Jones, and ever since then I’ve had aperture envy.  Luck would have it that I was first in line to make an offer for this pony.  There’s been much written about this refractor, so I’ll spare repeating the many accolades, and pointing out the nits and naughts already shared by many.

 

https://astrobackyard.com/astrophotography-gear-update/

 

For this pony, the only complaint is an annoying bit of wobble in the focuser and draw tube – haven’t yet figured out how to cure this issue but would welcome any suggestions to correct this wobble that doesn’t appear to impact the image capture.  The seller provided a second focuser, and I’m now wondering if the backup has none of the same wobble – more work and testing to be done.

 

So, while waiting for the ED102CF to be shipped from Southern California, started looking at how other CN owners had setup for AP with the ED102CF.

 

Here’s a few pictures of the current setup.  Again, welcome any feedback, tips, tricks or suggestions to maximize the capabilities of this mount, OTA, accessories and gear.  

 

The biggest challenge was getting a secure, threaded connection between the draw tube, reducer/flattener, filter drawer and camera (rather than using a nose piece).  The next challenge was finding a flattener/reducer – again, luck would have it and found a 0.8x reducer for sale on CN Classifieds.  With the ASI017MC, looks like a match made in heaven based on the CCD suitability results found on Astronomy Tools.

 

Would welcome any readers suggestion as to other successful camera combinations used with the ED102CF too.

 

How to securely connect everything in the optical train?  Ended up with a Stellarvue 2" rotator for M63 focuser that was threaded to the focuser, followed by the reducer/flattener thread on the camera side, and then the numerous adjustments to achieve the right back focus.  Here’s the first light (M45) with ASI071MC at 120’ with a gain of 90.

 

Looking at the corners, my back focus (sensor) is a tad bit too far away and needs some tweaking, but I’m otherwise pleased with the flattener/reducer – any other opinion or feedback on what needs to be done to improve the image quality?

 

[see the M45 image and the cropped, zoomed in corner of image]

 

Next, had two mount choices – a recently acquired iOptron CEM70 NUC (see my previous post on the CN forum) or a Sky Watcher EQ6-R Pro.  The CEM70 was occupied with the Quattro 10” newt (not to mention a bear to get perfectly balanced in 3 dimensions) and the EQ6-R was a known configuration for APT and NINA – decided on EQ6-R for convenience and to avoid re-balancing the newt. 

 

Not done yet.

 

How was I planning to control everything for AP?  Two years ago, started with a laptop, the usual assortment of ASCOM drivers, Astrophotography Tools, SharpCap and NINA – enjoyed the learning curve for these applications. Subsequently added Stellarium, plate solving and figured out PhD2 guiding, and everything played nicely and met my needs.  All ran nicely on an old, low-end Windows 10 laptop with hardwired remote control.

 

Back then, the alternative, using the ASIAir iPad application with the ASIAir v1 and Pro were not known to me, but as with any early adopter (with an abundance of time and patience), I wasn’t going to pass up such new technology.  From previous configurations, was confident the ASIAir Pro was a workable solution.  Again, met my needs – first, control via hardwire (since WiFi reception is severely impaired with the concrete ICF construction of my home and location of OTA), and second the simplicity of Autorun and Plan features of the ASIAir application.

 

Tis the season, and in central Iowa the winters can be brutally cold, so setting it up and then retreating to a warm room is tops on my Maslow’s hierarchy of comfort and needs.

 

About this same time in August of this year, ZWO announced the introduction of the ASIAir Plus.  Having owned several v1 and the ASIAir Pro boxes, immediately placed a “pre-order” with ZWO.  Given all of the supply chain woes, figured it would be several months (November or December, but more likely Q1 2022) before it would arrive.  Was also willing to wait since I was already contemplating how to re-purpose an existing ASIAir Pro with the new pony in the stable.

 

Then saw ZWO’s offer (more like a solicitation) to become an ambassador.  ZWO was looking for advanced/expert users to candidly evaluate the new ASIAir Plus version.  I submitted my application, provided several links to my other reviews (including my complaints about how difficult it was to setup the WiFi connections and the confusing, unreliable polar alignment process for AVX mounts), my workaround AVX workflow, a poorly processed photographs, and a few posts on Facebook groups.

 

Figured there were a lot of “experts” out there that would be selected over me for this role, or that my candor may be less than acceptable.  To my surprise, I was selected to be an ambassador (more like an “early adopter”) for the ASIAir Plus, and perhaps because I readily admitted there were solutions provided by other ambassadors for all of my complaints.  The new version arrived two weeks later.  Full disclosure, purchased with a $100 discount off the list price of $299, but in the interim, I had already setup the ED102CF with a re-purposed ASIAir Pro.

 

No problems getting all the parts to play nicely with the ASIAir Pro.  Originally setup with an ASI1600MM and 8 slot 1¼” EFW (LRGB+HOS), but later settled on the ASI071MC, 5v EAF, 2” filter drawer with an Optolong L-eNhance or the IDAS Light Pollution Suppression D1 filter, guided using an ASI74MM (overkill?) paired with a 70mm guide scope, including the successful connection to SkySafari and the LAN cable connected to my home network.  

 

The ZWO 5v EAF (new) mated nicely with the ED102CF focuser (courtesy of some expert modifications, drilled and tapped locations by the original owner – David C.) and works smoothly at slow or fast speeds, with no backlash issues, and when paired with the ASIAir application, the focus is spot on (as part of my testing, verified twice with Bahtinov mask and CCD inspector after each change of filters with Vega as my target).

 

So, how does the ASIAir Plus work with the EAF and the other ASI products, including their EFW, guide and main cameras?  Was a seamless, easy integration – literally took less than 10 minutes to unplug the old Pro, then mount and plug in the new Plus box.  Pulled the ASIAir Pro off, installed the Plus, reconnected all the gear, fired it up and registered the Plus (whoops, something unexpected and requires that you have internet connectivity), and was off to the races.  Would refer anyone to the ASIAir forums and groups to make sure you are getting the cabling between all of the gear and the ASIAir Plus just right.  Bottomline, make sure you’ve got the USB 3.0 gear connected to the right (blue colored USB ports), otherwise you may have some main camera connection or latency issues.

 

If you’re new to the ASI product line or the ASIAir Pro and the ASIAir application, it will take a little time to get setup and running, but there are many resources – written and videos that will make the learning curve less steep.  Even after 12+ months of regular use, I’m finding a few features new to me.  Most recent discoveries:  how to navigate in the image tab – it works just like how you manage images in a Windows file or directory – press the previous location to go back up in the directory; adding the coordinates to do mosaics from Telescopius; and using the video feature to focus my guide scopes. 

 

How good was polar alignment – excellent when compared to results from PoleMaster.

 

How good was guiding – during the first few test runs, was getting 0.5 to 0.9” RMS (based on ASIAir application readings and with only modest seeing and transparency) but the litmus test was the quality of star eccentricity which met my expectations when inspected using PixInsight Subframe Measurements and Selection process – over 40 short images, where I refocused twice, the distribution of image quality was very consistent.  Plan to do some additional testing (for focus) with CCD Inspector and guiding comparison with the standalone PhD2 application.

 

So, what's the big difference with the ASIAir Plus versus the Pro or standalone applications?

 

It's the WiFi antenna that gives you plenty of reliable, highspeed coverage.  After rolling the mount out to the end of my driveway (to have an unobstructed view of NCP), I was able to get reliably connected at 75' (my home is ICF construction with 12” concrete walls but there are windows that allow the signal to bounce into the house).  Couldn't connect via WiFi with the older Pro or v1 versions, and resorted to a hardwire connection to the home network.  In my situation, this connectivity is the most reliable and robust solution if it’s available to you.  

 

Currently using a TP-PowerLine Access Point to connect the ASIAir Plus (and Pro version) to the hardwired home network, and then able to easily connect the iPad to the WiFi network and see everything in the comfort of my living room chair – with my very patient astronomy widow, who’s watching the Fox network, sitting close by).  Better yet, since I’m setup in my driveway in a residential neighborhood, always worried about theft and vandalism, but have some modest comfort in a Blink WiFi camera setup to warn me and monitor any nefarious activities throughout the night.

 

So, why bother if you’re satisfied with hardwired connection?  I plan to do some trips to the Southwest and dark sky locations along the way, and will pack up the gear to do this remote imaging.  WiFi connectivity won’t be an issue with the ASIAir Plus.  Also plan to drop off a mount and OTA at my brother’s home in Tubac, AZ that’s due west of the Whipple Observatory.  Will show him how to polar align and connect everything to his WiFi network, and then upon my return to home, will dial in remotely to his network do some remote imaging under conditions that I can only get occasionally in Central Iowa.

 

There's more to the Plus that meets the eye, with the eMMC technology, better storage and OS stability, a dual-band antenna, and outstanding Polar Alignment results (when compared to the PA accuracy with PoleMaster and SharpCap, and all results were very consistent, and yet so easy and convenient with the ASIAir boxes).  However, what I like the most - great image session and planning capabilities.  Did my first mosaic test with the ASIAir application planning features - worked as advertised, and now routinely get two, sometimes three different, DSO sessions since I’ve got some obstructing trees across my viewing horizon.  With narrow band filter wheel, have the flexibility to do short mini sessions under similar sky conditions.

 

Some of the Plus features are definite improvements that will take the owner well into the future.  These include a Gigabit Ethernet Port (especially if you are hardwired into your network); 4 USB ports, 2 – USB 2.0 and 2 USB 3.0, but wish these were all USB 3.0 ports; 4 DC 12v ports (5.5mm x 2.1mm) to power a camera, 2 dew heaters, and EAF (if you have the older 12v version) or cooling fans (e.g., the fan on my Quattro 10” newt or with those big SCT’s).  I’ve decided to add a small USB 3.0 hub to the Plus – gives me some additional flexibility and have a 128Gb USB drive for storage redundancy.

 

Did I say that the 12v outputs are labeled 1 through 4 (on the box and then in the ASIAir application), and each port’s voltage can be adjusted (e.g., dew heating, camera, etc.) and monitored for voltage.  No more trying to figure out what’s turned on and working in the dark.

 

Do these 5.5mm x 2.1mm outputs provide enough power to run a camera, dew heater and EAF all at the same time – absolutely.  Have tested all of the outputs and get consistently 12v out of each port with no voltage drop while pulling about 3-4 amps across all 4 ports.  I do highly recommend that you power the ASIAir Pro and Plus with a high quality, 12v 10-amp brick or power source – anything less than 8 amps could be an issue and there’s only about a $15 price difference between a good quality 10- and a smaller 5-amp power supply.

 

Like previous versions, the Plus has display LEDs for power, WiFi and I/O status, but what I like are the familiar sounds (especially in the dark) made by the box or EAF – a few beeps to let you know things are turned on and working (or not), including the re-focusing activities of the EAF.  Would like to hear other beeps periodically to let me know that the camera fan is working (although you can see the cooling progress and status in the ASIAir application), and to signal the start and end of any image captured, and when image is fully written to storage, and set limits when guiding gets bad (e.g., sound an SOS when guiding goes beyond preset limits or ranges) of if the FWHM focus image is out of bounds.

 

As for data storage, there’s a newly added USB type C port for exporting files to a laptop or PC – works wonderfully, very fast but not sure about the value unless you have a long USB C cable (connecting your laptop to the Plus) that’s used to periodically download the images that were stored in the Plus.  Instead of the download type C port, opted for several high capacity (128Gb), high speed read/write TF cards to store captured images.  Lots of room to capture darks, flat, bias and lights without fear of running out of space – easy to remove and download via a card reader, albeit difficult to get to in my current configuration (a little trick – use a small bit of tape to give the TF card a tail to make removal a little easier – press in to release then pull the tape tail).

 

Mounting the ASIAir Plus or Pro is uncomplicated – you can use the provided shoe that fits in the ubiquitous dovetail bases and also has ¼” x 20 connection point on two sides for direct mounting.  I plan to reconfigure and re-purpose a Arca-Swiss quick release plate to make it easy remove the box too.

 

Fit and Finish  The Plus retains the well know “ZWO red” finish, and the fit and quality of these units always draws a compliment from anyone that lays eyes on your pony, and always a good conversation to point out the laser etched constellation of Cassiopeia, Ursa Major and Minor found on the Plus – all the eye candy we would expect for a $299 investment.

 

So, with the new EAF and ASIAir Plus mated to the old Explore Scientific ED102CF, I've finally got an Astrophotography setup that will take me (hopefully) through the next several years without any premature aperture envy.

 

The old and new will give me the flexibility in how and when I can image, and more importantly the results that will draw the Ooh’s & Ahh’s when I share those DSO images with family and friends.

 

Should you run out and buy the ASIAir Plus – by all means yes if you are buying a new ASIAir box.  So, after following ZWO’s continuous improvements from v1 through to the Plus over the last several years, I’m wagering that there’s no planned obsolescence in their product lineup and future enhancements to the ASIAir application, cameras and accessories.

 

Would I replace an existing ASIAir Pro or v1 box – depends if you need better WiFi connectivity and you’ve got a spare $300.  Since I’ve now got two Plus boxes (one evaluation box and one on the way), will repurpose one for my remote site in AZ and the other for “travel-grab-n-go” setup.  Unless there’s some performance or obsolescence issues, I’ll continue to use the ASIAir Pro hardwired setup to control my setups that operate from my driveway.

 

What’s the downside with the ASIAir Plus?  ZWO has you locked into their “ecosystem of products, cameras and accessories” when using the ASIAir Pro, Plus, or v1 versions.  Much like what every technology company is trying to do today (e.g., have you ever tried to get an Android application to work on an iPhone, not likely to happen any time soon).  However, I’ve still got the flexibility, through the ZWO ASCOM drivers, to use all of the ZWO ASI cameras and accessories with NINA, APT and SharpCap, and still harness the power of a NUC mounted to the CEM70 mount.  What more can you ask for in a product and company?

 

Flexibility is a nice option.  For example, I find using CCD inspector application convenient to use with the ZWO configuration – I’ll start out with a PA using ASIAir, get plate solved, slew to a star field, start guiding/tracking and then switch to the CCD Inspector application (unplug the main camera from ASIAir), then launch the application on my laptop after connecting to the main camera.  I’ll capture some images to evaluate the camera and more recently the quality of collimation for the SCT (with and without HyperStar).  When I’m satisfied, I’ll reconnect the main camera, and the pony is off to the races.

 

Again, would welcome any feedback, suggestions, tips, tricks and opinions that you’d like to share.

 

Cheers and enjoy the clear skies – tis the season…

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Corner of M45 Sub.JPG

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Jim I changed the text colour of your initial entry to a light blue as there seems to be an odd issue sometimes when using the default black font.

When viewed using one of the other themes

image.png.90235b97fcd89f6c182d3b24c07701ea.png

(at the bottom of the webpage) like BackYard Astronomy Space which changes everything to a black background it makes the text difficult to see.

Not your fault - it's an occasional problem with the forum software 🙂

 

Glad to have you on board and hope you get a lot from the forum.

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