LVI Smartguider 2

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LVI Smartguider 2

Vital Stats

Price: 
£408.00
Weight: 
Camera head 110g, control paddle 220g, MGA connection unit 125g
Supplier: 
Modern Astronomy
Telephone: 
020 8763 9953
Website: 
www.modernastronomy.com

Autoguiding is a very useful technique in astrophotography. It directly connects your telescope mount to the motion of the stars, so it keeps your telescope pointing at precisely the same area of sky when you’re taking long exposures.


A standard autoguiding setup consists of a guide camera attached to a guide scope, which is in turn attached to, and moves with, the main imaging scope. The guide camera and scope deliver images to a computer with autoguiding software, and from one of these images you select a guide star. The software then keeps this star in precisely the same position within the image frame, by automatically sending movement commands to your mount to correct for any drift in the guide star’s position.

The LVI Smartguider 2’s (SG2) autoguiding software is in its own dedicated computer, making it a self-contained autoguiding system – no need for a separate computer here. It comprises a guide camera, control paddle and a central connection box called the Multi Guiding Adaptor or MGA. Since the software needs to take control of your mount, your mount needs to be autoguiding compatible. The SG2 is designed to work with mounts that have ST4, Autostar or non-Go-To Losmandy guide ports.


A complete package

All the necessary autoguiding cables are provided too, so all you need is a guide scope and a 12V power source to get going. With optional control cables, the SG2 can control various DSLR cameras, performing basic image sequences of up to 1,000 pre-defined exposures. It also has the ability to control various types of electric focuser, and so matches most of the imaging control functions normally offered by dedicated software.

Connecting everything together was very straightforward. An eyepiece is supplied and this was used to centre and focus the guide scope on a suitable guide star. The eyepiece is parfocal with the guide camera – both share the same focus position, so when you’ve focused with the former you know that the latter will be focused too.


Key control

There are three backlit keys and a small, red, backlit 128x64-pixel screen on the control paddle, which won’t ruin your night vision. The guiding software’s menu is easy to navigate with ‘Basic’ and ‘Advanced’ setting options provided. Basic gets you autoguiding fast, while Advanced gives you the opportunity to adjust the autoguiding parameters, such as the length of the corrective pulses the software sends to the mount. Before autoguiding can commence, the system learns how your mount’s drives move with a calibration routine. This takes a couple of minutes, but the results can be saved if required.

We had no problem locking onto our chosen guide star during our test sessions, and using our 80mm guide scope, the system was quite happy working with 9th magnitude guide stars.

During a run of bad weather during testing, the SG2 made it possible to start imaging very quickly indeed when the clouds cleared. Our first test runs were done pointing the telescope at the region of sky around the star Procyon. A series of 20-minute test runs showed no noticeable trailing and we were very pleased with the results. We also revisited an old favourite, Orion’s Sword, imaging the region with a DSLR set to a low ISO for high tonal quality. The end result of our 10-minute test exposure was very pleasing, the nebula looking resplendent and the stars remaining as points.

While autoguiding, a real-time graph on the control paddle’s display reveals the guiding corrections that are being applied. During one of our sessions, fast-moving clouds kept hiding our guide star, but the SG2 handled the situation well, beeping and issuing a ‘Star Lost’ message when the guide star was obscured. As long as the star reappeared within 30s, the system carried on as normal. If it didn’t, the session aborted, ready to re-align on another star when the cloud cleared.

If you’ve never tried autoguiding, this system is a great way to get up and running fast. Even if you already have a laptop-controlled system, the potential to have a portable autoguiding setup that’s as accurate as any other system is very attractive.


Clean controls

It’s no mean feat to cram all of the complexities of a modern autoguider into a simple control system. However, the LVI SG2 achieves this quite elegantly.

The control interface is very simple to navigate, yet places considerable power at your fingertips and allows you to initiate autoguiding very quickly. The unit does introduce a small delay as it initially calibrates for your drive motors, but the upside to this is that the LVI SG2 does all the hard work for you automatically.

For an even higher level of control you can alter several key settings. These include controlling the duration of the corrective pulses sent to the mount and the aggressiveness of the guide.

You can also tell the unit to use ‘Dithering’, which instructs it to shift your telescope’s position slightly between shots. This makes it easier to deal with static camera noise such as hot pixels. With DSLR exposure sequencing and electronic focuser control also provided, we were very impressed by the amount of control the
LVI SG2’s seemingly simple control paddle and menu program puts at your fingertips.


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A version of this article appeared in the May 2011 issue of Sky at Night Magazine

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