Mount-maker iOptron continually refines and updates its most popular mounts, and the latest to get this treatment is the iEQ30, now released as the improved iEQ30 Pro.
On the surface it looks almost identical to the original, but inside are ultra-quiet stepper motors and improved electronics, and in performance terms it offers better Go-To and tracking accuracy.
The iEQ30 Pro accepts standard Vixen-style mounting bars and has an integrated polarscope with illuminated reticule.
It is supplied with the Go2Nova 8407 hand controller, a heavy-duty stainless steel tripod with leg spreader, 4.5kg counterweight, stainless steel counterweight shaft, 12V DC car plug adaptor and a RS232-RJ9 cable so you can connect it to a computer; the mount’s RS232 port also allows for firmware updates as well as ASCOM control.
The mount’s carrying capacity is up to 13.5kg, making it suitable for use with small and medium telescopes.
The combined weight of the mount head and tripod comes to 17kg, so it is relatively portable and could be taken to a site with darker skies.
The Go2Nova 8407 hand controller has over 359,000 objects in its database and in-built 32-channel GPS.
Within a few minutes of being powered up, it will automatically set your latitude and longitude, time zone, date and time.
We were also able to attach our own Wi-Fi controller and operate the mount using our smart tablet – it was nice to have this added flexibility of control.
We found the initial polar alignment process easy as the handset can give a visual representation of where Polaris should be positioned in the illuminated polarscope.
The polarscope also has a bubble level fitted, so it was easy to set the mount to its zero configuration, with the scope pointing towards north and set for the north celestial pole.
iOptron says that the mount should also be levelled for best performance, however we did note it is not easy to view the bubble level, which is on the base of the mount, as the polarscope axis lies above it.
For our initial tests we used an Equinox 80ED refractor and a SkyMax 180 Pro Maksutov, which weigh 3kg and 8kg respectively.
The SkyMax 180 Pro plus an 80mm guidescope and a Canon EOS 50D DSLR were pressed into service for astrophotography, their combined weight of 12kg coming nicely under the payload limit.
After performing a three-star alignment over a wide area of sky, our selected targets were centred inside the inner 15 per cent of the Equinox 80ED’s wide field of view.
With the SkyMax 180 Pro and a higher magnification our targets fell within the inner 25 per cent of the view.
Sticking with the Skymax 180 Pro, we focused on the bright star Regulus in Leo – the mount kept the star in the centre of the view for over 30 minutes.
Imaging was much more demanding, but we found that we were able to achieve one-minute exposures with no guiding involved.
With today’s high ISO cameras, there is plenty that can be imaged before you even need to add a guidescope to the system via the integrated ST-4 port.
We also enjoyed the ease of set up with this mount; we found we could be taking a tour of the night sky within 10 or so minutes, and the lightweight nature of the mount lends itself to local travel very well.
Quiet and accurate tracking
Many mounts tend to be somewhat noisy in operation, and in the dead of night the last thing you want is kit that wakes up the neighbours.
But we were very impressed with how quiet the iEQ30 Pro was, even at high slew rates: when tracking a target we could barely hear it operating.
We were also impressed with how smooth the tracking is – it was only after careful monitoring that we noticed a slight variation in the position of our selected star, as the mount kept it well centred.
With the alignment process completed, it was gratifying to see our chosen targets close to the centre of the wide field of view.
This can be improved with the addition of more alignment stars, which is especially useful for astrophotography.
All this is achieved with the upgraded worm wheels and stepper motors within this mount.
Altitude and azimuth adjustment
The altitude and azimuth knobs give fine control over the adjustments required for accurate polar alignment.
The altitude adjustment is set at the high latitude range, 25º-65º, while the two azimuth knobs have a range of ±6º.
The in-built polarscope has a detachable illuminated reticule and a bubble level on the outside to help you obtain the correct alignment.
The position of Polaris can be determined via the handset or by using the iOptron smartphone polarscope app. Both methods gave good results.
Along with the DC 12V power connector and on-off switch, there are also a selection of ports: hand controller (HBX), ST-4 for autoguiding, RS232 for a computer connection, dec. cable, and one to supply power to the polarscope reticule.
The stainless steel adjustable tripod did a good job and is fitted with a leg spreader. Unusually, the mount body is not attached to the tripod via its central bolt, but via two upper bolts on the mount head itself. The tripod head has a central locating pin.
The Go2Nova 8407 hand controller has a large, eight-line LCD screen, 359,000 objects in its database and has a range of useful functions, including one to determine where Polaris is. In-built 32-channel GPS means that date, time and location are set automatically.
This review originally appeared in the July 2015 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.