Star tracking mounts that are light and portable – which are suitable for cameras and small telescopes – have become popular in recent years. One of these is Sky-Watcher’s Star Adventurer tracking mount, which we reviewed in October 2014.
The latest incarnation has just been released, the Star Adventurer 2i Wi-fi Pro Pack, and we took it for a test on the few clear nights we had at our disposal.
The Star Adventurer 2i looks fresh and new in its white livery, which helps to make it more visible at night than the original metallic red version.
The design is faithful to the original model and the ‘Pro pack’ consists of the Wi-Fi-enabled mount, ball head adaptor, illuminated polarscope, dovetail L-bracket, equatorial wedge and counterweight shaft with a 1kg counterweight.
Power is provided by four AA batteries or an external 5V DC power supply. If you intend to use the camera ‘Snap’ feature check the electronic shutter release cable required for your camera before you buy. The OVL website lists many camera makes with available cables.
For wide-field imaging with, say, 16mm through to ~100mm lenses, the ball head adaptor allows you to use a tripod ball head (sold separately) to attach the camera to the mount. You’ll also need to purchase a separately sold tripod, which is recommended as this will provide a good solid support for your setup.
For longer, heavier lenses or for small, short-focus scopes the dovetail L-bracket and counterweight is indispensable – Sky-Watcher recommends a maximum load of 5kg.
For our review we used lenses that ranged from 18mm to 400mm with our Canon 50D and modified 300D DSLRs, and then swapped to our Equinox 80ED refractor with the same DSLRs.
When you use the supplied round (and vivid green) Vixen-style mounting adaptor to attach the ball head and camera to the mount, you’ll find that the adaptor covers the polar axis, which means that you’ll have trouble with polar alignment as the view will be blocked.
The way round this is to polar align first and then put the adaptor, ball head and camera on afterwards ready for imaging.
If you are using the dovetail L-bracket and counterweight, then there is a slot allowing you to polar align with all the equipment still attached, which is handy as the extra weight could slightly alter your polar alignment.
Rotating the control knob, you can select a range of presets, which include the usual ‘Lunar’, ‘Solar’ or ‘Sidereal’ options, but there is now an interesting ‘App’ addition.
This is the setting to use when you’re controlling the mount via Wi-Fi and the free Star Adventurer Console app for Android and iOS platforms.
We found the app had lots of functions and was very easy to use; its primary function is to set the tracking rate and length, and number of exposures, all of which can be stored, which is handy for repeated use.
Once polar-aligned, we programmed a range of timings using the app with the Canon 50D and its 18–55mm lens set at 18mm.
We took a 30–minute exposure of the constellations of Cassiopeia down to Perseus with only slight star trailing. Although light pollution and a slightly hazy atmosphere did not help, a 20-minute exposure revealed pin sharp stars.
Satisfied that the mount functions well with a wide-field lens, we replaced the ball head with the dovetail L-bracket and counterweight to try it with our 100–400mm lens. With the lens set at 100mm we observed Orion’s heart and achieved five-minute exposures with no trailing.
Next, we set it at 400mm and tried the Pleiades, achieving two–minute exposures. We stacked 9 of the Pleiades exposures for an image and if conditions had allowed, we would have been able to leave it running for more with a great result.
Finally, on the night before Jupiter and Saturn’s Great Conjunction we tested the mount and our Equinox 80ED refractor, using both a DSLR and ASI 224 colour camera, to capture the close encounter.
Overall, the addition of Wi-Fi to the Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack gives a new string to its bow and makes
it a stunning piece of kit for any astrophotographer.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack’s Wi-Fi adaptor
By adding an in-built Wi-Fi adaptor, Sky-Watcher has brought the Star Adventurer into the 21st century. Many people are familiar with Wi-Fi control of gadgets and this is appealing to astrophotographers who enjoy using a lightweight and portable mount and controlling it with a smartphone.
There are many options, but when the app is used in conjunction with the camera ‘Snap’ port, we found the control of our camera worked a treat. For example, exposure duration and groups of exposures can be set and stored for repeated use.
The app allows control and adjustment of the right ascension (RA) axis of the mount to help with fine tuning the target in the field of view, something we found useful when capturing the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn.
Another useful feature is the Polaris position chart, as this helps with the setting up process. There is also a ‘Bulb’ mode that requires you to hold the exposure ‘button’ down for as long as you want the exposure to continue.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i Pro Pack: outstanding features
Switches and guide port
On one side is the main selector knob which allows you to choose from ‘Sidereal’, ‘Lunar’ and ‘Solar’ tracking rates, ‘App’ and ‘Off’ options, as well as settings for time-lapse photography. On the other side you’ll find left and right arrow buttons, a ‘S/N’ (South/North) selection switch, the camera ‘Snap’ port, the ‘Auto Guider’ port and a socket for an external 5V power supply.
Tracking mount body
The mount body is the workhorse of the Star Adventurer 2i. It contains the integrated polarscope, control selection knob and various ports, yet is quite lightweight and can be used when it’s attached directly to a tripod – with latitude adjustment done via the tripod’s tilt head – or with the supplied equatorial wedge.
The equatorial wedge can be set from zero to 90˚ latitude for either Southern or Northern Hemispheres with an easy to use adjustment knob and locking handle. We found that longitude adjustment via two adjustable bolts helped to fine-tune the alignment; the bubble level also helped to level the mount.
Dovetail L-bracket with fine tuner
A fine-tuning mount assembly can be added, which allows for a small telescope to be attached either for visual or guiding use, and it has its own manual slow-motion control for declination. A second ball-and-head adaptor can also be added for dual-imaging purposes along with a counterweight bar and counterweight.
Polar alignment is vital and the Star Adventurer 2i has a built-in polarscope, which can be used for both Northern and Southern Hemispheres, and we found it worked without any extra calibration. The external polarscope illuminator does its job well, but it does need to be removed before adding the camera equipment for wide-field imaging.
- Price £349
- Payload capacity 5kg
- Latitude adjustment 0–90o
- Tracking rates Sidereal, Lunar and Solar, App, Timelapse (Astro, Regular and Long Exposures), Off
- Power requirements 4x AA batteries or 5V DC external supply
- Polarscope Polarscope with separate red-light illuminator
- Extras Dovetail ‘L’ mounting bracket, built-in Wi-Fi, camera ‘Snap’ control port, guide port, 1/4-inch – 3/8-inch thread converter
- Weight 1kg
- Supplier Optical Vision Ltd
- Tel 01359 244200
This review originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.