The Skywatcher HEQ5-Pro
The Short Version ....
Final Update and Summary
After owning the HEQ5-PRO for 3 months and spending a grand total of $518 in additional money (ouch)
to get it working - it didn't! I've returned it to the dealer, here's the summary:
Two mounts and three handsets proved unreliable. The most I got was 4 hours out of any setup before
erratic behaviour from the mount/handset. The errors were unrecoverable - i.e. powering off and on did not correct.
The handset was upgraded and downgraded to all available versions with similar results. There was no feedback at all
from Skywatcher. Two online requests, one email and another online request to Skywatcher USA met with no reply.
The dealer gave me a full refund with no problems - top marks.
I spent $268 returning to the dealer 4 times, $60 on a Celestron RS232/USB cable to upgrade the handset,
$40 on a Zero Profile camera adapter to make my DSLR Optimised scope actually focus with a DSLR and $150 on a new
12V power supply to rule out any possibility of power issues.
The Long Version ...
Having previously owned the LXD75 GoTo Mount from Meade, I was now looking for something a little farther up the precision scale.
I wanted accurate tracking and Autoguider capability. I looked around and found some glowing reviews of The Skywatcher HEQ5-Pro from the likes of Terence Dickinson, Alan Dyer and Paul Money for Patrick Moore's Sky At Night, high praise indeed!
Eventually I decided the HEQ5-Pro was the only highly rated mount in the price range. The identical Orion Sirius EQ Mount would have cost about 30% more after the US/CDN $ exchange. Assembling the mount was straightforward and took about an hour including setting up my Antares 200 mm Newtonian that came as part of a package deal. I powered up the mount and all looked well.
I had a couple of two hour observing sessions out on the driveway over Xmas and enjoyed the new mount and scope. I wasn't able to check tracking though as my DSLR could not reach focus on The Antares. It took a month for a zero profile camera adapter to arrive from the U.S. There was a rattle from the mount when slewing, particularly when starting and stopping. This didn't sound good and I subsequently found several videos on HEQ5-Pro Mounts on YouTube and surprisingly every one of them rattled too. I decided to exchange the mount with the dealer in case this rattle got worse. At the dealers we opened a brand new mount and set it up in the store. It rattled worse than mine! We took the cover plate off and figured out that the idler wheel inside the mount is a little loose on its axis and that's what rattles, very annoying for a $1,000 plus mount, but looks minor (famous last words).
I had a couple more backyard observing sessions with the HEQ5-Pro with no problems. But next time out in the backyard I had carefully aligned the mount on Polaris then plugged in the power only to find the hand controller gave me an error message 'No Link To MC - Stand Alone Mode'. That was the end of my observing session. Powercycling the mount had no effect. The hand controller worked normally when working in 'Stand Alone Mode' ie. connected to 12v without the mount. I returned to the dealer once again this time taking the whole mount as it appeared the mount might be defective. At the store we tried several versions of the Synscan hand controller to find one that worked. This turned out to be a new one from the dealer. Both my failed controller and the new one had Firmware Version 3.23. Everything seemed to work so away I went.
Two nights later I used the 'Object Recentre' option by holding down the 'Escape' key. The handset went dark for several seconds then came back frozen. After a few minutes I power cycled the hand controller - it came back with a lit but blank screen. The handset would not respond after that and did not work in Stand Alone Mode either. I contemplated returning to the store yet again, but instead decided I would try to load an earlier - and possibly more reliable? - version of the firmware. I was glad to see the H.C. (hand controller) responded to the '0' and '8' keys to begin the firmware update process. I saw there was a newer version 3.24 so decided to download that. I also downloaded version 3.22, 3.21, and 3.20. I successfully updated the H.C. with Version 3.24 and the H.C. responded again normally with and without the mount.
I decided to visit Orion Telescopes website to see what support they had for their (identical) Sirius EQ mount and discovered they also had Version 3.23. I downloaded it and when unzipped it actually is a Synscan Firmware file. I decided to save this and try it if the H.C. freezes again. The Orion documents refer to a submenu under the objects menu called 'SAO Objects' which takes the database to over 40,000 objects. This is part of Skywatcher's V3.24 so it appears the object database is much larger than 13,700.
I ran a couple of hours of indoor testing - slewing and tracking - until I was satisfied the firmware seemed to work without freezing. The 'Object Recentre' function which had caused V3.23 to freeze is now an option on the Utility Menu - PAE (Pointing Accuracy Enhancement). I tried this and it worked fine. When updating the H.C. the first thing that happens is the Flash Memory is erased - this is just the ticket if your H.C. has frozen, but will leave your handset unusable if for some reason you don't complete the update. The update failed at least 7 times before finally completing in about 30 minutes (1 1/2 hours total) using an RS232 to USB Adapter Cable (Celestron). During testing I was able to establish control of the mount from Stellarium Version 9.0. Version 10. would not control the mount for some reason.
During testing I also monitored battery voltage and saw 12.8v on a fresh 7Amp Hour battery, the voltage falling to 11.2 at the end of two and half hours of tracking and slewing. A more powerful battery is going to be needed for longer observing in the cold!
Its important to note that Skywatcher provide no customer service - you must communicate via your dealer - so pick a store who knows what they are doing! Vancouver Telescope did everything to resolve my problems but the issues did drag on a bit due to Skywatcher responding slowly and not giving the dealers authority to resolve issues on the spot.
I submitted two online support requests to SkywatherTelescope.net (Canada) and one to SkywatcherUSA.com (U.S.) with no reply. I also emailed and received a reply via my dealer. Just so you know!
If the US/Can dollar exchange was still at par I would have gone with Orion Telescopes over Skywatcher because there's someone at the end of the phone if you have problems. But the Skywatcher proved hundreds of $ less expensive because of the exchange.
I finally got my zero profile camera adapter and too some images with my DSLR attached to the scope. Tracking was consistently accurate to 2 minutes unguided. I didn't push past 2 minutes as I wanted as many usable images as possible (they were all usable). GoTo Performance was very good. For short sessions you can even use one star alignment and then use PAE to correct for any error when you move to a new object. The polar scope is excellent and shows the big dipper and cassiopeia as a quick way to align. If you do accurate polar alignment using the date circle (see my video on YouTube Here, you can park the scope and resume without aligning next time out. Then use PAE to correct for any errors. This also would allow resuming in daytime to find Venus or other objects during daylight.
The handcontroller crashed and burned again on alignment several weeks ago.
I tried updating the hand controller using several versions of the firmware but this was not
successful and the hand controller did not function correctly afterwards. VTC exchanged the whole mount this time with a new hand controller and cables too - so will be testing this as soon as I get some clear skies.