I have been imaging the night sky for eight years with five different EQ mounts, most of it from my backyard in New Hampshire, and I rarely experience guiding this precise. I have been out imaging three nights with the AM5 so far, with reasonably clear skies and average seeing—nothing spectacular. These are some of the lowest total RMS error numbers I have seen from my Bortle 4 to 5 backyard. We're going through a stretch of clouds and rain, but hoping for better weather toward the end of the week. I'll post more guiding results along with some PHD2 logs.
I nearly found out the hard way that the new ZWO AM5 mount is so compact that power and USB cables from the primary camera can easily loop over the altitude and azimuth adjustment knobs at the base and snag, something I never really thought about with a larger mount. This happened the other night, and I just managed to unhook them and continue imaging.
So, a little cable management was in order for the William Optics SpaceCat 51 on the ZWO AM5. The guide camera (silver camera on top) and the filter wheel plug into USB ports on the primary camera (ZWO ASI1600MM-Pro) at the back. Another USB cable runs from the autofocus (ZWO EAF), the red box under the scope. I end up with five cables leading down to the Pegasus Astro Powerbox and the fanless Windows 10 machine running the control software (NINA). What's new in these pics is the SmallRig Switching Plate (1598) and two of the SmallRig Spring Cable Clamps (MD2418). These are designed for cable management on cinema cameras, but work just as well for our gear.
Out of the box the DEC axis of my AM5 was a few degrees east, not lined up with the RA axis. There may be several ways to reset the home position, but I used the ASI Mount app on my phone. Plugged in the AM5 hand controller for wifi, connected to AMH_..., and when you tap the AM5 icon at the lower left, there's a "Home Position" in AM5 Settings. Tap "Calibrate" (it will move to what it thinks is home first), then you can adjust the DEC/RA with the buttons in the app (or maybe with the hand controller) and tap "Set" to save that position in the AM5.
The ZWO AM5 is here!
First Light with the new ZWO AM5 mount
One of the first things I did after powering up the new mount, was to check the ZWO ASI Mount iPhone app, which instructs you to connect to the WIFI hotspot provided by the AM5 (built into the hand controller). I then upgraded to ZWO AM5 firmware version 1.1.1 and Hand Controller version 2.1. This took the mount from version 1.1.0 and the hand controller went from 2.0 I believe--so point release and minor release.
UPS just delivered my ZWO AM5 and I'm going to start on a list of tests and things I'm curious about. I know guiding is a clear one, and definitely going to run some guide tests, but what else? Here are four things I'm going to do. Anyone planning a long astro trip, or thinking about doing interesting things—even crazy things—with their AM5? Anyone building a micro-observatory? This seems like the perfect mount for it.
One of the first things I wanted to verify is the iOptron CEM/ZQ Tri-Pier Adapter with the ZWO AM5 mount. Looks good. (see the pic, bottom right). Over the years I have moved to one standard mounting point for my tripods and piers. I have a heavy-duty tripod, a small test pier ("winter pier") right off the back deck and my big pier about 30 meters from the house, in the backyard, and each has a 6 x 8 inch (152 x 203mm) mounting plate, drilled to accept four clamping crews. I have an aluminum plate on the mount side, and for the EQ6R-Pro and Orion Atlas I drilled and tapped holes to attach an iOptron Tri-Pier Adapter (#8036-TK), and for the CEM25p I used the #8036-25 Adapter. The CEM25p and the ZWO AM5 both use a standard 3/8 inch center mounting bolt, making this easy. No new adapters to build, and the new mount will fit with the big tripod and both piers. (I also have the ZWO TC40 Carbon Fiber Tripod for travel and I won't use the mounting plate). https://www.ioptron.com/product-p/8036.htm
I see a lot of ZWO AM5 owners focusing on large scopes and OTAs, how the mount handles a C925 or large refractor. I find this interesting, but my focus is entirely different, or maybe just narrower? I already have a mount for my larger scopes, the RC and 8" Newt. Portability is my top priority for the AM5, and the largest scope I will probably ever use with the AM5 is my William Optics GT81. My SpaceCat 51 is the main scope I plan to pair with the AM5 and TC40 Carbon Fiber tripod. One of the first things I want to accomplish is to get a full astro setup in one backpack or bag. I may have to do some camera backpack shopping.
I will be doing full imaging runs with NINA/ASCOM on Windows and Ekos/KStars/INDI on Linux. Although I have used a bunch of different astrophotography sequence and capture tools over the years, I seem to have settled on NINA and Ekos as the two that get the job done. Both are heavily supported, and they have a similar feature set--at least everything I need: polar alignment, sequencing, framing, full astro device support, multi-star guiding, and more. I don't have plans to buy an ASIAIR, but I totally appreciate the ingenuity that went into the design, I mean one tiny red aluminum box for everything, device management, imaging, power distribution, dew control, all driven through a phone or tablet app, that's genius, especially for a portable rig.
Since balance is less of a concern with strain-wave gear mounts I want to try moving the scope forward, making it front-heavy, to the point where the camera and cables at the back clear the mount base at any rotation, effectively removing the need for a meridian flip. Has anyone tried this? I just ordered the Apertura Losmandy 14" Dovetail Plate from Highpoint, and the plan is to swap out the stock William Optics Vixen dovetail. We'll see if this works. The only downside I see is it will make changing cameras on the SpaceCat 51 more of a task because the EFW won't clear the longer dovetail plate. https://www.highpointscientific.com/apertura-essentials-losmandy-d-style-14-inch-universal-dovetail-plate-dup14
I'm going to start a series of posts on this topic--"essential tools" to showcase a batch of tools, components, and other products and items I use to make this whole astrophotography journey easier. The first three are must-haves in my book--links below.
1. Slip joint pliers with plastic inserts, designed for jewelry making I think. These come in handy when you need to tighten down the knurled metal screws for guide camera rings, or holding the guide cam shoe, or for tightening the tensioner on a rotator. These might work in cases where you want to tighten something just a bit more than you can with your fingers. But you also don't want to scratch the metal, paint, or plastic of whatever you're tightening. Just be careful because these are still regular pliers and you don't want to break anything.
2. I use nitrile gloves every time I'm changing filters, adjusting spacers or the OAG, and doing just about anything with my cameras. That's an obvious use, but I use these instead of the ring clamp tools I usually see as "must haves". I use these when I need to remove filters and spacers that are stuck, and the gloves allow you to unstick these without applying a lot of pressure, without squeezing one side of a spacer so much that the adjacent sides bow out and make it worse. They're even grippy enough to unstick those pesky super-slim M42 to M48 spacers.
3. Real gaffer tape, the expensive cloth stuff that will hold things down but won't leave any residue. Get the real thing, not the cheap stuff. I use this to hold cables together, to tape cables to the mount or the side of a camera. It's as permanent as you want it to be, holding whatever you need to hold until it's time to tear down your gear. Then it just peels away, and you can reuse it.
Non-marring Plastic Jaw Soft Touch Pliers
I couldn't find the spectrum graph data specifically for the Kase Light Pollution/Neutral Night filter, but I believe it is similar to the dozen of others on the market created for the same purpose—to reduce a range of wavelengths in the yellow and greens.