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EQ6 SkyScan

Posted by Ed Moreno   06/28/2005 12:00AM

This is my review of the SkyWatcher EQ6 SkyScan mount. The mount was acquired new. I intended this mount as a more modern and slightly lighter-weight replacement for the Celestron Ci700 mount that used to carry my Meade 152ED refractor.

Now, to be fair, the Meade 152ED is a challenging OTA to mount on a GEM type mounting. It is an f/9 telescope, so it is quite long, and it uses an oversized (7”) tube, with a substantial focuser and lens cell. These factors result in a telescope with a high polar inertia, meaning that the weight is out at the ends of the OTA, which causes any movement to impart a substantial twisting torque.

I had grown tired of the weight and with the clutter of cables and controls of the Ci700. The equatorial head itself weighed in at 45 pounds, and while everything else went out without too much trouble, the head was a real handful. This was due mostly to the sheer bulk and weight, but the tangle of cables was always problematic. I didn’t want to have to disconnect everything every time I moved it, but the cables made it difficult to manage the mount. It also took several trips to bring all of the component parts outside.

The EQ6 Atlas has been around some time now, and while I considered one some time ago, the lack of an elegant solution for mounting digital setting circles kept me on the side-lines. Now I like Go-To and if I can get it, that is all well and good, but I MUST have digital setting circles at the very least. Typical aftermarket kits use encoders mounted on funky brackets with exposed gears, and to add this capability would have resulted in having nearly the same clutter as with the Ci700, though the Ci700 DOES have an excellent enclosed encoder design, which in my humble opinion is has much nicer packaging and is cheaper than the Losmandy encoder kits.

When I saw the ads for the EQ6 SkyScan, I thought that I would take a chance that this modern design, heavy-duty Go-To mount would be exactly the right mount to replace the Ci700. I am a purely visual observer, and I suspected that the EQ6 would not be quite as stable as the Ci700, but with the published load rating, I was hoping that it would prove to be stable enough.

Initial Impressions

As received, the EQ head was well packed in a molded Styrofoam container. In addition, the materials list included screwdrivers, a stamped crescent wrench, the EQ head, control handset, two dovetails (8” and 13”, I think), an auto-jack type power cord, and an owner’s manual.

The tripod box was flimsy and arrived partially crushed, but nothing inside was damaged. The 2 counterweights were packed at either end of the box.

The EQ head itself is very nicely made. The finish is quite good. The axis housings are painted a matte grey, and the castings themselves are fairly good. The mount has a very nice quality look to it. Now it is not on par with the Losmandy mount finishes, but at this price point, with the far more modern packaging and design, I am happy enough with its appearance.

The declination shaft housing encloses the both motors and encoder electronics. This is a modern design, and while the declination shaft housing looks to be somewhat out of proportion when compared to conventional mounts, the looks grow on you. The CLEANLINESS of the design is what makes it acceptable. There just isn’t a Rat’s nest of cables and boxes all hanging from Velcro all over the place. This was a MAJOR turn-off for me on some of the other heavy-duty mounts.

The declination shaft retracts into its housing. The shaft itself looks too thin, but in practice it is easily capable of carrying the two included counterweights needed to balance the Meade 152ED.

The tripod has stainless steel tubular legs. There is bolt that comes up from below to hold the head in place, and a spreader below that to brace the legs, but it rides very high, near the top of the tripod. Oddly, the legs show every hand-print as dark smudges. I don’t know why that bugs me, but it does. If you have stainless steel appliances, you will know what I am talking about…


Everything goes together really fast. Because the tripod comes with legs assembled, all that is necessary is to erect it, place the head on top and bolt down with the center bolt/spreader from below, slip on weights, mount an OTA, then plug in the controller and power. No fuss at all. I had the scope up and running in my living room in about 5 minutes. Now I did have to move the azimuth adjustment lug to the opposite hole in the top of the tripod mounting plate, because I prefer that the counterweight shaft extend out directly over one of the legs, which I orient north. As shipped, the counterweights would have hung out between legs, which can cause a tip-over on many mounts when they are carrying lots of counterweights and not extended fully and the OTA is removed. I did this once with a CG5 carrying a C 9.25 and learned my lesson. As a by-product of this change, the spreader actually has a slot in it that accepts the plastic hand-controller, and this places the slot on the south side of the mount where I personally prefer it.

Here is the FIRST thing I don’t like about the mount that presented itself during assembly. There is an RJ type jack on the hand controller end of the controller cable, but a computer-like SERIAL PORT type connector at the EQ head end. I would have FAR preferred that the EQ head-end of the cord have another RJ telephone type connector. There are two reasons for this strong preference of mine, and I think both of them are very good. First, the connector sticks out from the side of the mount quite far. It LOOKS like it is waiting to be broken off. Second, there are two clunky little long screws that you need to screw in… You know the kind, just like on a serial port connector on a computer! What the hell were they thinking! What should have been a clean design with quick hook-up actually looks like a vulnerable afterthought! I realize that it only takes 30 seconds to hook it up, but it will take less time to snap it off one day I bet. Bad. Amateurish. A clear miss. This connector SHOULD have been an RJ type of jack. EVERYONE else uses a telephone connector here.

Now here is something that I can’t say is a “Fault,” but rather this is intended as “Constructive Criticism”. I knew what this mount was when I bought it, and one of the things that I was concerned about was actually the dovetail arrangement. The mount comes with a Vixen GP pattern dovetail saddle. Now even Celestron ships it’s C11 OTA with a Vixen dovetail, however I personally would have recommended that either the manufacturer equip this mount with a Losmandy G11 style saddle, or better yet, introduce a NEW dovetail standard!!! The Vixen pattern dovetail is dated. It is fine for very small refractors, but I don’t like it much for larger OTAs. I prefer the more positive engagement of the Losmandy type dovetail when mounting a large OTA. I question the Vixen GP pattern dovetail’s ability to take strong asymmetric loads (side-by-side mounted scopes, etc). Finally, Losmandy has a wide range of dovetails available in the aftermarket, along with unique configurations and mounting capabilities. For a mount to be considered a heavy-duty mount, it needs a heavy-duty dovetail. Frankly, I think that the manufacturer missed the chance to introduce a new dovetail system to the market. Losmandy dovetails are pricy, and it would have been nice to have a less expensive alternative system available. Don’t these guys have marketing sense? Everybody knows that the PROFIT is in the accessories!

Sounds COOL!

Just as a checkout, I powered up the scope in my living room, and without bothering with the manual, immediately ran through a faux alignment. Having a Celestron NexStar 11 and Meade LXD55 both currently in my inventory, I figured that I could bounce-navigate my way through the process, and indeed, it was a simple procedure.

During the checkout, I was WAY impressed by the SOUND of the motors during the slew to the pretend guide stars. These things are fairly quiet and just sound WAY cool! The motors sound as if they are winding up to speed like jet engines. When they brake, the sound winds down rather than abruptly stopping. They produce a high-pitched whine with very little gear noise. The movement is FAST! Once they stop in position, you hear faint R2D2 chirping and humming, but it is nearly inaudible. It is impressive sounding and looking.

After assembly and mechanical checkout, I proceeded to the manual. In a word, I would say that the manual is “Poor.” Now it is my guess that the purchaser of such a mount would be familiar enough with German Equatorial Mounts that it is questionable that this should matter at all, however this book was a joke. There is a long section on calibrating the polar finder, which is actually nice in its intentions, but almost impossible to understand. There is almost NOTHING on the electronics and hand controller. Now as I said earlier, I have plenty of electronic telescope hand-controllers, so for me, this was not a BIG setback, and yet there were several behaviors that I had to learn by trial and error. Hand-controller functions are easy enough to access though, and basic operation is quick to master. Still, the manual is severely lacking. Oddly, there could be something of an explanation, that being that the FUNCTIONALITY of the hand-controller is severely lacking!!! I’ll give more on that later.

Time to go outside

Night falls. Out I go with my NexStar 11 and my Meade 152ED on the new mount. Mechanical setup goes smoothly. The NexStar 11 is quicker to set up, much quicker in fact. The EQ6 goes up quickly enough though. Faster than the Ci700 used to do, and I can actually carry the head-tripod (sans weights) as one unit.

I usually don’t do accurate polar alignment, however the polar finder was one of the better I have seen. It is not illuminated, but it presents large sharp reticule markings that will be easily visible under typical (light polluted sky) lighting conditions.

Electronic setup seemed straight forward but at the same time, it was less than that. First, you need your latitude and longitude. Be sure to have it, or the initial seek to your alignment stars will be way off. It takes 3 alignment stars, so alignment can be a bit time consuming.

Be sure that you know your alignment stars! There isn’t even a map in the manual, and some of the alignment stars in the menu are less prominent. My observing site has many trees and obstructions, and I wasn’t familiar with some of the guide stars. Also, the scrolling seems to take a long time. I “THINK” that the mount tries to filter out stars that might be too close to zenith so that you don’t have an OTA/tripod collision, because I noticed that after I selected the first alignment star, I got other stars that were not given in the initial choice menu. Also, it takes a while for the controller to respond to the arrow keys to scroll though the choices. I imagine that this is because of the filtering that I mentioned above. The Meade Autostar is excellent about warning you when you could encounter an orientation that would result in an OTA/Tripod collision, but I have never received such a warning from the SkyScan, so beware… I get the feeling that this is a possibility with the SkyScan.

The alignment process takes more button presses than with the Meade or Celestron mounts. With Meade Autostar mounts, you simply press a number key to change slew rates, so if the alignment star is pretty far away, you simply press a number button to change to a higher rate, then press a number button again to get back to a slow rate. The Celestron allows you to press the button for the direction you want to go, then hold down the opposite button to go to high-speed slew. The SkySkan makes you press a “RATE” button, then select a number button, and then there is a slight delay until it accepts the change. I realize that this seems trivial, but trust me on this, you will want to do enough rate changing that it becomes an annoyance to press extra buttons. The Meade is the best in this respect. The Celestron lets me use a relatively slow speed, then the opposite button for more coarse movement. The SkyScan falls at the back here.

The good news is that once you have centered all three alignment stars, this thing will usually home in on a target with VERY high precision. I did an alignment on stars to the west, then slewed half-way across the sky to a eastern target several times, and the mount nailed the targets perfectly, placing them in essence directly into the center of the field. Did I mention how cool the motors sound when they are slewing? This thing makes less than half of the noise that my LXD 55 makes when it is set to the SLOW alignment slew speed (which is a menu option on the LXD55).

Speaking of the hand controller, there are not very many options or functions. The Celestron and Meade both allow for brightness control, the SkyScan does not. In fact, the handcontroller on the SkyScan is much harder to read at night than either the Meade or Celestron controllers.

The single most glaring omission in my version of the hand controller is a SYNC function… As good as pointing in this mount is, there were times when it would get out of alignment, or miss a target after a long slew… Worse, occasionally, I will bump a mount leg and shift the mount ever so slightly. With Meade and Celestron hand controllers, once you locate an object, you can sync the computer to that object so that slews to nearby objects get more accurate. Even if your initial setup was not precise, or if your alignment stars were not far enough apart to result in a super-good alignment, the Sync function can allow you to work a piece of sky with good accurately. The SkyScan controller I have does not have this provision, and again, this is a clear miss. The Meade offers a “Spiral Search” function that has allowed me to recover from a miss too, which again sets you up for the Re-Sync. The SkyScan misses here on both points.

The Meade LXD55 has a red LED light built into the controller. I use it all the time to read eyepieces. I wish the Celsetron and SkyScan had this feature.

The Celestron and Meade offer more advanced utilities. Now in defence of the EQ6 SkyScan, there was NO play in the gear-train, so maybe the mount doesn’t need all of the calibration options that the Meade provides.

The double-star catalogs in the SkyScan controller themselves appear to be screwed up as well. I did a double-star catalog search and it was wacky. It showed mag 20 stars and had IC and NGC numbers. I don’t think it was a double-star catalog at all. I consider this a quality defect, and when the manufacturer introduces a better controller, I will request one.

In all, the controller software was clearly well behind the leaders.

Ok, lets move on.

Now for the part about the mount being a heavy-duty mount. Well, no, not quite. This mount was BARELY acceptable with my Meade 152ED. As I mentioned earlier, this is actually a VERY challenging OTA to mount, but for visual use with the Meade 152ED, it was near the edge of range of acceptability to me. Touching the focuser will cause the tube to enter into a long-period oscillation. Slewing then stopping at all but the SLOWEST speeds will cause the view in the eyepiece to oscillate. Dampening is poor. Some of this was due to the longer dovetail that I mentioned earlier, but I wanted to use it to have a better balance range (I have VERY heavy eyepieces). After the first night, I switched to a shorter dovetail. I didn’t seem to make that much difference, but I suspect that any improvement was masked by the more serious tripod leg problem. A set of vibration suppression pads is pretty necessary, and with these, dampening improves considerably. With the Ci700, dampening even without vibration suppression pads was excellent. In fact in every way, the Ci700 seems to have been a much more stable platform. Still, the tradeoff was acceptable to me, though I feel as if the EQ6 mount is at the upper end of its stability limits at least with this OTA.

Now the culprit here is totally the tripod. The head itself is actually very robust. I truly believe that it is capable of carrying the weight that the manufacturer specifies. But the tripod, with the legs fully extended, has too much flex in the legs. The only cross brace rides quite high. The legs themselves vibrate like guitar strings. As an experiment, I would flick one of the legs with my finger, and then feel it, and I could feel the leg vibrating for a couple of seconds. I have exchanged notes with people that use the tripod to carry large reflectors or SCTs with the legs collapsed down, and they report that the mount is excellent in that configuration.

It is my opinion that this tripod is in need of better geometrical bracing. By comparison, the legs for the Ci700 where a larger diameter, had a top cross-brace that rode lower, AND a bottom spreader. The tripod on the Ci700 weighs only a bit more than the one on the EQ6, but is FAR stiffer. The Ci700 held the Meade 152ED with excellent stability, and I have no doubt that it would have provided to be a stable imaging platform. As I mentioned earlier, the EQ6 is barely acceptable even for Visual use with the big refractor.

Now that being said, I mentioned that I am primarily a visual observer, and in the end, I consider the EQ6 SkyScan to be suitable for my needs and while my gripes are indeed serious, I will also say that I am actually overall rather satisfied. As lacking as the hand-controller software is, it is enough for my needs, (Go-To for common objects, RA and DEC readout for double stars). The general quality is quite high and the design is a very modern one.

I will be direct with my closing. I have the opinion that whoever designed this mount was not a practicing observer, and was working with a maybe less than savvy marketing department. I doubt that they had much of a field testing program, because any avid observer would have quickly pointed out some of these issues. Once they get the wrinkles ironed out, I think that this mount may become a best-seller in the middle-weight mount category, just below the G11 and CGE. And with a good tripod and a positive mount dovetail, it could even be a threat to these mounts.

In summary, the EQ6 mount head itself is indeed a heavy duty head, but it is handicapped by a less than rigid tripod, and this is too bad. In baseball terms, what could have been a heavyweight home-run turns out to have been not even a solid Triple, but rather more on the order of a well hit double when you add in the controller software limitations, the small scope dovetail, and the minimal hand controller software.

In the end though, I actually recommend this mount with only minor reservations. The overall value here is hard to dispute. It is more capable than the most direct competitor mounts at its primary task of moving and holding a telescope in place and it is a very modern design with excellent packaging. For a price less than some mounts that only come with motor drives and no computer, it does indeed deliver a VERY good amount of capability for a modest price. The more I use it, the happier I am with it.

Correction submitted 6/30/05: Illuminated Polar Finder

I received two emails and saw a post saying that the polar finder in the EQ6 SkyScan is in fact illuminated. Last night (Wed, June 29th), just before I broke my scope down from my observing session, I decided to check again. My eyes were well adapted to the dark and the sky was actually fairly dark as well due to an unusually tranparent evening here in Austin. When I looked through the finder, I did not initially see any indication of lighting, but as my eye moved closer, I noticed a VERY pale red glow at the very edge of the field. I studied the reticle carefully, and sure enough, there was an extremelly faint glow coming from them. Now the reticle itself was still visable against the background sky more as a black on grey pattern, but that is probably due to my light polluted sky. I put the cap onto the hole in the finder bore, and the pale glow became more visable against the blackness in the bore. The level of illimunation would be sufficient to perfrom polar alignment in a dark sky location.

Now I checked this finder 3 times prior to writing the review, and never saw this glow before, so my thanks to those that wrote to inform me of it, and apologies for the error. As mentioned in the review, I don't usually even bother with doing an accurate polar alignment, so I might have never realized my mistake. I felt that the error was important enough to address. Regards.

My regards,
Ed Moreno

Click here for more about Orion's version of this mount. -Ed.