The Star Adventurer is a great and portable piece of kit, and if you’re even semi-serious about astrophotography, it’s something I would call a “must have.” If not specifically the Star Adventurer, then certainly an equivalent such as the iOptron Sky Guider Pro. As I have the Star Adventurer though, this is the one I’ll cover.
As fantastic as the Star Adventurer is, especially at the price point it’s at, it does come with some inherent issues. Ultimately its a mass produced item, and although with it being used in an area that often requires precision, it’s sometimes not as precise as it should be. Thankfully, there’s some tweaks you can make, that are relatively simple, and that won’t cause you to break into a cold sweat.
Not all of us have the ability to go out and make expensive purchases at the drop of a hat, not that I’m disparaging those who can. If you can’t afford to replace the EQ wedge with the William Optics version for example, then hopefully these few tips can help get the best out of the standard unit.
A word of warning though – the chances are that by carrying out these tweaks and mods, you’ll be breaking the manufacturer’s warranty, and will void this. So if that kind of thing makes you a bit skittish, then stop reading. Otherwise, crack on!
The Equatorial Wedge
The biggest weakness here is the…you, guessed it, the altitude locking lever. SkyWatcher could have easily solved this issue before it even made it to manufacture, simply by using slightly thicker materials for the shims you’re about to replace.
Essentially what happens is that you’ll obtain polar aligment, and lock it down using the altitude locking arm…at which point Polaris will shift sideways and you lose alignment. This can be frustrating! The gap between the altitude setting insert and the sides of the mount is simply too big for the size of shim that they’ve used, so you get a lateral movement when locking it down. Because, clearly, polar alignment isn’t challenging enough already, especially if you’re new to astrophotography, and so there should be totally avoidable challenges in the way of achieving it. Slow clap there SkyWatcher, slow clap.
So I’m going to break this down for you and try to attempt a step-by-step on how to solve this, and other issues with this otherwise fab little portable mount.
Completely unscrew the altitude locking lever and remove it. You don’t need to turn the centre screw on the arm to do this. If you do this, be careful not to lose the small spring, and then just do it back up, but do NOT overtighten that screw. It’s soft metal and will easily snap. The easiest way is to just rotate the arm in it’s entirity counterclockwise until it comes off in your hand, being careful not to lose the small black washer underneath it.
Remove the axis bolt by pushing it through with your finger (if you didn’t already do this)
Remove the altitude setting insert by pulling it free of the lower mount. Two teflon shims should come out with it. These shims are the issue here. They’re simply not thick enough at 0.50 and 0.25mm apiece. Cut out a pair of plastic shims using something like a ready meal container, using the original shim as a template. Surprisingly I only needed to use one of these as that was sufficient to close that gap up.
If your replacements slide in too easily then you need to add more. It should be difficult to put all of this back together. Patience is a virtue here. It’ll take a bit of fiddling to line up the holes, so don’t rush things. Just go in slow time and it’ll be all good.
NOTE: You don’t have to use actual plastic shims to do this. Any thin piece of plastic that you’ve cut to an approximation of the diametre of the original shims will do.
Refitting is just a reversal of steps 1-4 above, nothing more complicated than that. You should now be able to lock down your altitude adjustment without Polaris having any lateral movement. Just be careful when refitting the arm that you don’t overtighten it. You really DON’T want that soft screw shearing off. Been there, and it’s not fun!
The Azimuth Setting Pole
Staying with the EQ wedge, this is another little tweak you can do. Over time this pole can work itself loose, and this will have the effect of azimuth adjustment not being as solid as it should be, which can translate to shorter subs, star trailing etc as you’ll find polar alignment to be less accurate over time. Thankfully, this is just as simple to adjust, if not more so, than the replacement shims above.
Step 4: Reassemble the base plate to the bottom of the wedge. Don’t overtighten the hex bolts as you won’t be able to adjust the azimuth. Just a touch beyond finger tight is enough.
Often overlooked, this dovetail saddle that everything sits on can eventually work itself out of alignment, especially with the heavier loads that a lot of us like to put on it. Thankfully it’s REALLY simple to adjust.
Altitude Adjustment Knob
There are other modifications and tweaks you can also make that I don’t cover here as I haven’t carried these out myself. But if you’d like to have a look for yourself, here’s the link.
What I can say is that the ones that I’ve done myself, they’ve provided much more stability to the mount overall and it now feels more solid. I also plan on replacing that altitude locking arm screw with one that is sturdier and less prone to snapping.
If I make any further tweaks, then I’ll add them here. So for now, thanks for reading and clear skies!