This mount shipped with my 120mm Skywatcher refractor from Orion. I will try to fairly review this mount even though it is clearly too small for my telescope. This may slightly slant my opinion on this matter.
Inherently this mount does not have any major problems. My scope weighs 11 pounds and is slightly too heavy for this mount. It would be suggested that the maximum capacity of this mount is closer to 9 or 10 pounds. However with some minor tweaking it can be made to work adequately with a 10+ pound scope. It is also questionable whether or not the tripod that is included is the cause of some of these problems.
As I unpacked this mount and set it up everything went as smoothly as possible. All of the parts were there and the instructions were simple and straight forward. This mount includes two small counterweights (exact weight not known) but they probably weigh around 4 pounds each. Also included is a polar alignment scope with a cap, tripod, accessory tray, and built in bubble level. The tube rings are made of thick aluminum and secure together with thumbscrews. On top of the front ring is also a piggyback camera adapter.
Probably the best part of this mount is that it falls in the mid sized category. It is simple to set up and simple to take down. It also comes with a lot of extras that you would not expect from a mount in this class.
As far as handling my telescope this mount does a decent job for visual observations and that's about it. I would not recommend any long exposure photography with this mount but it is probably possible to do short exposure lunar and planetary photography with it. Vibrations tend to settle in about 5-6 seconds depending on what type of surface you have it set up on. Normally I observe from my grassy backyard and have noticed that these vibrations are greatly reduced when the tripod if firmly stuck into the ground. These vibrations also tend to limit magnifications to 133x or less. Over this point focusing can become quite a chore although it is not impossible. If you have patience you can barely use this mount with powers over 200x.
This mount has surprisingly smooth motions on both axes. It is also easy to balance. There is the ability to set circles but I don't use them so I cannot give a true review of their accuracy. It also has the polar alignment scope which I do not use because a big tree normally blocks my view of Polaris. All in all I feel that this mount is easy to operate (even for a novice) and reliably constructed for an active observer. I have not yet run into any problems with the quality of its construction.
It should be mentioned that any mount in this class will have some negatives. I will try to be as fair as possible while still trying to give a realistic review of this mount. As I have said earlier some of the problems can also be attributed to the tripod.
The major drawback to this mount is its limited capacity. Most scopes larger than 90mm refractors will probably not reach their full potential with this mount. It is my opinion that this mount would be an excellent performer for a decent 80mm or 90mm refractor or event some of the smaller reflectors on the market today. Just keep the weight below 10 pounds and you should be OK.
I also have some questions as to the durability of this mount. Some of the parts may be prone to some accidental damage. The most obvious of these are the small plastic lock nobs. Although I have not damaged mine I have read some random reports of their durability. Some people even recommend replacing them with a thumbscrew style nob as soon as possible. The slow motion cables are very short, much too short for a scope of this size and they tend to come loose and fall off after heavy use. Luckily I have the drive so I don't use them much any more. Other than that it seems that most of the mount is fairly well constructed but time will only tell.
Lastly as I have mentioned before the tripod shares some of the blame for the shortcomings of this mount. When fully extended the legs tend to flex with the movement of the scope. I have used the mount with the legs barely extended and have seen a major improvement in performance. Vibrations are cut to 3-4 seconds and the useable power climb upward to about 166x. This is why in my opinion that a more sturdy tripod would make this a much better system. I also wonder whether the anti vibration pads available on the market would slightly improve performance.
When I purchased the scope I bought the drives for the sole purpose of making my life easier. I have no intention of using this drive or mount for photography. I has however fulfilled its needs as far as visual observing goes. Instead of reaching for the cable slow motion controls I have the ability to press the control pad for effortless movement.
As far as the drives go installation was a small hassle. There were no instructions and the mounting system was not completely intuitive. I did however install them in under a half hour. Now the greatest problem I have is the 7-10 second delay when moving in a new direction. But like I said before I use this for visual observing so this is workable but it would probably be a problem for photography. Other than that movement is fluid and the speed options (1x, 2x, 8x) are a nice extra not usually found in this class. The drive uses four D cell batteries that I have not yet had to replace (after 6 months of heavy usage) so I guess that that is another bonus.
In the end this mount was not built for the scope that they ship with it. But being objective I would possibly give it another chance if someday I buy a smaller refractor (which is entirely possible). I am really interested in possible putting a short tube 80mm or 90mm refractor on it. I feel that this would then become an excellent mount. It could also use some tweaking which I have not really messed with yet but probably will in the future. I have read some tips by other observers on how to make this mount more manageable. Some of these are as simple as clamping the tripod legs to as difficult as rebuilding the entire mount. I will probably just buy a new mount at some point in the future and save myself some time. On a scale of 10 I would give this mount a 6.0 with the current scope but that could possibly increase with a smaller scope.
I am currently planning some simple updates to this mount which should make it a little more stable. I am going to add a new plate for the rings to attach to. The purpose of this will be to spread the tube rings further apart than they currently are. I feel that this may help the mount cope with my long refractor. I am also going to fill the legs with sand which should dampen some of the vibrations. I will be reporting back with updated pictures and reviews of these updates. In the long run I am also considering having a friend build a simple pier system for this mount.
Submitted by Curt Irwin - firstname.lastname@example.org - Grand Rapids, MI