And It Gets Better If I considered that ﬁrst night good, then the second night was nothing short of spectacular. By then I’d made a trip to the local outlet for Harbor Freight Tools and picked up a small furniture dolly for $8 and a two-tier step ladder, on sale for $20. With a couple of pieces of scrap wood I sup-ported the assembled Stargate on the dolly and could easily roll it in and out of my garage. Furthermore, as the image on page 62 shows, it was an easy matter to lift each leg on the base about ½ inch and slide a brick under it, putting the scope on a solid footing free of the dolly. After levelling the base and marking which leg belonged on which brick, I marked the location of the bricks with a few pieces of tape on the driveway. On subsequent nights it took only a few minutes to roll the scope out of the garage and have it ready for observing. This may sound stupid, but because I didn’t have to disassemble the scope to transport and store it, it was as easy to use in my driveway as any grab-and-go scope I’ve tested.
By the second night I’d also gone through the SynScan manual and had a better handle on the best way to do star alignments and, in general, use the drive’s features. The hand control has the typical catalogues of objects that are available with modern Go To systems, including the Caldwell catalogue. There is, however, no listing of named deep-sky objects, so if you’re looking for the Ring Nebula, you’ll have to ﬁnd it by either its Messier number (M57) or its designation in the New General Catalogue (NGC 6720).
From an operational standpoint, the drive worked very well. When slewing the telescope at the higher speeds, there’s a somewhat annoying lag in the response to pressing the slew buttons, but this goes away at slower speeds, making it easy to centre objects in the ﬁnder and telescope eyepiece. Since the power jack for the motors moves as the scope turns in azimuth, you have to be mindful of having enough slack in the power cord for the scope to turn. There is a cord-wrap feature that helps by preventing the scope from continuously slewing in one direction, but I never ﬁgured out exactly when it would activate. This is no big deal, but it can be a bit surprising when you expect to have the scope slew only a short distance from one object to the next but then ﬁnd the azimuth motion reverse direction and turn nearly 360° to get back to the general area where you were just looking. There are a few subtle differences between the SynScan system and other Go To scopes I’ve used, but overall I was very pleased with its operation and features. I’ve not used a lot of Dobsonian scopes with Go To pointing, but I found this one to be very accurate, and the tracking excellent. Furthermore, you can disengage the motor clutches on both axes and move the scope manually to any part of the sky and reengage the clutches and resume observing without having to re-initial-ize the drives. A very nice feature.
Why the Rocky Start?With so many positive things going for the Stargate, you’re probably wondering why I said earlier that this review didn’t start off well. The answer can be summed up in three words — the instruction manual. Regardless of what I might intuitively know about setting up telescopes, for the sake of a review I always follow the step-by-step instructions in the manual. I can’t recall assembly instructions worse than those for the Stargate. In addition to easily recognised mistakes such as referring to the secondary-mirror assembly as the primary-mirror assembly, there are misidentiﬁed parts mentioned in the text that make the assembly procedure confusing. But even worse are the diagrams, many of which are riddled with errors. There are mislabelled diagrams; diagrams with missing labels; and diagrams mentioned in the text that simply don’t exist. The worst of these errors involved the novel cable system used for the altitude drive, so the manual will be less of a problem for people who don’t purchase a Star-gate model with drives. But I found the Go To pointing and tracking to be so valuable that I would strongly recommend people consider getting the scopes with motor drives.
After working through the scope’s frustrating assembly procedure, I worried that things were going to get even worse. When I initially unpacked the telescope from its four large shipping boxes there was a prominent slip of paper with the bold headline “Attention.” It directed me to the Sky-Watcher website to download the latest version of the SynScan ﬁrmware and install it using instructions in the manual. This is rather common for today’s computerised scopes, but I was dismayed to see that the latest version of the ﬁrmware was dated more than six months before the Stargate was shipped to me for review, and the version of ﬁrmware in my hand control was even older. An update was clearly needed to keep the review accurate, but I certainly wasn’t looking forward to another round of step-by-step instructions in the manual. But here’s the punchline: The whole procedure went precisely as described in the SynScan manual and took about 10 minutes! The only hurdle was the required serial connection between the computer and hand control to do the update.