We put the LighTrack II from Fornax Mounts by way of its paces.
One of many treasures of the southern sky is the magnificent Eta Carinae Nebula, proven on this picture captured with a Nikon D5100 digital camera and 135mm lens on the LighTrack II mount. Courtesy Gary Seronik
Two persistent developments in night-sky images have intersected up to now few years. Pattern #1: Digital cameras have been getting higher and higher relating to low-light efficiency—and no software is extra “low gentle” than astrophotography. Pattern #2: Followers of darkish night time skies journey farther and farther afield to flee big-city gentle air pollution. So it’s little shock new crop of extremely moveable monitoring mounts designed particularly for DSLR astrophotography has appeared.
A monitoring mount can be a one-trick pony—and that trick is to compensate for the Earth’s rotation. It accomplishes this by shifting your digital camera in the other way at exactly the identical fee—one revolution per day. The monitoring movement ensures that stars in long-exposure pictures seem as tidy factors of sunshine as an alternative of the lengthy streaks you get with a digital camera hooked up to a stationary tripod. However for a mount to carry out effectively, it has to maneuver each easily and precisely.
The LighTrack II from Fornax Mounts claims a minuscule periodic error of solely two arc seconds over an Eight-minute span. Given that the majority photographers will use the mount for exposures of 5 minutes or much less and with lenses of focal lengths shorter than 300 millimetres (the utmost really helpful by the producer), that’s a lot correct.
Options and Particulars
The LighTrack II is the guts of a extremely moveable setup that’s ultimate for the travelling astrophotographer. The digital camera, ball head and tripod are equipped by the consumer, whereas the polar-alignment scope and FMW-200 wedge are choices that may be bought with the monitoring mount.
The LighTrack is a well-made, sturdy piece of kit consisting largely of anodized aluminum elements. You should purchase the tracker alone or with an EQ5 polar scope or in a “full set,” with each the scope and the FMW-200 adjustable wedge (the choice we examined). The FMW-200 can be bought individually. The consumer provides the digital camera, ball head and heavy-duty photographic tripod.
Collectively, the scope and wedge make correct polar alignment a lot simpler—one thing that’s vital for completely spherical star photographs, particularly with long-focal-length lenses. The polar finderscope labored effectively, however I did discover myself wishing it had include an illuminated reticule. Below a darkish sky, the reticule markings essential for sighting the celestial pole are almost not possible to see. Shining a flashlight into the scope proved an ungainly compromise at finest.
Exactly adjusting the goal of the LighTrack is facilitated with the high-quality movement controls of the FMW-200 wedge. This superbly machined merchandise labored very effectively, although typically the mount’s place would slip a bit after I turned the knobs used to lock the altitude adjustment. Affixing the mount to the wedge is a bit fiddly, nevertheless it’s a onetime solely operation finest finished beforehand in daylight. The scope and wedge are worthwhile additions until you solely use wide-angle lenses. I like to recommend each gadgets. All collectively, the mount, finderscope and wedge tip the scales at only a hair over 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lb).
To start an evening of astrophotography with the LighTrack, you connect the mount and wedge meeting to your tripod. For max rigidity, it’s finest to make use of the tripod’s centre put up and keep away from the pan/tilt head, if attainable. The thread on the bottom of the wedge is three⁄Eight-16, so in case your tripod is 1⁄Four-20 solely, you’ll want to choose up an adapter bushing.
The elective FMW-200 wedge has fine-motion controls in altitude and azimuth to facilitate exact polar alignment, which is essential for completely spherical star photographs.
Just a few controls are wanted to function the LighTrack. You’ll be able to select from 4 completely different monitoring charges for areas on both aspect of the equator.
In fact, in case you’ve opted to buy simply the LighTrack alone, you’ll need to align on the celestial pole through the use of the tripod’s adjustable head. Subsequent, plug within the 12-volt energy wire. It comes with an automotive-accessory (cigarette-lighter) becoming in an effort to energy the mount out of your automobile or from a transportable battery pack. Lastly, affix the ball head to the mount (once more, with a three⁄Eight-16 socket), and fix your digital camera. After fastidiously polar aligning, you’re set to take photos.
The LighTrack’s management panel is attractively spartan and intuitively laid out, consisting of 4 buttons and 7 LEDs. The leftmost button permits you to toggle between a number of monitoring charges, together with sidereal (for imaging stars and deep-sky objects), photo voltaic and lunar. As well as, there’s a “half” pace for capturing wide-angle night-landscape photographs with minimal blurring of the foreground and star discipline. Subsequent is a button for choosing which aspect of the equator you’re on (north or south), and on the far proper of the management panel, there’s a pair of buttons to quickly transfer the mount ahead or backward. These are used to reset the mount as soon as it’s reached the tip of its journey.
The LighTrack compensates for the Earth’s rotation by shifting the digital camera within the course indicated by the arrow.
Powering up the unit via a change on the rear of the management panel initiates a discreet, audible trill—like a vaguely musical frequency sweep—and lights a pair of small purple LEDs, all to point that the mount is monitoring. Conveniently, the LighTrack defaults to a sidereal monitoring fee and the northern hemisphere when activated.
In use, the LighTrack is vibration-free and dead-quiet (aside from the aforementioned musical trill). It offers roughly two hours of steady monitoring (our check unit clocked in at 1 hour 50 minutes), however the producer notes that for finest outcomes with long-focal size lenses, exposures must be saved to six minutes or much less and will make the most of the center portion of the mount’s monitoring vary.
Quirks and Quibbles
In my many weeks with the LighTrack, I discovered little to complain about. The mount tracks the sky very precisely, and actually, that’s all it’s designed to do. However it’s price preserving in thoughts good mount alone doesn’t assure good photos. Trailed stars might be the results of imprecise polar alignment, flexure in your tripod or ball head or perhaps a tripod leg slowly sinking into tender floor. (That final one is from private expertise.) The longer the focal size of your lens, the extra apparent these pitfalls turn out to be. And but when every little thing works, the outcomes might be actually rewarding—one thing I skilled usually with the LighTrack.
Ultimately, I’ve only some quibbles. First, the mount doesn’t warn you when it’s reaching the tip of its journey—it merely stops lifeless in its tracks. It’s not a horrible burden to recollect to reset the mount after capturing a couple of picture sequences, however some type of sign can be good when the mount is right down to its final 10 minutes of monitoring.
One other quibble is the consumer’s guide. To place it kindly, it’s minimal. True, the mount is fairly easy to make use of, however a single folded sheet appears a poor match for such a premium piece of drugs. And there are a few omissions. Nowhere does the documentation point out the auto-guider port or the operate of the standing gentle on the management panel. Whereas a modestly skilled astrophotographer can be high-quality with the present documentation, a newbie would possibly yearn for extra particulars.
This sweeping panorama captures the wealthy swath of Milky Manner extending from the Southern Cross and the Coal Sack darkish nebula (proper) to Alpha and Beta Centauri The scene consists of a pair of photographs digitally stitched collectively. Every 2-minute publicity was shot on the LighTrack II mount with a Nikon 50mm lens and Nikon D5100 DSLR digital camera
at ISO 800 and f/Four. Courtesy Gary Seronik
Lastly (and that is the elephant within the room), there’s the matter of worth. There isn’t a getting round the truth that the LighTrack (particularly the model we examined) represents a big outlay. There are a number of cheaper choices accessible, together with the iOptron SkyGuider we reviewed beforehand. Is the LighTrack’s topflight development and distinctive accuracy price the additional cash? That’s largely a private determination, however in case you want very good portability and plan to often use lenses within the 100-to-300mm vary, the LighTrack II deserves a spot close to the highest of your brief checklist.
Gary Seronik is the editor of SkyNews. He has constructed a number of monitoring mounts for astrophotography.
An expanded model of this evaluation appeared within the September/October 2016 subject of SkyNews.