With one eye on flying to Miami for next week’s wonderful Winter Star Party, I have been testing a new lightweight, portable set up that is perfect for airline travel – and surprisingly affordable. The heart of this set up is a Skywatcher Az GTi which provides surprisingly good tracking and goto; mounted on a lightweight carbon fibre tripod the Innorel RT90C. This mount carries my Megrez 90, diagonal and either eyepieces or a camera with surprising ease.

The video below shows how it performs – and the upgrades to make it work really well: https://youtu.be/ENIJ6Ok1sjg.

While I would always enjoy a bigger set up, using a portable refractor is rather fun. Not only are they relatively affordable, they are so light and easy to set up with no need for collimation or much cool down time. At the same time, they provide stunning views of the deep sky, high power views of the moon and planets and quite capable of live stacking – the horsehead and flame nebula in 30 seconds being one recent example.

As for transportation, the delicate scope, eyepieces, DSLR, camera lenses etc all fit in my cabin-bag a Vanguard 58T which I have had for years. Its amazing to see all the items fit inside such a portable case and be carried from one country to another without issue. In the meantime, the more robust tripod and mount can go in my suitcase as checked baggage.

Yes, the Skywatcher Az GTi has been on the market for a few years so this review is rather late! However, having used it for a number of nights since Christmas – including multiple nights during the “cold” snap (I know our American, Canadian and Scandinavian friends will laugh when I say -8degC is cold but it is all relative!) I must say it performs very well.

So we have an affordable mount that can:

  • Easily carry a small refactor.
  • Meets airline travel requirements – and is fantastic for grab and go and trips to our local dark sky site.
  • No requirement for counterweights.
  • Is easy to control over the wonderful Sky Safari or on my laptop using SharpCap and Carte du Ciel.
  • Goto is very handy for getting objects into the field of view (and works surprisingly well after a three star alignment).
  • Tracking allows for live stacking.
  • We can swap eyepieces without losing the target and crank up the power for lunar and planetary observing.

Is it perfect? No! It is limited to payloads of 5kg so this refractor, particularly with the binoviewer, is approaching the limit. I must say that I am not sure it could carry much more. It is also noticeably noisier than my AZEQ6 in the observatory. Perhaps they saved money by using recycled motors from old coffee grinders! Finally, it does not come with a power supply so you need to provide your own. As I cannot guarantee access to mains power, I bought a small Talent Cell lithium power pack that drives the mount and the dew heaters.

In summary, this affordable setup is portable, provides great views and allows for fantastic livestacking with no hassle. Just remember to provide your own power supply and hope the gotos do not disturb your neighbours!