Review: iOptron MiniTower Pro

Does this compact black-box mount do the job?

iOptron MiniTower 1

The iOptron MiniTower Pro mount is ideal for telescopes like the 90mm Takahashi apo refractor shown here. The mount and tripod are lighter weight and easier to transport than many of the more traditional mounts. All photos by Terence Dickinson

There are many reasons that GoTo telescope mounts are the 21st-century choice for both the budding backyard astronomer and the more experienced telescope user. First among them is urban light pollution. The milky glow from city lights above most of our backyards dims or obliterates all but the brightest constellations. Escaping to a dark sky reveals a wondrous starry vista, but once under it, most observers want to spend the time looking at celestial targets, not hunting for them.

iOptron MiniTower 3

The MiniTower 3 can handle a variety of scopes, including up to a 110mm apo, a 6-inch f/5 Newtonian and a 4- to-6-inch Cassegrain.

The iOptron MiniTower Pro mount is among the most compact and innovative of the many GoTo mounts now available — a magic black box on a solid tripod made for telescopes equipped with a Vixen-style dovetail mounting plate. To operate, level the mount using a built-in bubble level, and rotate to aim the marked side south. Turn on the power (lengthy 12-volt cable provided, or use AA batteries), and the mount’s internal GPS reads your location and exact time. It is now ready to GoTo and track the selected target object.

Pointing and Tracking

iOptron hand control

The mount’s red-illuminated hand control preserves dark adaptation.

The big question is, How accurate is the mount? At over $1,000, this is a premium-priced product, so high precision should be expected. As with most GoTo mounts, pointing accuracy is refined as you centre in on several objects widely spread across the sky.

The first object should be a bright known star or planet. Select “Sync to Target” on the hand controller, and use the slow motions to centre the object in the telescope field of view. Repeat with three or four other well-spaced targets, and the mount now has the information it needs to move directly to any user-selected object among the 130,000 objects in its database.

Results and Conclusions

iOptron MiniTower 2

Rated for up to 33 pounds of payload, the mount can be balanced with the supplied counterweight.

I spent several nights with three different telescopes (pictured here), with the mount set up near the centre of my roll-off-roof observatory. At the end of each night, the mount was set to “park” position, with observing resuming the next night. The initializing routine described in the previous paragraph had to be done only once.

I looked at more than 100 objects. Upon seeing each new target appear close to the field centre, I switched to eyepieces yielding up to 127×. Even at the higher power, the mount never failed to bring the desired object into the central part of the eyepiece field. And once in view, the mount tracked it, smoothly and precisely. Nice session.

This review originally appeared in the January/February 2012 issue of SkyNews.
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