On this page, I present (and will present) some general experiences and thoughts with my new AZ GoTo mount (since July 2016). It has the long name Sky-Watcher Star Discovery AZ GoTo Telescope Mount and thus, is an azimuthal mount. I use(d) the Sky-Watcher Heritage 100P, P130 (no longer in my possession), Explorer 150PDS, and the Skymax-102 OTA tubes on this mount.
After I had owned a Bresser Venus 76/700 AZ telescope, purchased from ALDI, for some time, I got interested in the Meade ETX-90EC, a Maksutov-Cassegrain telescope, particularly thanks to Michael Weasner's great website (no longer active). In the spring of 1999, I had the opportunity to buy an ETX and an Autostar computer at the Pittsburgh airport (I had speculated on this ...), did so, and had to pay a lot of taxes at the customs (a special experience!). Later, I bought a table stand to use the telescope's tracking and GoTo features, but, for various reasons, this did not work properly. Instead, I used the ETX like a Dobsonian telescope, and later I stayed with this principle. My first Dobsonian telescope, a 10" Meade Lightbridge truss Dobsonian was an addition in 2009, and shortly thereafter and in the same year, I sold my ETX. The observation of the total eclipse of the sun in 1999 and of the Venus transit of the sun in 2004 were certainly the absolute highlight in its "career" here.
Already when using the ETX, which magnifies quite a lot because of its long focal length, I noticed that sky objects quickly disappear from the field of view without automatic tracking. The same accounts, of course, for the later "large" telescopes that I owned. Particularly disturbing was when I wanted to show something to my wife, and she was not fast enough at the telescope to see it, as well... In 2016, I revived the idea of automatic tracking, although I had failed so miserably with the ETX, as written above... This time, I decided to buy a Sky-Watcher Virtuoso mount (AZ mount, tracking only, but can be upgraded to GoTo quite expensively; my version came together with a 4.5" Dobsonian tube) - and failed again. The control went "crazy," I do not know why, and so I decided to part with it. Thereafter, I asked myself whether I would give it a second try or buy the similar Merlin control, searched for further AZ mounts and finally asked a dealer for recommendations. He suggested to buy the Sky-Watcher Star Discovery AZ GoTo mount, which can carry up to 5 kg - weight was also important for me - and GoTo was already included. Now the question was, whether the device can also "easily" track sky objects. The answer was "yes." But I've only worked with GoTo so far - that's the curse of technology...
In the end, I acquired a GoTo control because I wanted to have automatic tracking and also a mount that can carry more than 2 kg of weight. The Virtuoso mount is said to be able to carry 4 kg load in Europe, but in the US, the Sky-Watcher Websites urges you, not to go beyond a load of 2 kg...
So now I own a GoTo control, use it from time to time, that is, if the effort is worth it and I am at home and not on the road (there I used the Heritage 100P and now the PS 72/432). And even despite partially frustrating experiences at the beginning (which will surely repeat...), I would not want to give away the GoTo control anymore - only for a better exchange or for one, which can also carry a 6" tube. In the meantime, a dealer assured my that it can carry such a tube, and that there is a way to adjust the mount to higher loads.
You might, of course, ask this question in a different way, as well, for example: Does GoTo prevent you from becoming wise? This means that GoTo prevents you from learning stars, constellations, and deep-sky objects, especially their position in the sky. In other words, does GoTo prevent you from learning new things and leaves you remain? I will go through these questions on the basis of my personal situation. First of all, I was an "eternal beginner" who never really got beyond observing the moon, the sun, and three or four planets - and this using GoTo! Only in the spring of 2016 did I buy literature on deep sky objects, in order finally to get deeper into this matter. And in the summer of 2016, I added a GoTo control to my collection, so that the effects are confounded here... In the following, I will try to "answer" the question on the basis of the three initially mentioned categories "stars,""constellations," and "deep sky objects."
I never knew a lot of stars, and you might as well say "no stars" (Polaris, Sirius, Mizar and Alkor, that was it mostly...). My wife and friends have shown me one or the other star, but mostly this knowledge got lost again... I am now more in touch with the more well-known and brighter stars by working closer with deep sky objects and the corresponding literature, and I hope that one or the other will be better remembered in the future.
The GoTo mount requires two stars for the alignment process. In this respect, I believe that it makes me rather wiser than more stupid, because I have to know where the stars are, which you need for the alignment (that is, whether they are visible at all, are not hidden, etc.). Before that, stars, that is, their names, largely did not matter to me...
I never knew many constellations, and often these were only star groups (asterisms) and not complete constellations. Constellations are quite arbitrary patterns, which is also confirmed in the literature. They are not "natural groupings" in the sense of Gestalt psychology (the star groups fit better in this respect...), and therefore I simply cannot remember them. Big Dipper, Cassiopeia (the Celestial W), Orion, Northern Crown, that was all I knew. Purchasing a lot of books about constellations did not change anything for me, particularly since I have never read the books...
Only by buying books and an atlas about deep sky objects did I get to know the constellations better and thus added to my knowledge. But I still do not have the ambition to know the constellations in every detail. Usually I am content to know their "characteristic patterns" which allows me to localize and classify celestial objects.
Basically, a GoTo control has little influence on the learning or non-learning of constellations, since mainly the stars and deep sky objects are of interest for me. I therefore assign a "neutral" to this aspect...
Even if it may be boring to repeat the phrase "I never knew ..." once more: I never knew many deep sky objects. I knew the Pleyades and the Orion Nebula, I also got to know the Andromeda galaxy, and that was it almost... And, of course, I did not know the term "deep sky objects"... Only by buying books and an atlas for deep-sky objects I have "learned" more about this topic, created lists of observable objects, and later took notes of my observations and thus, got to know one or the other object, at least for a certain amount of time. After the end of an "observation season," however, these objects quickly disappear into oblivion. But thanks to my literature and records, it is easy to revive my memories...
And what is the effect of a GoTo control in this domain? First of all, you have to know at least the names of the objects that you want to observe, because you have to enter them into the hand box. If you are using a computer application or an app, it is also sufficient to click or touch the objects. And here you can, of course, be guided by what the application or app displays. I think you really need to learn the least in this case. Using the hand box usually means that you have to inform yourself in beforehand about what you want to observe and have to write this down or remember it. You do not need to remember complex "search routes" (keyword "star hopping"). In this respect, you surely learn the most when you do everything "by hand." But I think you will not be dumber than before, if you use a GoTo control for observing deep sky objects, but, of course, you will not be as "smart" as when doing pure "handwork."
In summary, I think that you will not be dumber than before, if you use a GoTo control for deep sky objects or stars, but of course not as "clever" as with pure "handwork." One certainly does not learn as much, at least for certain aspects. Whether you can live with this shortcoming, you have to decide for yourself (even though professional amateurs, of course, blame the use of GoTo...). For me, I've also discovered a number of the amenities (and adversities) of using a GoTo control that I would like to describe in the following.
I will add to the amenities and frustrations from time to time...
You do not have to bend, or even distort, to look through the (straight) finder (except perhaps in the case of alignment stars).
I am fairly certain that the object I am looking for is in view, even if I cannot see anything (provided the telescope finds other objects reliably). Theoretically, I might also ask the control what it "sees", that is, which objects it is pointing to, but I have never tried this...
You can turn the LED viewfinder off after the telescope is ready and, this way, save precious battery power.
Particularly, when using the Heritage P130 (no longer in my possession) with its wobbly focuser, it is welcome that I do not have to change focus if I use the same eyepiece, for example, the 16 mm overview eyepiece, for my obervations.
It is possible to control the GoTo mount using additional devices (for example, SkyWire) or adapters (for example, RS232-USB adapters) to connect the mount with the laptop or tablet computer and running certain astronomy applications (for example, Stellarium, SkySafari, ...). This interaction is more intuitive than using the handbox and also opens up the possibility of correcting small alignment errors. It is, however, hard to understand for me why the GoTo mounts still use RS232 interfaces, although these are no longer used in computers for many years. Only the latest generation of GoTo controllers seems to have moved over to using USB or WiFi.
The GoTo control does not always find its target. Especially at high magnifications, already small errors (inaccurate alignment, calibration stars not centered correctly, calibration stars too close together, ...) definitely affect the search precison of the control adversely.
My cross-hair eyepiece has a focal length of 12.5 mm. In my telescopes with
long focal length (Skymax-102*: 1300 mm, GSD 680*: 1200 mm) this leads already
to a magnification of about 100 x, which means that the alignment
stars quickly leave their positions during the alignment process. This
is where speed is needed, but I am stumbling again and again when using the
handbox ... Therefore, I prefer to use my 32 mm or 16 mm eyepieces for the
*) No longer in my possession; now Skymax-127 and Explorer 150PDS
It can also happen that no suitable alignment stars are suggested, but this may rather be related to my lack of knowledge of the stars ...
If you bump against the telescope or tripod and move it thereby or change the location, you have to align it again.
When using the hand control I sometimes get lost, among other things, also in the depths of the menu structure. Operating the mount using an astronomy program is more intuitivethan using the handbox.
At the beginning, I had some "reservations" as to the GoTo control, but meanwhile I am familiar with it and have it "up and running" quite fast. However, I do not take any risk and stay with low to medium magnifications. In addition, I restrict myself mostly to a specific region in the sky, so that the mount does not have to move around too much.
Contrary to manual operation, I feel much more confident with the GoTo control to have accessed the target object, regardless of whether I can see it or not. When I can see an object, drawings (such as shown in Stoyan's Deep Sky guides), which are more typical than photos, of course, help me to confirm the find.
No matter whether manual operation or GoTo control, it helps to create a list of the sky objects that you want to observe (you do not have to actually observe all of them). When I then go through this list in the course of days or weeks, the objects become more and more familiar to me, and I soon know their names by heart and do not need the physical list - at least not for searching them.
And now I come to the - for me - perhaps most important difference between manual and GoTo operation. In the latter case, it does not bother me to access a dozen or more objects over and over again. Especially, when the sky gradually gets darker, this is interesting for me. At the beginning, some objects may not be visible at all. Other objects are already visible, but look much nicer when it is really dark. All this goes quite smoothly with the GoTo control (only changing the object catalogs is annoying ...), and I feel it almost as "unfair" against the manual operation, in which some objects are easy to access, but others are rather tedious to find or not at all. And in the latter case, I am wondering why I do not see anything...
You may already suspect that I consider the GoTo control as a very useful supplement to manual operation and would not give it away. Of course, there are also situations where I do not or cannot use the GoTo control, for example, on journeys or when it should go fast. Then it is also nice if you can confirm certain finds afterwards using the GoTo control.
All in all, I observe both manually and with GoTo control and find that both methods complement each other well. It is still to be noted that I have no ambitions to switch to equatorial mounts, even though only these are suitable for photographing deep sky objects. The respective effort and the equipment weight are too high for me...