Equatorial Mounts and Alt-Azimuth are precision made tracking devices made to follow the procession of the night sky. However, most mounts are assembled on a production line and therefore their performance and build quality is defined to a mean value of performance versus build time efficiency. Simply put, there is room for improvement.
We have found that the Sky-Watcher EQ mounts, because of their popularity as imaging mounts need more performance than the factory level of assembly. Even more modern mounts benefit from a refreshing rebuild or service to restore or improve performance.
Over time all mounts can, and will, suffer from degraded performance and this will be accelerated due to a number of factors including how you use your mount and how you look after it. Basically 'servicing' means that the mount is brought back to 'Factory fresh' peak performance. This is because more time and care is spent on the mount than would normally be economically viable on a production line. Your mount, once serviced by us will perform better than standard.
Depending on the mount and the modifications required, it is possible to reliably double or treble the exposure time from the standard mount. All mounts have their limits, but we have spent two years developing processes that now make and NEQ6 perform better than another 'factory tuned' EQ6 for several hundred pounds less. With our ultimate StellarDrive options, you can think twice about jumping to a £6K mount if you're happy with your payload. A StellarDrive EQ6 Class mount has a Periodic Error of less than circa 8 Arcsecs RMS. That high end mount you're drooling over is 7 arcsecs RMS...
The problem is that there is a massive gulf in cost between what is considered a low-end mount (sorry for the shock, but all mounts under £2K are considered low-end!) and one that offers real precision tracking out of the box. Hypertuning bridges part of this gap, and in the long term saves you money in moving to a more expensive mount, as well as taking a hit on your exist steed.
Check out how your mount compares in our performance charts.
You could, of course for instance, just fit a belt kit yourself but over 40% of the work we do on NEQ6's is reinstalling a belt kit and readjusting the mount properly. Using £3 worth of bicycle grease in a £1000 mount is not something that makes sense to us. It's very easy to get it wrong, and there is no substitute for time in getting it right and using the correct lubricants and components. Our mounts outperform all other builds, because of the engineering tolerances we work to, some of which are down to 0.01mm. We use the excellent Rowan Astronomy Belt-Drive kits, that allow you to use your handset or EQMOD.
What difference does our Tuning make?
Even latest DarkFrame Generation Tuned EQ6/NEQ6-AZ EQ6 GT mounts typically run at a Peak-to-Peak Period Error of circa ±8 ArcSec), which is up to 3-4x better from factory spec. Guided, all our mounts are now sub-arcsecond capable under PHD2, running typically 0.5 arc-seconds RMS, with a guided PE of ±1.5 arc-seconds, depending on seeing. This is proven Customer supplied data across several mounts, not a factory test.
Our tuned EQ mounts become nearly twice a responsive to guiding due to a lack of stiction in the mount, requiring less guide command input. Our unparalleled experience in EQ mount tuning comes from a scientific approach to development over the past thee years. it's not black magic or just a bit of grease! It is engineered to be better, with data to prove the difference. The next closest mount performance wise is over £2000. The NEQ6 Hypertune is £499, and the AZEQ6GT is £529. Book your mount in advance or during bad weather, as we get busy out of season. The StellarDrive 6 is £799. The new StellarDrive 5 is the surprise hit too at just £549 All of these mount can also be supplied from new.
We have independent customer/owner supplied PHD data and images that demonstrate these facts across a broad spectrum of EQ mounts on a variety of payloads and real world data. So, if you're happy with the payload you currently have, we can improve the mount you already have and save you hundreds, if not thousands of pounds in buying a new more expensive mount upgrade. More importantly, you save more images and time! Please check out how your mount currently compares in our performance charts, especially if you're thinking of a more expensive move upwards.
PEC Data of NEQ6 to Build Type 6.3.2 (Bonneville).
Gen1 vs Gen 2 - Nearly 50% reduction in Period Error even without StellarDrive-SPX Precision Worm-Gear!
What's the lifespan of your tuning/servicing?
EQ mounts need checking seasonally depending on use, but most mounts we service are usually 3 years old or more. By 5+ years every mount we have come across has amassed considerable backlash and other issues associated with age, such as greases drying out or becoming contaminated, so losing their lubrication and dampening qualities. Please do leave you mount longer than 5 years, as the mounts will start to show signs of wear. With the work we do, your mount should be fine for three years or more, and we warranty them for two. New tuned mounts should be fine for 5 years. The condition of our 2 year old Reference Mounts support this timescale after a recent Build Type upgrade to v6.3.x (Bonneville).
You could, of course, just fit a belt kit yourself but over 40% of the work we do on HEQ5/NEQ6's is reinstalling a belt kit, along with rebuilding the mount properly which doubles the performance. It's very easy to get it wrong, and there is no substitute for time in getting it right. Using bicycle or 'performance' grease won't improve your mount for very long either. Because of this attention to detail, our mounts outperform home builds by at least double, based on customer data.
When can I have my mount back?
Turnaround for our services (exc.EQ8) is currently within 15-21 working days when booked in advance, and subject to condition Our builds are meticulous. They take an average of 3-4 hours build time with another 4-6 hours of run-time to bed in the mount. If it doesn't pass our test routines, it's doesn't ship until it does and we readjust and run the tests again. We tend to get busy from the Spring onwards, and we limit our production to keep build quality high, so booking in advance is advised. We offer an easy three way collection and delivery service for just £39 anywhere in the UK/EU. We send you a reinforced box, collect your packed mount and deliver back to you your smoother, better performing EQ mount.
Our customers can see and hear these benefits long before the images illustrate the improvement in taking longer exposures reliably. Please check out our Testimonials Page to see what our customers say, after all they know what their mount was like before!
All our tuning (but not standard servicing) use with a waveform and decibel tests to measure improvements in the mount drive train with enhanced lubrication throughout, which either meets or exceeds the Manufacturer's specifications. It will run much smoother and this shows up in the waveform. It also shows up in PHD Guide graphs.
We use the highest performance fully synthetic greases and oils in the right places and aim to reduce 'stiction' in the drivetrain but provide enough 'dampening' for smooth tracking. We experiment on our own reference mounts to find new benefits and measure their performance to improve our tuning practice. We then apply what we learn through measurable data to you mount.
Zero Drop Methodology Explained
Typically on a stock NEQ6 mount 15-20 minute guided subs are achievable, but you may wind up losing a large portion of your frames over an imaging session. Certainly it's not possible with larger telescopes. With our rebuilding of your mount, we document the build. We measure, calibrate and test things like backlash, end-float, bearing resistance, viscosity and even temperature. All things that affect the operation of your mount. Because we know how equatorial mount perform under load, versus how they respond to guide commands, we set about improving these parameters. In doing so, the reliability of your mount now part of a consistent Quality Control Build, that benchmarks a parallel build workflow. We build in same pairs, using our engineering data as a baseline, then compare how each mount responds, then adjust to compensate, so that we create a higher median build than stock, also with better components.
That means all our mounts are performing to over 98.1% reliability. You receive a better build mount, one that runs for longer without losing frames because it has been uniquely optimised.
DarkFrame currently offers one level of servicing and three levels of tuning:
Standard EQ/AZ Service
AZ Ambient Tune
EQ HyperTune (Generation 0-2 - 2017 Build Type: Bonneville v6.3.x)
Modification/Custom Build (EQ8 - iOptron - Takahashi - Losmandy - Celestron)
The Standard Service for any mount includes the disassembly and degreasing of the drivetrain, lubrication and adjustment back to Factory fresh standards. We also update the handset if required.
This is ideal if your mount is more than two years old and is now out of warranty, as it's the cheapest way to refresh your mount. Typically, the lifespan of such a service would be circa 2-3 years in our experience, dependent on frequency of use.
The AZ Ambient Tune is basically a standard service that also focuses on reducing the noise of the mount and these are particularly beneficial for the alt-azimuth types of mount. Particular attention is spent on the drivetrain reducing the harmonics/vibration that occur during a fast slew.
We can reduce the noise levels by up to 50% or circa -10 dB, meaning a more quiet time for you and your neighbours!
EQ Mounts like the Meade LXD55/75 and Celestron CG5-GT can be made quieter as a by-product of a rebuild, but would benefit from a HyperTune to improve performance anyway. The Sky-Watcher Flex-Tube Dobsonian GoTo 10”/12” are currently in R&D for NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness) reduction and those results will be posted once complete.
The EQ HyperTune again much like the standard service includes a complete disassembly and degreasing of the drivetrain and mount, then meticulous reassembly and adjustment, but you also have the option of improved worm-gear bearings for freer running and greater responsiveness. Our latest Hybrid-Ceramic upgrades offer the ultimate in engineered smoothness! The mount is then load tested and adjusted to a similar payload to the one you use, to ensure optimum setup.
In three years, we have gone from what we term a Generation Zero (Gen 0) to a second generation (Gen 2) Hypertune. This is an evolutionary path whereby we have scrutinised every improvement we've made in isolation, backed up with solid data, to discover what elements work together, and which don't. Naturally, this becomes a law of diminishing returns as we seek to squeeze out every last drop of performance out of these mount.
Gen 0 is tuned to Astro-Baby’s website using SKF or equivalent bearings, Gen 1 Tuned+Belt Drive added Gen 2 is tuned with Belt Drive+ Hybrid-Ceramic bearings, as a general level of tuning.
The Build Type numbering is a version that reduces down, not up so spans Gen 1 and 2 and is 6 for mount, then point 5 for 0.5 arcsec target build. For number version for specific model modification, so it does reduce down per series, so Build Type 6.5.5, is a EQ6 mount, 0.5 arcsec target, and fifth version of build. HEQ’s work similarly like 5.7.3 etc. Titles like Himalaya, SouthDown, Flat-Earth, and now Bonneville (6.3.x) to reflect the type of PHD pattern we are aiming for with the Build Types. That was so as we evolved the performance of the builds, we can track which Build Type used on every mount. Really it’s just a build code for traceability and quality control, but hey, it's a geek thing... Did you know that the Flat Earth Society now spans the globe? So now, do we.
We’re already less than 0.5 arcsecs regularly on 6.5.5, and we have achieved 0.16-0.3 arcsec on v6.3.x which is close to the theoretical mechanical limit for a worm-gear drive and probably the final series of Sky-Watcher builds without expensive re-engineering of your mount.
A belt drive kit installation that eliminates backlash is a popular DIY option, and also quietens the mount. It does however need to be correctly installed and setup. As with all our tuning services, we document the entire procedure from beginning to end using photographs and video. These can be provided to the customer upon request and at extra cost as part of a report. The Sky-Watcher HEQ5 and (N)EQ6 have been proved time and again to respond to tuning and rebuilds of this kind.
The AZ EQ6 GT was the greatest surprise of 2016, and led the development of our second generation Hypertune. It's already a good mount, but many owners found themselves stuck between either sticking with it or moving to a £4000-£6000 mount. That's a big jump. Uncertain of getting more performance, we though we had little to play with. Now, we have independent owners stretching these mounts to 60-70 minute exposures just to see how far they'll go. In 2017 the StellarDrive 6 mounts now closely match the performance benchmark of the Takahashi EM200 in both guided and unguided performance, who's architecture is similar to an EQ6.
OK? Prove it.
Our customers, are our biggest testers. So, if we get it wrong or they don't perform, then they paid to find out! Wanna be in our shoes? The benefits of mount tuning are both measurable and pleasurable when you get it right. With PHD, customers put our mount through their paces, and we very rarely recall a mount if it doesn't perform. Some claim they can do it, but we are meticulous about build. Make sure you see the proof before you part with the money. Our Testimonial Page are real customers who have used and measured these mounts. We have all the data, across a number of mounts and payloads to demonstrate real-world performance. It's about as judgemental and independent as you can get. They all paid for these tune-ups! It's about as independent as it gets for proof. People offer to test our mounts all the times. Our customers do that from the first time they guide...
We have performed a number of hypertunes on iEQ45's (Mk1 and 2013 models) an ZEQ25/CEM25's, and all customers have been delighted with their improvements. One iOptron iEQ45(2013) is now regularly performing sub-arcsecond guiding in customer tests, which a testament to their engineering tolerances more than anything. We have not had a single iOptron owner report other otherwise! How do we know? We keep in touch with all our hypertune mount owners, and value their feedback and data.
CELESTRON Solutions now available!
We have also performed servicing and Generation 0 Hypertunes on Celestron NexStar, NexStar Evolution, CG5GT, CGEM/DX and CGE-Pro with some success too, but the Celestron AVX mount has been notoriously difficult to work on. Though we have developed an engineered solution due to an unprecedented level of requests, they are being rolled out during Q1/Q2 2017 as we ramp up production capacity and gather more data. This is now happening! We now offer 5 options to the Celestron EQ mount range that reduce stiction, improve tracking and periodic error. 45 minute images from your Celestron? You bet! As with the Sky-watcher mounts, we have developed special builds for each mount as the require an individual approach to get the maximum performance from them.
Our rebuild methods are precision engineering led, not DIY level kits. Because the architecture is different to the Sky-watchers, we rebuild the gearboxes, to help reduce harmonics that affect PE, There is extensive reworking of many of the internal components using micro-engineering practices, not buffing machines or sandpaper! Micron level accuracy is required, and cannot be done with home DIY tools, or a bit of emery cloth in the palm of your hand.
Check out how your existing mount compares in our performance charts.
Image: PHD2 guiding of a Gen 2 DarkFrame Hypertuned NEQ6 Build Type 6.5.5 (Flat Earth) 3rd run in.
With our HEQ5 and NEQ6's reference mounts in test, these reliably run 10-30min guided, which is ideal and the most you'll for Northern European Skies. We have tested up to 60 minutes with a Reference AZ-EQ6 GT, but if you lose one frame in an hour, that's 100% which is why we recommend only shorter exposures of circa 15-20 mins as you are at the mechanical limits of these mounts. Besides, you you want to risk losing a hours data, if a plane, satellite spoils the shot? We have improved the AZ EQ6 GT, but that customer went on to buy an Avalon mount he believed it as the only way to guarantee his 30min exposures with a heavier payload. Now because of our research and development, we can prove it will now do it, even with a Meade 10" LX200!
If you wish to perform long exposures reliably, then our tuning will mean less images lost during an imaging session saving precious time, and therefore improving your astro-imaging. Your guiding will be better, with your guide camera working more like image stabilisation over longer exposure, especially when polar drift aligned, or better still with a QHY Polemaster available from us. But there is a limit with these lower mounts at this price point without reworking the drivetrain which we do. There's a reason why some mounts cost several thousand pounds.
Because of the number of mounts we have tuned, depending on use and payload most mounts will go off tune within 2-3 years. With the higher quality of components we utilise during rebuild, we expect our tuned mounts to keep their performance for much longer, based on the meticulous and detailed rebuild we do. Our reference mounts endorse this belief. No other mount tuner we know of has acquired as much data on payload vs guide performance across a range of mounts on an on-going basis. We believe this makes our mount tuning methods unique and of course, customer verifiable.
Modification and Customisation of mounts is also available, as we have our own in-house CNC milling and lathe facilities for one-off customised parts. We also have access to anodising and powder coating companies locally, so we can provide custom mounting plates or adapters with a great finish! Please enquire for more details regarding our capability.
We also offer Collimation services, telescope Crayford Focuser servicing and adjustment as well as repairs out of warranty. Further details of our services and tuning can be found on the respective pages on this web-store.
Repairs Take Longer!
Before we tune or modify any mount we check the mount prior to any work and video its current operation. There is no point enhancing a mounts performance if it is not to a workable standard of operation from the outset. We have recently been taking in mounts for tuning that have been attempted to be adjusted by the customer, without disclosure or the mount arrives seized due to a locked worm-gear, because of over-adjustment in an attempt to remove backlash. Belt kits need to be installed correctly so that they function as designed, but any misalignment of components during installation can and does affect performance. With EQ6/NEQ6 belt-kit installs a proper standard Gen 0 hypertune usually corrects everything, and is an ideal opportunity to install our Hybrid-Ceramic bearings, that almost eliminate worm gear end-float, and provide a tighter feeling mount.
Our total return rate since we started offering serviced, tuned or repaired mounts worldwide is less than 1.0%.
Extra charges will be incurred, for any work, parts or time required to put the mount back to a workable standard before any tuning is carried out. Tuning a mount will only highlight any defect that is already there, or worse still we cannot tune the mount to a better standard of performance. We have received a growing number of mounts with undeclared faults. If it fails to meet a factory level minimum standard of operation during power-on test, then we reserve the right not to tune it, and you will be offered a full refund less shipping costs.
Any repair work will also fall outside of our tuning schedule and will therefore take longer to do. It is also for a fixed cost. However, once restored the mount does perform as it should, after validation.
If you have a mount that is need of repair then please give us a call or e-mail so we can do our best to help you. If it falls within a cure of a rebuild, then there is no extra charge.
All our work is guaranteed for 12 months for servicing/repair and 24 mounts for tuning. For belt drive kits & new fitted bearings and lubricant, it's 24 months. This applies to all new builds supplied after 1st December 2016, to Build Types 6.3.x and 5.5.x (Bonneville).
For all Gen 0-2 mounts before this date it 12 months from date of collection (Build Types 6.9.x and 5.9.x Himalaya/SouthDown to 6.5.5/5.7.5 Flat Earth).
We constantly review our 'control' servicing and Hypertune methodology and none of these mounts have shown any issues or degradation of performance over the past three years. With our enhanced lubrication platform, we are so confident of its sustained operation which is why we can now offer a two year warranty, even with existing bearings (if not found faulty).
Ok, so what's not covered?
Anything that came with the original mount on or after the original point of sale. This includes:
Handset (HBX), cables, control boards and ports, Stepper Motors, Voltage Regulator and Power supply, Mount case, fasteners, tripod and spreader. Any damage to the mount due to misuse as laid out by the manufacturer is also not covered. Nor are we liable for component failure whilst under rebuild, unless directly our fault because they are aged products.
Sometimes, tuning work may require some readjustment as the mount settles down after use, which we do for free within the first 30 days, on a return to base basis, at customers cost. The mounts are designed to be adjusted. However, if it is found that the mount has be tampered with to undo any tuning work we have carried out, or disassembled after tuning (!) then costs will be incurred to restore the mount. Workshop charges are at £50 per hour, inc VAT.
In the case of axis repairs and tuning we carry out a a validation load test on every mount with either an 8 inch reflector or 100mm f9 refractor - or 70mm refractor for smaller mounts, and adjust so to ensure the mount is performing as it should under real-world conditions. Sometimes, where required we wlll also perform PHD or TDM tests to gather data to validate the mount. This will add to the time as guiding is weather dependant! We are working on a reliable day system for timing.
Modifications to new mounts such as belt-drive kits or custom parts will invalidate the existing Manufacturers warranty.
However, if you buy a new mount from DarkFrame Ltd and we perform the upgrades then we will honour and support that mount for 24 months to equal and beyond the manufacturers original RTB warranty.
Please note: All DarkFrame Ltd warranties are non-transferable unless agreed in writing.