The Sky-Watcher SolarQuest mount (MSRP: $399) is designed to overcome the common difficulties inherent in setting up a solar telescope to track the sun for extended periods, without the need for a solar finder or polar alignment.
Pros: Lightweight, easy to use, accurate tracking.
Cons: Difficult to balance the telescope.
The mount is remarkably easy to set up. You simply fix it to a tripod that has a standard ⅜-inch Whitworth photographic thread, level it using the bubble level at the top of the mount, and attach the telescope (maximum payload: 9lbs/4kg) to the Agena Synta-Vixen dovetail clamp. Point the telescope anywhere east of the sun, and power up the mount (battery pack or external 12-volt power source).
After a short wait, the internal GPS will acquire a positional fix, and the on-board electronics will calculate the altitude of the sun. The telescope slews to this altitude and tracks westward until its sun-sensor detects the sun; this entire process typically takes less than two minutes. You will probably find that the sun is not centered in the telescope’s field of view, so you simply center it using the 8-way switch on the mount, then double-click the power button and the mount will remember the correction offset to be applied. It really is that simple.
During long sessions, the sensor keeps the mount aligned to the sun as long as it is shining, and the mount does a reasonably good job of modeling the sun’s position if it goes behind a cloud for an extended period. Of course, being an altazimuth mount, it cannot compensate for field rotation, so keeping track of solar features over several hours is less easy than with an equatorial mount.
You do need to be careful to ensure the telescope is well-balanced, or tracking in altitude can be compromised. The altitude axis cannot be declutched, so you will have to find the balance point of the telescope before you attach it, then ensure that it is in the middle of the dovetail clamp.
As well as being a useful mount for personal solar observing, the ability to be up and running in a couple of minutes is a boon for public outreach sessions, where tripods can be accidentally nudged or entire setups may have to be sheltered from passing rain showers.
This mount is a one-trick pony, but it’s an excellent trick and it performs it flawlessly!