The QHY PoleMaster
The QHY PoleMaster electronic polar scope was designed to make your polar alignment routine easier, although I do have the RAPAS scope by Astro-Physics, this scope is very versatile and can be use jointly with any other polar alignment software like the SharpCap (which I will talk later) or PoleMaster . One point to mention is no matter which camera tracker or telescope mount you’re using, when it comes to astrophotography, accurate polar alignment is critical.
If you have ever struggled to polar align your telescope mount with the north or south celestial pole, the QHY PoleMaster or SharpCap may just be your new best friends.
The QHY PoleMaster delivered exceptional results for me on my first night out with it. The dedicated polar alignment software was easy to use, and the camera produced a crystal clear image of the star field surrounding the north celestial pole, you just have to be patient as you will need a dark sky before starting.
Polar Alignment speed, accuracy and experience improvements with the QHY PoleMaster:
I can polar align faster, at dusk
I using the PM to improve the current method I use with the RAPAS for alignment which was fast, this one is faster.
I can monitor and confirm my polar alignment at any time
No more 2 or 3-star alignment routines if necessary but again is a personal choose
The spot-on accuracy of the PoleMaster means that my AP mount 1100gto will only need to swell to a star at zero declination (South sky) and once centered on the scope finder or PC do a Recal (press bottom left hand corner button once and press 9).
QHY PoleMaster Alignment Camera Specifications:
Field of View: 11 degrees by 8 degrees
Interface: Mini USB 2.0
Resolution: Approximately 30 Arc seconds
What’s included in the box
This PoleMaster was sent to me from High Point Scientific for review. The team at High Point made sure to include the necessary adapter for my EQ telescope mount. Here is a look at everything that comes with the PoleMaster:
PoleMaster camera body
Lens cap with a lanyard
Mini USB 2.0 cable
Mount adaptor cap
M4 hardware for attaching the adaptor
Allen key for lens focus adjustment
Fastening the PoleMaster to your telescope mount
The PoleMaster I am using is for my Astro-Physics 1100GTO EQ mount, and I have fastened it to the mount using the dedicated QHY adapter for this model. The hardware was easy to install, and the materials used and overall finish of this device is attractive.
The adapter for my mount came with a tiny Allen key to adjust tension, so I could securely lock the PoleMaster into the front of the polar axis scope of the mount.
The QHY PoleMaster adapter for the AP Mount 9000 & 1100
There are two parts to the mount adapter for the PoleMaster, the camera base disc that attaches to the camera body, and the camera mount ring that you need to secure to the mount. You secure the camera base disc to the mounting ring using a thumb screw.
For the mount adapter I used, there were three tiny grub screws to tighten using the supplied Allen key to lock the adapter into place.
The device connects to my Hub via a Mini USB 2.0 cable, with miniature locking screws to avoid yanking the cable out by accident. I wish more of my device connectors had this. The manual instructs you to position the USB port of the PoleMaster to the left hand side when looking at the device head on.
I ran the mini USB 2.0 cable from the PoleMaster into my recently Pegasus powered USB hub, which consolidates the various astrophotography devices I have running to a single USB cable into my laptop.
The adapter allows you to take the PoleMaster off of the mount while not in use or in storage, but I think I’ll leave it right where it is. The tiny camera adds no weight to my rig and maintains a low profile.
I’ll just have to make sure I don’t bang anything against the device by accident when setting up. The included lens cap should stay on the PoleMaster when not in use to protect the lens.
Software and Downloads
All of the software and drivers needed to run the PoleMaster device were found on the QHY website. The company has recently updated their site, which lead me on a bit of a wild goose chase.
Rather then using the URL printed on the green card that came with the camera, I simply “Googled “QHY PoleMaster Driver” to find the appropriate section of the QHY website.
Here, I downloaded the latest stable driver for the PoleMaster, along with the dedicated software needed to communicate with the camera and control parameters such as gain and exposure length.
With the 2 downloads unpacked and installed, I ran the PoleMaster software on my field laptop with the camera connected. The QHY PoleMaster manual was to-the-point and helpful through this process, and instructed me to click the “connect” button.
I heard the reassuring “new device connected” chime on my Windows 10 OS after plugging in the PoleMaster, so I new the camera was successfully recognized by my PC.
After hitting the “connect” button, the PoleMaster delivered a live-view loop of the stars in the northern sky. My mount was already partially polar aligned to my latitude at 36 degrees north, and pointed towards Polaris from my observatory.
The PoleMaster camera lens has an 11 x 6 degree of field of view. This means that the pole star should be visible if the mount has been roughly polar aligned.
Even though it was not completely dark out yet, I could see a formation of stars in the display screen right off the bat. After zooming out to 75% view, the north star, Polaris was obvious.
Using the PoleMaster Software
The PoleMaster software user interface.
The first thing you’ll want to do is adjust the gain and exposure settings so that it is easy to identify the pole star and a number of adjacent stars in the field.
The software walks you through a simple process of identifying and confirming the pole star. The process involves matching an overlay of star positions with your current view of Polaris and surrounding stars.
The rotate tool on the left hand sidebar lets you rotate the star pattern overlay using your mouse or using the computer arrows to move the sidebar level.
Then, you are asked to rotate the RA axis of your telescope mount to determine the rotation of the mechanical axis. By rotating your mounts right ascension axis by 15 degrees or more, the software can confirm this value.
This can be confusing the arrow showing on your screen shows an clockwise rotation, the star rotation must be moving anti-clockwise, so when using the Hand_Control/HandPad move the stars anti-clockwise. when the manual clearly states that this must done using the hand controller or mount control software.
Fine tuning my the polar alignment accuracy of my telescope mount using the QHY PoleMaster.
Next the on-screen prompts tell you to confirm the center of rotation. Eventually, you will get to a point where the application displays a small green circle. This is exactly where the pole star needs to be. At this point, the ultra-fine adjustments you make to your polar alignment are far beyond what’s possible with the naked eye.
The PoleMaster has an option to enable a feature called atmospheric refraction to further improve your polar alignment accuracy. This feature asks you to input your coordinates, temperature, and pressure. For atmospheric refraction to work correctly, the USB connector on the PoleMaster must be facing east.
Owners of the PoleMaster have recommended to start the polar alignment routine with your telescope to the west instead of the home position. 2 moves or more than 30 degrees can be difficult from the home position, so if the telescope starts in the west it is not an issue.
If you do not remove the PoleMaster from your telescope mount between astrophotography sessions, you can reuse the centering procedure from your previous polar alignment. However, if you are using the atmospheric refraction feature, you’ll need to remember to adjust the temperature and pressure settings for that night.
Some weeks back I began to hear about Sharpcap’s polar alignment tool. Sharpcap is compatible with just about any camera out there as long as there is an ASCOM driver for it. Best part? Sharpcap is free.
A visit to the Sharpcap website revealed I had everything I needed to give this Polar Alignment Tool a try: a compatible camera (guess what my QHY polemaster camera!!) and all I needed was one of those increasingly rare clear nights to give it a try. I read over the instructions a time or two in preparation, but, frankly, there isn't much to the procedure once the camera is connected to Sharpcap. Press an onscreen button a few times, move the mount once, and adjust the polar alignment with the mount’s altitude and azimuth adjusters.
That nice night finally came, and saw me setting up my AP-1100GTo mount. I put the telescope in normal “home” position, that is, pointed north with the counterweight “down.” (NOT Tracking) the QHY polemaster was already was inserted into the guide scope and connected to the Pegasus USB hub/ computer.
First task was getting an image, a focused image.
Once I was close to focus, the sensitive QHY was producing more than enough stars to meet Sharpcap’s requirements in a mere 1 seconds of exposure. To work, the program needs 15 stars within 5-degrees of the pole, and according to the information on the first polar alignment screen, I was getting around 20.
Ready to go, I clicked Sharpcap’s Tools menu and selected “Polar Align.” I was then presented with Screen 1, shown here. Stars marked in yellow are the ones Sharpcap is using for plate solving the star field (figuring out which star is which). I didn’t worry about that, just let the program think for a little while as the frames rolled in. Shortly, the “Next” button was enabled, meaning I was ready for step 2.
After pressing “Next,” screen 2 was presented and I was instructed to rotate the mount 90-degrees in right ascension. I did, so, moving the mount roughly 90-degrees to the east. (remember NOT TO USE the hand-control to rotate the scope).
Sharpcap then studied a few more frames in order to determine where the Celestial Pole was and what I needed to do to aim the mount there. Once it knew these things, the Next button was enabled again.
After pressing Next for a final time, a star was highlighted in yellow and there was a yellow arrow connecting it to a circle, my target . The task was to move the mount in altitude and azimuth so as to position the star in the little circle, not unlike what you do with a polar bore-scope (by the way, you don't need to return the mount to home position before adjusting; leave it rotated 90-degrees). As you move in the proper direction, the yellow arrow gets shorter and shorter and eventually disappears. It is then replaced with a pair of brackets around the target to allow fine tuning. As you center the star in the target circle, the brackets will move closer and closer together.
How easy was this to do? Quite easy AFTER I understood exactly how to do it. In the beginning, I was fairly far from the pole, with the arrow extending off screen. I’d been told that at this stage it was best to adjust while watching the error numbers Sharpcap displays instead of worrying about the arrow.
These numbers (degrees, minutes, and seconds) indicate how far you are from the pole. They aren’t labeled as altitude and azimuth; instead they read “Up/Down” and “Left/ Right.” Sounded easy to me. I’d adjust the mount’s altitude until the Up/Down number got smaller, and the azimuth till the Left/Right went down. Alas, that didn’t work at all.
It turned out there was a catch, and until I understood what it was, I was all at sea. Up/Down does NOT mean the mount’s altitude, and Left/Right does NOT equal azimuth. Instead, these error numbers relate to directions onscreen (that's what I thought, anyway; see the addendum at the end of the article).
In just a minute or two, I had the program indicating my distance from the pole as under a minute (it when from 55sec to 15 sec) showing as an 'excellent' Polar Alignment!!
The accuracy? I swell to a star at zero declination south and just need to move the star with my hand-control a bit to the centre of the screen to calibrate my AP 1100gto mount.
Advantage above Polemaster
Basically, SharpCap takes two pictures near the pole and analyzes them to judge the accuracy of your Polar Alignment. SharpCap uses plate solving to scan the images and then tells you how much you need to move your mount to increase the accuracy of your Polar Alignment. It connected to APCC automatically using it plate solve and altitude position.