Last Spring we attended our first Northeast Astronomy Forum (NEAF) conference (Day1, Day2, Day3). The conference is an annual gathering of astronomy enthusiats and vendors from around the world. We got a first-hand look at some amazing astro gear, met a lot of great folks, and had the best time at a conference in a long time. One of the nice folks we met was Kensuke Kazama from Vixen. He showed us one of the most intriquing devices at the show. Mixed among their many fine optics on display was a prototype of a small device called the Polarie. We would have missed it had it not been for Kensuke. The Polarie is a pocket-size motorized camera mount designed specifically for wide-field astro-photography.
Astro-photography used to be a highly specialized niche of astronomy. The main reason wasthat in order to get acceptable images one had to have a combination of sophisticated hardware (scope, camera, tripod), expert knowledge, and patience, lots of patience. With the switch to digital photography and the availability of sophisticated astronomy software, the cost/time of experimentation and the expertise required dropped dramtically. Vixen recognized this trend and have created the Polarie to further broaden this emerging market.
Wide-field astro-photography is concerned with imaging the night sky with normal or wide angle lens so as to capture a large field of view. The photos can be very dramatic yet may be obtained with a very modest investment in equipment (motorized mount, tripod, any digital camera). The critical piece is the motorized mount, as the camera must track the rotation of the earth in order to eliminate the unwanted “blurred stars” effect. Motorized mounts have been around for decades. However, they tend to be big, heavy, and expensive, because they were engineered to drive telescopes mounted on big sturdy tripods. Vixen’s Polarie was designed to function just like the big sturdy mounts, but in a highly portable form factor specifically designed for wide-field astro-photography use.
The Polarie package consists of the tracker and the optional tripod/ball head combo. The unit is about the size of a larger point-n-shoot camera. We are very impressed with the solid feel and the build quality. All of the structural pieces are metal. It runs on two AA batteries, but may be externally powered. On the top of the unit is the mode dial and the accessory shoe. Incorporated into the side is a tilt meter. In the front of the unit is the camera mounting block. At the upper left is the Polar sight hole.
The camera mount is machined from a solid block of aluminum. It is attached to the motor drive via two thumb screws. The drive’s center is hollow and is designed to accommodate a polar axis scope for more precise alignment with the North Star.
Here are some basic specs on both the Polarie and the optional tripod:
- Polarie Spec: Body Weight (800g)
- Motion Axis: 144-tooth wheel gear whole circle movement
- Max payload: 2.0kg
- Motor : Stepping
- Motor Bearing : 2 bearings
- Power : Battery Operated (2 AA), USB port for external 5VDC
- Track Mode : Solar, Lunar, Siderial and x1/2 speed
- Optional accessories : Polar Scope
- Hemisphere : North and South
- Others : Built-in Latitude Meter
- Tripod Spec : 4 Leg Section
- Height(from ground) : 255mm to 1,780mm
- Length of Elevator : With Gear: 200mm, w/o Gear (Center Pole): 290mm
- Folded : 555 mm
- Camera Mounting Screw: UNC1/4 inch
- Payload : Approximately 3.0kg (Reccomended)
- Weight : Tripod (1.98kg), Ball head mount: QHD-33 (130g), QHD-43 (158g)
Astro-photography is the fastest growing segment in astronomy. We are going to set up the Polarie this month and take it out for a FirstUse run. We are eager to see whether it is as easy to use as it looks. If it is, then Vixen is onto something with the Polarie and may have a huge winner on its hands. Stay tuned for the Setup and FirstUse reports.