So what is Servicing and Tuning?
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 & Celestron EQ mounts, because of their popularity as imaging mounts need more performance than the factory level of assembly to keep up with the progress of astro-imaging. 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.
The biggest caveat for any tuning is the age and condition of your mount. For example, the oldest EQ mounts we are seeing are up to 20+ years old in the case of Vixen GP-DX's, for example. These older mounts, which many have not been serviced during their lifespan are more about maintaining their performance, than rolling back the clock. Mounts do wear out, and if not serviced or tuned every 3-5 years (depending on use and payload) will have a shorter life span as a result.
Bearing lubricants are not for life and will degrade over time, typically within 5-7 years. Lack of use can cause pitting of the surfaces, as the ball-bearings squeeze out the grease, and causes pitting, a well-known and documented issue with bearing cups. This will have an effect of the smooth rotation of the mounts axis, and may show up as background 'chatter' in your PHD guide graphs. Not Good.
Our unparalleled experience in Tribology across the hundreds of mounts means we can enhance the performance of nearly any mount using our StellarDrive™ processes. These patentable processes are engineering led, and are constantly being developed and tested. No-one in Europe has rebuilt as many EQ mounts as we have, which makes us one of only a few mount tuners in the world at this level.
We are the only EQ mount re-manufacturer with a vast data bank of both guided and unguided performance, all independently tested by our customers. After all, they paid to find out how good they are!
Any older mounts are more like a restoration, and as such often create longer lead times which has impacted other production. Please contact us first if you have an EQ mount older than 10 years.
All these figures on the website are dependent on the condition of the base mount for rebuild. Older mounts that have not been regularly serviced or cared for, may not achieve these average figures. Based on the data across several hundred mounts, we strongly recommend a 1st service within 3-5 years of the purchase of a new mount, with main axis bearings changed every 7-10 years. This is dependent on use, and storage of your mount. You should exercise your mount every three months regardless of use.
Depending on the mount and the modifications required, it is possible to reliably double or treble the exposure time from the standard mount if in good condition. All mounts have their limits, but we have spent over two years developing processes that now make and NEQ6 perform better than another 'factory tuned' EQ6 for several hundred pounds less.
With our ultimate engineered 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 probably 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, for instance, just fit a belt kit yourself but over 40% of the work we do on NEQ6's is re-installing a belt kit and re-adjusting the mount properly. Using £1 worth of bicycle grease in a £1000 mount is not something that makes sense to us.
Our specially developed lubricants are £6 a gramme, have built-in rust-inhibitors, and unique properties that literally add tolerance to your mount. This is science, not Snake Oil. 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.
Whatever you read on forums or videos is usually misleading, and written by a 'one-mount-expert', and as we have discovered probably not owned one! Our EQ mounts outperform all other builds worldwide, because of the close engineering tolerances we work to, some of which are down to micron level. We use the excellent Rowan Astronomy Belt-Drive kits, that allow you to use your handset or EQMOD. But its more than just a belt kit and better grease. If it was that simple, manufacturers would have done it long ago.
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 your 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. Our expanded production is also bringing down turnaround times, so you are not without your mount for too long.
That means all our EQ mounts are performing to over 97.5% reliability worldwide. You receive a better built mount, one that runs for longer without losing frames because it has been uniquely optimised and engineered from the outset to perform better.
DarkFrame currently offers one level of servicing and three levels of tuning:
Standard EQ/AZ Service
AZ Ambient Tune
StellarTune™ (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 3-5 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.
StellarTune™ 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.
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 mount tune. 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. 2018 brings quantification of our mount tuning with the EQ8, Losmandy and Paramount range of products now feeding through our workshops.
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? No Pressure. 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 EQ mount tunes 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 mount owners, and value their feedback and data.
CELESTRON Solutions available!
We have also performed servicing and Generation 0 StellarTune™ on Celestron NexStar, NexStar Evolution, CG5GT, CGEM/DX and CGE-Pro/II with some success too, but the Celestron AVX mount has been notoriously difficult to work on. The results from a guided stock AVX runs 1.7-2.5 ArcSec RMS, and with PEC circa 0.8-1.0 ArcSec RMS. Our StellarDrive™ AVX-R runs 0.55 ArcSec RMS guided and up to 5 mins unguided with an 80mm Refractor.
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 can! Our customers are getting up to 30min Narrowband images with ease on our rebuilt CGEM's and CGE-Pro's. Like 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 done on a kitchen table. Because the drive architecture is different to the Sky-watchers, we rebuild the gearboxes too, 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 stock 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, and contributes to a lower Periodic Error.
We do everything we can to improve a mount, but if mount cannot tuned it becomes a R- Designation Job. This means Repair or Restoration. With all the will in the world, mounts do wear out and require new parts. These are chargeable components. We do not know the state of your mount until its been tested and opened up. We reserve the right not to complete the job and return the mount to you subject to an investigation and return fee, but this is very rare.
Our total return rate since we started offering serviced, tuned or repaired mounts worldwide is less than 2%.
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 (or equal) 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, unless we start performing the investigation stage.
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 the cure falls within the utility of a rebuild, then there is no extra charge.
All our work is guaranteed for 6 months for servicing/repair and 24 mounts for tuning and 12 months for the Star Adventurer StellarTune II and StellarTune 2.5. 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 8.3.x, 6.3.x and 5.5.x (Bonneville) onwards.
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 StellarDrive™ 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 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 under our Terms and Conditions of Supply and Services:
1.) 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. We do not offer free replacement cables or handsets on a new for old basis, or 'betterment' on any product, unless agreed in writing, or unless damaged whilst in our care.
2.) 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.
3.) 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/127mm Maksutov for smaller mounts, and adjust so to ensure the mount is performing as it should under real-world conditions. Sometimes, where required we will also perform PHD or TDM tests to gather data to validate the mount. PHD testing require clear nights, so will add delay! However, we also have our own tracking test rig, so we can perform bench-testing pre/post-build comparisons of your mount, that are not weather dependent which will speed up the calibration process as we refine the process. Tracking Data on your mount can be supplied at extra cost.
4.) Modifications to new mounts such as belt-drive kits or custom parts will invalidate the existing Manufacturers warranty. As will, taking the mount apart to prove/disprove the work done! Each mount is videoed, and photographed before dispatch. We do not send out non-fully functioning mounts or not perform tasks as promised or specified We treat every mount as our own because of the effort invested in them. So, please don't undo our hard work. We also require a minimum of 1 hour clear PHD data per session, and your mount to be run in for a minimum of 15 hours before we accept any mount for return. We recommend that the mounts are run in for 15-50 hours, to settle and attain accuracy. Claiming the mount is not satisfactory with 20 mins run time is no proof the mount doesn't track, especially if we have bench-tested and run it in for a minimum of 4 hours.
We offer PHD Support with every tuned mount. We love data. We love seeing your images!
5.) 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. In three years, we have not had a failure on new mounts.
Simply put, we offer the most comprehensive, best value and highest quality EQ mount tuning service on Planet Earth, with solid backup to match should you need it.
Please note: All DarkFrame Ltd warranties are non-transferable unless agreed in writing.