So you’ve dabbled in Astrophotography with your DSLR camera somewhat; maybe you’ve shot some star trails or some short 30-second night-time landscape shots. Now you want to move to the next level and take long exposures of stellar objects but you are put off by the cost and the complication. Do you really need to lug around a large telescope and telescope mount? Are you confused about polar alignment? The Vixen Polarie star tracker removes all of that intimidation and a lot of the cost (though not all of it!) and allows even a first-timer to be setup and running in a matter of minutes.
The only things you will find inside the box are the Polarie itself and the instruction manual. Any “accessories” that the Polarie has are built right into the unit such as the compass and the latitude meter/scale. The 27-page manual is detailed and gives you instructions for northern and southern hemisphere alignment. Batteries are not included but you can use any type of AA battery including 1.2v rechargeables. I was able to get around 4 hours of tracking time from a couple of Sanyo Eneloop batteries. Alkalines may not last as long. You can also use an external 5v power supply (like this) with a USB mini-B plug to power it.
Please see my Astrophotography Guide (page 3) to see all the pieces of equipment you need in addition to the Polarie and your camera. Vixen also sells a kit with all of this stuff that I will talk about in the Accessories section of this review.
The Polarie manual provides clear instructions for alignment. Alignment is easiest in the Northern hemisphere since the bright star Polaris is extremely close to the celestial pole. In the southern hemisphere you have to do a little more searching since the star closest to that celestial pole is quite dim. Once you do it a couple of times it will become second nature though. When aligning I like to first put my eye very close to the polar sight hole to get Polaris in view. Then I back away a couple of feet so the field of view through the hole is much smaller, then I center Polaris and I am aligned. The whole process usually takes me about a minute. If you accidentally bump your setup or knock a tripod leg with your foot you will want to check your alignment again.
More advanced alignment can be done with the optional Polarie Polar Scope – this will let you align to the true celestial pole and not just Polaris itself. If you plan on doing a lot of 200mm+ telephoto shots it may be a good investment. For wide field it is not totally necessary. You won’t be using super long telephoto lenses on this anyway since the Polarie’s rated weight capacity is only 4.4lbs (a typical DSLR weighs 1 – 2 pounds leaving you a good amount of room for a lens – even heavier lenses like a 400mm telephoto zoom are 3lbs or less).
The Polarie has a Solar tracking mode and since you will always be taking fast exposures of the sun the only time you’d really want to track it is during an eclipse so you could maybe take a long series of exposures to show the different phases. In this case you can get rough alignment by using the compass and the latitude meter. If you were in the northern hemisphere you would aim your Polarie North with the aid of the compass, then tilt it to your latitude using the little meter on the side of the Polarie. This should be accurate enough to keep it in the viewfinder for a long period of time.
Once you are aligned, make sure you have batteries or a power source plugged in and then you turn the knob to the mode you want. There are 5 modes:
- Setup: This just illuminates the latitude meter if you wanted to use it in the dark
- Normal tracking: This is what you will normally use to track the stars, it turns at the sidereal rate.
- Half-speed tracking: This is designed for wide field landscape shots. Since tracking will blur the landscape as the camera moves, this provides a compromise between lack of star trails and landscape blurring.
- Lunar tracking: The moon moves at a different speed across the sky. You won’t be taking any long exposures but this will help keep it centered in your view longer.
- Solar tracking: Same deal at the lunar tracking.