The Meade Pictor 201XT autoguider.

Many amateur astronomers seem to consider the Meade Pictor 201XT autoguider to be a rather useless piece of equipment. In my experience it's a bit tricky, but once you get it going it's a very good tool for astronomical photography and it take away much of the work that comes with manual guiding. I'll try to describe some of the problems that can come up. I use the autoguider on a separate guidescope so the problems that can arise when using off-axis equipment are not dealt with here.

Focusing the 201xt can be difficult if you don't have a parfocal eyepiece. I have made one from a normal 10mm Plössl. Basically I have added a ring to the part of the eyepiece that goes into the focuser of the telescope, preventing it from going too deep. When the eyepiece is focused; so should the autoguider be. To get the stopper-ring in the right position is very much a process of trial and error as described in the manual. In general terms the autoguider is focused when the brightness of a star is at its highest level.

Finding the active area of the autoguider.
The active area (the ccd) of the autoguider is usually much smaller than the view you get in the eyepiece. To find out where the active area is situated is again a process of trial and error, but once you find it you can always put the guiding star in the right area of the eyepiece and be pretty sure that the autoguider will find the star. In my equipment it is aprox. 30% up from the center of the view in eyepiece and slightly to the left.

Calibration is a very important for the further use of the 201XT, but in the calibration process I have found something that looks like a bug in the software of the 201XT. The first time I went through the calibration everything was OK, but when I tried the autoguiding I noticed that there was no signal for the declination adjustment. I did increase the calibration time for declination and repeated the calibration and now the autoguiding did work just fine.
It's obvious that the calibration of the declination did fail the first time, but I did not get any kind of error-message.
If the calibration process fails it can it can be a good idea to change the calibration times and try again.
Another important issue when going through calibration is that the autoguider should be at right angels to the RA and the dec. If the autoguider is attached to a guidescope this is quite easy to achieve.

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