StellarMate vs ASIAIR pt. 1: What's better for Budget and Beginners
The Raspberry Pi arrived. I bought a cooling case for it. They included a thermal compound to apply on the chips, which come in contact with small pieces of the case. This helps dissipate heat through the aluminum case. It was easy to assemble, but it lacks screw holes for wall mounting. I'll have to drill and tap it somewhere for a 1/4-20 screw. For now, I might just place it on top of the power bank since I have long cords for my cameras.
To start the process, I purchased the StellarMate OS for $50. The Raspberry Pi with the case cost $105, making the total cost $155. Comparatively, when I bought the ASIAIR Pro, it cost me $500 with the guide camera and scope. So, this Raspberry Pi\StellarMate setup is more budget-friendly.
Burning the StellarMate OS to an SD card using the Raspberry Pi Imager was simple. Just insert the SD card and power up the Raspberry Pi. The challenge was getting all the equipment to communicate. The StellarMate manual wasn't very helpful, so I had to experiment with the settings until things started working.
The ASI120 Mini guide camera worked right away, but the ASI485MC gave me some trouble, possibly due to it being a USB 3.0 device. After some trial and error, I managed to get it to work too. Unfortunately, I can't provide a detailed step-by-step process because I made many changes and lost track of what I had done. But eventually, I was able to connect the EQ mod cable to the hand control part on the sin scan module of the EQM35 Pro mount. In the StellarMate app, I had to start the port service for the mount in the port manager.
Once the equipment was working, the settings were saved to my online account. This allowed me to switch between devices, like my phone and tablet, and retain the settings. However, I haven't tested it outside for guiding or capturing yet. This was just to get it working. Comparing it to the ASIAIR Pro, the StellarMate setup is more complicated, especially for someone used to the ASIAIR Pro.
From a budget standpoint, StellarMate is cheaper. The ASIAIR Pro has been replaced with the ASIAIR PLUS, which has an external antenna for better range. When I bought the ASIAIR Pro, the ASIAIR PLUS wasn't available. I expressed my frustration to the company for releasing a new product instead of fulfilling existing orders. After a month, I finally received my ASIAIR Pro kit, which cost around $500.
SVBONY offers a guide scope and a camera similar to the ZWO products but at a lower price. The guide scope is priced at $50 or $60, and the camera is around the same price. Assuming $60 for each, adding those to the StellarMate setup brings the total cost to $275. That's a significant difference from the $500 I paid for the ASIAIR kit.
One advantage of the ASIAIR Pro is its shutter cable port for direct camera control, while StellarMate requires a DSLR with USB control. Fortunately, my Canon 90D supports USB control and is compatible with StellarMate. However, it's essential to check if your camera works with the system before proceeding. Alternatively, you can use an intervalometer for cameras that aren't compatible.
I plan to test the StellarMate setup on a clear night. Currently, the weatheris calling for storms for what I believe is the next eternity. So when I can, I'll compare it to the ASIAIR for actual use. My goal is to add a guide camera to my Star Adventurer for Milky Way shots. While it's not necessary for wide-angle shots, if it improves the quality even a little, I think it's worth it.
As a first impression, whether you're looking for a starting point or just looking to upgrade your existing rig, StellarMate is a good choice. I still prefer the ASIAIR, but the option to switch to StellarMate and use different equipment is appealing, and may be one of the most compelling reasons to choose StellarMate or ASIAIR.
Lastly, I briefly tried Astroberry, but I couldn't get it to function properly. The interface didn't scale well on my 27-inch monitor, so I'm sure its incredibly cumbersome to control from a phone. I know this one of the options that I see mentioned in forums but since it wasn't readily functional like the other discussed options it was eliminated from this project because I wouldn't call it beginner friendly.
In my opinion ASIAIR is better for those who want a simple plug and play system. There's still a learning curve, but it feels more intuitive. StellarMate has a more difficult setup but not overly difficult. If you are a confident DIYer then go StellarMate I think the benefits are there. If you are just starting out and you fork out the money on the ASIAIR and don't like it, you're stuck with it. With the StellarMate OS on a Raspberry PI, if you don't like it, you can always turn the Raspberry PI into a retro gaming emulator or some other fun project.