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NEW & IMPROVED Sidewinder

A GIGANTIC Optical Manifold for larger than 2" format applications

Think Sidewinders for the Following Reasons:

Sidewinder Features & Specifications

The large-chip revolution is coming and this is the first and only "larger than 2-inch format" optical manifold available, period! Like the Versa-Port Slider, the Mega-Port Sidewinder offers the shortest possible profile (3" body). The diagonal mirror still slides to the side like the Slider, instead of flipping down like conventional flip-mirror devices, which saves you valuable profile. However, the Sidewinder's mirror not only slides to the side (push/pull), it also rotates completely around at perfect 90 degree intervals (push/pull/rotate) with 4 spring loaded ball bearing click-stops (see below for more details). And main mirror angle position (0, 90, 180, 270 degrees) is always externally known because the position angle of the mirror glows-in-the-dark (see picture at right). Like the Sliders, Sidewinders also have precision collimation that re-invents easy operation and guide star acquisition: 1) Collimatable top and bottom ports for "dead-on" optical alignment; 2) Full X-Y axis, 360 degree radius pick-off mirror insert for easy and quick guide star acquisition and positioning.

Sidewinders, like our Targetrons and Zerotators all use the same 2.9" flanged format, so the port rings are 100% interchangeable. You can stack components (see picture at left) in any configuration you want using coupling port rings (see Docking Port Rings link above right) that only consume 1/8" of profile. Add a [1-inch profile] Zerotator (see Rotators link) to your Sidewinder and gain rock-solid, zero-flexure, super-fluid, radial ball-bearing Z-axis rotation of your imaging train. And our ATLAS Zerotator can handle any load you throw at it - guaranteed!

You have, or are considering the purchase of, a CCD camera with a built-in guiding chip, or a CCD camera that has an imaging chip with an area that can be dedicated to guiding, so you don't need a Slider 2 or Sidewinder. Think again! You think it's easy to find a suitable guide star with a fixed separate guide chip, or a fixed chip area dedicated to guiding? Are you, or would you like to be, a masochist that likes guide star frustration? Since your guide chip [area] is integral and fixed, your ability to scan for an adequate guide star is simply not there, compared to the Sidewinder's easily adjustable [independent] X-Y axis pick-off mirror insert control. Even with your dual [fixed] chip guiding/imaging CCD camera, guide star acquisition can still be a literal nightmare if you don't have a way of easily positioning a guide star independent of your imaging target.

Of course, the most efficient method to acquire an adequate guide star is using a separate guiding CCD camera, or guiding eyepiece, that allows you to simply scan your telescope's entire available field of view, not just a fixed microscopic section of that sky field. Once you've acquired a usable guide star, you can center it in the Sidewinder's off-axis field of view, or simply tell your CCD guiding camera to guide on that specific star. That's it, you're ready for guided imaging. You think I'm kidding? Try it. The Sidewinder, especially coupled to a Zerotator, will make even the most die-hard astro-skeptic a true believer. And, I guarantee you won't find anything else on the market that even comes close to the capabilities of the Sidewinder in form, function or features. Better yet, you could purchase the new SBIG STL-11000, 11 Megapixel CCD camera. In fact, SBIG's STL was the catalyst for VSI's Mega-Port Sidewinder - the time had come! Use the STL and Sidewinder in combination with VSI's MicroGlide focuser (see below) and SBIG's STV and you've assembled an autofocusing dream machine that will easily create "frustration-free" professional astroimages worthy of the largest observatory on Planet Earth and beyond.

The Pick-Off Insert (POI pictured at right) has three modes of adjustment. The X-Y axis (like our Sliders) and an independent adjustment for moving the pick-off mirror tube itself in and out so you can position it for any focal length scope and any size camera (see red arrow at right). X-axis operation is accomplished by simply push-pulling the entire 2" insert port itself. You simply loosen the two Nylon thumb screws on the Sidewinder, which can also act as an adjustable clutch. The X-axis function provides one axis of control, like the Slider 2's pick-off mirror angle that's controlled by turning a knob, but not as efficient or functional. That's where the Sidewinder's Z-axis comes into play (see Y-Z Axis Rotating Ports below). And by rotating the extire POI in the Sidewinder's 2" port, you achieve the opposing Y-axis control, like the Slider 2's lever control. But there is another important feature that the Slider 2 doesn't possess; by removing the POI and loosening the two set screws on the 2" barrel housing (see picture at right) you can adjust (push/pull) the overall distance the pick-off mirror protrudes into your scope's light cone. And the POI's not just for the dedicated Sidewinder side port either. You can use a second, or third, in the top or bottom ports of the Sidewinder, if you are so inclined.

Sidewinder push/pull/rotate (PPR) main mirror manipulation mechanisms are machined to high industry standards from a (6061 T6 extruded aircraft aluminum) 1/4"-wall rectangular tube, and their 2" diameter aluminum PPR tubes are double ball bearing spring loaded to maintain a repeatable optical alignment indefinitely. And all Sidewinders have stainless steel (non-corrosive) hardware throughout (pictured at right). By inserting various drawtubes and adapters, you can convert from CCD imaging to 35mm imaging and push/pull re-parfocus your setup in just minutes, instead of hours (or not at all) like the awkward "other products" out there (VSI Collar Rings will help save set-up time, too).

From almost two decades of imaging experience at Black Forest Observatory, we've found that push/pull secondary focusing (top, bottom and side ports) is much quicker and more efficient than any redundant helical focusing systems. However, VSI does offer a helical focusing drawtube insert if you really want one. They're not a big seller and will be discontinued when stock is depleted. VSI also offers a myriad of very special [exclusive] adapters, couplers, and accessories that no one else could begin to duplicate. This unique offering allows you to build an extremely flexible imaging train, that is not even rivaled by professional research observatories, but envied.

NOTE: Mega-Port Sidewinders are designed for larger than 2" format applications. Therefore, docking port rings are not available for 2" [or smaller] formats. Don't ask, because we will not machine a 2" or smaller format docking port ring for a Sidewinder. If you need an optical manifold for 2" format applications, see Sliders link.

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The Sidewinder's Push/Pull/Rotate Main Mirror Mechanism

Yes, it's another revolutionary, never been done before by anyone, exclusive super feature by VSI. This NEW & IMPROVED push/pull/rotate mirror manipulation mechanism is designed to offer top or bottom port access from your scope or your camera with the turn of a large knob. The push-pull mirror function is similar to VSI's Slider, but instead of using the square housing's opposing corners to hold the mirror and slide plate in alignment, a 2" diameter aluminum tube slides in and out on a cylindrical housing. With the mirror tube withdrawn (see picture, above right) the mirror is not allowed to rotate, because the mirror's major axis is larger than 2.5 inches, which is the internal width of the Sidewinder's housing. This built-in failsafe prevents you from damaging your first-surface mirror. With the mirror fully extended into the housing (see picture, above center), the mirror is fully extended into your scope's light cone and locked in place. You also have two Nylon thumb screws to further lock down the mirror position, although they can also be used for tensioning the moving tube when used in the vertical position where gravity becomes a factor. To rotate the mirror to any of the positions noted below, just unlock the mirror by pulling it outward 1/8" which releases the lock and allows easy rotation of the mirror with ball bearing click-stops every 90 degrees.

In the following mirror-position picture/illustration, the far left and center left pictures illustrate the most commonly used mirror positions. The far right and center right camera illustrations would only be used to easily and instantly calibrate your imaging camera, photometer, spectroscope, etc., using a calibration source in either the top or bottom ports. VSI has had requests for this operation in the past, so we thought we should offer full rotation of the mirror instead of limiting its rotation to the first two scope positions. A full scope/camera calibration sequence would consist of using a calibration standard in the Sidewinder's bottom port, and a 2" format widefield eyepiece in your top port. This would allow you to calibrate your imaging device with the mirror in the far right position, rotate the mirror 180 degrees to the far left position to find your target (or vise versa), then pull the mirror out of your scope's light cone path for imaging. Of course, with full mirror rotation capability, a myriad of port combinations are possible, and mirror position sequences are only limited by your imagination.

Sidewinders Install on Any Scope, Accept Any Camera or Eyepiece

To explain the above picture diagrams, the Sidewinder pictured on the left (scope port facing you) accepts a myriad of eyepieces and accessories, pictured below and above. But at the heart of every Sidewinder is our exclusive Pick-Off mirror Insert (POI, pictured above). It is the simplest and most versatile POI ever created. It was actually reincarnated from the ashes of our long discontinued Versa-Port Flippers. The Sidewinder's side port, with the 2" POI installed, accepts any 1.25" barrel-nose eyepiece or guiding CCD camera. Three illuminated guiding eyepieces and two guiding CCD cameras are pictured to the left and below - use one or all for various imaging applications. The Sidewinder pictured at right (top eyepiece port facing you) shows six different imaging cameras below and to the left, including a 35mm film camera. A Takahashi TOA-130 APO refractor, for illustration purposes only, is shown above the right Sidewinder. This particular scope could [literally] be any commercial scope on the market, or custom scope, because VSI can create custom docking rings if we don't stock one for your scope. Also note the AUTOFOCUSER ATTACHMENT just below the right Sidewinder. This unique addition provides the capability to autofocus your CCD camera from your computer without the hassle of retrofitting your scope's focuser for autofocus - what a luxury (see section above for more info on that "perfect marriage").

Parfocusing your Sidewinder is easy. The Sidewinder housing is designed to be as short, profile wise, as possible (3"). Simply add push/pull extension drawtubes as needed. Most of the time you will not need any extension, even if you add our MicroGlide focuser as an autofocuser, which only consumes 2" of profile. But if you do, VSI has all the extension tubes you need in stock, or you can simply use your existing 2" or 1.25" diagonals as extension tubes. And using diagonals, as extension tubes, provides more versatility when orienting your Sidewinder's various ports for comfortable access.

VSI's Mega-Port Sidewinder will adapt to any imaging configuration you can conceive. No other optical manifold even comes close. The only limitation is your imagination. VSI has all the docking rings, camera rings, and other adapters necessary to create anything (see individual links, top-of-the-page, right side).

The Sidewinder's Y-Axis Full-Field Scanner

The Sidewinder offers easy guide star acquisition to easily locate a usable star in less populated areas of sky, even around the galactic poles. The Y-axis offers a full-field scanner capability just like it's lesser brothers, the Slider and Targetron. Your scope's field is scanned by rotating the optional Pick-Off Insert (item POI) in the Sidewinder's 2" side port (see Y-AXIS at left). Acquisition of a suitable guide star can be acomplished by using a 1.25" illuminated reticle eyepiece or a guiding CCD camera, like the Starlight Express model mentioned above.

Sidewinders have a 2.9" internal diameter perforation in the front and rear of the housing body. These large diameter openings allow you to install the Sidewinder on any scope, using any camera, by simply inserting a specific (optional) docking port ring or camera port ring (see PORT RINGS links, top of page).

Of course, docking port rings will have a smaller diameter depending on the type of ring you need for your scope. For instance, an Astro-Physics refractor uses a 2.7"-24tpi threaded format which can accommodate a maximum 2.5" clear aperture. To compare, a 2" format barrel-nose offers a maximum clear aperture of 1.8" which is good for up to 35mm film formats. Vignetting would occur with larger than 35mm format CCD chips, like the new SBIG STL-11000, 11 Megapixel CCD camera.

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Collimation Super Feature

Sidewinders have our exclusive, super easy, "collimatable" top and bottom ports for "dead-on" optical alignment. Our Sliders have utilized this "collimatable" port design for many years and it was simply passed on to the NEW Sidewinder. For most astroimaging tasks, critical collimation of the top and bottom ports, with the rear imaging port, is unnecessary because you are typically using low power, wide-field eyepieces. Of course, with the use of high-power eyepieces with reticles, or calibration standards, you might find these redundant collimatable ports very useful.

By simply loosening the tensioning set screw and adjusting the Y and X axis set screws (see picture above), you can change the relative position of the top or bottom cylinder ports in relation to the Sidewinder's housing and mirror. Note that the X and Y axis screws are positioned at 90 degree angles to each other, not 120 degrees, making the adjustment process much easier for the adjuster.

Below is a FYI size comparison between VSI's Slider and Sidewinder. The Sidewinder below is shown with a 35mm T-thread (42mm-0.75mm thread pitch) camera port ring installed. Many other docking port rings and larger camera port rings are available (see PORT RINGS links, above right).

I thought that most telescope's optical paths were fairly well aligned, but not anymore, for the following reason. I usually use a 6" Quantum Maksutov when I need to test a new product. A client and I tested a Slider's top port alignment between our two scopes (he had a 10" Meade LX200). We found that when we used two identical high power illuminated reticle eyepieces (one in the top port and one in the rear port), the Quantum was "dead-on," but when my customer tested the same Slider on his scope, there was a noticeable top port misalignment [object to the upper left] at high powers. This led me to the preliminary conclusion that all flip/slide mirror devices must have X-Y axis alignment capabilities to correct for the mediocre [ball-park] optical alignment of the commercial SCTs and other scopes on the market today.

No matter how perfectly you align a Slider's mirror (at an exact 45 degree angle), there are really no two scopes that will put the target perfectly in the center of the optical path, so the "magic number" of 45 degrees is rendered academic at best. As with all flip-mirror type devices, the alignment of the mirror is obtained by adjusting a stop-screw at the top, or bottom, of the internal flip-mirror's 45 degree angle position. On some higher quality flip-mirror devices (like the now discontinued Flippers), lateral [or second axis adjustment] is obtained by adjusting the flip-mirror's rotatable shaft perpendicular to it's optical path, but it is usually a tedious, but accomplishable, task. With the Slider's collimatable top port, you just loosen a tensioning set screw and adjust [turn IN or OUT] a set screw for X-axis adjustment, and another set screw for Y-axis adjustment to achieve the easiest, guaranteed "dead-on" collimation on the market (see above illustration).

Another reason for adding the collimation feature is simply the fact that all flip-mirror devices on the market (including the old Flippers) have collimation capabilities. Sliders and Sidewinders should have no less capabilities than these [similar operating] devices. Verily, VSI optical manifolds should have superior features and capabilities beyond any other. This is why each new production run, of any VSI product, is always better than the previous run. Every production run has at least one new feature or simple upgrade, even if it's just improvements in the accuracy of the machining process. I don't believe that any product can't be improved upon. There really is nothing permanent in the world, except change. Tomorrow's reality is always born from today's imagination. Product "evolution," in any form, should be an endless creative process. - PVS

Sidewinders & MicroGlide Focusers - the Perfect Marriage!

MicroGlide Omicron focusers and Sidewinder optical manifolds, equipped with autofocus, create the ultimate dream imaging train for professional and amateur astronomers alike (see picture at right). Although the imaging train pictured at right is configured to support the large-chip SBIG STL, it is shown without the CCD camera for clarification. However, all you would need to do, to complete this imaging train, is screw on the STL camera, autofocus the CCD camera (utilizing the stepper motor mounted to the Omicron, see picture, far left), push/pull parfocus all your side ports, and begin imaging.

Why try to "Mickey Mouse" your scope's existing focuser with an aftermarket autofocus system, just to find out that the step to tube movement ratio is too coarse? Simply couple a MicroGlide Omicron focuser to the output of a Sidewinder and you achieve the finest autofocus ratio, by a factor of 10, available anywhere. Use the MicroGlide 2, with our new SBIG STL 2.156"-24tpi insert tube adapter (Item #AMGST, pictured upper left, also see ADAPTERS link above) and you achieve a full 2" internal clear aperture (SBIG recommends a minimum of 1.95" for their STL). To facilitate docking your Omicron to the rear camera port of the Sidewinder, we have created a new double flanged port ring (Item #MR2729, pictured lower left, also see MICROGLIDE FOCUSERS link, DOCKING ADAPTERS link). This port ring also saves the cost of a second threaded port ring, and decreases profile by about a half-inch compared to using two threaded port rings. Although this Sidewinder/Omicron combination has been optimized for the new chips, that are too large for the existing 2" format, you could also use the Epsilon with the Sidewinder to utilize any smaller chip size CCD camera on the market. You are only limited by your imagination.

With the 3" profile of the Sidewinder and the 2" profile of the Epsilon or Omicron models, you have a 5" overall profile, which is short enough to work with any SCT or extended backfocus refractor, like the Takahashi TOA series or the TMB's removable drawtube. Note that all the side ports have been parfocused to match the extended 2" profile of the MicroGlide. In fact, a 2" format eyepiece, inserted directly into the Sidewinder's top port, is just about parfocus with the MicroGlide installed on the Sidewinder's rear port. Also note that the side pick-off port can be easily extended with a 1.25" diagonal and achieve parfocus with your imaging CCD camera (as pictured above right). With the diagonal installed, you also provide a more comfortable guiding position. Or you could also auto-guide with a SBIG STV CCD camera, etc. Enjoy the possibilities, because we all know that it's just as much about the cool gear, as it is about the imaging. It doesn't get "hotter" than this!

Sidewinders Equipped for CCD and 35mm Imaging

Sliders and Sidewinders are the most versatile optical manifolds on Earth. We're not exaggerating when we say that these devices are light-years beyond anything else, period! They will literally accept any scope and any camera made, anywhere. If we don't have a scope or camera port ring for your particular instrument, we'll machine one. The most effort on your part will be sending a male or female threaded part to VSI so we can match it to your scope or camera.

The typical Sidewinder installation, on the right above, is equipped with an SBIG CCD camera in the rear port, a 2" format widefield eyepiece in the top port, a 12mm illuminated guiding eyepiece in the side port utilizing VSI's X-Y axis adjustable pick-off insert, and a 25mm illuminated reticle eyepiece and diagonal in the bottom port for dead-on centering of objects in your field of view, etc. Of course, the bottom port is primarily designed for camera calibration, but can be used for any purpose, or simply leave it plugged and unused. This scenario applies to the side pick-off port too. If you don't need it, don't use it.

The same Sidewinder installation is pictured at left above, except the Nikon F2, 35mm camera replaces the SBIG CCD camera. Since a 35mm camera usually focuses about an inch and a half further in than most eyepieces and CCD cameras, you may need to use various extension tubes to parfocus your Sidewinder, which are available at the ADAPTERS link.

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