Purchasing options for the SkyGuider Pro vary; it could be as simple as a right ascension axis or the “Full Package” complete with a declination axis, wedge, tripod, and counterweight shaft. Essentially, the SkyGuider Pro is equipped with a small motor that handles rotation in right ascension, while the declination axis is entirely manual, devoid of any electronic or slow-motion controls. However, additional accessories can be easily bolted onto this setup. The SkyGuider Pro offers a multitude of setup options, each with its own unique advantages and potential drawbacks.
One configuration involves using the SkyGuider Pro with a ball head, which serves as a wedge pointing towards the celestial pole. In this setup, another ball head is responsible for holding your camera. This arrangement allows for flexibility and ease of movement, but it may not provide the stability required for more precise astronomical observations.
An alternative setup involves swapping the ball head for a proper equatorial wedge. This configuration provides more stability and precision, making it a better choice for serious stargazers and astrophotographers.
You can also replace the ball head holding the camera with a proper declination axis. This configuration provides even greater precision and stability, allowing for more accurate tracking of celestial objects across the night sky.
For those seeking the utmost precision, the declination axis’ ¼ 20 screw top can be swapped for a Vixen style dovetail saddle. While this might be considered overkill by some, it offers a more secure/rigid attachment method, particularly if you’re using a telescope atop this mount.
iOptron also markets the SkyGuider Pro’s ability to support two ball heads or mounting saddles – and thus, two cameras – simultaneously. This configuration allows for the weight of two cameras to balance each other out, or for a camera/lens on the end of the counterweight shaft to act as an additional counterweight to a small telescope. However, this setup is not recommended. The tripod recommended for the SkyGuider Pro, as well as the third-party tripods it is typically mounted on, are not designed to handle this configuration. It is likely to result in a top-heavy setup that lacks stability.
We strongly recommend investing in the proper wedge, declination axis, and counterweight when using the SkyGuider Pro. If you use the declination axis and wedge, there is no need for a ball head of any kind. You could add some kind of fine motion adjustment on top to make aiming the camera or telescope more precise, since the declination axis lacks its own motors or slow motion controller. However, if you’re considering this level of investment, you might be better served by purchasing a full-fledged equatorial mount.
The SkyGuider Pro is powered by a small internal rechargeable battery and features a built-in polar scope. It can function at various rates and accept a wide range of accessories. Given that it does not come with a tripod, there are many options available, including the SkyGuider tripod from iOptron, which is more than adequate for most users. The stability of the SkyGuider Pro is heavily dependent on the quality of the tripod upon which it is mounted. Payloads of larger proportions could induce problematic vibrations, especially if the tripod is of smaller size.
At its core, the SkyGuider Pro is a straightforward device, featuring a simple right ascension motor on a shaft with an attached drive. It offers various speed options, including sidereal, lunar, solar, and half speed. There’s also an option to boost up to four times the sidereal speed for fine adjustments and pointing. However, you cannot actually slew the mount and automatically point it – it tracks passively and nothing more.
Interestingly, iOptron offers the Go2Nova controller for the SkyGuider Pro, which seems peculiar since the controller wouldn’t function effectively with this mount. The motors on the SkyGuider Pro simply can’t move fast enough, and there’s no motorized declination axis, or even one at all in some configurations.
The SkyGuider Pro does feature a built-in autoguider port, which might lead one to consider connecting a PC, controlling the mount, and adding a small telescope on top. However, the lack of motors on the declination axis, where many guiding corrections are often made, means that you can’t actually guide the mount on both axes. Even if your guiding software is compatible with this setup, the overall improvement in tracking quality won’t be nearly as good as if you were able to adjust the declination axis. As such, the autoguiding feature is largely a waste of time. If you desire a mount that can autoguide or if you want fully motorized pointing and features like GoTo or plate solving, you should probably invest in a full-fledged equatorial mount.
Using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro for Visual Observation
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is not intended for visual observation, and you’ll need a declination axis and counterweight kit to use it with a telescope in any case.
The SkyGuider Pro can be set up for visual observation in much the same way as for photography. This involves attaching it to an appropriate tripod, balancing the counterweight, and aligning it with the celestial pole, then setting tracking to the appropriate speed. However, the declination axis kit lacks any kind of slow motion controls or motors, making precise adjustment somewhat challenging. Furthermore, the payload capacity of only 11 pounds (excluding counterweight) means that the largest telescope you can mount is likely only a few pounds, such as a small short refractor. This setup might work adequately at low powers, where precision pointing is not required, but at higher magnifications, using a small telescope is likely to be frustrating with this mount, especially if it is on a smaller and less steady tripod.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is designed for astrophotography, and can provide smooth and accurate tracking for wide-field imaging with a camera and a lens. To use the mount for astrophotography, you will need to attach a camera and a lens to the mount, either directly or preferably via a ball head or a declination bracket. You will also need to align the mount with the celestial pole using the polar scope and select the appropriate tracking speed. You can then use your DSLR or mirrorless camera’s shutter release or a remote control to take exposures of the sky, or use the iOpTron Commander app to control the camera and adjust the settings.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is officially rated to a payload capacity of 11 lb. It should be noted, however, that this weight includes any optional counterweight that is integral for effective use of the SkyGuider Pro with heavy payloads such as an actual telescope or larger DSLR lenses. Theoretically, the use of a smaller refractor within the 50 to 70 mm aperture range could be feasible when paired with the SkyGuider Pro, but in practice, the lack of a motorized declination axis or autoguiding abilities for it means this is probably a bad idea.
For astrophotography pursuits requiring the use of a proper telescope, a more robust mount such as the Sky-Watcher HEQ5i Pro might prove to be a superior option. Practical constraints often limit imaging with the SkyGuider Pro to a focal length of approximately 300mm with most setups.
Should I buy a Used iOptron SkyGuider Pro?
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a relatively new product, and may not be widely available on the used market. However, if you can find a used SkyGuider Pro in good condition at a reasonable price, it may be worth considering. The good news is that this mount is fairly simple and durable, and does not have many moving parts or complex electronics that can fail or wear out. However, you should check the condition and functionality of the mount before buying it, and make sure that the battery still works. A dead battery can be replaced, or you could just use external power, but the former is expensive and the latter is inconvenient. You should also check the accessories and cables that come with the mount to make sure that they are compatible and working. If the mount is missing any accessories or cables, or if they are damaged or faulty, you may need to purchase them separately, which can add to the cost.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a satisfactory mount, but it should be kept in mind that it’s primarily a star tracker. For a full-fledged telescope mount, an investment in a more robust model with additional features such as full slewing/pointing abilities, a declination axis with motors and guiding capabilities of its own, and a sturdy tripod may be necessary. There are also a few other good star trackers within its price range that merit consideration.
- The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i is another popular star tracker that offers similar features and performance to the SkyGuider Pro, such as an integrated polar scope, a built-in rechargeable battery, four tracking speeds, and a payload capacity of 11 pounds. However, it also has some advantages over the SkyGuider Pro, such as an illuminated polar scope reticle,
- The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi is compact, portable equatorial mount crafted for wide-field astrophotography with cameras and lenses, or for visual observation utilizing a small telescope or binoculars. Capable of supporting payloads up to 11 pounds, its construction is robust, relying on stainless steel and anodized aluminum components. It boasts a Vixen dovetail saddle, suitable for holding telescopes and cameras attached with universal Vixen-style dovetail plates. An integrated polar scope ensures accurate polar alignment, which can also be assisted by the SynScan smartphone app that uses your phone’s GPS and compass. Its built-in GoTo functionality enables automatic slewing of the mount to any celestial object, with the SynScan app serving as a hand controller. The app also controls the mount’s tracking speed, with options for solar, lunar, sidereal, or 0.5x. It also includes a built-in autoguider port and is powered by four AA batteries or an external source. While heavier than the SkyGuider Pro and a tripod, weighing a total of 13 lbs excluding the 5 lb counterweight, the Star Adventurer GTi surpasses the SkyGuider Pro in terms of functionality and accuracy, solidifying its position as an advanced star tracker for astrophotography.
- The Sky-Watcher EQM-35i is a comprehensive equatorial mount tailored for astrophotography with small to medium-sized telescopes, or for visual observation at the eyepiece. It can hold payloads reaching 15 pounds, a testament to its durable design featuring stainless steel and anodized aluminum components with few plastic parts. An integrated polar scope facilitates precise polar alignment, and its compatibility with a PC or smartphone app (the default mode of operation being the SynScan app like the Star Adventurer GTi) makes it easy to use. It also includes a built-in autoguider port useful for automatic rectification of periodic or tracking errors, and the whole mount is powered by a 12V DC source, like a portable battery or power adapter. Although heavier, weighing 22 pounds, the EQM-35i is a much better choice for astrophotography than a star tracker and bests the Star Adventurer GTi for the most critical applications.
- The Sky-Watcher HEQ5i Pro, also marketed as the Orion Sirius EQ-G, is more lightweight and compact than the Advanced VX. Its payload capacity for visual use, however, does fall a little short, managing only about 20 lbs. These characteristics are due, in part, to features such as a retractable counterweight shaft, a compact mount head with internally housed gears, and smaller 1.75” diameter tripod legs used with this mount. It should be noted, though, that this model employs superior-quality stepper motors and boasts extensive hardware and software compatibility that the Advanced VX lacks, making it considerably better for astrophotography.
- The iOptron CEM26 stakes its claim as a full-featured equatorial mount, capable of handling payloads up to 27 pounds, making it apt for both visual observation and astrophotography. Its build quality is impressive, including a Vixen dovetail saddle and a polar scope fitted with a polar alignment assist feature. In addition, it’s equipped with a Go2Nova GoTo system complete with a hand controller. You have the flexibility to align it with the celestial pole using the polar scope or a smartphone app, and it can be controlled through a hand controller, PC, or a smartphone app. Further, it features a built-in autoguider port and can be powered by a 12V DC power source or an internal rechargeable battery. What makes the iOptron CEM26 truly unique is its center-balanced design, which reduces weight and bolsters the stability of the mount.