The Sky-Watcher AZ-GTi mount is an alt-azimuth mount design that pivots left to right and up/down. For manual aiming, the mount’s clutches can be unlocked, and the mount smoothly pivots on ball bearings with friction easily adjusted by the clutches. For slewing, DC servo motors are used. The FreedomFind encoder system of the mount ensures that aiming manually will not hamper the accuracy of its motorized GoTo and tracking abilities, while the clutches prevent any wear and tear to the gearing that would otherwise be caused by manual pointing. By placing the telescope on the side of the altitude axis of the mount, balance issues and most clearance problems are avoided.
The AZ-GTi tripod is on the lightweight side, and mostly made of extruded aluminum. It is definitely the weak link with regards to stability with this mount, but it works fine for non-imaging purposes with small telescopes under ~12 lbs/6” aperture. The tripod includes a cylindrical pier extension, while both the pier and mount head are easily attached to any sturdier aftermarket tripod with a ⅜” stud if you wish to do so.
The AZ-GTi is ideally suited for visual observation with a small telescope. Minor tracking discrepancies are, by and large, negligible for visual use and planetary imaging purposes. For deep-sky astrophotography, however, you need an equatorial mount. Fortunately, the equatorial wedge and ball head adapter from the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro pack can be utilized with the AZ-GTi to convert it to an equatorial mount if you wish, though the shaft from the Star Adventurer won’t fit the AZ-GTi; it requires a counterweight shaft equipped with an M12 screw for equatorial use. Sky-Watcher also provides an unofficial firmware version that enables control of equatorial mode when the AZ-GTi is situated on a wedge.
The most distinctive attribute of the AZ-GTi mount is its integrated WiFi module, which forms a standalone WiFi network that can interact with a smartphone, tablet, or desktop. This is facilitated by the SynScan app, available for free from Sky-Watcher, though other apps and protocols can be used The controlling software takes charge of vital location-based settings (obtained from your phone’s GPS and block) and encompasses nearly all of the utility functions provided by a hand control unit for a larger and more expensive mount. It’s important to note to iPhone users that while SMS text messages can still be sent over a device connected to the SynScan network, cellular data is disabled when connected, and thus you can’t use apps or iMessage functionality. Android doesn’t appear to have this problem.
There’s also the option to connect a wired SynScan hand control or PC direct cable to the AZ-GTi mount’s 6-pin RJ12 socket, which complies with ASCOM standards.
Power is supplied to the AZ-GTi head via eight AA batteries. The mount features a power port for the use of an external battery, something we would strongly recommend for longer observation or imaging sessions. There’s also an Automatic Shutter Release Control port, allowing for the connection of a DSLR or mirrorless camera using a shutter release cable. The mount provides two alignment options: a two-star and a north/level alignment, both yielding impressive results. Additionally, there’s a feature that allows you to align on any target once you’ve slewed to it using the Go-To option, enhancing the accuracy for nearby targets.
The free SynScan app is a little basic but offers plenty of functionality. The app offers Star, Solar System and deep-sky menus for targets. Selecting Star offers a range of targets, including named stars, and double stars. Under the Deep Sky menu, you can select a named object icon or choose from the Messier, Caldwell, NGC, or IC catalogs. The app’s settings give you the option to display a black background with red text on your device to maintain your night vision. The main screen is split so that the top two-thirds of the screen display various options (alignment, target type, utility, user objects, and settings), while the bottom third is designated for a control pad for manual slewing and carrying out your initial alignment. The slewing speed is easily adjusted with the tap of a button.
For most intents and purposes, the SynScan app’s target database is plenty comprehensive, but if you favor using a planetarium app to control the system, your options might be somewhat restricted. The basic interface is far more intuitive than a standard hand controller but falls short of the experience provided by a planetarium app like SkySafari. Fortunately, you can connect the mount to SkySafari. Apple users will require two devices to connect SkySafari to the AZ-GTi, such as an iPhone and an iPad, as iOS on a single device is unable to simultaneously run both the SynScan and Sky Safari Plus/Pro apps. Android users, however, can connect with a single device.
Unlike your standard German equatorial mount, the physical design of the AZ-GTi doesn’t facilitate traditional polar alignment methods when it is converted to an equatorial mount with a wedge. Whereas most equatorial mounts are equipped with a polar finder positioned at the core of the right ascension axis, the AZ-GTi conspicuously lacks such a feature. Furthermore, there’s no provision for placing a finder in the axis center, leaving users to devise their own polar alignment technique for this particular mount. This could be accomplished through various means, such as utilizing a laser, appropriate software, employing an external third-party polar finder complete with a DIY bracket, or resorting to the drift alignment procedure.
While the AZ-GTi is certainly a compact mount, it holds its own quite impressively when it comes to imaging, especially when you consider its size, weight, and cost. However, let’s dispel any illusions right away. This is not a mount specifically engineered with astrophotography in mind, nor is it designed to function as an equatorial mount. Meridian flips are not an automatic feature of this mount, and there is a significant risk of potential collisions between many cameras or telescopes and the mount head, posing a challenge to stability. The lower cost of gearing is also a constraint on precision.
Despite these limitations, with thoughtful use, the AZ-GTi can still deliver satisfying results. Small telephoto lenses and refractors, with a focal length in the range of roughly 500-600mm and complemented with effective autoguiding, can be effectively utilized. However, it is advisable to maintain short exposure times, ideally no longer than 2 minutes, to optimize image quality.
Should I buy a Used Sky-Watcher AZ-GTi?
A used AZ-GTi is unlikely to be very old, as these mounts only debuted in 2021. As such, it’s likely that a used sample will be indistinguishable from a new one in performance and expected operational lifetime. However, you will need to make sure that the encoders, motors, and WiFi network are still fully operational if they have not already been tested before purchasing. A missing tripod can be replaced with a sturdier aftermarket one fairly easily, so this is not a big deal. The inexpensive design of the AZ-GTi means it is fairly easy for a careless owner to damage it, so be on the lookout for problems.
The AZ-GTi doesn’t have a whole lot of competition that exactly replicates its features; the Orion StarSeeker IV is very similar in features and weight capacity, but less versatile or compact, while the AZ-GTe from Sky-Watcher is merely a stripped-down GTi without the FreedomFind encoders and hardly any significant cost savings.
- The Explore Scientific Twilight I is a heavy-duty manual mount for telescopes up to ~15 lbs, or a little more capacity than the AZ-GTi. While it lacks any electronic features, it features well-designed worm gears with fine adjustment cables for smooth pointing and tracking adjustments by hand and a heavy-duty steel body with few plastic parts integrated into the mount head or tripod.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ5 shares the same basic characteristics and design format as the Twilight I mount, however, it comes with the added benefit of an included pier extension like the AZ-GTi. However, the AZ5 doesn’t afford the same degree of clearance for more elongated or wider telescope tubes as the Twilight I.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6i is truly a wonder in the realm of modern telescope mount technology. It effortlessly blends practicality with user-friendliness. This mount has the intriguing ability to switch from an equatorial setup, which is the ideal configuration for astrophotography, to an alt-azimuth design that is superbly suited for visual observation with one or two telescopes attached. The AZ-EQ6i also integrates Sky-Watcher’s FreedomFind encoders and WiFi operable technology, much like the AZ-GTi.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ5i mirrors the design features of its bigger sibling, the AZ-EQ6i, but offers these in a more compact form with a carrying capacity of roughly 30lb on either side of the mount. Emulating the AZ-EQ6i, it proves to be a fantastic mount for both weighty visual use and imaging with lighter payloads.
- The Losmandy AZ8 is a heavy-duty alt-azimuth mount for one or two telescopes based on the commended Losmandy GM8. It is not motorized, but digital setting circles can be added for a degree of computerized pointing.