The HEQ5i Pro (an updated version of the HEQ5 Pro) has a stated weight capacity of 30 pounds for visual use and 24 pounds for astrophotography. In practice, anything much heavier than 20 pounds loaded atop the HEQ5i Pro for visual or planetary imaging use is going to be shaky and put a lot of strain on the gears, and anything heavier than 16 pounds for astrophotography is going to result in poor guiding and blurry images even with relatively short exposures.
The HEQ5i Pro accepts any scope with a Vixen-style dovetail on the bottom, and it comes with a short green one that you can attach to some scopes if you don’t already have one. The stock saddle is not our favorite, however, as it uses two screws that will mar the dovetail and make it a little hard to adjust balance on the declination axis. We would recommend upgrading the saddle to a nicer one if you have the funds to do so.
Being a Chinese-made, relatively inexpensive mount rather than an unobtainium magic instrument costing as much as an apartment, the HEQ5 Pro uses relatively cheap stepper motors and gears to track the sky and slew around. Of course, this causes some periodic errors and backlash. However, there are some belt mod/tuning kits available to improve tracking, and of course, most tracking errors can be solved with autoguiding anyway. The AZ-EQ5i Pro and the larger EQ6Ri Pro offer belt drives included by default, unlike the HEQ5i Pro.
The HEQ5i Pro includes two 11-pound counterweights. These attach to its ¾” counterweight shaft, which can be retracted inside the body when the mount is not in use. You also get a built-in illuminated polar scope and a DC power cord by default.
You can control the HEQ5i Pro with the SynScan app for astrophotography, but we would recommend plugging it into your computer with an EQDIRECT cable. You can then control the entire setup with NINA, Sequence Generator Pro, or other imaging/capture software, provided you install the ASCOM drivers, EQMod, and PHD2 first. NINA will allow you to plate-solve for extremely accurate alignment, and once you iron out any bugs that may occur with your whole setup, you can just put the scope together, polar align, focus, and tell NINA what you want to shoot (it can even do multiple targets). NINA will do exactly what you programmed including a meridian flip, and you can go to sleep, watch television, or do visual astronomy as it shoots your astrophotos completely autonomously—just be sure to provide sufficient power for the whole setup with AC power or a large 12v marine battery.
Understanding & Using the HEQ5i Pro
HEQ5i Pro For Visual Astronomy & Planetary Imaging
If you’re looking for a lightweight, portable, and computerized mount to carry your C8 or similarly small/lightweight telescope weighing under 15-20 pounds in total, the HEQ5 Pro is great. However, if you are looking to get the most mount capacity for your money, there are a couple of better options with more capacity. The HEQ5 Pro is noticeably a little overweight with an 8” Cassegrain or 5-6” refractor and cannot hold an 8” Newtonian reflector. A 6” Newtonian/Cassegrain or 4” refractor is about as much as we would recommend loading on the mount.
Setting up the HEQ5 Pro for visual astronomy is pretty simple. You first need to get the mount leveled, then put the telescope and counterweights on. Careful balancing is not as crucial as with astrophotography, but poor balancing will wear out the gears, so try to do your best. Once that’s done, you need to rotate the scope 90 degrees on the declination axis (so it’s pointing near the horizon) and look through the polar scope, with the aim of getting the outer circle in the reticle closely aligned with Polaris. Then you boot up the mount and star align it as with any computerized mount, using your smartphone/tablet and a suitable app connected over WiFi to control the HEQ5i Pro. The SynScan app also allows you to do a polar alignment without looking through the polar scope if need be; another app like SkySafari will not have this feature but otherwise has a superior interface and database.
HEQ5i Pro For Deep-Sky Astrophotography
The HEQ5 Pro of course has an autoguide port, so a guide camera can interface with it, and you can control most guide cameras with PHD2 (“Push Here Dummy”) on most laptops. Without guiding, the HEQ5’s tracking errors will result in blurred subframes with anything longer than 30-45 seconds of exposure with most scopes. With autoguiding, we were able to achieve accuracy of 0.9 arc seconds, shoot 3-minute subframes with a 3″ f/8 refractor and still get perfect stars, and shoot up to 90 seconds with a 6″ f/9 Ritchey-Chretien and still get good results. The 6” Ritchey is really maxing out the mount’s capabilities, though, and we would recommend you upgrade to something bigger if a scope with over 1000mm of focal length is really something you want to shoot with often. Software like NINA can run PHD2 for you and auto-select stars so you don’t have to, if you are interested in a totally automated setup.
Here are some photos shot with the HEQ5i Pro, a Takahashi FC-76 (3” f/8 ED doublet refractor), a field flattener, full-spectrum modified Canon T3i, and autoguiding with a 50mm guide scope and ZWO ASI224MC:
26 180-second exposures at ISO 1600. Done manually with an intervalometer, only used PHD software for guiding. This was the first photo I ever shot with the HEQ5. The galaxy is extremely small with a 600mm focal length – this is a cropped image and it’s still tiny! 3-minute exposures are rather long for suburban astrophotography and ended up leaving me with a too-bright background as you can see. However, even with such long exposures, the stars are still perfectly sharp – a real testament to the guiding accuracy the HEQ5 Pro can achieve!
36 120-second exposures at ISO 1600. I had NINA help me with this one, but I did not have everything figured out and had to take manual control of a lot of the aspects of shooting. The exposure time was not the longest (killed my battery) so the nebula isn’t really brought out that well, even though the modded camera results in significantly more detail than you would get with a regular DSLR.
An open star cluster in Cassiopeia. 200 30-second exposures at ISO 1600. This was run entirely automated by NINA, with absolutely no intervention by me – I was not present during any stage of the acquisition process.
Should I buy a Used Sky-Watcher HEQ5i Pro?
A used HEQ5i Pro or HEQ5 Pro is an excellent choice for a mount. You can easily upgrade an older HEQ5 to an HEQ5i with Sky-Watcher’s WiFi adapter, or to a newer SynScan controller. The Orion Sirius EQ-G is also identical. The non-Pro HEQ5 is a manual mount, however, and is extremely hard to upgrade to GoTo, and thus should be avoided.
As always, make sure that the HEQ5/5i Pro functions and tracks well before purchasing. Missing counterweights or knobs are easily replaced, and it’s also easy to find a new (and arguably steadier) tripod from a Celestron, Sky-Watcher, Orion, or Meade mount to put it on.
The HEQ5i Pro is our top pick in its price range. However, here are some other options we might recommend considering.
- The Sky-Watcher EQM-35i Pro shares many of the HEQ5i’s features such as stepper motors but has less payload capacity and slightly inferior mechanics which bring its tracking/guiding accuracy down. It is also less compact.
- The Celestron Advanced VX is capable of carrying much heavier loads than the HEQ5i or EQM-35i for visual use or planetary imaging, but its low-quality servo motors, inferior mechanics, and inferior software/hardware interfaces make it a poor choice for deep-sky astrophotography.
- The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi features FreedomFind encoders allowing for manual aiming, along with a built-in battery pack, USB port, and compactible design, but is even lighter duty than the EQM-35i Pro and uses lower-quality servo motors instead of steppers.
- The Sky-Watcher EQ6Ri Pro shares many of the features of the HEQ5i Pro but with nearly double the weight capacity and belt drives added in by default. It’s our top pick for a mount overall behind the slightly superior AZ-EQ6i.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6i is largely identical to the EQ6Ri Pro but adds the ability to be aimed manually with the Sky-Watcher FreedomFind encoder technology, can be converted to an alt-azimuth mount, and has a USB port in the side for easy PC connection instead of requiring an additional adapter and cable.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ5i is based on the HEQ5i Pro but adds the ability to be converted to an alt-azimuth mount and hold two telescopes at once, as well as a belt drive upgrade, USB port, and FreedomFind encoders to allow for manual aiming.
Aftermarket Accessory Recommendations
The HEQ5i Pro does not come with a power supply. You can either buy an adapter to plug it into a wall socket or use a portable DC power supply. For visual use, a small lithium-ion battery that you can attach to one of the tripod legs is probably ideal; for astrophotography, a big portable marine battery that can power your laptop as well would be a wise investment. You could also just use an AC adapter if power is available. A USB adapter/cable or a simpler EQDIRECT cable will also be necessary to connect the HEQ5i Pro to your PC. You may also want a PoleMaster to aid you in polar alignment instead of the stock polar scope, and a dual dovetail saddle from ADM will allow the use of CGE and Losmandy D-style plates in addition to Vixen-style dovetail bars as well as avoid marking up your dovetail plates with set screw marks.