The Skywatcher EQ6-R is one of Skywatcher’s newest mounts and is a revision of the excellent Skywatcher NEQ6 mount, a favorite equatorial mount among astrophotographers and visual observers alike. The EQ6-R was released in 2017 and is currently one of the most popular mounts for astrophotography at the moment thanks to its new features. Skywatcher is one of the most well-known brands in the EU and Australia for astronomy equipment and is commonly known under the name Orion in the US.
This mount is based on the NEQ6 but includes many improvements that significantly improve ease of use and guiding quality compared to other EQ6 style mounts. In my opinion, this mount is possibly one of the best mounts currently out there in its price range, and certainly the best mount in the EQ6 line up at the moment.
You can use the EQ6-R for visual astronomy, as it is a high-quality mount however it would make more sense to use the mount for astrophotography, as that is what it was built in mind for and many of the revisions included are quite helpful for astrophotography. In this review, I will go over why in my opinion this is one of the best mounts in recent years, and you will see why this mount has risen to become the new favorite mount among astrophotographers at the EQC6 level price point.
Technical Specs of Skywatcher EQ6-R
The Skywatcher EQ6-R, being an NEQ6 Style mount shares some key features with its older counterparts. In this section of the review, I will discuss most of the basic features included in the EQ6-R mount shared with all EQ6 type mounts.
- The EQ6-R mount has a stated weight capacity of 44 lbs or 19 kilograms. This number can be difficult to interpret though, as Skywatcher, along with other mount manufacturers are not very specific as to how much weight you should use for specific purposes and how it affects tracking accuracy. In my opinion, if you are doing visual observing you can load up the mount to the weight limit or even exceed it by a few kgs, as typically the errors in tracking are too small to notice by eye as they can be quite fast in nature.
- In contrast, when you are doing astrophotography the mount’s tracking accuracy is far more critical because the images you take will show streaking easily. Adding more weight onto the mount can amplify tracking errors and ruin any images you take.
- For this reason, I recommend using a maximum of ⅔ the stated weight capacity for astrophotography, but it is important to keep in mind this is a very general statement. It depends on many factors which I won’t discuss here.
- The mount accepts both Vixen (narrow style) and Losmandy (wide style) dovetails. This means that you will be able to use any telescope that uses a standard mounting system with the EQ6-R, provided you can balance the mount with counterweights and keep the weight under 19 kilograms.
- The EQ6-R also includes a SynScan hand controller. It is the standard hand controller used across near all of Skywatcher’s computerized mounts and tripods. It includes 40,000 objects with Messier, NGC, IC and custom coordinates for finding any target in the sky that you choose. The mount also has excellent pc/laptop control and connectivity, a huge advantage over Celestron mounts which will be discussed in a later section.
- The EQ6-R weights 17.3 kilograms, not including the tripod which is also somewhat heavy at 7.5 kg. However, this is a fact of life for anyone wishing to do high accuracy astrophotography as the mount must be stable and sturdy and not be affected by external factors like wind gusts.
So, after discussing the obvious features, let’s get to the latest and greatest features that make the EQ6-R the best EQ6 yet!
- The EQ6-R’s best feature, in my opinion is the upgraded belt drives found in the mount.
- In older mounts, you typically find gears connecting the motor to the worm drive (The most important drive in a telescope mount). These gears usually create a large amount of backlash.
- Backlash occurs when gears are either too poorly machined or spaced too far apart from one each other. This creates a gap between the teeth which the motor has to clear if it wants to move the mount in an opposite direction.
- Backlash can be seen during guiding. It effectively makes some guide pulses ineffective, as any corrective action is stuck in the gap between gear teeth.
- A belt drive cuts out the middle gear and instead connects the stepper motor to the worm gear with a toothed belt which eliminates all backlash.
- In the past, belt drives were only available as a modification to the mount you had to perform yourself, ruining your warranty but now belt drives are standard in the EQ6-R.
- The mount features much-improved azimuth adjustment features for polar alignment.
- In the past, the EQ6 range of mounts have been notorious for having poor azimuth adjustment screws. The screw heads were way too small to do any sort of fine adjustment, and the base plate which the mount contacted stuck and grabbed, due to the friction caused by the action of paint on paint.
- The EQ6-r improves the azimuth adjustment screws and reduced the friction issue. It also includes a more accurate altitude scale so you do not have to do as much initial alignment.
- The mount is built with a handle inside of the body. This may sound insignificant but it is leaps and bounds better than awkwardly bear hugging the near 20 kilogram mount to move it around, and reduces your chances of dropping the mount and damaging it (or your toes!).
- The mount also includes a snap port, which is effectively an interferometer built into the mount. This port can be configured from EQMOD or from the hand controller to trigger a DSLR exposure without software.
The EQ6-R for Astrophotography
The EQ6-R is built in mind for astrophotography, and because of that, this is where this mount shines. Astrophotography is also where you will most likely end up utilizing this mount as it is extremely popular amongst online communities such as Cloudynights.com and is one of the most highly recommended mounts out there. Here are some great features you will find.
The EQ6-R mount has full and excellent computer control support, based on the open-source astronomy control interface ASCOM. With ASCOM support, then you can use the EQMOD software. The EQMOD software allows you to completely bypass the hand controller, which becomes an unnecessary step when you are doing deep space astrophotography. With EQMOD, entering the time and date into the hand controller is not necessary.
Using EQMOD also allows you to have full control over the mount’s positioning, and plate solving directly updates the mount’s positioning model without having to do any star alignment.
The mount is controllable with any standard image capture programs, for example, SGP, NINA, APT and other similar programs which you can use to plate solve (align your mount via images of stars), slew to various targets and perform meridian flips automatically.
The mount is also a very reliable performer. So far there are almost no complaints or concerns regarding the reliability of the EQ6-R unlike mounts such as the CGEM. The implications of this are that you can leave the mount going overnight without having to worry about it crashing into the tripod or something unpredictable occurring, which is essential if you want to sleep while you are imaging. The mount guides excellently for its price, thanks to its belt drives. You can expect around 0.8 arcseconds RMS out of the box if you configure the mount correctly and ensure your mount is calibrated within your guiding software, but this can vary from model to model.
If you prefer, you can even connect to the mount completely bypassing the hand controller, by buying a specific cable designed for this purpose or making one yourself, which can be a great option for those who never find themselves using the mount for visual observing and view the hand controller as an unnecessary step.
The EQ6-R for Visual Observing
If you would like to use this mount for observing visually it is still a stellar performer and is sure to make you appreciate buying the mount. While the Synscan hand controller has a slightly more difficult interface to navigate than competitors such as Celestron, the controller still includes 40,000 targets for you to easily select to view and is not a big concern. It has many essential features to make observing easier which I will list here.
- The mount has a 3-star alignment system which allows your pointing to be quite accurate if you are polar aligned well. You slew around to 3 different stars and carefully center them in the eyepiece, and if you do it correctly you will have an accurate pointing model that lasts.
- The newest hand controllers also include a polar alignment feature which allows you to polar align from the hand controller, using stars that are far from the pole if your north/south celestial pole is obstructed.
- The controller includes 9 slew rates for intricate and accurate slewing and pointing.
- This means you can go from rate 9, which moves the mount several degrees per second to 1, moving at half the speed of the stars.
- A red illumination/backlighting LED which lights up the text on the hand controller without ruining your night vision, meaning you can slew the mount around with ease at night.
Unfortunately, there is one thing that is not included in the hand controller that visual observers would probably benefit from. The hand controller does not include a time clock which would keep the time and date stored so you would not have to enter it every time you start up the mount, however that is possibly the only issue I have with this mount.
In conclusion, I believe it is obvious that the Skywatcher EQ6-R is the best EQ6 yet, with its new belt drives allowing astrophotographers to have low backlash, minimize gear based errors and move the mount with its better ergonomics. The mount also has great open source support allowing you to perform modifications and control the mount totally via your laptop.
Its universal mounting hardware accepts all common telescope mounting systems, and it can take up to 19 kilograms for visual observing, which is sure to allow you to use any scope you desire with this mount.
For visual you still have a hand controller with as many targets as you will ever need and many features that you would expect from a mount in this price range. If you plan on buying any mount in the price range of 1000 USD, then the EQ6-R is absolutely for you.