The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a portable EQ mount that offers a reliable solution for astrophotography on the go. The SkyGuider Pro makes shooting long exposure nightscapes without star-trailing possible.
On a stationary tripod mount, star trailing begins to show in exposures longer than 25 seconds. Depending on your camera’s focal length, the stars could begin to trail even sooner. To combat against this, amateur astrophotographers counteract the rotation of the Earth using a tracking equatorial mount.
The problem is, these EQ mounts can be heavy and obtrusive, making them spend more time indoors than under the stars. And thus, we enter the realm of the new highly-portable tracking mounts like the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a very versatile and portable astrophotography solution for both camera lenses and small telescopes. Below, you’ll see images captured using the SkyGuider including the Carina Nebula, and the Milky Way.
iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review
The monumental difference that a “star tracker” makes in your astrophotography will be experienced after the very first exposure is taken. No longer do stars begin to trail after 20 seconds, and a new level of detail and clarity can be achieved. Nothing displays this trait better than a long exposure photo of the Milky Way or a deep sky nebula.
The right ascension tracking motor of this camera mount allows you to “freeze” the movement of the night sky for long exposure astrophotography. Photographing deep sky objects through a telescope requires accurate polar alignment and balance, both of which are straightforward to achieve using the SkyGuider Pro.
The William Optics RedCat 51 mounted to the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.
A lightweight tracking mount is a convenient option for those who choose to vacation under dark skies and want to image while you’re there. Bringing a full deep-sky imaging setup from home can take up a lot of trunk space, and simply isn’t realistic in many situations. Thanks to the SkyGuider Pro, I now have a completely portable deep sky astrophotography kit.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro can be used on a regular photography tripod and is less obtrusive than a traditional, large equatorial mount. In a sea of competing portable sky tracker mounts, the iOptron SkyGuider Pro stands out as one of the more robust and capable options in this category.
When selecting a telescope to use with the SkyGuider Pro, make sure it falls below the maximum payload capacity of 11 pounds. A heavier telescope with an increased focal length will put extra stress on the RA (right-ascension) motor of the mount, as well as magnify any issues in polar alignment or balance.
The SkyGuider Pro with a DSLR and 300mm camera lens attached.
Long Exposure Astrophotography
In this review, I will share my test images using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro as a camera mount (with a lens attached), and as a small telescope mount. Since receiving this mount from Ontario Telescope back in 2017, I have captured wide-angle photos of the Milky Way, and several deep sky objects using exposures from 30-120 seconds.
I enjoy controlling my DSLR camera with a third-party remote shutter release cable when using the SkyGuider with a small telescope or camera lens. This automates the imaging sequence of several long exposures so I can leave the camera running on its own.
The SkyGuider Pro is robust enough to handle a telephoto lens or small telescope in the 60-70mm range. The included 3-lb counterweight and shaft is adjustable so you can find the right balance to properly distribute the weight of your imaging configuration.
The William Optics Zenithstar 61 or RedCat 51 are both excellent telescope choices for the SkyGuider. I have used both of these telescope to capture images like the Andromeda Galaxy pictured below.
iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review
The following video was published to my YouTube channel in July 2017. At this time, the mount was brand new and I knew very little about it. Since then, I have photographed many deep sky objects with this mount including Comet 46P Wirtanen, the Orion Nebula, and many more.
This should give you a good idea of the portability and size of this camera mount for astrophotography on the go. For an in-depth look at the mount from a technical standpoint, David Morris has put together a useful video on his channel.
This video above shows the camera tracker used with a stock Canon EOS 7D DSLR and a wide-angle lens. Unfortunately, I forgot my shutter release cable at home, so the exposures were limited to 30-seconds each. A star tracker certainly helps reduce star trailing at 30-seconds in longer focal lengths, but the real power of the SkyGuider is revealed when you shoot 4-minute exposures through a telescope.
The EQ head of the SkyGuider fits in my palm, yet is packed with many useful features for astrophotography. I have not utilized the optional hand controller, camera shutter trigger, or even the ST-4 port. With successful 4-minute exposures taken at 250mm, I likely don’t feel the need to add an autoguiding system to my portable setup.
Accurate Camera Tracking in Small Package
It is astonishing at how small the iOptron SkyGuider Pro actually is. The mount weighs a mere 3 lbs and is easily transported in the included padded carry case. You can tell that iOptron paid attention to astrophotographers needs by including a bubble level, and an adjustable illuminated polar finder scope.
The build quality of the all-metal mechanical structure is evident when using the SkyGuider. The option for adding a counterweight and Vixen-type dovetail saddle for small telescopes puts this mount in a class above standard DSLR camera sky trackers.
For many amateur astrophotographers, the SkyGuider Pro is the first tracking mount they have ever owned. If you are ready to attach a small telescope to the SkyGuider for deep sky imaging, here are a few examples, and what I recommend.
SkyGuider Pro Specs:
- 11-lb payload capacity
- 4 Silent tracking speeds
- Engraved, illuminated polar scope
- Detachable alt-az base
- Built-in rechargeable battery
- Mounts to standard photography tripod
- Incredibly Small
- Micro USB charging port
- ST-4 port for autoguiding
- Camera trigger port
- Port for optional hand controller
The SkyGuider Pro EQ head mounted to the upgraded William Optics base mount (wedge).
The illuminated polar scope of the SkyGuider pro allows you to quickly polar align the mount with the north celestial pole. The factory altitude and azimuth controls are solid, which make polar alignment quick and accurate. I altitude adjustment knob is smooth, and that it locks down securely.
I can easily move the location of the mount and tripod, and get polar aligned within 1-2 minutes. This process may take longer if you are new to polar aligning an EQ mount using Polaris.
In the picture above, you’ll notice I have upgraded the package to include the William Optics base mount. This is not a necessary upgrade to enjoy the mount, but it does make polar aligning the mount a more enjoyable experience.
iOptron offers several optional accessories for the SkyGuider Pro including the SkyTracker branded Ball Head, the SkyGuider Pro tripod, and even a hand controller. I did not require these accessories for my testing, as years of astrophotography adventures have left me with many useful bits and pieces from previous rigs.
If you’re considering the SkyGuider Pro, keep in mind that a sturdy tripod with the standard 1/4″ threads is needed to support the mount.
I used an existing ball head from my carbon fiber daytime photography tripod. The iOptron branded version appears identical to the one I use. As for the tripod, I finally put the sturdy tripod legs that came with my old Celestron CG-5 mount to good use.
with the DSLR mounted to the Ball Head, pointing the camera in any almost any direction of the night sky is possible. Being able to capture a specific area of the sky while tracking gives you the freedom to collect exposures on anything you want.
The Orion Nebula | iOptron SkyGuider Pro with Canon EF 300mm F/4L Lens.
Ideal for Landscape Astrophotography (Nightscapes)
Based on my Instagram feed, It seems that astrophotography nightscapes are all the rage. Particularly, the types of shots that include the Milky Way and some sort of foreground interest whether that’s a tree, a tent or a mountain. If this type of astrophotography interests you, then a star tracker likely does too.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro offers 4 tracking speeds, including a 1/2X tracking speed for imaging both the night sky and landscapes simultaneously.
I tested the iOptron SkyGuider Pro under the pristine dark skies at the Cherry Springs Star Party, and needless to say, it did not disappoint. I only wish I had captured some landscape interest in the shot rather than the silhouetted trees at the bottom of the image.
The images were stacked in DeepSkyStacker and then processed in Photoshop to boost clarity and contrast. A star tracker allows you to capture the faint details of the Milky Way in a single shot. By stacking the images together, you can create an incredible image. (Watch my Milky Way image processing video)
A stack of 90-second exposures using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro with a DSLR camera and lens.
Choosing a sky tracker for your needs
These days, there are many options available in this class of portable astrophotography mounts. To add to the confusion, a lot of these EQ mounts have similar names and features. The models from iOptron and Sky-Watcher have received a lot of attention as of late:
- iOptron SkyTracker (Original)
- iOptron SkyTracker Pro
- iOptron SkyGuider Pro
- Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
- Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini
The main question to ask yourself before deciding on the mount is what your photography goals are. If you are planning to shoot wide angle shots using a DSLR camera and lens, then the payload capacity of the mount is less of a concern. If you want to go deeper and use a heavy telephoto lens or a small telescope, then a more robust model such as the SkyGuider Pro is a better option.
The camera and telescope combination shown above is a great example of what’s possible using this mount. This highly-portable rig can be set up on a moments notice, on nights when you only have an hour or two to image. This convenience does not come at the cost of tracking accuracy or image quality either.
The image below was captured entirely using the DSLR and telescope combo above, without the use of autoguiding. The image exposures were 4-minutes each at ISO 1600, using a hydrogen alpha filter in the camera.
The Rosette Nebula in Ha | Canon EOS Rebel T3i and RedCat 51 telescope on the SkyGuider Pro.
As you can see in the photo above, the SkyGuider pro tracks the sky effortlessly during long exposures. Any instability in the mount would show itself right away at this focal length over the course of each 4-minute exposure.
If you want to use the SkyGuider with a camera lens, the mount is just as stable and reliable. In the photo below, I mounted a Canon EOS 7D DLSR and 17-40mm wide-angle lens to the SkyGuider for an image of the Milky Way.
I did not need to attach the included counterweight and shaft to the unit, as the overall weight of my camera and lens were low. The camera was attached using a ball head threaded to the mount.
The SkyGuider Pro is as capable as a much larger EQ telescope mount, in a small package. It is an attractive option for those getting started in long exposure astrophotography, or that want to build a travel rig to take on adventures.
For example, I was able to pack the SkyGuider Pro mount, tripod, and all accessories into my carry-on bag for a trip to Costa Rica. I was able to capture incredible deep sky images from another country thanks to the portability of this mount.
William Optics Base Mount
You may have noticed in the William Optics Vixen style base mount and extension bar in my video about the RedCat 51 APO. This is a beautiful accessory for the SkyGuider Pro that is a big improvement over the original Alt-Az base of the mount.
This version doesn’t just look a lot nicer, the controls are much more precise and secure. This upgrade is worth considering if you find yourself spending a lot of time fiddling around with the original base to get things locked and secure.
I have seen a big improvement in tracking performance since making this upgrade, thanks to the added stability of this base. I no longer worry about knocking the mount ever-so-slightly and ruining my polar alignment. Making small adjustments in either axis is much more accurate and smooth.
The color matched red extension bar gives you more flexibility in terms of balance. The added length allows for a better balanced load, and this feature comes in handy when attaching my heavy full-frame (Canon 7D EOS Mark II) DSLR camera.
SkyGuider Pro or Star Adventurer?
The models from iOptron and Sky-Watcher have been under the microscope lately, as their price point sits within the range of a broad range of beginners. The earlier version of this unit is known simply as the SkyGuider Camera mount, and it lacks the precision and portability of the newer iOptron SkyGuider Pro.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer on left, SkyGuider Pro on right
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer mount is strikingly similar in terms of features to the SkyGuider Pro with the same payload capacity and autoguiding abilities. I have not had the pleasure of testing a Star-Adventurer, but I will say that it appears to be a real contender to the iOptron model.
If you would like to share your experiences using the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer EQ mount for astrophotography, please feel free leave a comment. I know that these mounts have a loyal following of satisfied users, and I have seen countless incredible images taken using them.
Read a review of the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer EQ Mount.
Autoguiding with the iOptron SkyGuider Pro
I have successfully used the ST4 autoguiding port on the iOptron SkyGuider pro with a ZWO ASI290mm mini guide camera, and an off-axis guider. The Lumicon Easy Guider worked well on the William Optics RedCat 51 refractor to capture 3-minute exposures.
It is important to remember that the SkyGuider Pro does not have a declination motor, so you will need to turn declination guiding off in the settings of PHD2 to get it to calibrate properly. Once calibrated, I was able to utilize the dithering in my images captured on the SkyGuider.
Using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro with an off-axis guider.
I have enjoyed the iOptron SkyGuider Pro over the past 2 years for many reasons, but a few of them stand out.
I can get up and running with this portable mount in a matter of minutes. The first time I used the SkyGuider, I was off and running right out of the box. This mount is incredibly simple to use and straightforward (even in the dark). The mount silently tracks the night sky while I point my DSLR at different swaths of the night sky testing different exposure lengths and ISO settings providing absolute freedom to frame up new photos.
The battery is easy to charge using a micro-USB cable and lasts the entire night. The flashing lights when plugged in let you know that the battery is fully charged.
Moving the entire mount (including a tripod) to a new location is easy, as the polar alignment process can be done in minutes. This is handy in the backyard to work around obstructions, and when traveling with the mount to darker skies. The mount itself is small enough to fit in my glovebox or carry-on bag.
I brought the SkyGuider Pro on my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The EQ mount, base, counterweight, and tripod all fit in a small carry-on bag for the airplane. I even had enough room for my DSLR camera and telescope as well.
The SkyGuider pro has opened the door to several new astrophotography projects that were previously out of the question. I am now able to utilize my full arsenal of photography lenses with my DSLR as if they were separate tracking telescopes.
The ability to use this mount a telescope is an attractive option for owners of a small refractor such as the William Optics Z73 or similar telescope, as pictured below. At 5.5 pounds (Zenithstar 73), is about as heavy as I would go with this mount.
I highly recommend the iOptron SkyGuider Pro to beginners and those looking for a portable grab-and-go setup.
This camera mount has exceeded my expectations, and is often the mount I look to first when setting up in the backyard. Even if I have my primary imaging rig running, there is no excuse to not run the SkyGuider Pro as well for some deep sky astrophotography with my DSLR.
It’s important to remember what these tracking mounts were designed for; portable astrophotography. It is tempting to want to push the SkyGuider pro to its limits and treat it as a substitute for a full-featured deep-sky EQ mount.
You’ll get much better results by setting your expectations for what these little wonders were intended for, capturing the night sky in situations where you couldn’t before!
The grab-and-go, simplistic nature of this camera tracker is what I value most. The SkyGuider Pro continues to provide me with incredible wide-angle and deep sky images with minimal effort. The consistent results, and positive user experience make this EQ mount one of my favorite astrophotography products of all time.
What do you think of the iOptron SkyGuider Pro? If you have used this mount for astrophotography, please let me know your results in the comments. Until next time, clear skies!