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 starscapes 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 Milky Way – Canon DSLR + 17mm Lens on iOptron SkyGuider Pro Mount
The difference tracking makes in an astrophotography image is 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.
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 SGP, I now have a completely portable deep sky astrophotography kit.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro can be used on a 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 the front-runner in this category. (And the price reflects this!)
Long Exposure Photography without Star Trailing
In this review, I will share my test images using the SGP as a camera mount. I have captured wide-angle photos of the Milky Way using a 17-40mm Canon Lens using exposures from 30-90 seconds. The camera is controlled via a remote shutter release cable that automates an imaging sequence of several long exposures.
The SGP is robust enough to handle a telephoto lens or small telescope in the 60-70mm range. The counterweight system is adjustable to find the right balance to properly distribute the weight of your imaging configuration.
iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review
The following video was published to my YouTube channel in July 2017. 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 SGP used with a Canon DSLR and wide-angle lens. Unfortunately, I forgot my shutter release cable at home, so the exposures were limited to 30-seconds each. The photo from Cherry Springs further down the post uses 90-second subs at ISO 1600 on the SGP.
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.
SkyGuider Pro Specs:
- 11 lb payload capacity
- 4 Silent tracking speeds
- Engraved, Illuminated Polar Scope
- Built-in rechargeable battery
- Mounts to standard photography tripod
- Incredibly Small
- Micro USB charging port
The altitude and azimuth controls are solid, which makes polar alignment quick and accurate. I especially appreciate the smooth adjustment knob for adjusting the altitude, and that it locks down securely. I can easily move the location of the mount and tripod, and get polar aligned within 2-3 minutes. This process may take longer if you are new to polar aligning an EQ mount using Polaris.
iOptron offers several optional accessories for the SGP 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 SGP, 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 SkyTracker 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.
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 Sky 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 Cherry Springs Star Party last month, 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.
12 x 90-second exposures at ISO 1600
Canon 450D (modified)
Canon EF 17-40mm F/4L 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
- 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 is less of a concern. If you want to go deeper and use a heavy telephoto lens or a small telescope, then a beefier model such as the SkyGuider Pro is a better option.
The SGP has no problem handling my DSLR camera with a 300mm F/4 prime lens attached.
48 x 90s @ ISO 1600
Canon 450D w/ 300mm F/4 Lens
iOptron 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 a 1.5-minute frame.
I used a Canon 7D DSLR and a 17-40mm Wide Angle Lens for this photo 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 + lens was low. The camera was attached via a ball head threaded to the mount.
These tiny EQ mounts are bridging the gap between camera mounts and telescope mounts. For example, with the SGP, you could image deep sky objects with a DSLR and small telescope, with autoguiding. These are abilities that were once reserved only for larger, less mobile mounts such as the Sky-Watcher HEQ5.
Sky Guider 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 mount is strikingly similar in terms of features to the SGP (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. Read a review of the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer EQ Mount.
I have enjoyed the SGP for many reasons, but a few of them stand out.
I was up and running with the SGP right out of the box -this mount is truly user-friendly, even in the dark. The mount silently tracks the night sky while I point my DSLR at different swaths of 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 handy in both the backyard (to work around obstructions) and when traveling to darker skies. The mount itself is small enough to fit in my glovebox.
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 72mm William Optics Doublet as pictured below.
This mount completes my new portable deep sky astrophotography kit that includes the William Optics Zenithstar 61 APO telescope. I can now photograph large DSO’s while visiting darker sky areas.
I highly recommend the iOptron SkyGuider Pro to beginners and owners of less mobile-friendly equipment setups like myself.
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!
My future plans for this mount include some wide-field deep-sky work on the large emission nebulae in Cygnus and the California Nebula. This will be accomplished by mounting a 300mm F/4 prime focus lens onto the SGP.
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!