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iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review

|Equipment|22 Comments

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 using 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.

ioptron skyguider pro review

The iOptron SKyGuider Pro with a DSLR Camera and Lens mounted

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.

Related: Using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro with a Small Telescope (Andromeda Galaxy)

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:

ioptron skyguider pro

  • 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.

How to Polar Align your Telescope

Polar Finder Scope

The polar finder scope in the SkyGuider Pro

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.

The Milky Way

Long exposure photo using the SkyGuider Pro Camera Mount

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:

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.

Sample image using the SkyGuider Pro

Sample image using the SGP with a 300mm camera lens

NGC 7000
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.

"The

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.

SkyGuider vs. Star Adventurer

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 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.

Final Thoughts

I have enjoyed the SGP for many reasons, but a few of them stand out.

User-Friendly

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.

Mobility

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.

Versatility

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.

Williams Optics Telescope

Using the SGP to mount a telescope or DSLR camera and lens

I highly recommend the iOptron SkyGuider Pro to beginners and owners of less mobile-friendly equipment setups like myself.


Read the Quick Start Guide (PDF)

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.

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is available at Ontario Telescope and Accessories

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!



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This Post Has 22 Comments

  1. Jeremy Martin says:

    Hello,
    Thanks for all the info, I actually just got one of these trackers. I originally bought this for milkyway shots. But I was wondering if it would be possible to use a small scope like the Astro Tech AT65EDQ 65mm since its only around 5lbs with a small camera like a Sony A6000

    • Trevor says:

      Thanks, Jeremy. I would say YES based on my personal experiences with the SkyGuider pro. I was able to get sharp stars in 180s exposures with a Canon DSLR and heavy 300mm lens – without utilizing the counterweight system. The SkyGuider manual displays a 72mm refractor in use with the mount! Clear skies!

  2. I’m still trying to figure out the guide scope configuration with a dslr. The only way I can see to do it is to remove the counterweight which seems counterintuitive. Have they provided you a drawing for this?.
    I’m starting to think that the only way to guide is to throw my ST80 on it and piggyback the guide scope.
    It would however be really cool to guide my 60Da.
    Any thoughts?

    • Trevor says:

      Hey Sean! I haven’t used the autoguiding feature yet. I’m super impressed with the long exposures I was seeing with only a careful polar alignment. (sharp stars in 180s subs at 480mm focal length! :O) I will look into the ideal configuration for guiding a DSLR and get back to you soon.

    • Mike Nicholson says:

      You need to download the full manual from Ioptron. The Star Guide is woefully short on diagrams and nomenclature for the various bits. The full manual should answer most questions.

  3. Christophe says:

    Hi Trevors,

    Very nice blog, great job! I bought a SGP two months ago and I’m very happy with it. I’m now starting using it with a Taka FS-60 @355mm focal length. The only change I made was to replace the DEC camera mounting block for a 360° panorama head, making object’s centering through DSLR live-view very easy and smooth (no shifting at all while locking the screws).
    Clear skies!

  4. Doug Love says:

    I am thinking about getting a SkyGuider Pro but I am wondering what cable is used for autoguiding?

  5. Mischa says:

    Hey there

    Just got my Skyguider Pro and will use it with the D810 + Tamron 15-30/2.8 in Norway this fall.
    Now I have no idea how to go about astroscapes.
    I don’t want the “compromise” solution, using 1/2 sidereal tracking, but track the starscape at 1x sidereal with stacked exposures and all the bells and whistles, and then do a static base iso long exposure of the foreground.

    But how can I do that? If I switch the SGP off, the mount rotates freely..

    Cheers
    Mischa

    • Brandon says:

      On or off, the SGP can be locked. Make sure that all of the various locks are tightened. The one I think you may be missing is the RA lock. It’s the big wheel around the RA axis. Tighten it when you want to track, loosen it when you want to make a big manual RA adjustment then re-tighten.

  6. Chris Sav says:

    How do you aim the Z61 exactly where you want to aim it without using a ballhead mount? Can you aim the telescope without messing up the polar alignment? If so, why do you need a ballhead for the DSLR?

  7. Brandon says:

    Thanks for the review. I’m enjoying my first few nights with mine, but I’m having a tough time getting consistently good tracking for longer than ~30s with my crop sensor Nikon and a 300mm lens. I believe the problem may be difficulty locking everything down and polar aligning. For instance, when I tighten the altitude lock lever after setting the altitude, looking through the scope I can clearly see Polaris shift a little. There’s also slop in the azimuth even after tightening the azimuth locks as much as I can, especially with the heavier camera/weights added. Any tips for polar aligning and locking things down with this mount?

  8. Alan McKay says:

    Hello,

    I am curious. I have extreme skepticism about these sort of products. I once owned an older model Skytracker. I had to return it. It made a low volume but horrifically invasive whining noise. Also the Az and alt adjustments became loose in time. The tracking system in due course broke down and became unusable. But it showed potential for a while- at one stage M42, Horsehead, Running Man and Flame Nebulae from one photo with a Fuji XM-1 and 230mm lens over 5 minutes exposure.

    In the southern hemisphere, all tracking products seem to massively miscalculate just how difficult it is to see the faint near-polar stars. By contrast, by replacing the existing low aperture polar scope objective on an Astrotrac polar scope with a 32mm riflescope objective, which I checked via photography to find the correct new location of the SCP, this larger objective I found gave a vast improvement on seeing the faint pole stars, though less predictable accuracy due to makeshift attachment system.

    I have an Astrotrac. It has done some good photos (e.g. M83 including spiral arms and some structure) in one 6 minute photo Fuji XM-1 and 230mm lens. I had been using an IOptron skytracker tripod, but found a way with bamboo to vastly improve the rigidity of this tripod. Somehow one photo gave near-perfect tracking at 230mm for 10 minutes. But there have been problems with the Astrotrac becoming wobbly- though I just found how to apparently fix that. I have to try to return the scope-attachment system (Astrotrac) though as it had major mechanical failure after only about 1 night.

    I have discovered a number of apparent physics and engineering breakthroughs that should allow vastly better capability of these sorts of products, including: how to give the iOptron the advantages of the Astrotrac (track duration accuracy property), and vice versa (iOtron pinpoint property).

    Tripods: in my opinion these are dreadful. Office chairs usually have 5 points of support. I figured out that pentagons provide the best support for a rotating platform.
    Bracing and shock-absorption and energy distribution technology and advanced energy organisation technology might allow 1 hour photos at 500mm, without much weight, by using advanced physics ideas re: structure. If tripods are the base, they could at least be of wide angular sections (like Avalon M-Zero but only much better), Az and Alt bases need to be oversized and ultra-precision- polar-scopes need to be preferably over 32mm objective and suitable for light camera use to enable ultra accurate polar alignment and drift alignment, and should have right-angle correct view for easy use (then tripods can be lower to ground and lighter).

    The camera platform needs to have ability to easily point camera anywhere in the sky from a compensating wedge and advanced counterbalance system. Alt and Az adjustments need to have far better energy organisation systems and extreme precision.

    I look forward to when there is communication between manufacturers and amateur astronomers/ inventors in delivering awesome lightweight deep sky photography for under 3Kg.

  9. Evan Skowronski says:

    Does anyone with this SGP have any thoughts about a solid but affordable tripod? Ideally I would to get a Zenithstar 61 APO, so it would need to support the additional weigh as well.

    Thanks!

  10. Amol kankariya says:

    My SGP RA clutch and the camera mount are not rotating independently suddenly. Earlier when I moved both of them in opp direction , it was getting locked. Now suddenly both seems to just have stuck to each other.. The RA clutch and the mount on top of that are rotating freely in front of SGP. Any pointers would be of great help..

  11. George Lansberry says:

    Evan,

    I purchased the SGP earlier this month and have had success with my Canon 7Dii, either using a Canon 70-200ii or 100-400ii telephoto lenses (with a 1.4x Teleconverter iii) and counterbalance system with no problem (my equipment weight is roughly 8 pounds). I do not currently own a telescope yet, but I am overly impressed with the images I am getting with only a dslr and telephoto lens. Baby steps…

    When I purchased the SGP, I was initially going to mount it on top of my Manfrotto MT055XPro3 Aluminum tripod (19.8 pound capacity) but I chose to purchase the iOptron 1.25” stainless steel tripod (30 pound capacity). At $89, it was a good purchase (that fell within my budget). I could have opted for the more expensive iOptron field tripod, but this one I have is sufficient. I dream about the Celestron CGX mount daily… My friend has this particular mount, and it is perfect for what I plan to build (when I can afford it).

    I have experimented with this set up (dslr w/telephoto lens, SGP mounted on the iOptron 1.25” field tripod) twice now out in my backyard. 1st: “feeler” outing to practice polar alignments and test shooting (while tracking). 2nd: refining my focusing techniques and streamlining the set up and tear down processes. I experienced camera shake during the second outing (507 knot wind), but got about a dozen good images of the Orion Nebula (one with a passing Iridium satellite!).

    The only complaint I have regarding the iOptron 1.25” SS tripod, is the fact that it has plastic feet; I would have preferred removable rubber pads (possibly with spikes). I do however stake down the tripod (after balanced) then mount and polar align the SGP… I have yet to mount this set up on my Manfrotto tripod… But I prefer the iOptron tripod for the locking tray to hold accessories. 


    I’m sure you could use an existing tripod, but the SGP’s maximum suggested weight capacity is 11 pounds (and I’m not planning on testing it). I do plan to purchase a refractor for future use with the SGP (the carbon fiber refractor that I am researching weighs the same as my telephoto lenses). Sadly, I am stuck with this configuration for now until I save up more money. But, I am building up experience as I progress down this new path! I hope this helps. Cheers, George

  12. George Lansberry says:

    Correction: 5-7 knot winds

  13. George Lansberry says:

    Trevor,

    May I please have a recommendation for a decent ball head (for use with the SGP, dslr and telephoto lens)? I’m currently using my Manfrotto MXHPRO-BHQ2, but it is frustrating at times (with the extended knobs and slight creep). I’m sure there is something out there that is more stable…

    Thanks for everything, George

  14. Darrell says:

    Thanks for the Review Trevor! I got out of Astrophotography about 7 years ago due to the truck load of gear I was lugging around to dark sky sites. This new SGP mount looks like the answer for me, I think I’ll order one!
    Thanks!

    Darrell

  15. Dave says:

    Regarding SGP polar-alignment apps: I use both “PS Align Pro” and iOptron’s version; however, the two tend to be off from one another.

    Can anyone confirm that one of those two apps are accurate, more than the other?

    Thanks.

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