iOptron SkyTracker Pro Review
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro camera mount is a portable solution for astrophotography on the go. For many, this means the option of traveling (light) with this mount to a dark sky location. Night sky photographers using a DSLR camera and a wide-angle lens will benefit most from this compact tracking mount.
In this review, I’ll share some example images using the SkyTracker in the backyard, and from a dark sky site. The SkyTracker stands out as a reliable and cost-effective option in an ever-growing market of tracking camera mounts. This is the iOptron SkyTracker Pro Review.
Long Exposure Astrophotography on a Moments Notice
The followers of this blog may remember that I previously reviewed an iOptron SkyGuider Pro mount, and fell in love with the idea of an ultra-portable astrophotography kit. I’ve since returned the SkyGuider Pro to Ontario Telescope & Accessories, and have the SkyTracker Pro in its place!
An added benefit to this mount is that it can be set up at home in about 5 minutes. The included Polar Scope means that you’ll easily be able to polar align the mount using Polaris for accurate star tracking. The SkyTracker includes modes for both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.
iOptron SkyTracker Pro Review (Video)
Discussions about astrophotography equipment tend to create a mix of opinions, especially when you call it a review. The comments about the SkyTracker have mostly been positive, with a few negative opinions mixed into the bunch.
One of the direct competitors of the SkyTracker is the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mount, and there are plenty of reviews from owners on the B & H Photo website. There are many similarities between these two mounts, with the Star Adventurer being a little more full-featured (and costly). The Star Adventurer is more in line with the SkyGuider Pro.
Great for spontaneous imaging sessions
A grab-and-go astrophotography mount
For example, in late October I noticed the sky had cleared shortly after 4 am when I looked out my bedroom window (My family is quite used to this type of behavior these days). Rather than setting up my complete deep-sky imaging rig, I opted for a much faster and lightweight option.
Much less motivation is required to set up a little rig like this on a moments notice. On those nights when your time under the stars is limited, this is a brilliant way to get your astrophotography fix.
Ready for astrophotography in less than 5 minutes
Not wanting to waste a single minute of precious clear skies, I quickly set up this portable astrophotography rig in the backyard to capture a brief imaging session on the Orion constellation before the sun was up.
Talk about a bonus session! As usual, I used a simple remote shutter release cable to automate the imaging session, firing off shots while I went back into the house to get ready for work. I feel like I am on to something here. Perhaps the best way to get more astrophotography in during the winter will be to get up early and shoot.
Capturing the Orion Constellation
The following image was captured using a modified Canon EOS Rebel T3i (600D) DSLR, with an IDAS LPS filter fitted to the camera body. Each image frame was 90 seconds each, and I used 14 of the 30+ images I shot at ISO 1600.
The framing is a bit odd, but I wanted to keep a wide area of sky in the image from Sirius to the Pleiades (Upper right). Due to passing clouds, the total integrated exposure time was 21 minutes. You may find my image to be a little on the cool side, but that’s just the way I prefer to process the night sky.
The Orion Constellation – 14 x 90-seconds @ ISO 1600
What’s really cool, is the fact that you can start making out some interesting deep sky objects in the image. (Other than the Orion Nebula) There are hints of the Horsehead Nebula, Flame Nebula, Rosette Nebula, and even a hint of Barnard’s Loop! I have become quite used to processing my images with a lot of city light pollution. I feel that shots like this mimic the look of our night sky from a much darker site.
Using a Wide Angle Camera Lens
The camera lens used for the photo below has quite a wide field of view, so it can take in a lot of sky. A full-frame camera such as the Canon EOS 6D would be even wider, which is one of many reasons I plan to invest in a modern full-frame DSLR soon. My wide-angle lens is a Canon EF 17-40mm F/4L. For a Canon L-Series lens, it’s actually quite affordable.
The Camera Lens used for the Photo Above (Canon EF 17-40mm F/4L)
The single frames were quite bright due to the light pollution here in the city, but I was able to improve the balance of the images during processing. The maximum exposure from my backyard (@ ISO 1600) is about 2-minutes at this focal length and aperture. (17mm – F/5.6)
Longer Lens = Deeper View
I’ve now used this mount in a number of configurations, including a heavier camera lens. Even at an increased focal length of 105mm, the stars in my images remained sharp in 2-minute exposures. The image below shows my results using the Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L Lens in the backyard.
This was taken using the iOptron SkyTracker Pro with a 105mm Camera Lens:
Orion’s Belt – 30 x 2 Minutes @ ISO 800
With an increased focal length and more integrated exposure time, I could pull out more details from the deep sky objects in Orion. The photography opportunities that become available when you start tracking the night sky are endless.
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro Camera Mount
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro includes a Polar Scope that makes matching the rotation of the Earth a quick process. Polar alignment can be achieved quickly by using the adjustment bolts on the Alt-Az base. The camera is free to point at your favorite celestial object thanks to the optional iOptron ball head that I happened to be using.
This mount is in two parts; the Alt-Az base that can attach to any tripod, and the tracker unit itself. I use my lightweight carbon fiber tripod to mount the SkyTracker, which makes the entire rig extremely lightweight and portable. It would make sense to leave the assembled unit together – for a quick imaging session on a moments notice.
The SkyTracker Pro is a single axis equatorial mount that is well-suited for long exposure astrophotography.
I use the 1x celestial tracking rate when capturing both wide-angle and deep sky astrophotos with the SkyTracker. There is a simple switch on the mount to power up the single axis servo motor. My little Canon DSLR camera and wide-angle lens fall well below the maximum payload of the iOptron SKyTracker Pro (2.6 lbs). For bigger loads that include a beefier camera lens, an optional counterweight is available from iOptron.
Travel Astrophotography with the SkyTracker
Over the weekend, I traveled to a dark sky site that required a 1-hour canoe ride. Needless to say, I was packing light. But since it was New Moon, and the Orionid Meteor Shower was peaking – I couldn’t leave home without at least a camera and a small star tracker.
The SkyTracker is so small that I was able to stuff it into my duffle bag underneath a mix of warm clothes. Because this mount is battery powered, no additional power sources were needed at my campsite. This time around, I had a stock Canon EOS 7D on hand – with no remote shutter release cable.
The photo below is a stack of 10 x 30-second exposures at ISO 3200.
10 x 30-Seconds with a Stock DSLR Camera (Canon EOS 7D)
30-second exposures do not require a star tracker for a photo at this focal length, but it does help create sharper stars. The real power of the SkyTracker Pro mount is experienced when shooting longer subs of 60-seconds or more.
Overall I am happy with the image, as it captures the remoteness of our campsite and the beautiful stars of Autumn over Bottle Lake. Unfortunately, I did not capture any streaking Orionid Meteors, although my friends and I did witness a number of them visually!
Key Technical Specifications
By now, you have seen the iOptron SkyTracker Pro in action and should have a better idea of what to expect. For a complete overview of this product, you can refer to the SkyTracker Pro Instruction Manual. Below, you will find some of the key specifications of the mount including payload and tracking speeds.
- Mount Type: single axis equatorial
- Max Payload: 6.6 lbs (3kg)
- Mount Weight: 685 gm with battery
- Tracking: R.A. automatic
- Tracking Speeds: 1X, 1/2X, Solar, Lunar
- Polar Scope: Illuminated Reticle
- Power: Internal Rechargeable Li-Poly
- Charging: Micro USB
- Body Dimensions: 115 x 115 x 95mm
If you use the iOptron SkyTracker the way it was meant to be used, you’ll be very happy with it. It charges easily via a USB cable and the internal battery power keeps you completely portable. It’s very light and easily packs up into a small camera bag. I wouldn’t put anything heavier than the recommended 3 lb payload on it, which means it’s best used with a DSLR camera and lens.
It’s an affordable way to partake in more frequent imaging sessions with some serious long exposure capabilities. I’ll certainly be getting a lot of use out of my SkyTracker, both in the backyard and on future adventures.