Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Review
The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is a computerized equatorial telescope mount with GoTo capabilities. This equatorial (EQ) mount is capable of providing precise, accurate tracking of the night sky, and is suitable for long-exposure astrophotography.
The core specifications of this equatorial mount include having a built-in ST-4 autoguider port, a payload capacity of 44 pounds, and a SynScan computer hand controller with an extensive database of objects.
I have been using the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro telescope mount since October 2018, and have used it to capture several deep sky images of nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters in space. In this post, I’ll share some of my favorite features of this EQ mount that I have experienced over several imaging sessions in the backyard.
Whether you already own the EQ6 and are looking to tap into more of its features, or are trying to decide which equatorial mount is best for your visual observation or astrophotography goals, this article should offer up some useful input from someone who’s been in your shoes.
The Veil Nebula captured using the EQ6-R Pro telescope setup shown on the right.
Related Video: My first run with the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro in the backyard
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Review
Before we dive into some of the interesting features you may not have known about, here is an overview of exactly what the “EQ6” is capable of. As a preface, it’s worth noting that I use this mount for astrophotography exclusively, and I am in the northern hemisphere.
For those in the southern hemisphere, the process is very similar all around, aside from polar aligning the mount with the south celestial pole (SCP).
Before stepping up to the EQ6-R, I used a number of intermediate level astrophotography mounts, including the slightly smaller HEQ5 Pro SynScan model.
Breakdown of the Gear Shown Above:
|Equatorial Mount||Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro SynScan|
|Imaging Telescope||Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 ED APO|
|Imaging Camera||ZWO ASI294MC Pro|
|Autoguiding Scope||60mm Starfield Guide Scope|
|Autoguiding Camera||ZWO ASI290mm Mini|
The EQ6-R Pro includes a SynScan hand controller with an LCD display that gives you control it’s features and basic functions. The left and right keys on the keypad control the Right Ascension (RA) axis, while the up and down arrows are used to control the Declination (DEC) axis.
You can control the slew speed by selecting the RATE shortcut button (2) on the keypad, as it is useful to make large movements at a high speed, and subtle adjustments using a slow speed. The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro has 10 slew speeds for complete control over the movement of each axis.
Before powering up the EQ6-R, your telescope should be in the home position. This means that the EQ head is leveled on the tripod, and the RA axis is pointed towards the north celestial pole (NCP). The counterweight should be at its lowest position, and the telescope should be pointing towards the NCP. You can then turn on the mount and select the operation mode.
For those interested in astrophotography, you will only ever want to use the mount in EQ mode.
The Iris Nebula in Cepheus captured using the setup shown on this page.
With the RA and DEC clutches locked, and counterweight(s) attached, you can mount your telescope on top of the EQ head. This is accomplished by fastening the mounting plate of your telescope to the saddle, which accepts both D and V-style mounting plates.
Once the SynScan system has initialized, you can enter in the geographic coordinates of your observing site.
This involves entering the latitude and longitude coordinates of your current location using the cursor on the LCD display and the keypad. Then, you will enter in your current time zone, which for me, happens to be UTC -4 in southern Ontario.
You can also enter in your current elevation, which which is used for atmospheric refraction compensation (generally, the higher your elevation, the better). Next is setting the current date and time, and whether you are currently on daylight savings time.
Once all of these important details have been entered (so the mount understands what is available in the sky from your location), you reach the mount alignment process, with the “Begin Alignment” dialog served up on the LCD screen.
The SynScan Hand Controller set to EQ Mode.
Use the “Park” Feature
This simple, yet useful feature automatically aligns your telescope mount in both axis at the beginning of your imaging session. It is not exclusive to the EQ6-R Pro, yet it is easy to miss if you don’t follow the instructions in the manual on your first few runs.
This feature is located under the “Utility Function” menu and asks you to turn off the mount after the park position has been confirmed. The next time you turn the mount on, you will see a dialog on the LCD display asking if you would like to start from the park position.
This is a handy feature that I did not personally take advantage of for the first few months of ownership with the mount. It is nice to confirm the home position when setting up, especially before beginning your polar alignment process.
The EQ6-R is Easy to Polar Align
Whether you use the built-in polar scope with the illuminated reticle, or use a QHY PoleMaster device, polar aligning the EQ6-R is a breeze.
This largely due to the fact that the EQ6-6 includes large, Alt/Az adjustment bolts with comfortable handles. Fine tuning the polar axis of this equatorial telescope mount is possible thanks to these convenient controls.
The built-in polar finder scope with illuminated reticle allows you to accurately polar align the mount without the need for additional software or accessories. You can either use a third party mobile app like “Polar Finder” to find out the current position of Polaris, or simply use the information displayed on the SynScan hand controller.
The SynScan hand controller displays the position of Polaris in polar scopes field of view (FOV). You need to imagine that the large circle in the FOV of the polar scope as a clock’s face with 12:00 sitting at the top.
Then, it’s simply a matter of adjusting the Alt/Az bolts of the mount to place Polaris in the “HH:MM” position provided.
Using a PoleMaster with the EQ6-R
If you don’t like getting underneath the polar scope for a real time view of the NCP or SCP, the QHY PoleMaster is a great option. This electronic polar scope uses a small camera to display the region surrounding the north (or south) celestial pole.
Using the live feed through the camera, you can fine tune your Alt/Az adjustments in a very precise manner. The PoleMaster requires the appropriate adapter (this is the one you need) to fasten it to the polar axis.
Fastening the PoleMaster to the EQ6-R using the necessary adapter.
You Can Improve the Alignment Accuracy
Before running a star alignment routine, make sure that your telescope is well balanced, and that there are no loose cables that could get caught and snag on the mount.
The alignment routine involves choosing a bright, named star from the database and centering it in your telescope eyepiece or camera. The LCD screen displays “Choose 1st Star”, at which point you can cycle through the list to find a star that is not blocked by any obstructions from your location, and press enter.
A word of caution here, once you hit enter, the mount will start to slew to the object immediately.
From here, it’s a matter of using the arrow buttons on the keypad to center the star. Remember, you can change the slew speed at any time by pushing the “Rate” button and setting the value higher or lower. It is often useful to leverage a finder scope on your telescope when slewing to your first alignment star, as it has a much wider field of view than your primary telescope and makes finder the first star easier.
When running through a star alignment routine, it is important to consistently center the alignment star in the eyepiece or camera’s FOV. It is beneficial to use a reticle eyepiece with a small FOV. Personally, I use the camera’s FOV and center the star on my DSLR display screen (with grid enabled), or with a cross-hair overlay in my camera control software (Astro Photography Tool).
You can run a 1,2, or 3-star alignment to improve the pointing accuracy of the telescope. This is very important when it comes to photographing deep sky objects that are nearly invisible until a long exposure image is collected.
The Tulip Nebula in Cygnus using the EQ6-R Pro mount for tracking.
Avoid Errors due to Mechanical Backlash
You can improve your alignment accuracy by avoiding errors due to mechanical backlash. Backlash is present in all equatorial telescope mounts, and does not affect your observing enjoyment, or your long exposure images when autoguiding is employed.
To avoid introducing alignment error caused by backlash, center the alignment star ending with an UP and RIGHT directions from the keypad. If you overshoot the star using this method, use LEFT and DOWN to bring the star back down the FOV and try again.
The Stepper Motors are Quiet
If you haven’t used this particular mount first hand, you may be wondering what the EQ6-R sounds like while it is slewing. I have heard many astrophotography mounts over the years, and this one is impressively quiet.
This mount uses stepper motors with a 1.8° step angle and 64 micro steps driven. This technical design aspect results in a quieter mount than on using servo motors.
This means that even at the maximum slew speed (9X), the mount emits a modest hum that will not wake up your neighbors. While the telescope mount is tracking, it is completely silent. It’s only when you move the RA or DEC axis at top speed that you hear a noise.
Compared to other equatorial telescope mounts I have used, the audible sound the EQ6-R Pro makes is more than acceptable. When you are partaking in a hobby that takes place (alone) outside at night, avoiding loud or unusual noises when possible is always a good idea.
In contrast, the Celestron CGX-L computerized mount is noticeably loud while slewing at top speed. If this mount is being used in a closed observatory, it’s not an issue. However, I set up my equipment in a city neighborhood backyard. Depending on the time of night, I hesitate slewing to a new target because of this trait.
The Autoguiding Performance is Impressive
The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro delivers impressive results when the built-in autoguider port is leveraged. Over the years I have maximized the tracking capabilities of my astrophotography mounts by using an auxiliary guide scope and camera to autoguide using a free software called PHD2 guiding.
The EQ6-R Pro allows you to set change the default auto guide speed of the mount of 0.5X to 0.75X or 1.0X in the setup menu.
I have experimented using a guiding rate of 1.0X , and saw little improvement to my guiding graph in PHD2 guiding over the default speed of 0.5X. The point is, you have the option of adjusting this setting if the need calls for it, and it’s a feature I’ve only recently tapped into on the EQ6-R Pro.
For a real-life example of the autoguiding performance you can expect with this mount, have a look at the screenshot below. The guiding graph shows that my total RMS error is 0.63″. Generally, a total RMS error of under 1-second means that you can expect pin-point stars in your long exposure images.
My autoguiding graph in PHD2 guiding using the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro SynScan mount.
The Mount is Heavier Than it Looks
When it comes to equatorial mounts for astrophotography, being heavy is a good thing. However, I think some people that receive their EQ6-R for the first time may be a little surprised at how heavy the EQ6-R actually is (I was).
The weight of the EQ head is 38 lbs on it’s own, and the tripod adds another 16.5 lbs. Add in two 11-lb counterweights, and you’ve got a telescope rig that weighs 76.6 pounds, and is not going anywhere for a while.
Luckily, the EQ head includes a useful carry handle that I have certainly put to good use. Also, the supplied counterweight bar is retractable, which makes transporting the mount out the door of my garage a little easier.
I used to carry my Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro SynScan around the yard with the telescope and counterweight attached. It was heavy and awkward, but manageable.
This is not possible with the EQ6-R, which is understandable considering the increased payload capacity (44-lbs) of the mount. To transport the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R from my detached garage to the yard, I must remove the counterweights and the telescope first.
It’s possible to lift the tripod with the EQ head attached (54.5 lbs), but this is likely too heavy for most folks. The good news is, this heavy profile means that accidentally bumping the polar alignment out of position by kicking a tripod leg is unlikely. Smaller, ultra-portable mounts like the iOptron SkyGuider Pro do not share this quality.
You Don’t Need to “Mod” the Mount
If you’re a tinkerer, I get it. It may be tempting to you to open up the EQ mount head and take a look. I would advise against this personally, as you may do more harm then good.
I’ve seen a number of posts and videos discussing “belt-mods” and “hyper-tuning” Sky-Watcher NEQ6 and EQ6-R mounts. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend opening up the mount in hopes of tweaking performance, even if the underlying mechanics are straightforward to you.
In my experience, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R can track accurately for 10-minute exposures (or longer) without any re-greasing or modifications to the worm gears when autoguiding is leveraged.
I suggest spending the time to get your balance and polar alignment spot-on before blaming the mount for bad tracking. It’s easy to get caught up in scrutinizing the mechanical backlash and periodic error present in the mount.
If you do dive into these advanced adjustments, you better be mechanically minded and ready to invest a “minimum of four hours” for a typical belt modification.
The EQ6-R with a Sky-Watcher Esprit 100 ED APO attached.
The SynScan Hand Controller gives you Extensive Options
The included SynScan hand controller includes an impressive 42,000+ object database, with almost every possible target you could ever want to observe or photograph.
The Messier object list gets a lot of use for amateur astronomers in the Northern Hemisphere, while the NGC catalog is great for pointing the telescope at more obscure nebulae and star clusters.
The database also includes IC and Caldwell catalogs, which covers most of the noteworthy subjects in the night sky. I only wish the database included the Sharpless catalog, for items such as the Tulip Nebula with no alternative designation.
To slew to these objects, it may be better to control the EQ6-R using your PC using supplementary PC-Link cable along with the appropriate ASCOM drivers and software.
I use the hand controller to align, and center my target. After a quick polar alignment routine using the QHY PoleMaster, the pointing accuracy of the mount is spot-on using just a 1-star align.
After you’re aligned and ready to observe or image an object in space, you can start by choosing a target using the “OBJECT” shortcut key, which contains the following object list:
- Named Stars
- Solar System
- NGC Catalog
- IC Catalog
- Messier Catalog
- Caldwell Catalog
- SAO Catalog
- Double Stars
- Variable Stars
- User Object
- Deep Sky Tour
The deep sky tour is a very cool feature for visual observation sessions. Imagine a star party or public outreach event where you want to have the best list of targets at the ready.
This feature generates a list of the most famous deep sky objects that appear in the current night sky overhead. You simply go through the list and pick them off one by one.
The Periodic Error Correction (PEC) Feature
Periodic tracking error is present in all equatorial telescope mounts, and is a due to the design of the internal gears. The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R includes a periodic error correction (PEC) function to help correct this.
The PEC training procedure requires that you first polar align and star align the telescope mount. Then, slew to a star close to the celestial equator, and center it in the telescope eyepiece or imaging camera.
Then, navigate to the Utility Function > PEC Training mode and press enter. From here you can select the speed you would like to use for PEC training. The Sky-Watcher SynScan manual suggests using 0.125X sidereal rate for wider FOV telescopes such as the Esprit 100 ED APO.
After selecting the speed using the “1” or “2” keys, the screen will then start to display the elapsed time of the PEC training routine. Now, your job is to keep the star centered in the FOV using the left and right direction keys on the hand controller.
Once the PEC training routine has completed, the elapsed time will stop. Noe, you can select “PEC+Sidereal” as a tracking speed in the Setup menu. It is recommended to wait for at least one PEC training reply cycle to complete before you start taking your images.
Sky-Watcher SynScan Specifications
- Object Catalog: Messier Catalog, NGC, SAO, Caldwell, Double Star, Variable Star, Named Star, Planets
- Pointing Accuracy: Up to 5 arc-minutes RMS
- Tracking Rate: Sidereal Rate, Solar Rate, Lunar Rate
- PEC: PPEC (permanent PEC)
- Database: 42,000+ Objects
- LCD: 18 Characters X 2 Lines (adjustable contrast and backlight)
- Keypad: Rubber with adjustable backlight
- GPS: SynScan GPS Modular (Optional)
- PC Connection: USB or RS-232X
- Power Output: Power Supply Voltage – 0.7V, Max. 100mA current output
Power Supply for the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
As one Cloudy Nights forum member put it, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro can get “cranky” if the right power supply is not used. I have experienced this issue myself, when I used an AC to DC power adapter that did not provide a minimum 4 amps of power.
These days, I use a 12V AC/DC adapter with 10 amps to power the EQ6-R when plugged in at home. Here is a picture of the exact AC/DC adapter I use with the EQ6-R, and here is a link to it on Amazon. Others have found the Pyramid PS9KX 5 Amp power supply to work well with this mount.
The AC/DC adapter I use to power the EQ6-R Pro mount from home.
As you may have noticed, there is a lot to cover when discussing all of the features of the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro SynScan computerized telescope mount. The very first night I used the EQ6-R, I captured one of my favorite astrophotography images to date, and I knew I was in a for a long relationship with this mount.
A reliable equatorial mount is the foundation of every great deep sky astrophotography kit, and the EQ6-R is a worthy investment for those looking for a stable, long-term solution for long-exposure imaging.
From my early days with the HEQ5 Pro to my latest session in the backyard with the EQ6, I’ve been extremely satisfied with the user experience and performance of Sky-Watcher’s affordable equatorial telescope mounts.
- Fantastic Tracking when Autoguiding Used
- Quiet Stepper Motors even Slewing at 9X
- Easy to Polar Align
- Built-In PEC Training Feature
- Heavier Than it Looks
- Intermediate Level Mount with Price to Match
- Power Supply must be Correct or will Act Up
What Others Have Said:
“This mount is simply amazing. It is robust and tracks very well. I was taking 5 minute subs with no star trails. It is built like a tank and handles my Meade 5″ refractor with ease. The stepper motors are quiet. It’s simply a joy to use and I highly recommend it. The price is well worth it” – James S. on HPS website
“This mount is a tank. I have been doing astrophotography for several years using a lighter weight mount but I was ready to setup up to a heavier payload mount and I am very pleased.” – Ray on HPS website
Do you use the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro for astrophotography? If so, let me know your experiences with it in the comments. To stay up to date with my latest adventures in the backyard, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter. Until next time, clear skies!