Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro (First Impressions)
A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to receive a very large package in the mail, the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro. Some people get excited about the arrival of flowers or perhaps a new book from Amazon at their door.
Me? I prefer over 100 pounds of deep-sky astrophotography equipment.
The brand new EQ8-R Pro is an observatory-class equatorial telescope mount capable of handing advanced astrophotography equipment, and one of the heaviest objects I have ever attempted to lift on my own. I’d like to think that deadlifting the heaviest of astronomy equipment is something I’ll always be able to do, but that is sadly not true.
My image of the Whirlpool Galaxy captured using the EQ8-R Pro mount.
I believe that most folks interested in an equatorial mount with this level of competence will be installing it in a permanent backyard observatory. As many of you know, I continue to haul all of my astrophotography in and out of the garage each and every time I set up.
Before I share any more down-to-earth amateur astrophotographer problems with you, I feel that it is important to let you know exactly how and why an unreleased Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro computerized GoTo mount was delivered to me.
Why I Do I Have One?
The team at Sky-Watcher wanted someone to review the EQ8-R Pro mount in a “real world” situation, and my light-polluted backyard in the city fit the bill quite nicely. To be quite honest, I did not have a need for a computerized GoTo telescope mount this large, but I am always happy to try out new equipment to better understand this hobby overall.
I have developed a great relationship with Sky-Watcher USA over the past year, and feel very comfortable demoing new products on my YouTube channel and website. This would not be the case if there were strict guidelines about what I can, or can’t say about the equipment, and I am happy to report, that there aren’t!
Despite what others have said in the forums, I have not “sold out” (a recent Cloudy Nights forum thread attacked my integrity), and earning my income by convincing someone to purchase a product or service I don’t believe in is exactly the type of scenario I removed from my life the moment I took on AstroBackyard full-time.
Sorry for the mini-rant, but I felt that this was important to mention moving forward. There’s bound to be skeptics in all disciplines, but the cost and potential frustrations involved with astrophotography gear can either bring out the best, or worst of us.
To make things even more interesting, I’ve mounted a Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 Apochromatic Refractor and Starlight Xpress monochrome camera to the EQ8-R Pro. Sky-Watcher offers this imaging configuration as a package, and I believe you could call this one a “backyard astrophotographers dream”. I think now is a great time to remind you that my time with this setup is limited.
As with all of the equipment I review on AstroBackyard and on YouTube, I was not paid to endorse this product, and it will be returned to the company after my review. While this “dream setup” is available to me, you can bet your biscuit I am going to spend every second of clear sky collecting photons with it.
The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R EQ can handle 110-pounds of equipment.
The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro
The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro (and Rh versions) officially launched on October 18th, 2019, almost exactly a year after I received my EQ6-R Pro (this mounts younger sibling). This robust equatorial telescope mount boasts an impressive 50 Kg (110-pound) maximum payload capacity, a belt-drive system on both axes, an integrated cable management system, and more. Despite these useful traits and advanced features, I like to think of the EQ8-R Pro as a big, black EQ6-R Pro, and that’s a good thing.
After nearly a year of use and countless astrophotography images later, I reviewed the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro. I had a wonderful experience with this mount, and judging from the comments I received on this blog and social media, others did too.
I am a big fan of the Sky-Watcher SynScan system, as I regularly still use and enjoy the hand controller on my astrophotography mounts. I’ve used the Celestron NexStar and iOptron Go2Nova hand controllers in the past, but I am most comfortable with Sky-Watcher mounts thanks to over 5 years of experience using them (starting with the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 in 2014).
The Auto Slew Home command appears when you turn the EQ8-R Pro on.
It was refreshingly simple and straightforward to get the EQ8-R Pro aligned and tracking my desired astrophotography subjects. With a careful polar alignment using the QHY PoleMaster, a 1-star alignment was all I needed to center my target using a telescope with a 1000mm+ focal length. Astonishingly, I’ve actually kept and stacked every single exposure taken on the EQ8-R Pro mount since it’s been in the backyard.
I used Astro Photography Tool to automate my imaging sequence with the Starlight Xpress SX42 camera and utilized the autoguiding port on the EQ8-R Pro for accurate 5-minute exposures. The Starlight Xpress filter wheel contained 6nm Astronomik narrowband filters, Ha, OIII, and SII. I am certainly not used to capturing images at a focal length of 1000mm, so I couldn’t help but get a closer look at some of the nebulae I’ve had a hard time reaching with my wide-field setups.
Here is an image of the Bubble Nebula captured using the Esprit 150 refractor of the EQ8-R Pro:
The mount slews and tracks very quietly. In fact, the EQ8R-Pro is as quiet (if not quieter) as the EQ6-R Pro. Compare this to the notoriously loud Celestron CGX-L. This is certainly not a primary reason to invest in a mount, but you’d be surprised at how much this aspect matters to you when switching targets at 2 am on a weeknight.
PHD2 Guiding Graph
The judge of an astrophotography mounts tracking performance is often in the PHD2 guiding graph. I feel that it is very important to mention that the total RMS error should not be viewed as the be-all-end-all judge of the mounts tracking abilities. There are many variables that come into play here, including the settings you are using in PHD2, seeing conditions, and a lot more.
With that being said, here is a recent look at the graph I was seeing with the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro during a night of imaging. This was using the On-Camera guiding setting on the Lodestar X2. I would expect pulse guiding through a direct connection between the mount and PC to be even better.
The mount is extremely heavy, the EQ mount head itself (56 pounds), and especially the matching pier tripod (64 pounds). It is impossible to safely lift the tripod and equatorial mount together as a single unit. Seriously, don’t even try.
This weight makes for a rather lengthy setup routine if you are carrying the EQ8-R Pro to and from the house or garage to your yard. The tripod is not only heavy but awkward to manage over large areas. If you have a bad back, investing in a permanent setup or buggy-style transportation device is your only option.
The built-in heavy-duty handles on the mount make transporting the mount head to the tripod much easier, and they actually make carrying the EQ8-R a bit easier than some of the lighter, yet more awkward mounts. In contrast, the CGX-L has a single handle, that puts your one-arm strength to the test.
The built-in power, auxiliary, and USB 3.0 ports are extremely useful when running advanced astrophotography setups that include multiple cables running down the mount. Setups that include a cooled astronomy camera, motorized focuser, filter wheel, and guide camera will appreciate this feature the most.
Integrated Cable Management System.
One major difference between this mount and the smaller EQ6-R is the lack of a built-in polar scope. To polar align the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro you must mount the optional polar scope and l-bracket, or use an electronic polarscope as I did.
For this method to work, you’ll want to make sure that the telescope is in the home position on both axes. On the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro, it simply means using the homing sensors to find this position when you turn the mount on. After setting the home position on the hand controller, the mount will run through a series of small movements to identify true “home”.
The QHY PoleMaster is a great solution for polar aligning the EQ8-R Pro.
Adjusting the EQ8-R Pro to your latitude is done via the heavy-duty crossbar style bolt (I’d love to know the technical description for this style of bolt in the comments), which is smooth and solid. The big green knobs on either side of the mount head base allow for precise azimuth control. Everything feels extremely solid and secure, which is exactly what you would expect on a telescope mount of this caliber.
An astrophotography setup that includes a 32-pound apochromatic refractor telescope at 1040mm focal length demands a robust tracking platform. With two 26-pound counterweights attached to the other end, balancing this precious cargo was rather easy. More importantly, the load was secure thanks to the 3 massive locking bolts on the dovetail saddle.
The RA and DEC axes feature a unique design I have not seen before. Each axis rotates on a massive, silver disc stating “Warning, Do Not Apply Pressure” (shown below). The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro features a belt drive system in each axis to minimize backlash and reduce periodic error. The onboard computer includes a PPEC training program for those that want to maximize the precision of the mount in a permanent setting.
The massive silver disc design of the RA and DEC axes.
My primary imaging camera with this setup is a Starlight Xpress SX-42 and a 7-position filter wheel. This is a monochrome CCD camera with impressive specs. An OAG (Off-axis guider) and Starlight Xpress Lodestar X2 monochrome camera handle the autoguiding for this rig, and in my first few runs with this configuration, ran exceptionally well.
I used the popular PHD2 Guiding software to autoguide with the Esprit 150 on the EQ8-R Pro. Because the Lodestar X2 camera was fitted to the OAG on the filter wheel, I was guiding on a star using a focal length of 1040mm!
For each of the deep-sky objects I chose to photograph, I collected 5-minute exposures using 1.25 Astronomik 6nm filters. The tracking accuracy of the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro was exceptional, with pin-point, round stars in each and every 5-minute exposure. Utilizing the autoguide port on the EQ8-R Pro, I see no problem shooting 10 or even 20-minute exposures with this setup.
- Mount Type: High-capacity motorized equatorial
- Tripod: Optional heavy-duty pier tripod
- Power Requirements: DC11-16V, 3 amp
- Motor Drive: 0.9° hybrid stepper motor
- Tracking Modes: Equatorial Only
- Alignment Procedures: 1, 2, 3 star-alignment
- Hand controller: SynScan, PC Direct
- Database: Messier, NGC, IC and SAO Catalogs (42,900 total)
- Cable Management: 4 x USB 3.0, 3 x 2.1mm Power Ports, 3 X Serial Connections
- Dovetail Compatibility: D-Style
- Latitude Range: 10° – 65°
- Mount Weight: 56.8 pounds
- Tripod Weight: 64.8 pounds
- Payload Capacity: 110 pounds
4 nights with the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro is not enough mileage to write a meaningful review. I will continue to spend time with the mount over the next few months, and see how well it handles the cold Canadian winter. In the brief (clear) windows of opportunity I had, I managed to collect some impressive images using the monochrome CCD camera and filter wheel on this mount.
Here is an image of IC 410 (The Tadpoles Nebula) captured in the Hubble palette (SII=RED, Ha=GREEN, OIII=BLUE). I captured roughly 1.5 hours worth of exposure time through each Astronomik 6nm filter and mapped the monochrome images to color channels in Adobe Photoshop.
The Tadpoles Nebula. Esprit 150 on the EQ8-R Pro Mount.
I understand that the leap in progress (as far as image quality) is primarily due to upgrading to a monochrome CCD camera from a one-shot-color CMOS rather than the mount itself. However, this was a very demanding optical system that requires reliable tracking and operation.
Overall, I was extremely impressed with the simple and reliable performance of the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro. It made the transition from a medium-sized mount to an “observatory-class” monster a smooth transition. Personally, I have a soft spot for Sky-Watcher mounts based on my own history with the brand.
For those looking to upgrade their iOptron, or Celestron mount to something with a greater payload capacity, you may prefer to stick to what you’re used to. Based on my early successes with this mount, and my preference to the SynScan system, I think that the Sky-Watcher EQ8-R is a top contender in this category.