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Upgrade Your SkyGuider Pro with iPolar

|Equipment|36 Comments

In my latest video, I captured a wide-field deep sky object using an impressive little star tracker, the iOptron SkyGuider Pro. Since 2017, I’ve captured several deep sky images with the SkyGuider Pro, with a DSLR camera attached to a camera or small telescope.

In my latest adventures in the backyard, I’ve set up the iOptron SkyGuider Pro once more, but this time I’ve added a rather simple device that makes a critical step of the astrophotography acquisition stage process easier, and more precise.

The iPolar Electronic Polarscope

The iPolar electronic polarscope uses a small camera to understand the mounts positioning, and tell me exactly where it needs to be so that it is perfectly aligned with the north celestial pole. As seasoned veterans will tell you. polar alignment is an essential step of the deep sky imaging process, and it should not be rushed, or skipped. 

The iPolar camera is just like the QHY PoleMaster I use on my larger equatorial mounts such as the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro, but this one uses its own dedicated software, and was made specifically for popular iOptron mounts like the SkyGuider Pro.

iOptron iPolar

The iPolar Electronic Polarscope in the RA axis of the SkyGuider Pro.

The version of the iPolar I have came with an adapter to externally mount the device to the SkyGuider Pro. It comes with a USB cable to connect the iPolar to your Windows PC, and the polar alignment is done with using the on-screen instructions of the software. 

The system only needs 4 stars to locate the pole, and can do so even if the pole location is obstructed by tree branches or clouds. The field of view of the iPolar is 13-degrees, with a resolution of approximately 30 arc-seconds. 

iPolar Compatible Mounts

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is sure to be a popular mount to add the iPolar upgrade too, but this is not the only telescope mount compatible with this electronic polarscope. In fact, there are currently more than a dozen iOptron mounts compatible with the new iPolar device:

  • CEM120/CEM120EC/CEM120EC2
  • CEM60/CEM60EC
  • CEM40/CEM40EC
  • CEM25/CEM25EC/ZEQ25
  • iEQ45Pro/iEQ45
  • iEQ30Pro/iEQ30
  • SkyGuider Pro
  • SkyGuider
  • SkyTracker Pro
  • SkyTracker

iPolar Compatible Mounts

I know that owners of the iOptron SkyTracker Pro star tracker have been looking for a solution like this for some time now. It will be interesting to see just how far backyard astrophotographers can push the SkyTracker Pro, with the added polar alignment precision the iPolar provides. 

OPT offers the SkyGuider Pro and iPolar camera as a Package

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro

As you may already know, the SkyGuider’s job is to accurately track the apparent motion of the night sky for long-exposure astrophotography. It’s RA (right-ascension) motor slowly rotates at sidereal rate to match the skies movement – very simple, yet vital for deep sky imaging.

This lithium-ion battery-powered camera mount was designed for portable astrophotography with a camera lens or small telescope riding on top. This setup usually consists of a DSLR camera and lens, but I’ve seen some incredible little setups using dedicated astronomy cameras, and telescopes as big as the William Optics Z73 mounted (with a 50mm guide scope)!

It can handle up to 14 lbs of gear, which means that small refractor telescopes like the William Optics RedCat 51 are no problem for the SkyGuider Pro. I’ll attach my newly acquired Canon EOS 60Da to the RedCat, with a dual-bandpass narrowband filter inside (2″ Optolong L-eNhance)

I have used the iOptron SkyGuider Pro with the RedCat 51 extensively. I’ve traveled to Costa Rica with this setup in my carry-on bag, and set the rig up in 3-feet of snow in the backyard. No matter what the weather conditions or surrounding scenery was, the SkyGuider and RedCat 51 combo have given me some of the most memorable astrophotography imaging sessions of my life.

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Images

Images captured using the SkyGuider Pro with the RedCat 51 and DSLR attached.

All of these incredible moments took place using only the built-in, illuminated reticle polarscope that comes with the SkyGuider Pro. As you can imagine, I had mixed feelings about disrupting this proven configuration to upgrade it with the iPolar device. 

The SkyGuider Pro has proved to be an incredibly reliable star tracker that only takes a few minutes to set up. The addition of the iPolar electronic polarscope adds time (and additional gear) to this process, which I will discuss further in a moment.

iPolar with SkyGuider Pro Adapter

Deep Sky with a Telescope

I’ve fitted a 2″ Optolong L-eNhance filter into the adapter of my RedCat 51. This narrowband filter blocks nearly all light from hitting my camera sensor except for very specific wavelengths emitted from emission nebulae like the North America Nebula

The North America Nebula in Cygnus is a large, bright, and beautiful target that’s located in an area full of hydrogen gas including the impressive Pelican Nebula

William Optics RedCat 51

A William Optics RedCat 51 Refractor mounted to the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

With a focal length of 250mm (400mm eqivilent with a 1.6X crop-sensor DSLR), the RedCat will fit this entire area in a single field of view. Astrophotography at this time of year means limited dark-sky time to collect light on a deep sky target, as we’re almost at summer solstice here in the northern hemisphere.

Late June may have the shortest nights of the year, but it sure beats spending extended periods of time outside in the cold winter months.

Shoot Longer Exposures

Narrow bandpass imaging requires that you collect longer exposures than you would in broadband, especially when using a color camera like a DSLR. The goal is to collect as much signal on a specific wavelength of light as possible.

But longer exposures puts a higher demand on tracking accuracy and polar alignment, and that’s where the iPolar comes in.

At focal lengths of 200mm+, capturing an image of 3-minutes or more requires a precise polar alignment of the mount. Even a careful polar alignment routine that is slightly off will begin to negatively affect your images after about 2-minutes.

Star Tracker

The iOptron SkyGuider pro includes a built in polar scope, and you should be able to achieve an accurate polar alignment by eyeballing it. This is more than enough for a sharp 2-minute image using a camera lens with a focal length of 100mm or less.

I’ve been extremely satisfied with the results I’ve achieved using this method of polar alignment, but it’s time to push the SkyGuider Pro mount even further.

An electronic polar scope uses a camera to plate solve an image of the area of sky around the celestial poles – and provide useful feedback to guide your adjustments to the Altitude and Azimuth controls.

No matter how good you are at manually aligning the mount through the polar scope with your eyes, I think it’s safe to say a camera has got you beat.

It’s this level of accuracy that users of the SkyGuider Pro have been asking for.

Installing an iPolar to the iOptron SkyGuider Pro

Until the iPolar, SkyGuider Pro users were left to improvise and create a custom adapter to mount a QHY PoleMaster. If you haven’t yet gone down this road, it’s worth looking into the new iPolar.

I must say, the iPolar experience and software felt very familiar, which isn’t a bad thing considering how much I love the PoleMaster. You simply download the iPolar software and calibrate the camera on the RA axis of the mount.

The iPolar installation process was… interesting. Now, I am not overly technically sound, so it was a bit unnerving to open the SkyGuider up with a screwdriver. The process involves removing the control board and unplugging a few small cables.

how to install ipolar

The process of removing the stock illuminated polar finder scope inside the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

No big deal for those that like to tinker with electronics, but definitely an adventure for people like me. All in all, it took about 15 minutes to remove the standard polar scope and install the iPolar on the SkyGuider Pro. 

The included casing adapter to package the SkyGuider back together matches up nicely, and it looks like the iPolar was there all along.

Polar Alignment using the iPolar Software

The iPolar software is available to download on the iOptron website. After a quick installation of the software on my Windows 10 laptop, I connected the device via the included mini-USB cable. 

The device was recognized in my device manager, and I connected the camera by clicking the “connect” button at the top left-hand of the screen. For anyone that has used the QHY PoleMaster, this experience should feel very familiar and comfortable.

The first thing you’ll need to do is take a single dark frame for camera calibration purposes, which I did by covering the RA axis with my hand. (did you catch that in the video?) 

From here, it’s a matter of adjusting the camera settings so that the iPolar can pick up enough stars to plate solve the image. I attempted this process at the early onset of dusk, and found that I had better results waiting until it got a little darker. Just change the gain adjustment and exposure length until about 10 stars are detected.

Unlike the PoleMaster, the stars are displayed as exaggerated black and white blobs that the software uses for plate solving. For a more “normal” looking view through the camera, simply click on the RAW image button. You’ll need to un-check this for the software to calibrate properly.

iPolar software

The iOptron iPolar Polar Alignment Software.

You’ll need to enter in your lat-long coordinates of your location, which you can easily find online or using the GPS on your phone. You also need to set the rotation center of the mount, which can be calibrated after clicking the “clear rotation center” button on-screen. 

Rather than going through the rotation center calibration process (that involves confirming 3 positions of the mount), I opted to enter in the rotation center using the manual input rotation center button. The official iPolar manual states the following:

You may also manually enter the rotation center, X=480, Y=640, for rough alignment if you are sure the iPolar center is not far away from the mount RA axis.

Once the plate solve has succeeded, you should see a red cross, and a red dot on the screen. Your job is to align these two indicators with each other by making adjustments to the alt-az adjustments knobs on the mount wedge. You may have noticed that I am using the upgraded William Optics wedge to mount the SkyGuider Pro, and this certainly makes this process a little more enjoyable. 


As you get closer to being perfectly polar aligned, the red dot and cross-hair will enlarge. When the red dot fully covers the red cross, you are all done. 

Final thoughts

With the polar alignment dialed-in thanks to the iPolar, I was able to shoot 4-minute exposures at ISO 1600 on the North American Nebula and surrounding area. These are unguided sub exposures at 250mm (that’s actually 400mm when you factor in the 1.6x crop factor).

Here is a look at the image I was able to capture using the iPolar for polar alignment on the iOptron SkyGuider Pro:

North America Nebula

Results using the iPolar for polar alignment of the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

The final image includes 62 x 4-minute exposures for a grand total of 4 hours, and 8 minutes. The lack of dithering was evident in the data, and would have helped to reduce noise in the final integration. Regardless, I used each one of the 62 (240-second long) sub-exposures for my final image. 

That’s some incredibly impressive data acquisition from a star tracker that fits in your hand. 

The iOptron iPolar was developed because of a demand for polar alignment accuracy. Owners of the SkyGuider Pro looking to push the mounts capabilities further now have a dedicated device for this critical aspect of astrophotography.

round stars

Check out those round stars! I used all 62 x 240-second exposures in my final image.

I enjoy the simple setup and dead simple software to polar align the mount – however, I’ve now lost some of the portability of this mount. I’m now connected to a laptop for polar alignment, as I’ve removed the visual polar scope completely.

Seeing as how this mount was designed for portability and simplicity, it’s an upgrade that may not make sense for you. You add performance at the cost of more set up time.

So, if the SkyGuider Pro is your main deep-sky imaging rig, the iPolar is a no-brainer, especially if you’ve had trouble with polar alignment in the past. But if it’s your travel/quick setup rig – remember that you have given up your ability to polar align the mount without software assistance.

If you have found this review helpful, please let me know in the comments. If you would like to know more about the iOptron iPolar, I would be happy to answer. 

iOptron SkyGuider Pro with iPolar

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Astrophotography in Costa Rica (Carina Nebula)

|Nebulae|16 Comments

I’ve just returned from a vacation to Costa Rica with the goal of capturing some astrophotography images from the resort. Being so close to the equator, the night sky featured many new southern hemisphere deep-sky targets I had never seen before.

Aside from astrophotography (including an impromptu Facebook Live stream from our balcony) my wife and I also enjoyed a private birding tour and some much-needed relaxation. The average temperature from home in Canada was around -10 degrees Celsius, in Costa Rica, 33.

Despite the pleasant temperatures and an impressive number of clear nights during our trip, it took some creativity and persistence to accomplish my astrophotography goals from this location. All-inclusive resorts never sleep, which means that the lights never go out. 

In this post, I’ll share my experiences photographing the night sky from Guanacaste, Costa Rica. For a fun overview of my experience, and some of the raw emotions this trip included, please watch the video.

Astrophotography from Costa Rica (On our honeymoon).

Astrophotography in Costa Rica

The resort we stayed at was Dreams Las Mareas, located in the northwestern peninsula of Guanacaste. The closest city is La Cruz, which is very close to the Nicaraguan border.

While others focused on the all-you-can-eat buffet, piña colada’s and catamaran tours, I couldn’t help staring up at an entirely different looking night sky. 

Attempting to take deep-sky images through a telescope from a vacation resort in a foreign country has its challenges. As you will soon find out, those uncontrollable variables began to add up.

Costa Rica Map

The location of our resort in Costa Rica.

A Preview of the Southern Sky

The first and most obvious looking change was just how high the Orion constellation was. How fortunate for those that live at this latitude to photograph the Orion Nebula near the zenith!

Below Sirius, in Orion, I saw the bright star Canopus for the first time. This star belongs to the southern constellation, Carina, which is non-existent in mid-Northern latitude skies.

In fact, there are numerous southern hemisphere constellations and deep-sky objects observable from Costa Rica. I thought a trip to Australia would be necessary to see many of these targets.

Southern Deep Sky Objects from Costa Rica

southern deep sky objects

My view of the night sky from 10 degrees north of the of the equator. (Stellarium)

An easy way to get a preview of the night sky from a new location is to download the Stellarium mobile app on your smartphone. Then, you can either enter in the location manually in the settings, or let the app use your GPS for the exact latitude and longitude of your position on Earth.

My android smartphone was set to “airplane” mode during our trip, as I was able to use the resort WiFi for internet access. However, I needed to quickly turn airplane mode off for a GPS signal to get the lat/long coordinates of my location. This may not be necessary depending on your operating system. 

A GPS signal was also needed for my polar alignment process, to display an accurate position of the north celestial pole on the Polar Finder mobile app. If you are interested in the software and tools I use for astrophotography including astronomy mobile apps, be sure to visit the resources page.

mobile apps for astronomy

The Stellarium and Polar Finder mobile astronomy apps were very handy on my trip.

Polar Alignment

Since I was still in the northern hemisphere, I could theoretically polar align my telescope mount using the North Star, Polaris. The north celestial pole doesn’t land precisely on this star, but it’s a fantastic reference point. The process of polar alignment is much more difficult in the southern hemisphere. 

I have polar aligned my telescope mount countless times using the north star from home in Canada, but this time, Polaris sat just above the northern horizon. It was far too low to observe from the resort as it was blocked by the surrounding mountainous landscape and the hotel itself.

To polar align my portable iOptron SkyGuider pro, I guestimated the exact altitude of the polar axis, and it was nearly level with the horizon. At only 10 degrees north, there was no way I’d be able to spot it.

I ran a series of test exposures at 30-seconds in length to improve my rough polar alignment. Luckily the focal length (250mm) of the telescope I brought is more forgiving in terms of tracking accuracy than higher magnification instruments. The RedCat 51 is also extremely lightweight and portable, which makes it a superb choice for wide-field deep sky imaging while traveling. 

iOptron SkyGuider Pro

My DSLR astrophotography setup including a telescope and tracking mount.

Portable Astrophotography Gear for an Airplane

I packed all of the astrophotography equipment needed for wide-field deep sky imaging in my carry-on bag on to the airplane. This included the telescope, camera, mount, tripod, filter, and adapters.

This “deep-sky travel kit” included a capable equatorial telescope mount, the iOptron SkyGuider pro. The EQ head of the mount was easily packed into my bag, along with the wedge and collapsible carbon fiber tripod. This camera mount matches the apparent rotation of the night sky using a right ascension tracking motor.

The telescope is a William Optics RedCat 51 refractor. The RedCat weighs just 3.2 lbs, and can easily be mounted to a lightweight astro tracker for long exposure imaging.

Inside of the RedCat, sits a 2-inch Optolong L-Pro filter that I’ve pre-threaded into the M48 adapter of the telescope. This proved to be a great way to record images in broadband true color while reducing the immediate light pollution from the resort.

The camera is a stock Canon EOS 7D Mark II. When I say “stock”, I mean that this DSLR has not been modified for astrophotography by removing the internal IR cut filter. The camera threads on the RedCat 51 via a dedicated Canon EOS t-ring adapter.

My Portable Deep Sky Astrophotography Rig (Carry-on friendly)

  1. Tripod: Neewer Carbon Fiber Tripod
  2. Mount: iOptron SkyGuider Pro
  3. Telescope: William Optics RedCat 51
  4. Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  5. Filter: Optolong L-Pro (2″)

astrophotography equipment

The astrophotography gear used for my shot of the Carina Nebula.

The Game Plan

Due to factors such as lack of precise polar alignment, and setting up in a high traffic area, I decided to shoot 30-second exposures at ISO 6400. This way, I could at least complete a number of successful images rather than having to discard many of them in the pre-processing stage.

The constant wave of wind gusts made keeping my camera and telescope ultra-steady during an exposure very difficult. The limited exposure lengths helped to reduce this effect.

The location of our resort meant that there was very little light pollution in the direction of the nearby Atlantic Ocean. However, this resort chooses to shoot high-intensity spotlights toward the night sky during their nightly shows.

There was an unfortunate amount of localized light pollution from the many lighting fixtures that stay on all night long. The mild light pollution filter inside of the telescope adapter helped to reduce this unnatural glow.

I generally like to see all of the lights go out at night, but the lighted pathways on the resort came in handy when navigating to my deep-sky imaging location near the front lobby. As an experiment, I took a photo looking towards the constellation Orion from the pathway near our room. As you can see, there is a lot of light coming from all angles.

the night sky

Deep Sky Imaging Location

I decided to stay on the resort to run the camera and telescope. The beach was a better spot in terms of darkness, but it was just too risky to leave the security of the resort at night in a foreign country.

The wind was also much stronger and unpredictable by the water, and I had enough to worry about already. I did, however, sneak down to the beach one night to take some wide-angle tripod shots of the night sky. Unfortunately, the timing of this idea was off, as my photos were spoiled due to rare clouds at night. 

Costa Rica Resort

The Location of my Deep Sky Astrophotography Session from Costa Rica.

Shooting from the balcony of our room would have been ideal, but the window of sky was limited to the west. I did attempt to photograph a deep sky object from the balcony through the telescope, but it was more of an experiment than anything else.

There was a large open area of grass outside of the main lobby of the resort, and the security staff by the front entrance gave me some peace of mind. This is where I planted the tripod and iOptron SkyGuider pro with my telescope attached. I kept the tripod very low to the ground for added stability during strong winds.

The Target: Carina Nebula

Coming from a northern hemisphere sky with the usual constellations and deep-sky objects, how could I not attempt the Carina Nebula from Costa Rica? This is a “bucket list” target for me, and one I didn’t imagine capturing without a trip to Australia.

The Carina Nebula (also known as the Eta Carinae Nebula) is a magnitude 1 deep-sky object, so 30-second exposures were enough to reveal much of this complex and large nebula. This emission nebula is cataloged as NGC 3372, and includes multiple objects within it. 

See this annotated image for a closer look at the many deep-sky objects found inside of the Great Nebula in Carina.

The Carina Nebula

  • Distance to Earth: 7,500 light-years
  • Radius: 230 light-years
  • Magnitude: 1
  • Designations: NGC 3372, ESO 128-EN013, GC 2197, h 3295, Caldwell 92
  • Constellation: Carina

Carina nebula star map

Star map showing the location of the Carina Nebula (Universe Today).

Cataloged deep-sky objects inside of the Carina Nebula:

  • Keyhole Nebula
  • Mystic Mountain
  • Trumpler 14 Star Cluster
  • Trumpler 16 Star Cluster
  • WR 22
  • WR 25

The Carina Nebula does not reach a high altitude in the sky from northern Costa Rica, which meant I needed a low view to the horizon to capture it. The Carina Nebula just barely cleared the treeline from our resort at 10pm.

As it turned out, one of the biggest obstacles I had to overcome was wind. The wind gusts were as strong as 40km an hour at times, completely ruining the current exposure being captured on my portable rig.

This element was particularly painful to experience, as it can occur when absolutely every other measure of success has been taken.

To compensate for wind, I used my body to block the telescope from the direction the wind was blowing from. Also, I was limited to 30-second exposures, as this offered the best chance of completing a frame without interruption.


My final image of the Carina Nebula includes just over 9-minutes of total exposure time. The following image consists of 18 x 30-second images at ISO 6400.

Carina Nebula

The Carina Nebula | 18 x 30-Seconds @ ISO 6400

Once I registered and stacked the sub frames in DeepSkyStacker, I had a total overall integration time of 9 minutes, and 30 seconds. Processing the stacked integration in Photoshop was an exciting experience, and I took my time. The individual 30-second light frames were very noisy, which was to be expected when shooting on a hot night using an ISO of 6400.

The stacking process helped improve the signal to noise ratio a great deal. However, the noise reduction actions in post processing seem to have softened the image up significantly. In these situations, it’s a fine balance between noise and overall sharpness.

I really enjoyed processing this image, and loaded it into to be annotated. As you can see, my photo includes NGC 3293, NGC 3324 in the frame as well. This website is a great way to annotate your own astrophotography images online).

our resort

A drone shot of our resort from the beach.

Final thoughts

I would have loved to capture more data on the Carina Nebula, and attempted to capture images of more southern targets like the Centaurus A galaxy. However, I left my new bride in the hotel room during these ventures, and she was very patient and understanding to give me the time I had.

I witnessed the Southern Cross, Carina, Canopus, and much further into the southern night sky than ever before. I could hear the white-faced monkeys in the forest as my camera collected each exposure on the Carina Nebula. I stood alone in a field of grass in the dark while the rest of the guests slept or tied one on at the bar.

Deep sky astrophotography from Costa Rica in early March presents the best of two hemispheres, from Orion to the Carina Nebula. If you are planning on traveling to Costa Rica in the future, I highly suggest that you don’t forget to pack your telescope.

View a high-resolution version of my Carina Nebula image on Flickr.


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iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review

|Equipment|31 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 nightscapes 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 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 iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a very versatile and portable astrophotography solution for both camera lenses and small telescopes. Below, you’ll see images captured using the SkyGuider including the Carina Nebula, and the Milky Way.

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Camera Mount

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review

The monumental difference that a “star tracker” makes in your astrophotography will be 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 or a deep sky nebula. 

The right ascension tracking motor of this camera mount allows you to “freeze” the movement of the night sky for long-exposure astrophotography. Photographing deep sky objects through a telescope requires accurate polar alignment and balance, both of which are straightforward to achieve using the SkyGuider Pro. 

The William Optics RedCat 51 mounted to the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.

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 SkyGuider Pro, I now have a completely portable deep sky astrophotography kit.

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro can be used on a regular 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 one of the more robust and capable options in this category.

iOptron sells two SkyGuider packages that include the alt-az base and counterweight kit, but one also includes the iPolar electronic polarscope device (you can also purchase the upgrade on its own). Keep in mind, to take advantage of the iPolar polar alignment feature, you’ll need to connect the device to a computer. 

buy the iOptron SkyGuider Pro

I suggest ordering the iOptron SkyGuider Pro Full Package without iPolar if you want to keep things ultra-portable. 

This camera mount is suitable for heavy telephoto lenses such as the Canon EF 300mm F/4L, or lightweight refractor telescopes like the William Optics RedCat 51.

When selecting a telescope to use with the SkyGuider Pro, make sure it falls below the maximum payload capacity of 11 pounds. A heavier telescope with an increased focal length will put extra stress on the RA (right-ascension) motor of the mount, as well as magnify any issues in polar alignment or balance.

300mm camera lens

The SkyGuider Pro with a DSLR and 300mm camera lens attached.

Long Exposure Astrophotography

In this review, I will share my test images using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro as a camera mount (with a lens attached), and as a small telescope mount. Since receiving this mount from Ontario Telescope back in 2017, I have captured wide-angle photos of the Milky Way, and several deep sky objects using exposures from 30-120 seconds.

I enjoy controlling my DSLR camera with a third-party remote shutter release cable when using the SkyGuider with a small telescope or camera lens. This automates the imaging sequence of several long exposures so I can leave the camera running on its own.

The SkyGuider Pro is robust enough to handle a telephoto lens or small telescope in the 60-70mm range. The included 3-lb counterweight and shaft is adjustable so you can find the right balance to properly distribute the weight of your imaging configuration.

The William Optics Zenithstar 61 or RedCat 51 are both excellent telescope choices for the SkyGuider. I have used both of these telescopes to capture images like the Andromeda Galaxy pictured below.

Andromeda Galaxy

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. At this time, the mount was brand new and I knew very little about it. Since then, I have photographed many deep sky objects with this mount including Comet 46P Wirtanen, the Orion Nebula, and many more.

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.

The video above shows the camera tracker used with a stock Canon EOS 7D DSLR and a wide-angle lens. Unfortunately, I forgot my shutter release cable at home, so the exposures were limited to 30-seconds each. A star tracker certainly helps reduce star trailing at 30-seconds in longer focal lengths, but the real power of the SkyGuider is revealed when you shoot 4-minute exposures through a telescope. 

The EQ head of the SkyGuider fits in my palm, yet is packed with many useful features for astrophotography. I have not utilized the optional hand controller, camera shutter trigger, or even the ST-4 port. With successful 4-minute exposures taken at 250mm, I likely don’t feel the need to add an autoguiding system to my portable setup.

ioptron EQ mount controls

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.

For many amateur astrophotographers, the SkyGuider Pro is the first tracking mount they have ever owned. If you are ready to attach a small telescope to the SkyGuider for deep sky imaging, here are a few examples, and what I recommend.

SkyGuider Pro Specs:

  • 11-lb payload capacity
  • 4 Silent tracking speeds
  • Engraved, illuminated polar scope
  • Detachable alt-az base
  • Built-in rechargeable battery
  • Mounts to standard photography tripod
  • Incredibly Small
  • Micro USB charging port
  • ST-4 port for autoguiding
  • Camera trigger port
  • Port for optional hand controller

The illuminated polar scope of the SkyGuider Pro allows you to quickly polar align the mount with the north celestial pole. The factory altitude and azimuth controls are solid, which makes polar alignment quick and accurate.

The factory wedge base is easy enough to adjust, and the altitude knob is smooth and it locks down securely.

I can easily move the location of the mount and tripod, and get polar aligned within 1-2 minutes. This process may take longer if you are new to polar aligning an EQ mount using Polaris.

If you find it difficult to polar align the SkyGuider Pro using the factory iOptron wedge base, consider upgrading to the William Optics  Vixen-style base.

William Optics Vixen-Style Base Mount

skyguiider EQ mount head and base

In the picture above, you’ll notice I have upgraded the package to include the William Optics Vixen-style base mount. This is not a necessary upgrade to enjoy the mount, but it does make polar aligning the mount a more enjoyable experience. 

The high-quality fit and finish of the William Optics base is a big upgrade from the original, black iOptron wedge. The adjustment knobs on this version are more robust, which provides a more stable base for the SkyGuider Pro unit overall. 


William Optics Vixen style base

Again, it is not necessary to achieve a stable tracking platform for astrophotography, but those that mount a small telescope to the SkyGuider may appreciate the added support. 


iOptron offers several optional accessories for the SkyGuider Pro 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 SkyGuider Pro, 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 iOptron 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.

Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula | iOptron SkyGuider Pro with Canon EF 300mm F/4L Lens.

iPolar Electronic Polarscope

In 2019, iOptron released the iPolar electronic polarscope. This upgrade was designed to aid in the polar alignment process of the mount with help from a dedicated software on your PC. This requires you to connect the iPolar camera to your Windows PC via a mini USB cable. 

The process of installing the iPolar electronic polarscope on the iOptron SkyGuider Pro includes removing the stock illuminated reticle polarscope in the mount, and replacing it with the iPolar camera. There is a specific adapter for the SkyGuider, so you close the device into the mount case properly. 

iOptron iPolar

The iOptron iPolar electronic polarscope fastened to the SkyGuider Pro. 

With this level of polar alignment accuracy, it’s possible to shoot even longer exposures on the SkyGuider Pro. I confirmed this theory first hand when shooting the North America Nebula from my backyard using a small telescope. The following image was created using 62 x 4-minute exposures at ISO 1600 with a Canon EOS 60Da. 

North America Nebula

The North America Nebula and Pelican Nebula captured with help from the iPolar device.

If you are considering on making this upgrade to the mount, remember that you will now need to polar align the mount with help from a connected PC. This adds set-up time and additional gear to the process, so if the SkyGuider is your travel mount, it may not make sense for you. 

Related Video: Adding the iPolar to the iOptron SkyGuider Pro

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 star 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 the Cherry Springs Star Party, 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. A star tracker allows you to capture the faint details of the Milky Way in a single shot. By stacking the images together, you can create an incredible image. (Watch my Milky Way image processing video)

The Milky Way

A stack of 90-second exposures using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro with a DSLR camera and 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 of the mount is less of a concern. If you want to go deeper and use a heavy telephoto lens or a small telescope, then a more robust model such as the SkyGuider Pro is a better option.

The camera and telescope combination shown above is a great example of what’s possible using this mount. This highly-portable rig can be set up on a moment’s notice, on nights when you only have an hour or two to image. This convenience does not come at the cost of tracking accuracy or image quality either. 

The image below was captured entirely using the DSLR and telescope combo above, without the use of autoguiding. The image exposures were 4-minutes each at ISO 1600, using a hydrogen-alpha filter in the camera.

rosette nebula redcat 51

The Rosette Nebula in Ha | Canon EOS Rebel T3i and RedCat 51 telescope on the 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 each 4-minute exposure.

If you want to use the SkyGuider with a camera lens, the mount is just as stable and reliable. In the photo below, I mounted a Canon EOS 7D DLSR and 17-40mm wide-angle lens to the SkyGuider for an image 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 and lens were low. The camera was attached using a ball head threaded to the mount.

The SkyGuider Pro is as capable as a much larger EQ telescope mount, in a small package. It is an attractive option for those getting started in long-exposure astrophotography, or that want to build a travel rig to take on adventures.

For example, I was able to pack the SkyGuider Pro mount, tripod, and all accessories into my carry-on bag for a trip to Costa Rica. I was able to capture incredible deep-sky images from another country thanks to the portability of this mount. 

William Optics Base Mount

You may have noticed in the William Optics Vixen style base mount and extension bar in my video about the RedCat 51 APO. This is a beautiful accessory for the SkyGuider Pro that is a big improvement over the original Alt-Az base of the mount. 

This version doesn’t just look a lot nicer, the controls are much more precise and secure. This upgrade is worth considering if you find yourself spending a lot of time fiddling around with the original base to get things locked and secure. 

WO Vixen style base mount

I have seen a big improvement in tracking performance since making this upgrade, thanks to the added stability of this base. I no longer worry about knocking the mount ever-so-slightly and ruining my polar alignment. Making small adjustments in either axis is much more accurate and smooth.

The color matched red extension bar gives you more flexibility in terms of balance. The added length allows for a better-balanced load, and this feature comes in handy when attaching my heavy full-frame (Canon 7D EOS Mark II) DSLR camera.

SkyGuider 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.

Related: Read my Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Review

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 SkyGuider Pro with the same payload capacity and autoguiding abilities. In late 2019 I finally got a chance to test out the Star Adventurer Pro, and it’s a real contender to the iOptron model.

If you would like to share your experiences using the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer EQ mount for astrophotography, please feel free to leave a comment.

Autoguiding with the iOptron SkyGuider Pro

I have successfully used the ST4 autoguiding port on the iOptron SkyGuider pro with a ZWO ASI290mm mini guide camera, and an off-axis guider. The Lumicon Easy Guider worked well on the William Optics RedCat 51 refractor to capture 3-minute exposures.

It is important to remember that the SkyGuider Pro does not have a declination motor, so you will need to turn declination guiding off in the settings of PHD2 to get it to calibrate properly. Once calibrated, I was able to utilize the dithering in my images captured on the SkyGuider. 


Using the iOptron SkyGuider Pro with an off-axis guider.

Final Thoughts

The iOptron company creates some of the most innovative and practical astrophotography mounts in the world. I have enjoyed the iOptron SkyGuider Pro over the past 2 years for many reasons, but a few of them stand out.


I can get up and running with this portable mount in a matter of minutes. The first time I used the SkyGuider, I was off and running right out of the box. This mount is incredibly simple to use and straightforward (even in the dark). The mount silently tracks the night sky while I point my DSLR at different swaths of the night 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 is handy in the backyard to work around obstructions, and when traveling with the mount to darker skies. The mount itself is small enough to fit in my glovebox or carry-on bag.

I brought the SkyGuider Pro on my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The EQ mount, base, counterweight, and tripod all fit in a small carry-on bag for the airplane. I even had enough room for my DSLR camera and telescope as well. 


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 William Optics Z73 or similar telescope, as pictured below. At 5.5 pounds (Zenithstar 73), is about as heavy as I would go with this mount.

Telescope for iOptron SkyGuider Pro Mount

I highly recommend the iOptron SkyGuider Pro to beginners and those looking for a portable grab-and-go setup.

This camera mount has exceeded my expectations, and is often the mount I look to first when setting up in the backyard. Even if I have my primary imaging rig running, there is no excuse to not run the SkyGuider Pro as well for some deep sky astrophotography with my DSLR.

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! 

The grab-and-go, simplistic nature of this camera tracker is what I value most. The SkyGuider Pro continues to provide me with incredible wide-angle and deep-sky images with minimal effort. The consistent results and positive user experience make this EQ mount one of my favorite astrophotography products of all time. 

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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