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Sky-Watcher EQ6-R

The ZWO ASIAIR Plus Has Arrived

|computers|21 Comments

The ZWO ASIAIR Plus is the third generation of the popular ASIAir wireless controller. This tiny red aluminum box aims to replace your laptop computer, imaging software, USB hubs, power supply, and even your WiFi connection. 

The goal of this device is to make collecting images of deep-sky objects (or planets) easier, and automated. You can control everything on your smartphone or tablet (iOS and Android) from inside the house.

The “Plus” improves on several aspects of the previous “Pro” model, including a 2.5X faster I/O speed and an enhanced antenna for a stronger WiFi signal. Capturing images of space while you sleep has never been easier.

Differences between ASIAIR Plus and Pro

The biggest differences between the new ASIAIR Plus and ASIAIR Pro are the extended WiFi range, faster I/O speeds (thanks to onboard eMMC storage), a new USB type-C port, and real-time power voltage monitoring within the mobile app. 

I skipped over the ASIAIR Pro, so the power ports are a nice upgrade from the original ASIair. Here is a list of all the external ports on the device:

Ports:

  • USB Type-C
  • Micro SD
  • 12V DC Power x 4
  • Ethernet x 1
  • DSLR Shutter Release
  • USB 2.0 x 2
  • USB 3.0 x 2

asiair plus wireless controller

Painless Astrophotography 

Have you thought about switching your laptop and about 4 pieces of software for an all-in-one portable device? I did, for a while, but I came crawling back to my classic “computer in a bucket” routine soon after.

The third installment of the ASIAIR legacy aims to correct the previous device’s shortcomings that were enough for guys like me to return to their old ways. This includes everything from the WiFi range, to overall system stability.

The astrophotography accessory that “changed the game” is now more refined and capable than ever. It costs $299 USD and replaces your laptop computer for astrophotography (if you’re running an ASI dedicated astronomy camera, that is). 

ZWO sent me a demo copy of the latest edition of their flagship wireless controller. I reluctantly agreed to modify my beloved setup and capture rituals to get a true feeling for the ASIAIR Plus experience. 

I think the following graphic ZWO shared on the ASIAIR Plus product page illustrates the main purpose of this device quite well:

portability

That’s me, before the ASIAIR Plus, on the top left. 

ZWO ASIAIR Plus

By now, you’ve probably heard of the ASIAIR. It’s essentially a mini raspberry pi computer with all of the tools you need for a complete imaging session with your ZWO camera (or “mainstream” DSLR).

Existing ASIAIR users seem to really enjoy them (often owning more than one of them) and I think it’s because it really solved a number of problems that beginner to intermediate astrophotographers were having.

It streamlines the start-to-finish capture process and allows you to do everything from your phone or tablet without touching the telescope or even going outside.

ZWO ASIAIR Plus

What the ASIAIR Plus Does:

  • Deep-sky imaging
  • Exposure previews
  • Plate solving
  • Focus assistant
  • Polar alignment assistant
  • Guiding
  • Autorun
  • Multi-target plan
  • Planetary imaging (video)
  • Live stacking

Instead of monitoring a laptop computer outside that is tethered to your equipment via cables, you are free to leave your equipment alone and control everything from your phone.

The device connects to your mobile phone or tablet via WiFi, just like you would for your home internet connection. Your home WiFi connection is not lost, but you may have to connect/re-connect to the ASIAIR WiFi if and when the connection is lost.

Rest assured, your imaging session does not stop if you lose the WiFi connection, and your images are safely stored as they come through. 

telescope with asiair plus

Why I Waited for the “Plus”

It’s remarkable to see how far this hobby has come in the last 10 years. No matter how the old-school crowd of astrophotographers feel about this device, it really is an incredible innovation.

I think the ASIAIR is responsible for ushering a new wave of astrophotographers by reducing the friction of the setup and image acquisition process, and that’s one heck of an accomplishment.

smart wifi controller

The unit is slightly smaller and lighter than its predecessor. 

So if the AISAIR is so great, why haven’t I used one for the last 2 years?

To be honest, the ASIAIR fixes a lot of problems I didn’t have. I love my old-school setup routine, (including my laptop), and my personal love for astrophotography is stronger than ever.

I am happy to set up my (all-weather) laptop computer in the backyard and use familiar software tools (such as Astro Photography Tool) that provide me with complete control over my imaging sessions. 

I log in remotely to my PC using tools like AnyDesk, so I am accustomed to the freedom of controlling my telescope from inside the house. But let’s be honest, I spend most of the time outside with my rig anyway (even in the winter).  

But I realize the way I do things is not for everyone. People appreciate the features of the ASIAIR that allow astrophotographers to spend more time capturing images, and less time tweaking settings and installing updates on their PC.

With that out of the way, let’s see what all the fuss is about:

First Impressions

The ZWO ASIAIR Plus starts shipping in November 2021. As new information becomes available, firmware updates are applied, and all features are explored, I will append the article to include the latest information. 

ZWO supplied a demo version of the ASIAIR Plus to me, but it is on loan unless I decide to purchase it from them. These are my honest, real-world opinions, and ZWO does not have any control over what I say.

Although my astrophotography reviews are not overly technical, they are practical and hands-on. At the time of writing, I’ve used the ASIAIR Plus to run a number of deep-sky imaging sessions in the backyard.

ASIAIR

Instead of using a micro SD card to store the OS (as the ASIAIR Pro did), the ASIAIR Plus has a custom-designed board featuring eMMC storage. This provides faster read and write speeds and improved system stability.

The full-frame dedicated astronomy camera I used produces 50MB raw images in Bin 1×1 mode, and the device had zero issues processing the data. I much prefer storing my image files on a USB drive over the micro SD card I used with the original ASIair. 

The 4 x 12V DC output ports are incredibly handy to have riding along with your telescope. These ports can be used to power devices like your ASI camera, a dew heater, and even your telescope mount.

This significantly cuts down on the number of cables running all over your imaging system. 

plus vs. pro

You can now transfer image files from the device to your PC via the USB Type-C cable. 

The Mobile App

The first thing I did was download the ASIAIR mobile app on my smartphone. I use a Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, so I found the app in the Google Play Store.

The latest ASIAIR app is similar to the original version, with some clever improvements. I can see everything here from the camera temperature, dither settings, and even the focus position (if I was using an autofocuser, of course).

ASIAIR mobile app

The ASIAIR mobile app.

Set-Up Process

I entered in my location details, along with the specifications of my gear including the telescope focal length. When your ASI cameras are plugged into the device, they are recognized immediately and can be selected from the drop-down menu.

The user interface is clean and easy to navigate. The entire setup process, including connecting the device to WiFi, was smooth and painless from start to finish. 

ZWO put a lot of time and energy into their beta-testing period, and it seems that all major bugs have been addressed at this point. This is great news for those looking to order one when it officially launches in November.

I really like the power output settings. You can clearly see what’s plugged into what port, and how much power it’s drawing.

My Equipment

My primary imaging camera was the ZWO ASI2400MC Pro, and for autoguiding, the ZWO ASI290MM Mini. The ASIAIR Plus powers both cameras, which are connected via the supplied (with the camera) USB 3.0 and USB Type-C cables.

The files produced by the ASI2400MC Pro are huge, so it was a great test of the devices read/write speeds.

ZWO ASI2400MC Pro

To power the ASIAIR Plus itself, I use a 12V 5A power adapter I purchased on Amazon. If you’re looking for a decent power supply for the ASIAIR Plus, this is the one I use

The camera is attached to the Radian 61 APO. The laptop is gone, and everything rides together on the telescope mount. The ASIAIR Plus comes with a handy mounting option, but I found good old velcro strips to be a great option for now.

The ASIAIR Plus is actually a little thinner and lighter than the previous versions, so it adds virtually no additional weight to your imaging setup.

astrophotography equipment

The setup shown above is a stripped-down version of what the ASIAIR Plus can really do, as it can control everything from the mount to the filter wheel.

I’ve only used the ASIAIR Plus a handful of times so far due to weather, so I’ve only utilized the wireless image capture feature, along with the built-in autoguiding system.

Astrophotography Gear Used in Testing

Focus and Framing

I enjoyed the focus and framing tool to confirm that my images were as sharp and centered as possible.

I regularly use a Bahtinov mask to confirm critical focus of my camera and telescope, but the ASIAIR Plus includes a FWHM measurement for those also using an autofocuser. 

The focus/framing mode is essentially a continuous loop of short-exposure images. This is a great time to tweak the final framing of your deep-sky target.

focusing the camera

Live-view focus using the ASIAIR Plus. 

Mount Control

Once you have properly connected the ASIAIR Plus to your equatorial telescope mount, you can control your imaging sessions with accurate GoTo functionality. 

This level of control not only lets you choose the deep-sky objects you wish to photograph, but also centers them in the field of view. This can save a lot of time and frustration for many people. 

For many folks, controlling your telescope mount with the ASIAIR Plus might be one of the biggest draws to the product. For better or worse, on my smaller rigs, I continue to use the built-in hand controller on the telescope mount.

How to connect mount

Related Article: How to Connect the ASIAIR to Your Sky-Watcher Mount

Once you have successfully connected your telescope mount to the ASIAIR Plus, you can use the search tool to find and slew to deep-sky objects in the night sky. 

Polar Alignment

For those that appreciate electronically assisted polar alignment (similar to the QHY Polemaster experience), the ASIAIR Plus has its own built-in polar alignment feature.

I have not personally demoed the polar alignment tool, but others swear by it. Cody (AstroBlender) has a fantastic ASIAIR polar alignment tutorial on YouTube. 

Many beginners struggle with the polar alignment process of an astrophotography mount, and I believe this is one of the main reasons the ASIAIR Plus and its predecessors are so popular.

Keep in mind that the polar alignment tool in the ASIAIR plus requires that you have a view within 30° of the celestial pole. 

smartphone control

Running an Imaging Sequence.

WiFi Range

The ASIAIR Plus corrects the biggest issue I had with the previous versions, the WiFi range. The dual-band antenna now reaches about 20 meters (65 ft), which is more than enough for me to get things running and keep tabs on my imaging sequence anywhere in the house.

It’s a dual-band WiFi network (2.4G/5G). ZWO states that the 5Ghz WiFi is faster than 2.4Ghz, but the range is better using 2.4Ghz. I personally used the 2.4Ghz range and experienced very little lag in the system.

The system is also a lot more stable in terms of the firmware and it boasts a 52MB/second write speed in order to handle today’s monster sensors and precious data coming through.

Guiding

In my experience, the autoguiding feature of the ASIAIR Plus worked flawlessly, each and every time. Keep in mind, I was shooting with a very forgiving wide-field telescope and full-frame camera.

The tool is extremely easy to navigate and run. Once your guide camera is connected and you have entered in the focal length of your guide scope, expect a quick calibration run and reliable autoguiding throughout the night. 

The guiding tool allows you to dither your images between each exposure, which (along with calibration frames) is extremely important for capturing quality data to integrate. In case you couldn’t tell from the image below, yes, the ASIAIR supports multi-star guiding. 

Guiding with the ASIAIR Plus

The Guiding Tool.

Live Stack/EAA

It is possible to live stack your images using the ASIAIR Plus. This is often referred to as electronically assisted astronomy (EAA), as it allows you to get a better look at your chosen deep-sky object by taking several short-exposure images. 

While reviewing your live stack images, you have the option to adjust the histogram to taste so that you can better view the target. If you’re looking for a great demo on the live stacking tool, check out this video

Running an Imaging Plan

I really enjoyed the shooting schedule mode of the ASIAIR Plus. It makes the process of setting up a new imaging session crystal clear.

All of the important information is displayed, from the light frame exposure length to the binning mode.

You’re able to set a sequence of images to run automatically, whether they are your light frames (picture files) or calibration frames such as dark frames and flat frames. 

Keep in mind that if you want to edit the specifics (such as exposure time, dithering) of your Autorun plan, you must reset the plan. There is no “edit” option to interrupt the imaging sequence and make changes to your settings. 

Rest assured, this will not discard the images you have already taken. This feature is one that Yannick (Cuiv the Lazy Geek) hopes will be improved upon in the future.

My Results

My first tests were to just control the temperature of the camera and shoot a sequence of dark frames in the house. The FIT files came through flawlessly and were stored on my USB 3.0 thumb drive for easy transfer the morning after.

Framing and focusing your target on the ASIAIR Plus is a pleasure, the live-loop feedback on my phone allows me to fine-tune my focus and tweak the positioning of the mount for framing.

Trevor Jones (AstroBackyard)

I decided to photograph the Lobster Claw Nebula for my first test of the ZWO ASIAIR Plus. This is a large nebulae region in Cassiopeia that includes plenty of other interesting deep-sky objects nearby.

When I combine a full-frame camera (ASI2400MC Pro) with my wide-field telescope, I can collect massive regions of space in a single shot. It was a thrill to see each exposure come through on the screen of my phone as I sat inside the house.

The user interface is pretty close to perfect in my eyes, I can’t think of a better way to display the information. I love being able to monitor the progress of my imaging session and auto-stretch the raw images as they come in. 

Here is the final result of about 4 hours of overall integration using the ASIAIR Plus to control my imaging session.

Lobster Claw Nebula

The Lobster Claw Nebula, Bubble Nebula, and Cave Nebula. 

Final Thoughts

If you already have an original ASIAIR or ASIAIR Pro, and you’re happy with it (and any workarounds you’ve made to extend the WiFi), I doubt you’ll feel an immediate need to upgrade right away.

But if you’re a “laptop guy” like me who’s been patiently waiting and watching the development of this product improve, now might be the time to finally dive in. The WiFi range on the original was annoying, but it was the stability/bugginess that scared me away.

Flaming Star Nebula

The Flaming Star Nebula and the Tadpoles.

The ASIAIR Plus is a fantastic product, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to streamline their astrophotography experience using a ZWO ASI astronomy camera. 

I’ll continue to use the ASIAIR Plus here in the backyard, and may finally have to retire one of my faithful astro-laptop computers for good.

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Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Review

|Equipment|36 Comments

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.

astrophotography images

Some of my favorite photos captured using the EQ6-R Pro. 

Whether you already own the EQ6-R Pro 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. 

Related Video: My first run with the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro in the backyard

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro telescope mount

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. 

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

The Basics

The EQ6-R Pro includes a SynScan hand controller with an LCD display that gives you control its 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. 

Iris Nebula

The Iris Nebula captured using the EQ6-R Pro and RedCat 71.

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.

If you are looking for a nice upgrade, the Dual EQ6R-Pro XL collar was redesigned to fit the EQ6R-Pro and features two large locking hand knobs and spring-loaded jaws.

EQ6-R adm saddle upgrade

Dual EQ6R-Pro XL collar

Getting Started

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 your current time zone, which for me, happens to be UTC -4 in southern Ontario. 

You can also enter in your current elevation, 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. 

SynScan Hand Controller

The SynScan Hand Controller set to EQ Mode. 

Use the “Park” Feature

This simple, yet useful feature automatically aligns your telescope mount in both axes 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 is 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 an 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.

QHY PoleMaster Adapter

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 finding 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. 

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 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.

Computerized Telescope Mount

The Stepper Motors are Quiet

If you haven’t used this particular mount firsthand, 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 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 pinpoint stars in your long exposure images.

EQ6-R autoguiding graph

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 its 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. 

mount specifications

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 than 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. 

astrophotography telescope

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 a 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 alignment.

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 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 6 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. 

Power supply for EQ6-R Pro

The AC/DC adapter I use to power the EQ6-R Pro mount from home. 

I often plug the DC power port into my portable power station to take my deep-sky imaging setup on the road. I currently use an Anker 757 PowerHouse to run my imaging rig while camping off-grid. 

Final Thoughts

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 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. 

astrophotography telescope mount

Pros:

  • Fantastic Tracking when Autoguiding Used
  • Quiet Stepper Motors even Slewing at 9X
  • Easy to Polar Align
  • Built-In PEC Training Feature

Cons:

  • Heavier Than it Looks
  • Intermediate Level Mount with Price to Match
  • Power Supply must be Correct or will Act Up

My Current Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Setup (2022)

astrophotography telescope

  1. ZWO ASI2400MC Pro
  2. Optolong L-eXtreme Filter
  3. ZWO ASIAIR Plus
  4. ZWO ASI120MM Mini
  5. William Optics Uniguide 50
  6. William Optics RedCat 71
  7. Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

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

twitter review

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is Available at OPT

EQ6-R Pro Review

Useful Resources:

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!

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The Foundation of Every Great Deep Sky Astrophotography Rig

|Equipment|22 Comments

Over the past 8 years, I’ve had the pleasure of using a number of telescope mounts for astrophotography. Some of them were substantial imaging platforms that included features such as autoguiding and periodic error correction (PEC), while others simply tracked the night sky at sidereal rate in a compact and portable package.

The payload capacity and features of the telescope mounts available today vary, but their level of importance in regards to your overall astrophotography goals remain constant. After many years of enjoying backyard deep-sky astrophotography, I can safely tell you that your telescope mount will be the single most important piece of your equipment.

telescope mounts

Equatorial telescope mounts come in many shapes and sizes (and colors)

My latest adventures in the backyard have reminded me of the positive impact the right telescope mount can have on your overall imaging experience. In this hobby, the difference between a night of frustration and one of jubilation is often tied to the user experience your equipment provides.

Choosing a telescope mount for astrophotography is one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make in this hobby. With steep price tags and overlapping features between models, it can be hard to make the right decision. So leverage my years of trial and error in this addictive and rewarding hobby we call astrophotography before you pull the trigger on a new mount.

In this post, I’ll share what’s worked for me in the past, and my early results using a new intermediate-level telescope mount for astrophotography, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro. I’ll include the images I’ve captured using this mount so far and specific performance indicators such as my autoguiding graph in PHD2 guiding.

The Most Important Piece of every Astrophotography Setup

I think we can all agree, that if the Earth didn’t rotate, deep sky astrophotography would be a heck of a lot easier. Compensating for the apparent movement of the night sky is why amateur astrophotographers require an equatorial mount to capture images through their telescopes.

However, even a small error in tracking accuracy will be “exposed” in a long exposure deep-sky image. In terms of astrophotography, the higher in magnification you go with your telescope, the more pronounced this error will be.

This is one of several reasons I continuously recommend a wide-field refractor telescope for beginners, as they are the most forgiving in this regard. They offer some of the lowest magnification views of the night sky, which is actually a benefit for many deep-sky photography targets.

telescope mount for astrophotography

My previous astrophotography mounts included the Celestron CG-5, Sky-Watcher HEQ5 and iOptron CEM60

Telescopes with a higher magnification may reveal any drift occurring from the mount. It will show itself in the form of elongated stars. An inaccurate polar alignment or periodic error in the right ascension axis may be the culprit.

But enough about the subtleties and joy of troubleshooting tracking issues, for now. The bottom line is, your telescope mount is the foundation of your astrophotography experience and can make or break the quality and consistency of your images.

An equatorial telescope mount that provides you with consistent, reliable results night in and night out can make the difference between a lifelong hobby, and a rotten experience that’s discouraging enough to make you want to put the telescope away for good.

I’d rather you take the first road mentioned, and that is the mindset behind this article.

Plan for Future Configurations

When it comes to selecting your first telescope mount for astrophotography (or upgrading your existing mount), I’d like to offer the following advice. Plan for the future. This isn’t groundbreaking advice and I am sure you’ve heard this mentioned before – but it’s the “why” that I am here to explain.

It’s easy to get caught up in the purchase of a new telescope for astrophotography and think “this is the telescope for me, the only one I’ll ever need”. This is how I felt about my Explore Scientific ED102 refractor. At the time, it was at the far reaches of my budget, and I believed that it would be the last telescope I’d ever buy.

I thought, as long as my current telescope mount could carry this 7-lb carbon fiber triplet, with my camera and accessories attached, I’d never need to upgrade. The truth is, I could have stuck with this combination for life – but then AstroBackyard happened.

deep sky astrophotography setup

My Explore Scientific ED102 refractor mounted to a Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro

What I mean by my previous statement is, I knew my YouTube channel and blog would get pretty stagnant if I continued to talk about the same equipment over and over again. Thankfully, I met Steve from Ontario Telescope in 2016, and the rest is history. (You can listen to Steve and talk astrophotography on the AstroBackyard Podcast).

Leave Room to Grow

For the first 5 years of my DSLR astrophotography experience, I was more than happy with using an 80mm refractor and a beginner level telescope mount. If you own a compact telescope (like the William Optics Z61 pictured below) that does not require a heavy-duty mount, you may never feel the need to upgrade. It means that have better self-control than most.

The problem is, deep-sky astrophotography is an addiction – and upgrading to a larger telescope down the road is a common occurrence. The setup pictured below includes the highly portable iOptron SkyGuider Pro, which is not only an incredible beginner-friendly mount – but a real performer.

It’s also a gateway mount” into the realm of deep-sky astrophotography I currently live in.

iOptron SkyGuider Pro

My William Optics Zenithstar 61 refractor on the iOptron SkyGuider Pro

Suddenly, the 11-lb payload capacity of your modest mount can no longer produce sharp images with your new telescope because it’s too heavy. That doesn’t mean you won’t use it anymore, but it will limit the types of telescopes you can mount to it.

On the other hand, if you “over-mount” from the beginning, you’ll have more than enough stability to run your current telescope kit, with lots of room to grow in the future.

Here’s a statement you may have heard before, that I have found to be true. For deep-sky astrophotography, you’ll want your telescope mount to have a payload capacity that is double the weight of your imaging gear. This may seem a little excessive, and there is certainly some wiggle room here. But in general, it’s a great rule of thumb.

My Telescope Mount Timeline

Year Brand Model Payload Capacity
2010 Celestron Advanced Series CG-5 25 lbs
2014 Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro SynScan GoTo 30 lbs
2017 iOptron SkyGuider Pro Camera Mount 11 lbs
2017 iOptron SkyTracker Pro Camera Mount 6.5 lbs
2017 iOptron CEM60 Center-Balanced Equatorial Mount 60 lbs
2018 Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Computerized GoTo Mount 44 lbs
2019 Celestron CGX-L 75 lbs

I’ll be the first to admit that I may be a little biased towards Sky-Watcher mounts, but for good reason. Although I have spent some serious time with iOptron and Celestron mounts in the past, none compare to the mileage I’ve put on my Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro. I love this old mount, rusty counterweights and all.

It’s been repeatedly packed and unpacked from closets, garages, and trunks (and has the battle scars to prove it). It’s been everywhere from the dark skies of Cherry Springs to the dark corners of our basement apartment closet. How could I not hold a special place in my heart for a mount that has been the cornerstone of my hobby for so many years?

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Computerized GoTo Telescope Mount

For this reason, I got a little extra excited when Sky-Watcher reached out to me about a snow-white EQ6-R Pro. I believe my years of use with the HEQ5 accelerated my comfort level and enjoyment with the EQ6-R Pro early on. The SynScan hand controller system and the overall user experience of the mount all felt very familiar to me.

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R First Impressions (Video)

Rudy kept a close eye on the giant boxes with “new smells” I opened on my backyard patio. In total, the shipment weighed 90 lbs. It was covered in “team-lift” stickers to avoid a lawsuit. My team consisted of myself, adrenaline, and black Labrador retriever. The feeling of unboxing a new piece of astrophotography gear (especially a new mount) is an unforgettable experience. I didn’t film an unboxing video this time, but I did snap a few pictures.

setting up the telescope mount

Setting up the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Telescope Mount

The first and most obvious thing I noticed while unpacking the Sky-Watcher EQ6-Pro was how heavy it was. In the world of equatorial mounts, that’s a very good thing. Stability is everything when your tracking objects that live in deep space, and the EQ6-R is rock-solid. Secondly, I noticed the green accents on the setting circles that match the new branding of the Esprit 100ED – this is less important but appreciated nonetheless.

Seeing as how the EQ6-R is the HEQ5’s new and improved big brother, I was absolutely smitten with delight unpacking and setting it up. For lack of a better analogy, it’s like going from an old Toyota Corolla to a RAV4😉

Upcoming Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Review

A complete review of the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro will take time and more experience to build properly. At this stage, I simply want to share my first impressions with the mount. I will say this, I can’t remember the last time I was able to unbox a piece of astrophotography gear and produce an amazing deep-sky image on the same day.

The fact that this is an advanced equatorial telescope mount, makes this statement even more impressive. If my early experiences with the EQ6-R are any indication of what I can expect (2 nights in), this should be a lot of fun.

Completed: Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Review (May 2019)

backyard astrophotography

A night of deep-sky astrophotography in the backyard

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

Core Specifications

  • Mount Type: German Equatorial
  • Electronics: Computerized with GoTo
  • Weight: 38 lbs
  • Mounting Style: Vixen + Losmandy
  • Payload Capacity: 44 lbs
  • Counterweight Weight: 2 x 11 lbs
  • Tripod Leg Diameter: 2″
  • Tripod Weight: 16.5 lbs

Notable Features

  • Built-In Carry Handle
  • Robust Alt-Az Adjustment Knobs
  • Internal Belt Drive System
  • Thread-on 12V DC Power Socket
  • SynScan Hand Controller with 42,000 object database
  • Built-in ST-4 AutoGuider Port
  • Stepper Motors (64 micro steps driven)
  • Dual Saddle Mount (Vixen, Losmandy)
  • Built-In PEC training
  • Illuminated Polar Finder
  • Retractable Counterweight Bar

EQ6-R features and specifications

Deep Sky Astrophotography with the EQ6-R

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R arrived at my door on Friday, and it sat in the dining room hallway until Saturday. With clear skies in the forecast for Saturday night, I was given the rare opportunity to try out a new piece of gear right away. (Longtime amateur astronomers and photographers know that new equipment is usually met with a week of cloud cover, at a minimum).

Everything was neatly packed in the box with a custom foam insert that cradled the head of the EQ6-R mount. I’ll keep this packaging for transporting the mount in the future, to take advantage of this custom fitted padding. The foam can be used in a large carry-case when I decide to upgrade from a cardboard box.

Over the years, I’ve seen a wide variety of instruction manuals and spec sheets that accompany new astro-gear. Some have been nothing more than a vague description of the product with poor spelling – and a link to a website for more info. This was not the case with the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R. The manual is an in-depth, premium resource, complete with detailed diagrams and well-written dialogue. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make the difference.

After locking the mount head into place on the tripod and securing the spreader/eyepiece tray, I corrected the latitude of the polar axis for my location. The dial is easy to read and responsive. It wasn’t much of an adjustment from the default position of about 45 degrees to 43 here in Ontario, Canada.

Alt-Az Bolt Upgrades

It’s impossible to ignore the impressive upgrades made to the alt-az bolts on the EQ6-R. Going from the rather dinky bolts on my old HEQ5 to the robust handles on the EQ6-R was quite the upgrade. The focus put into this seemingly underrated update is surely the result of user feedback over the years, and much appreciated from someone who’s spent a lot of time setting up telescope mounts.

alt-az bolts

The heavy-duty alt-az bolts on the EQ6-R Pro

Integrated Handle

The same goes for the built-in heavy-duty handle on the mount head. For those of you that lug a complete rig across the patio as I do, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without this. I can get one hand between the mount head rod and spreader, and the other with a tight grip on the handle.

With the Esprit 100ED APO and astrography accessories attached, it’s a heavy load. But at least I can carry it more confidently with the integrated handle.

Built-In Polar Finder Scope

With polar alignment being so critical for success, it’s a shame when a telescope mount either doesn’t include a polar scope, or it feels like an afterthought. I’ve always enjoyed the practicality of a built-in polar scope, and making adjustments to the HEQ5 was a breeze.

I am happy to report that the polar alignment scope on the EQ6-R is easier to use than ever. The polar finder reticle is illuminated red when the mount is one, providing the perfect amount of light to see the clock and the Polaris at the same time. The biggest improvement to this process is the previously mentioned alt-az bolt upgrades which allow you to make smooth, precise adjustments.

SynScan Hand Controller and Slewing

The new and improved SynScan system is a pleasure to use, and I still enjoy the manual process of the 3-star alignment. Once your polar alignment has been set correctly, it’s simply a matter of slewing to 3 bright stars in your window of sky to quickly train the mount to point accurately.

I won’t get into exact arc-minutes of precision, but let’s just say my second alignment star appears in my imaging telescope (at 500mm) every time. After star 3, I can be confident that I’ll be pointing directly at my faint deep sky target with minimal framing adjustment before shooting.

The mount is quiet, even when slewing at top speed. It’s a high pitched hum that reminds me of the HEQ5 motor, but refined. It’s certainly not loud enough to wake up the neighbors. The new and improved SynScan hand controller (Version 5) is connected via USB. This makes updating the hand controller firmware much easier using your PC.

Tracking Accuracy and Autoguiding Performance

For those of you that like to scrutinize the tracking accuracy of your telescope mount using the graph in PHD2, have a look at the screenshot below. For my image scale using the Esprit 100ED and ASI294 MC Pro, the total RMS error of less than 1.0 means that my 4-minute images came out very sharp. I don’t like to get too hung up on the numbers in PHD2 guiding (and you shouldn’t either!), but if you’re curious as to what I’ve observed with the EQ6-R – here it is:

My autoguiding graph in PHD2 guiding with the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R

The Images

When I have enough information and experience with the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R, I’ll provide a detailed review of the mount that includes the specific traits of the hardware including any backlash, and any quirks that come up with different telescopes riding up top. For now, I’ll share 2 images that were captured on nights 1 and 2 using the EQ6-R with an Esprit 100ED telescope.

For both images, the ST-4 autoguiding port on the EQ6-R was used to improve the tracking of my deep-sky targets. At this time, I have not attempted any unguided images with the EQ6-R, although that would be an interesting experiment.  To autoguide, I leverage the free PHD2 guiding software with my compact guide scope package that includes an Altair GPCAM2 camera and StarField 50mm guide scope.

The Eastern Veil Nebula

NGC 6992 – The Eastern Veil Nebula

California Nebula

NGC 1499 – The California Nebula

  • Total Exposure: 3 Hours, 28 Minutes (52 x 4-minutes)
  • Camera: ZWO ASI294 MC Pro
  • Telescope: Sky-Watcher Esprit 100ED
  • Filter: STC Astro Duo Narrowband

As you can imagine, I am quite impressed with the performance and user-experience the Sky-Watcher EQR-6 telescope mount has provided thus far. For the style of deep sky astrophotography I enjoy, it appears to be a great solution and upgrade from the HEQ5.

The wide-field Sky-Watcher Esprit 100ED is a perfect match for this mount, and I’m not just talking about the color scheme. For an idea of the different types of telescopes, you could potentially mount to the EQ6-R,  have a look at the AstroBackyard Facebook page. The announcement of this GoTo mount stirred up many backyard images of the EQ6-R in a variety of configurations.

Final Thoughts

I am very grateful to be in a position to be reviewing and enjoying astrophotography equipment in my backyard. Some tests span the course of multiple nights and even months. The steeper the learning curve, and the more hiccups that occur along the way – the longer it takes to share organized content and results.

With that in mind, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro arrived at my home 1 week ago today. Regardless of my previous experience using my old HEQ5 and equatorial mounts in general, this is a pretty impressive testament to the painless user experience this intermediate level equatorial mount offers.

Rudy

Rudy sitting proudly in front of my new telescope mount

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R offers a good balance of affordability and performance/payload capacity. It’s an attractive option for anyone using a modest-sized refractor such as the Esprit 100ED and leaves room to grow into the future.

To stay up to date with AstroBackyard and my latest backyard adventures with the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R and everything else I’m up to, please subscribe to my e-mail newsletter. I’d like to thank Kevin at Sky-Watcher USA for this incredible opportunity. I think he finally got tired of seeing me drag that old HEQ5 out of the garage!

If you’re interested in the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount, you can order online from OPT.

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The Mighty Celestron CGX-L Computerized Equatorial Mount

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