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Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Review

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The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro is an extremely popular portable star tracker designed for astrophotography. After using iOptron star trackers for deep-sky astrophotography exclusively, it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

In this post, I’ll share my unbiased opinion about the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro, and actual images I was able to capture using it. The setup I used was the Pro Pack version, that comes with the counterweight kit, latitude EQ base, and fine-tuning mounting assembly.

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Review

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Review

If you would like to get a good look at the Star Adventurer Pro Pack in action, please enjoy my video review on YouTube: 

In the beginner stages of astrophotography, one of the most daunting challenges is choosing a reliable tracking mount for long exposure photography at night. Affordable, portable camera tracker mounts are a fantastic way to start, because they are not overly complex, and can provide promising results in a short period of time. 

If you’re new to the world of star trackers for astrophotography, this article should help clear things up. Essentially, a tracking camera mount allows you to shoot sharp, long exposure images of deep-sky objects in space. For me, this is often a large nebula or galaxy, but it could be anything from a star cluster to a comet.

The star trackers in this category have many names, from “tracking camera mounts”, to “multi-function mounts”. Whatever you call it, mounts like the Star Adventurer Pro (and Star Adventurer Mini) were designed to be portable, quick to set up and take sharp images at varying focal lengths. 

This mount can be used in a staggering number of configurations for astrophotography, from dual-camera and telescope setups to a versatile time-lapse photography/video mode. Whichever type of astrophotography/videography you’re into, you’ll be able to enjoy up to 11-lbs of gear in more orientations that you thought were possible. (I never thought of using the mount in horizontal rotation time-lapse mode before!)

sky-watcher star adventurer mount

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro sits in an increasingly crowded space of portable astrophotography mounts. If you’re familiar with my work, you’ll know that I am no stranger to Sky-Watcher products, with my primary imaging rig consisting of an EQ6-R Pro equatorial mount and an Esprit 100 APO refractor. 

Does the fact that the Star Adventurer Pro matches my existing Sky-Watcher gear (lime green and white) affect my opinion of the mount? A little. The previous version of this mount was black and red, which would have matched the RedCat a lot better!

The outrage from the audience of my YouTube video (because I did not review the Star Adventurer mount) resulted in Sky-Watcher USA reaching out to me to test the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Pro Pack. (Thanks!)

Portable Astrophotography Setup

The Star Adventurer Pro with the fine-tuning mounting assembly and counterweight attached.

The Pro Pack

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro comes in 3 packages. If you are interested in maximizing the full potential of this mount and would like to use it with a small telescope (like the William Optics RedCat 51) or heavy telephoto lens, I suggest investing in the Pro Pack.

What’s Included:

  • Star Adventurer Pro Mount Head
  • Dovetail L-Bracket with DEC Fine Adjustment
  • Built-in Polar Scope
  • Ball Head adaptor
  • Polar Scope Illuminator
  • Latitude EQ Wedge
  • Counterweight Shaft
  • 1kg Counterweight

The Pro Pack includes the multi-function mount, a polar scope with an external, switch-on illuminator, a counterweight kit, a ball-head adapter, the latitude (EQ) base, and a declination bracket. The build quality and finish of the mount are impressive. The main body of the mount is metal, and the core components like the mode dial, adjustment knobs, and polar scope are solid and secure. 

As I’ll discuss further later on, the fine adjustment declination mount on the L-bracket was a pleasant and much-appreciated surprise. 

Another option to consider is the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini (SAM). This version is the smallest of the bunch and can handle a maximum payload of 6.6 pounds. This miniature tracking platform was designed for landscape astrophotographers looking to capture long-exposure nightscapes using a DSLR or mirrorless camera and lens. 

If keeping weight to a minimum, and ultra-portability is important to you, perhaps the SAM is worth looking into. I find the full-size Star Adventurer Pro to be extremely compact and portable and can easily handle some of the heavier lenses I use for astrophotography like the Rokinon 135mm F/2

Thus far, I have enjoyed using the Star Adventurer Pro with my 250mm RedCat 51 refractor most. With my Canon 60Da camera, this provides an advantageous 40omm focal length. The image of the Orion Nebula below was captured using 16 x 90-second exposures @ ISO 3200 on the Star Adventurer Pro mount. 

Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula. Captured using a Canon 60Da DSLR camera and small telescope on the Star Adventurer Pro.

Complete Specifications (Pro Pack)

The Pro Pack includes absolutely everything you need to fully enjoy this mount, including the latitude EQ base and the counterweight kit. As with all of the gear I review on AstroBackyard, I was not paid to endorse this mount or any other Sky-Watcher product. Here are the core details of this star tracker:

  • Mount Type: Equatorial Camera Tracking System
  • Mount Weight: 3.63 lbs.
  • Built-In Illuminated Polar Scope: Yes
  • Autoguide Port: Yes
  • Maximum Payload Capacity: 11 lbs.
  • Type of Mount Electronics: Motorized (Non-Computerized)
  • Built-in Battery: Requires 4 “AA” Batteries
  • Motor Type: DC Servo, 144 teeth
  • Tracking Rates: Celestial, 1/2 Celestial, Solar, Lunar
  • Saddle Type: Vixen
  • Hand Controller: None

Here is a look at the body of the mount. This helpful diagram can be found in the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro manual (PDF). I have listed all of the numbered areas of the mount below.

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro

  1. Celestial Tracking Mode Dial
  2. Mode Index
  3. Polar Scope Cap
  4. Battery Base Cover
  5. Polar Scope Cover
  6. Mini USB Port
  7. RJ-12 Autoguider Port (6-pins)
  8. DSLR Shutter Control Port
  9. 3-Position Slide Switch
  10. Right Button and LED Indication
  11. Left Button and LED Indication
  12. Clutch Knob
  13. Mounting Platform
  14. Locking Knob
  15. Polar Scope Focus Ring
  16. Polar Scope
  17. Date Graduation Circle
  18. Time Meridian Indicator
  19. 4 X AA Battery Case
  20. Time Graduation Circle
  21. Time Meridian Indicator Calibration Screw
  22. Polar Scope Calibration Screw
  23. Worm Gear Meshing Adjustment Screw
  24. Sockey for 3/8″ Thread Screw
  25. 1/4″ to 3/8″ Convert Screw Adapter

Most users will most certainly power the mount using 4 X AA batteries, which will last for up to 72 hours worth of tracking. You also have to option of powering the mount using DC 5V with a  Mini USB cable (Type mini-b) from your computer. 

The power of a star tracker lies in the freedom and portability of the mount, so do yourself and power the Star Adventurer using batteries. 

The mode dial includes 8 positions. This gives you 7 possible tracking speeds (position 1 is “off”).

Tracking Speeds:

  • Celestial Tracking 
  • Solar Tracking
  • Lunar Tracking
  • 0.5X Speed (48-hour Rotation)
  • 2X Speed (12-Hour Rotation)
  • 6X Speed (4-Hour Rotation)
  • 12X Speed (2-Hour Rotation)

tracking rates

The mode dial lets you select the tracking rate of the mount.

How the Star Adventurer Pro Works

If you own a DSLR camera and a sturdy tripod, the Star Adventurer Pro opens up the world of astrophotography to you. That’s because this tracking camera mount will compensate for Earth’s rotation, and allow to capture long exposure images of deep-sky objects without star trailing. 

You could actually use the Star Adventurer for visual astronomy, too, if you wanted. The mount can handle up to 11 pounds of gear, which means a small refractor telescope with a diagonal and eyepiece are an option. 

If you have never used an equatorial mount for astrophotography before, the first thing you need to know is that polar alignment is critical.

polar scope

The built-in polar scope on the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro.

To polar align the Star Adventurer Pro, you need to align the latitude wedge with the north or south celestial pole from your geographic location. For me, that means adjusting the altitude control knob so that 43 degrees north is set.

Then, it’s a matter of moving the azimuth controls from side to side to place the north star in the correct position.

I use an app on my smartphone called Polar Finder to identify the exact position Polaris must be in from my location and time. Adjusting the Star Adventurer’s (or any other EQ mounts) Alt/Az controls is a quick and easy process once you get used to it.

Once you are polar aligned, you can dial the mode dial to 1X celestial tracking rate, which will match the apparent motion of the night sky. Images of 1-minute in length or more will no longer show star trailing, and deep-sky astrophotography is now possible. 

Using a Ball Head vs. Fine-Tuning Mount Assembly

If your interests lie in wide-angle nightscapes or Milky Way photography, chances are a ball head is your best option. A DSLR or mirrorless camera and wide-angle lens are relatively lightweight when compared to a telephoto lens or telescope. In this scenario, a ball-head will easily support your camera and lens, and you’ll have the freedom to point the camera in whichever direction you like. 

To use a ball head (not included with the mount) on the Star Adventurer, you can use the green 3/8″ ball head adapter. This attaches to the mounting platform, and then you can thread the base of your ball head to it. 

DSLR Camera and Lens

When using the mount with a DSLR camera and lens, the ball head and adapter is a handy configuration.

If you are using a longer lens in the 200-300mm range (or a telescope), you’ll probably want to use the fine-tuning mount assembly. The dovetail bar and declination bracket that comes with the Star Adventurer is probably my favorite feature of the mount overall.

You can mount your camera to the declination bracket of the Star Adventurer using the 1/4″ thread screw on the base of your lens collar or telescope mount. Then, just screw the counterweight bar into the bottom of the fine-tuning mount assembly, and adjust the height of the weight to achieve balance. 

Between adjusting the height of the dovetail bar on the mounting platform, and the counterweight itself, you should be able to really balance your load evenly. 

How to Find and Frame Deep-Sky Objects

The mount does not include a computerized GoTo system, so you’ll need to find and frame objects yourself. A lot of people ask me how to accomplish this, and it’s really not that hard. 

Just use a planetarium app on your phone, or desktop computer to get an idea of where the object you wish to photograph lies. That means finding the location of the object and the constellation that it is in, so you have a point of reference when your outside.

The brightest objects make this experience much easier. For example, in the northern hemisphere, the Pleiades star cluster is very easy to locate in the night sky, even in a light-polluted area. Once you’ve spotted its location, you simply use the RA and DEC controls of the Star Adventurer to “frame-up” the object using your camera lens or telescope.

If the object is bright enough, you can use the viewfinder on your camera to center it in the frame. You can also focus the image at this time, as long as their is at least one bright star in the field. 

To focus your camera lens or telescope, you can use the live-view mode on your camera, and zoom in 10X. You could also try using a Bahtinov mask, which will create a useful star pattern as a reference.

astrophotography

Set up under dark skies for astrophotography with the Star Adventurer Pro.

Helpful Tips and Advice

One thing I wanted to mention to new owners of the Star Adventurer Pro Pack is to remember to remove the 1/4″ to ⅜” convert screw adapter on the base of the wedge before installing it on your tripod.

The adapter is inside of the wedge base from the factory, but you’ll need to use a slotted screwdriver to remove it so it will thread onto your tripod.

The included adapter is handy to have but I feel that some owners will wonder why the wedge will not fit on their ¼” thread tripod if they haven’t removed it.

The Star Adventurer includes a DSLR shutter control cable to directly control your cameras shutter release with pre-programmed shutter intervals. I must admit, I have not used this feature because I am rather comfortable with my own intervalometer I’ve been using for years. However, if you don’t already own a remote shutter release cable, this is likely a nice bonus for you.

What I Like

The mount feels very stable and adjusting the altitude and azimuth controls of the base are precise. I find that I can polar align the Star Adventurer quickly and accurately without the need for an electronic polar scope like the PoleMaster or iPolar.

My favorite thing about the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is the declination bracket and controls. The DEC bracket makes it very easy to attach your camera or telescope to the mount. By releasing the clutch and turning the declination adjustment knob, you can point your camera or lens in any direction in the sky. When you have framed up your target, you can lock the RA clutch and begin tracking the object for an extended period of time. 

declination bracket

I really like the smooth, secure declination bracket on the fine-tuning mount assembly.

The included Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Dec Bracket lets you attach a camera or small telescope, which can then be pointed to different Declination angles as you wish. The Dec bracket includes a motion control knob and a Dec axis locking knob. With the Dec Bracket installed, the Star Adventurer becomes a functional equatorial mount including Dec angle adjustments operating with manual control.

The fine-tuning mounting assembly with the ¼” screw is absolutely fantastic. I love the locking mechanism underneath, the precision declination angle control, and the overall secure and balanced nature of the design. If you plan on using the Star Adventurer with a small telescope, this will likely be your favorite aspect of the mount too.

The decision to power the mount using AA batteries rather than a rechargeable lithium-ion style battery is a little surprising to me. However, I honestly don’t think this is a negative aspect of the design, because it’s actually quite a practical and handy feature. You can buy AA batteries almost anywhere, which means there is no excuse to be without power in the field.

Tracking Accuracy

As amateur deep-sky astrophotographers will tell you, tracking accuracy becomes extremely important when shooting through a long lens or telescope. I tested the Star Adventurer Pro with an equivalent focal length of 400mm (Crop Sensor DSLR + 250mm telescope), and the Star Adventurer held up exceptionally well.

Here is a single 1.5-minute exposure @ ISO 3200 using my Canon DSLR and RedCat 51 refractor on the Orion Nebula. I’d say those stars look pretty round, wouldn’t you?

tracking accuracy

This means that anyone shooting with focal lengths of 400mm or less can expect similar results when the mount is accurately polar aligned and balanced. These results are very impressive for a portable star tracker.

What Could Be Improved

As mentioned in Peter Zelinka’s detailed review of the mount, the mode dial can be easily switched on in your camera bag by mistake. Although I always bring a spare set of AA batteries with me when traveling with the mount, it would be a shame to run the batteries dry by accidentally turning the mount on. Perhaps a way to lock the position of the dial with a simple switch could be introduced for the next design.

The polar scope illumination is accomplished by clipping in a small red LED light on the front of the polar axis. The simple device runs on a small battery and can be switched on and off. I would have preferred the light to be inside of the mount at all times because it would be very easy to misplace such a small item when traveling. 

The azimuth screws on either side of the wedge base are simple and easy to adjust. However, to “lock” the azimuth position down, you’ll need to use an Allen key to tighten the bolts down all the way. In reality, you could probably get away with tightening these screws by hand. 

latitude EQ base

Astrophotography Results

I have used the Star Adventurer Pro for a number of deep-sky imaging sessions from my backyard, and from a dark sky site. Many people will use this portable mount with a DSLR camera and lens, but the real test of its tracking capabilities are realized when a telescope is in use. 

Here are some of the images I’ve managed to collect using the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro using a telescope with a demanding equivalent focal length of 400mm.

Pleiades Star Cluster

The Pleiades Star Cluster. Star Adventurer Pro + William Optics RedCat 51.

Andromeda Galaxy

The Andromeda Galaxy. Star Adventurer Pro + William Optics RedCat 51.

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro vs. iOptron SkyGuider Pro

If you’ve followed this blog for some time, you’ll know that I’ve been using my beloved iOptron SkyGuider Pro for a long time, and loving every minute of it. So how does the Star Adventurer Pro compare the SkyGuider?

First off, I’ll say that I found it easy to collect impressive images using both mounts. They share many positive similarities including the handy polar alignment scope and reliable celestial tracking performance.

The differences between the two mounts lie in the hardware, fit and finish, and overall user experience in the dark.

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer vs. iOptron SkyGuider Pro

For example, I found the latitude EQ base on the Star Adventurer Pro to be slightly better than the stock version on the iOptron. If you remember, I upgraded to the William Optics wedge base for the SkyGuider, and that evened the playing field. But you shouldn’t have to upgrade the base for reliable results.

I know that iOptron received a lot of valuable feedback about the included base, and I expect that they will improve upon the design in the future. It works fine, it’s just a bit finicky to get right. As you know, when it comes to astrophotography, your tripod and mount must be extremely secure and solid for successful results. 

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro wins in the polar scope department. The Star Adventurer Pro has a beautiful little scope in it, and it works great, but you need to attach an external clip to illuminate it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great design and it works fine. The problem is, it would be very easy to misplace and/or lose the tiny illumination device for the polar scope. The SkyGuider Pro’s light is built inside of the mount and you’ll never forget to pack it or leave it on. 

The declination bracket on the SkyGuider is notoriously unimpressive and users often upgrade this element. Again, William Optics came to the rescue and manufactured a gorgeous declination bracket design that feels like it should have been there from the start. In comparison, the smooth control knob and stable base on the Star Adventurer is my absolute favorite feature of the mount. 

I love that I can slide the dovetail bar up or down on the mounting platform on the Star Adventurer. This ensures that I achieve the perfect balance when mounting a small refractor and DSLR camera on top. 

Equatorial tracking mount

Final Thoughts

I must say, I now realize why everyone was so upset that I did not mention the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro when I discussed the topic of star trackers as a whole. Not only did the Star Adventurer Pro meet my demanding expectations of a portable tracking mount, but exceeded them in terms of enjoyment of the setup process. 

You may have noticed that I did not test the autoguiding performance of this mount, despite the fact that it includes a built-in autoguide port. Adding this element to the acquisition process can generate worthwhile results, but I tend to avoid this type of imaging when using a star tracker and save autoguiding for my advanced setups. 

Although the Star Adventurer has some quirks like a dial that’s easy to turn on by mistake, and an “add-on” polar scope illuminator, I think it’s an exceptional value and a great product. 

The fine-tuning mounting assembly and secure declination bracket is the most impressive design aspect of the Star Adventurer, and anyone who’s previously used an iOptron SkyGuider Pro will know why. If you’ve already invested in a competing model like the iOptron SkyGuider Pro, I see no reason to switch to the Star Adventurer Pro Pack.

However, if you’re in the market for your first star tracker, I think you’ll be absolutely thrilled with the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro – just make sure you get the complete package (Pro Pack!)

Pro Pack

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Choosing a Star Tracker for Astrophotography

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When it comes to astrophotography, a star tracker allows you to take better images. Your exposure lengths are no longer limited to 30-seconds or less due to a moving sky, and you can dial back camera settings like ISO and F-stop.

Equatorial camera mounts are designed to align with the polar axis of the night sky so you can take long-exposure images that are free of star trailing. Astrophotography demands long-exposure tracked images to collect as much signal (light) as possible, and that is exactly what a star tracker allows you to do.

This summer, I had the opportunity to review a new star tracker for astrophotography, the Fornax Mounts LighTrack II. From the mechanical design to the polar alignment procedure, this portable tracking camera mount is very different from any astrophotography mount I have ever used before.

It created the perfect opportunity to compare this camera tracker against some of the competing models in this category, in terms of overall user experience and performance. In this post, I’ll discuss the topic of using a star tracker for astrophotography, and which one I like using most.  

star trackers

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro, Fornax Mounts LighTrack II, and iOptron SkyTracker Pro

The star trackers shown above are capable of accurately tracking the night sky for long-exposure night sky photography. Each of them has their own strengths and weaknesses, from the portability factor to maximum payload capacity. I’ll do my best to explain why the overall user experience is the number one factor to consider when choosing a portable tracking camera mount.

How to Use a Star Tracker

A star tracker’s job is to match the rotation of the Earth so that you can take long exposure images (at nearly any focal length) of the night sky. To properly track the stars that appear to move across the night sky each night, a star tracker must be polar aligned and balanced.

To polar align an equatorial mount for astrophotography (including a small camera tracker), you need to adjust the altitude and azimuth of the base so that the polar axis of the mount is aligned with the celestial pole. In the northern hemisphere, we have the advantage of using the north star, Polaris, to aid in this process.

portable tracking mount

A portable star tracker with a ball head and DSLR camera attached.

Without using a star tracker, the stars in the night sky will begin to trail after about 15-30 seconds, depending on the focal length of the lens used. This is because the Earth is spinning on its axis, while the night sky is fixed. Amateur photographers using a stationary tripod can use the 500 rule as a guide for choosing the ideal shutter speed, but a star tracker removes this limitation altogether. 

When a tracking camera mount is used, a small motor slowly rotates your camera in right-ascension, effectively matching the apparent movement of the night sky, and freezing it in its tracks. The image below shows you what a 3-minute exposure using a 400mm lens would like without using a star tracker.  how to use a star tracker

Long exposure images (180-seconds) shot at 400mm with and without tracking. 

Luckily for amateur astrophotographers and photographers, there are a lot of great star tracker options to choose from these days. Unlike a heavy equatorial telescope mount, a star tracker is portable, small, and lightweight. Because of their small size and compact profile, they’re usually a lot more affordable, too. 

The star tracker category includes small EQ mounts that can carry a camera and lens combo, whether it’s for wide-angle Milky Way photography or deep sky imaging with a telephoto lens. Wide-angle nightscapes and Milky Way panoramas are the star trackers strong point. These types of projects usually involve traveling to a remote location, where packing light is necessary. 

If you’ve ever seen a detailed photo of the Milky Way like the one below, chances are the photographer used a star tracker to collect sharp, long exposure images with their camera and lens. 

The Milky Way

The Milky Way from a dark sky location. Stack of 60 x 2-minute exposures at ISO 1600. 

A star tracker will usually include a polar scope, which is used to help find the north celestial pole and adjust the mount accordingly. A star tracker that has been properly polar aligned will match the exact apparent rotation of the night sky to freeze deep sky objects in place.

Don’t expect these little units to carry a heavy telescope, although small refractors are an option if you’ve got a counterweight system to help balance things out. As you’ll soon see with the Fornax Mounts LighTrack II, a counterweight system is often an additional option from the base star tracker package. 

In fact, a lot of the star trackers available online today come in a potentially confusing number of packages and bundles. My advice is that you invest in a system that can not only handle your intended payload (and then some) but also provide you with features that make imaging in the field easier and more enjoyable. 

Popular Models in the “Star Tracker” Category

If you are a beginner in the world of astrophotography (see my beginners guide), investing in a tracking camera mount is the single biggest advancement you can make in terms of gear. You can now let the exposure time do the heavy lifting without relying on fast optics and high ISO settings to collect a decent amount of signal. 

The following tracking camera mounts share many similarities, including the ability to track the night sky at different speeds. Before investing in a dedicated star tracker for landscape or deep-sky astrophotography, make sure the bundle you order includes everything you need to mount your camera and lens.

star tracker for astrophotography

Which one should you invest your hard-earned money in for astrophotography? That will depend on the type of user-experience you are looking for, and my goal for this article is to highlight the key differences in the user experience for each mount. 

If you’re just looking to shoot wide-angle astrophotography using a camera lens, I’ve got good news for you. All of the star trackers mentioned above are capable of accurately tracking the night sky for incredible long exposure images like the one below (including the most affordable option, the iOptron SkyTracker Pro).

Cygnus stars

Canon T3i and Rokinon 14mm F/2.8 lens on the iOptron SkyTracker Pro. 

What They Do Best

These mounts are primarily designed for wide-angle astrophotography, meaning projects like Milky Way panoramas or mid-range focal length compositions using a telephoto lens in the 100-200mm range. That’s not to say that you can’t use a star tracker for high magnification deep-sky imaging, but that will demand the most of your tracker, and a require a diligent setup routine.

The portable nature of a star tracker often leads to some of the most memorable deep sky astrophotography sessions in the field, as they offer you the freedom to travel to a dark sky location without a trunk full of gear. One of the most incredible astrophotography adventures of my life was setting up an iOptron SkyGuider Pro and William Optics RedCat 51 telescope to capture the Carina Nebula from Costa Rica. 

wide field astrophotography

The Carina Nebula from Costa Rica (9-minute exposure using a star tracker and small telescope).

It simply wasn’t possible to bring my computerized telescope mount to this location (on a plane), yet a star tracker fit in my carry-on bag and allowed me to collect tracked images of the night sky from the middle of the resort. These are the kinds of adventures you can expect when you invest in a portable star tracker for astrophotography.

Key Benefits of a Star Tracker

  • Quick Setup and Alignment
  • Lightweight and Portable
  • Great for Travel
  • Built-in Battery Power*
  • Great for Camera Lens Astrophotography

* The Fornax Mounts LighTrack II requires an external 12V power source.

tracking camera mounts

From my personal experience using star trackers for astrophotography from the backyard and beyond, I believe the absolute most important aspect to consider is the user experience. If the star tracker is not easy to use in the field, or the process of setting up takes too long, you won’t use it as much. That’s all there is to it. 

As any experienced amateur astrophotographer will tell you, your motivation to stay up all night and image will vary. Any additional friction between you and a successful image has a way of affecting your decision process of stepping outside on a less-than-perfect night.

Don’t forget about the tear-down process either. If the clouds roll in and it looks like rain is coming, a lengthy teardown routine can turn into a stressful situation. Star trackers can usually be carried inside the house with all elements attached in a moment’s notice. The same can not be said for a full-blown deep sky astrophotography kit

A star tracker should allow you to quickly get up-and-running under a clear night sky. It should be a pain-free experience that provides the freedom and flexibility to take amazing astrophotography images wherever, and whenever you want.

astrophotography

All of these photos were captured using a portable camera tracker mount.

Which Star Tracker is Right For You?

I am hesitant to state which star tracker is “best”, as I have found them all to have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of user experience in the field. Since this article was first published, I reviewed the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro and you can read it here

I often see comments from beginners about being limited to a maximum exposure time using a particular mount before the stars begin to trail. My honest opinion is that these situations are almost always due to user error in the polar alignment and balancing procedure.

Each and every star tracker I have ever used for astrophotography was capable of sharp, 3-minute exposures using a focal length of up to 200mm. A portable star tracker must be accurately polar aligned and balanced to work properly. This may seem obvious to most people, but time and time again I see poor results being blamed on the hardware itself. 

iOptron SkyGuider Pro

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro with a telescope attached. 

My portable star tracking mounts have traveled with me to some amazing places and captured some of my favorite astrophotos. Both of the iOptron star trackers I am about to cover are extremely popular in the amateur astrophotography and nightscape photography community, and for good reason.

iOptron SkyTracker Pro

If you’ve watched any of my previous videos, you’ve probably seen the iOptron SkyTracker Pro in action. This ultra-lightweight star tracker is iOptron’s latest variation of their incredibly popular and affordable wide-angle astrophotography mount.

The SkyTracker Pro (not to be confused with the SkyGuider Pro) weighs just 2.6 pounds and houses everything you need for long exposure nightscapes in a little red (or black) box. A plastic box that is, with adorably simple controls to accelerate the RA axis to your intended target.

iOptron SkyTracker Pro and Camera Lens

The iOptron SkyTracker Pro with a DSLR camera and wide-angle lens attached. 

  • Weight: 1.5 lbs.
  • Max Payload: 6.6 lbs
  • Max Useful Focal Length: 200mm
  • Built-In Battery: Yes (Li-Poly 3.7V)
  • Built-In Polarscope: Yes
  • Autoguider Input: No

This camera mount was designed for wide-field nightscape images using a DSLR camera and lens. Many people have had great success using the SkyTracker with an ultra-wide-angle lens like the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8, all the way up to some heavier glass such as the Rokinon 135mm F/2. 

It’s the most affordable star tracker I’ve used, and it has delivered exceptional results using a number of different camera lenses. One such instance was the time I used the SkyTracker Pro with my Canon EF 24-105mm F/4L Lens to shoot Mars and the Pleiades star cluster in the same frame. 

Planet Mars and Pleiades

The Planet Mars alongside the Pleiades Star Cluster. iOptron SkyTracker Pro and 24-105mm lens @ 105mm.

iOptron SkyGuider Pro

The SkyGuider Pro is a big step up from the Tracker, offering a heavier payload capacity, a more robust design, and the ability to autoguide your images. The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is a top contender in this category with stellar reviews from experienced nightscape photographers.

This portable EQ mount fits in the palm of your hand, yet can handle up to 11 lbs of imaging gear. With the counterweight kit attached, the SkyGuider has no trouble with larger telephoto lenses and even small refractor telescopes such as the William Optics RedCat 51.

deep sky astrophotography

The North America Nebula in Cygnus. iOptron SkyGuider Pro with William Optics RedCat 51 attached. 

  • Weight: 2.2 lbs.
  • Max Payload: 11 lbs
  • Max Useful Focal Length: 400mm
  • Built-In Battery: Yes (Li-Poly 3.7V)
  • Built-In Polarscope: Yes (Illuminated)
  • Autoguider Input: Yes

Beginners often get tracking and guiding mixed up or assume that they both mean the same thing. Tracking is the act of matching the rotation of the Earth using an RA (right ascension) motor, with the axis of the mount aligned with the celestial pole. Guiding is a specialized astrophotography technique that uses a secondary camera to lock-on to a guide star and sends small commands to the mount to improve tracking accuracy. 

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro includes an ST-4 autoguide port that allows you to autoguide using the appropriate cabling and software on your computer. Although autoguiding is a powerful feature that allows for even longer exposures (and the benefits of dithering), it requires additional hardware to run. 

RedCat 51 mounted to an iOptron SkyGuider Pro

The William Optics RedCat 51 is a great match for the SkyGuider Pro. 

For smaller loads, such as a DSLR camera and 50mm lens, you can simply attach a ball head to the 1/4″  threaded socket on the mount. Heavier camera lenses or small telescopes will need to be mounted to the declination plate and utilize the counterweight system (shown above.)

For those that prefer to polar align their SkyGuider Pro electronically, the iOptron iPolar device was designed to fit neatly inside of this camera tracker. Be advised, that once you make this modification to the mount (or order a version with the iPolar included), you lose an element of portability with the need for dedicated software control. 

If you’re thinking about diving into the world of telescopes for astrophotography, I’d recommend the RedCat 51 Petzval APO to compliment the SkyGuider. This F/4.9 quadruplet apochromatic refractor is exceptionally sharp and delivers incredible wide-field images with a focal length of 250mm.

William Optics RedCat 51

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro is responsible for one of my favorite astro-images of all time, the Andromeda Galaxy. This portable star tracker is easy to polar align, and the pro pack comes with everything you could possibly need to mount your DSLR camera, lenses, and even a small telescope. 

The following image was captured using a Canon 60Da and a William Optics RedCat 51, mounted to the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro. I stacked 100 x 2-minute exposures at ISO 1600 for an unforgettable shot of M31:

Andromeda Galaxy RedCat 51

The Andromeda Galaxy captured using the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro.

When comparing the specs between the iOptron SkyGuider Pro, and the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro, you’ll notice a number of similarities. For example, the “Pro Pack” includes a counterweight kit, wedge base, and a built-in illuminated polar scope.

sky-watcher star adventurer mount

  • Weight: 2.2 lbs.
  • Max Payload: 11 lbs
  • Max Useful Focal Length: 400mm
  • Built-In Battery: Yes (4 x AA)
  • Built-In Polarscope: Yes
  • Autoguider Input: Yes

The Star Adventurer includes a built-in WiFi, Android/iOS App control for those looking to control projects such as time lapses with your DSLR. Like the iOptron models I mentioned above, the Star Adventurer includes modes for solar, lunar, sidereal, and half sidereal tracking rates.

I really like that the Star Adventurer can run on 4 AA Batteries. Although it may seem like a step backward from a rechargeable li-poly battery, this feature may come in handy when your taking pictures nowhere near a source of power. Sky-Watcher reports that these batteries can power the mount for up to 72 hours, more than enough time for a night or imaging or two.

I found the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro to deliver an exceptional user experience, right out of the box. The hardware and premium finishes of this portable star tracker really stood out to me, and I love the mounting bar and counterweight kit. 

sky-watcher star adventurer

Using the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer at the Black Forest Star Party in September 2019.

Fornax Mounts LighTrack II

Fornax is a company based out of Hungary, and they are no stranger to astronomical equipment. Fornax has been manufacturing astronomical mounts for nearly 20 years, working on professional astronomical projects such as the HATNet Exoplanet Survey (Hungarian Automated Telescope) for discovering exoplanets.

The Fornax Mounts LighTrack II looks and acts differently than all of the other star trackers I previously mentioned. It uses a friction motor drive system that slowly sweeps an arm across the base of the mount. The fine friction strip helps the LighTrack II maintain balance, and was designed with strict production tolerances.

Like the other star trackers mentioned, the LighTrack II has 4 tracking speeds. Sidereal, Solar, Lunar, and Half. The “half” speed mode can be used to create nightscape images with terrestrial elements. For example, if you wanted to capture an interesting wide-angle landscape, but want to expose the night sky longer – you can, without the landscape being blurred.

tracking camera mount

Fornax Mounts LighTrack II.

  • Weight: 2.9 lbs.
  • Max Payload: 14 lbs
  • Max Useful Focal Length: 500mm
  • Built-In Battery: No
  • Built-In Polarscope: No (Additional Accessory)
  • Autoguider Input: Yes

The bundle I received from Fervent Astronomy included the MMW-200 wedge to mount the tracker to my tripod, and the counterweight kit (that I have not tested yet). The hardware is impressive, from the aluminum alloy components to the carbon-composite plastic housing for the electronics.

However, there are 2 colossal differences between the iOptron and Sky-Watcher camera trackers and the LighTrack II. The first is, this mount requires an external 12V power supply. There is no internal battery inside of the LighTrack II. So, if you plan on traveling with this mount you’ll need to bring a reliable battery or find an outlet and extension cord nearby.

The second is that the LighTrack II will only track your subject for 107 minutes, before having to return the tracking arm to its starting position. Luckily, you can use the panning control knob of your ball head to keep the camera stationary during this process.

The good news is, once you’ve powered the LighTrack II up, you’ll benefit from incredibly accurate unguided performance. Fornax lists that peak-to-peak unguided tracking error is less than 2 arcseconds in 8 minutes. I can confirm that the unguided performance of the Fornax LighTrack II is incredible and that the 3-minute images I’ve captured at 400mm were razor sharp.

Fornax Mounts LighTrack II example image

I captured the Lagoon and Trifid Nebulae on the Fornax LighTrack II (William Optics RedCat 51 refractor).

Capturing the Lagoon Nebula and Trifid Nebula region with the Fornax LighTrack II was one of my first experiences using the mount, and it was a good one. The images were 3-minutes each at an effective focal length of 400mm with my camera system, and the unguided exposures were excellent. 

Here is a look a single 180-second sub exposure using the LighTrack II with my Canon 60Da, William Optics RedCat 51, and the OPT Triad Ultra filter. I’d feel comfortable going to 5-minutes, wouldn’t you?

Maximum exposure time

A single 3-minute, unguided exposure using the Fornax Mounts LighTrack II.

If you’re comparing the Fornax Mounts LighTrack II with the iOptron SkyGudier Pro, the accessories needed to complete a “full” package will send you well past the price of the SkyGuider Pro. The iOptron SkyGuider Pro full package includes the wedge, polar scope, and counterweight package. These items must be added on to the original price of the LighTrack II mount and purchased as a bundle. 

It’s worth mentioning, that perhaps the LighTrack II should not be in the star tracker category at all. Due to its increased payload capacity, autoguiding capability, and accurate tracking, you may want to consider it to be a bridge between a camera tracker and a traditional equatorial telescope mount. 

Star Tracker Comparison Chart

Here are the bare bones specs of the star trackers mentioned in this post. The listed “longest useful focal length” is merely a point a reference. In reality, I believe all of these trackers could handle a 2-minute exposure using an even longer lens.

BrandMountWeightMaximum PayloadMax. Useful Focal LengthBuilt-in BatteryAutoguide Port
iOptronSkyTracker Pro1.5 lbs.6.6 lbs.200mmYesNo
Sky-WatcherStar Adventurer2.2 lbs.10 lbs.300mmYesYes
iOptronSkyGuider Pro2.2 lbs.11 lbs.400mmYesYes
Fornax MountsLighTrack II2.8 lbs.13.2 lbs.500mmNoYes

Final Thoughts

I believe that any mount that wants to compete in the “star tracker” category should have a built-in power option. I realize that many people are accustomed to traveling with an external power supply for various devices, but I am not one of them.

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro (and SkyTracker Pro) include an internal, rechargeable, li-poly 3.7V battery that can be charged with a mini-USB charging cable. This simple design feature means that I’ll reach for the SkyGuider when traveling light, or setting up for a brief imaging session. If you want to travel to a remote location with the LighTrack II, be prepared to power the mount using the cigarette lighter plug from your car. 

In the end, the best camera tracker for astrophotography will always be the one you use the most. You can have the nicest equipment in the world, but if it doesn’t help you accomplish your final goal (pictures) on a consistent basis, it’s time to reflect on why you got into this crazy hobby in the first place.

best star tracker

Other Popular Star Trackers Available

There are new tracking camera mounts popping up every year. The models discussed in this post are not the only options available. Here is a short list of some of the other star trackers available today:

star tracker comparison chart

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