Best Telescope Mount For Astrophotography – Budget vs Pro

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The best telescope mount for astrophotography is the German equatorial mount with GoTo controller. The most common mounts for astrophotography are HQE5 Pro and NEQ6 Pro.

But let’s take a look at all types of mounts, and I’ll explain why they are good for astrophotography and why not. I will also give you cheaper options how to do astrophotography on the budget.

Probably the most important and most expensive piece of the astrophotography setup is the mount. We have two main types of the telescope mounts, altazimuth(AZ) and equatorial(EQ). The most commonly used mounts for astrophotography are EQ mounts. AZ and EQ mounts can be motorized or GoTo and manually controlled.

So, for astrophotography, it is essential to have a motorized mount that is tracking the stars automatically so we can do long exposure photos. Some nebulas are very dim, and we need hours of exposure. Because the earth is spinning, the skies are spinning as well, and if you point the telescope at the object with no tracking (when making long exposure photos), you will end up with star trailing on the image.

Altazimuth(AZ) Mount

AZ mounts are very common for visual astronomy, but they are not suitable for astrophotography even with the tracking. I mean you can, of course, do pictures of the moon and planets but to do long exposure photos you need EQ mount. You can do maybe 20-second exposure with AZ mount, but longer exposures will suffer from star trailing because of the field of view rotation. The AZ mounts are moving in altitude and azimuth directions. However, stars are moving in the equatorial direction. I had some success with AZ mount and video astronomy because it is a real-time thing and I didn’t need to take long exposures.

However, what you can do is to use AZ mount with DSLR camera only (without the telescope) to take wide-field long exposures of the milky way or even some deep sky objects with the right camera lens. I like to use 300mm camera lens with my Canon EOS 1000D. In this case, AZ mount is sufficient enough, and you will be surprised what great results you can get in combination with the DSLR. It is also the cheap way how to start with astrophotography. AZ motorized mounts are less expensive than EQ mounts, and you can find used DSLR for around $100.

Dobsonian Mount

These mounts are made with Newtonian telescopes and are altazimuth mounts, so everything that I mentioned above applies for Dobsonian mounts too. Only a few of them are equipped with the GoTo system. They are an excellent choice for visual astronomy and perfect for beginners because you will get a lot of telescope for the money. Why? Dobsonian mount can handle really big Newtonian scopes, and the mount is very simple.

It is actually a good idea to have one with you when you are doing the astrophotography with your main EQ mount. It takes hours to photograph even one object when you are doing long exposures. And the waiting is boring so having a big Dobsonian telescope for visual astronomy can, and you can enjoy the skies. But even the comfy chair, pair of binoculars and the six-pack will do the job:)

Equatorial Mount(EQ) – The Best Mount For Astrophotography

There are so many EQ mounts to chose from but not every one of them is right for astrophotography. Usually, the more expensive mount is, the better it is for astrophotography. All the mounts from different brands are basically the same thing with a different name (and color :)).

Most common names are EQ1, EQ2 up to EQ8. SkyWatcher is using these tags, but Celestron is using CG2, CG3, etc. Now, it becomes confusing because CG2 is not EQ2. If you want EQ2 mount from Celestron, it is CG3. EQ3 is CG4 and so on. I will be talking only about the mounts from SkyWatcher, but at least now you know what to look for if you are researching Celestron brand.

So, these numbers behind EQ are telling us how advanced the mount is starting with number one which is very basic EQ mount for small scopes and visual astronomy only. You can upgrade them with clock motor for RA axis so it can track the object on the sky when you point the telescope at it. Even with this tracking motor, you will not be able to do astrophotography, the mount is not sturdy, and tracking is not accurate.

EQ2 and EQ3 are in the same category with EQ1 mount, and they are good only for visual observing with bigger scopes. Fun fact: there is no EQ4 mount.

Recommended Mounts

If you go on any astronomy forum asking what mount to buy, the answer you get is HEQ5 Pro, or NEQ6 Pro depends on your budget. These mounts are $1500+ toys so it can scare you off astrophotography. It happened to me as well because I didn’t have that kind of money but I didn’t want to give up, so I started to do extensive research about how to push the cost down and have decent results.

What I found is that it depends what you are expecting from your photos. Usually, in the beginning, you don’t need to do amazing professional photos as skilled astrophotographers show on forums. What you have to do and should do in my opinion, is to get a feel for it, learn image processing and not spend $3000 bucks on your first setup. Of course, that you can’t go very low because it is impossible to do astrophotography with a motorized EQ1 mount.

Best Astrophotography Mount For Beginner

For the half price of the HEQ5 Pro, you can have a pretty solid mount for astrophotography. The price is important when you are starting, and I found this mount to be the perfect choice for a start. Its name is EQM-35 PRO for around $700 only! Combine it with Orion 6 Inch f/4 Newtonian Astrograph Reflector and you have proper astrophotography setup for $1000 bucks! So why is this mount good enough?

Sky-Watcher EQM-35 PRO Go-To Modular Astronomy Mount

Click here to see the price on Amazon.

EQM-35 Pro is upgraded EQ3 Pro on steel legs from the EQ5 mount. It is much-improved compared to EQ3 Pro with a large 92.5 mm diameter RA worm wheel, 180 teeth for high precision tracking unlike 130 teeth in the EQ3 Pro, and the strength of the rotary base has been increased. This upgrade is more stable with fewer vibrations and more payload capacity up to 22lb! The periodic error was also improved. Another advantage is portability. You can strip it down from DEC axis motor and heavy counterweight to use it only with the DSLR camera, so the total weight is vastly reduced for travel. The last thing that I love about this mount is the autoguider port which can improve the tracking to take longer exposures.

FEATURES:

  • Positioning Accuracy up to 1 arc minute. Accuracy enhanced by software collimation error compensation.
  • Resolution 0.28125 Arc Second
  • ST-4 type Autoguider Interface
  • Single or Dual Axis Tracking
  • Lunar, Solar or Sidereal Tracking Rate
  • Synscan™ Hand Controller with a 40,000+ Object database
  • Periodic Error Correction.
  • PC compatibility.

All this is making this mount more than sufficient for astrophotography. And the entry price is very low compared to the recommended expensive mounts. Amazing for visual astronomy as well and I think that even professional astrophotographer will appreciate this piece of machinery. Also, check the pictures made with this mount on Astrobin so, you can see for yourself what can be done with it.

Autoguiding

Even if you pay thousands of dollars for the best possible mount with tracking, you will be limited how long exposures you can do. All mounts are mechanical, and they have some errors. There is no perfect mount yet. So, how to improve even a cheaper mount that I mentioned above to better tracking? Very simple, we need to use autoguiding.

What Is Autoguiding

Autoguiding can help your mount to track the object more precisely for a longer period of time. It is correcting the slight movement imperfections of the mount. However, it is not necessary if you are only starting with astrophotography, you will be fine with the tracking of the mount alone. But, it is good to keep this in mind for a next upgrade when you learn the basics. I’m pretty sure you will want to shoot very long exposures for the faint deep sky objects.

What Do You Need For Autoguiding

First of all, you need the mount that supports the autoguiding with ST-4 type Autoguider Interface port. Then you need autoguiding camera which is the fancy webcam with autoguider port so that you can connect it to the telescope mount. This camera is attached to the second small guiding telescope mounted on the top of your imaging instrument. And lastly, you need a computer with the right software. The name of the software is PHD. Which stands for “Push Here Dummy”, I’m not kidding this is the real name from developers. The software is easy to use and will vastly improve your mount. It is simply monitoring the stars that your guiding scope see with the camera, and preventing star trails by sending signals to the mount.

Conclusion

As you can see, you don’t have to spend a fortune on the first astrophotography mount. When you become more experienced in imaging the sky, you will definitely want to upgrade to something better. But in my opinion, the EQM-35 Pro is a great telescope mount to start with. Or start just with DSLR and simple AZ motorized mount to take wide-field images and learn image processing because it is a very challenging task to master. Anyway, if you are looking for a good telescope for astrophotography to use with your new mount, check my last article about OTAs. I hope that this article is useful and I have explained everything adequately. Now, you should have a clear picture of what do you want and what to buy as your first astrophotography setup.

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