Best Equatorial Mounts for DSLR Astrophotography 2017

Mounts for astrophotography - a beginner's guide.

The most important piece in Astrophotography is undoubtedly the mount. However, as a beginner, you might feel lost in finding the proper mount. Here, we'll discuss which details to pay attention to when shopping for a mount DSLR Astrophotography.

What is the Mounting Piece?

Telescopes are made up of two pieces - the Mount and the Optical Tube.

The mounting pieceis the platform upon which you place the optical tube. It contains all the gears necessary to position the telescope towards a target in the night sky. In addition to the manual knobs, it may also come equipped with an automatic tracking system that moves in relation with the earth's rotation, allowing you to track a target as it drifts through the night sky.

Mounts for astrophotography - a beginner's guide.
The telescope is made up of a mount and optical tube. This particular telescope uses an equatorial mount, a necessary component for astrophotography.

The mounting piece is often the most expensive piece of a telescope for two good reasons:

  • It holds everything together, so must be well-built. Even the slightest instability can drastically shift your target.
  • Due to the nature of the night sky steadily drifting away (due to the earth's rotation) a mount with the necessary fine-tuned gears are required to accurately track objects. Only a very high-precision machinery will properly compensate for such dynamic night sky.
  • The proper mounts for astrophotography comes with GoTo feature, which automatically points the telescopes towards any object in the sky. This is especially helpful since most objects are too faint to be seen.

Before you read on, we have to alert to you that you should be aiming to invest around $800 to $1500 in your mount. Yes, this amount may be more than your optical tube and camera combined. Anything considerably less will deter your astrophotography abilities, giving you suboptimal images and making the hobby less enjoyable.

What types of mounts exist?

There are two main types of mounts - Equatorialand Non-Equatorialmounts.

Alt-azimuth Mounts

A popular type of non-equatorial mount is the alt-azimuth mount. The two axes on an alt-azimuth mount are the Alzimuth Axis and the Altitude Axis. TheAlzimuth Axismoves the telescope horizontally, while the Altitude Axismoves telescope vertically. These axes swivel up, down, left and right and allows you to view stationary objects, similar to a camera tripod.

Mounts for astrophotography - an alt-azimuth tripod.
The Alt-Azimuth tripod functions much like a camera tripod. Although manually easy to use, it's not suitable for Astrophotography because

Great! A camera tripod is easy and intuitive to use. So I just need one of those? Not so fast...although alt-alzimuth mounts are easy to use, they are not suited for astrophotography purposes.

Mounts for astrophotography - an alt-azimuth tripod.
The Equatorial mount (green) adjusts itself for the earth's rotation, which makes tracking objects possible. An Alt-azimuth mount (red) does not, so it loses track of the object significantly after just two hours.

Equatorial Mounts

Equatorial mounts are more complex, but are suitable for astrophotography purposes. The mechanics allow you to counter the rotation of the earth, in a technique called auto-guiding.

Equatorial mounts have two axes: The first axis, called the polar axis (or right ascension), aligns parallel to the axis of rotation of the earth, pointing towards the North or South celestial poles. The second axis is the declination axis, which is mounted perpendicularly to the polar axis.

The equatorial axis of the mount comes with a "clock drive" that rotates the right ascension axis one revolution every 23 hours and 56 minutes. This keeps the image in sync, and allows you to track any object in the night sky.

The setup requires you to first weight balance both axes, then align the polar axis towards the Polaris (if you're in the Northern Hemisphere). This will restrict the telescope from moving certain orientations, but seemingly disadvantage actually allows you to track the celestial object in the night sky with precision.

All these words make little sense with no visualization, so here's a great animation explaining how an equatorial mount works:

GoTo Autotrackers

When shopping for equatorial mounts, you'll see some labeled with a GoTo mount. This means that the mount has an onboard computer with a database of celestial objects. It's a great addition that helps locate targets with a push of a button.

Some users recommend against it, as it does most of the bulk work for you, with you knowing what's going on. However, for astrophotography, a GoTo system is critical, as you'll be able to point the camera to objects that are too faint to see.

Which mounts should I not buy?

Firstly, let's cover which ones you should't buy. Stray away from any beginning telescope sets sold at department stores. Although the optical lenses may be good enough for astrophotography, the mount most likely won't have the auto-tracking features necessary for long-exposure shots. If you already have a beginner's level telescope, see if you can switch out the mount.

How much should I budget?

If you're serious about astrophotography, be prepared to spend around $800-1500 on your first mount. Anything significantly cheaper than $1000 will result in disappointing images, and the inability to locate and resolve any celestial objects.

5 Things to look for Before purchasing an Equatorial Mount

1) Type of Mount

Make sure that you're getting an Equatorial mount. Often, the most popular type of equatorial mount is the German Equatorial Mount, which includes a T-shape with the lower bar as the right ascension axis and the upper bar as the declination axis.

2) Gears and Motors

Get a German-equatorial mounting with both gears and motors on both axes. Should also come with altitude and azimuth adjustments for precise movements.

3) Stability and Weight

The base tripod should be solid, heavy and sturdy. Ones from department stores or your local wholesale store can be shaky, and may poorly align against the night sky. This makes finding the smallest objects in the night sky virtually impossible.

A heavy mount will be less likely to move once it's placed on the ground, but it can be an effort for you to haul it around.

4) Autoguiding

Low-quality mounts may come with autoguiding and tracking, but may give fewer than 5 minutes of unguided exposure; a good mount can give over 15 minutes. The longer exposure is important, as it allows for your camera to capture more light given a set time. This helps tremendously in viewing faint objects in the distance that otherwise cannot be seen.

Mounts nowadays also come with pre-built software that allow you to browse among over 40,000 objects. Be sure to check how many celestial objects are loaded within this software.

5) Weight Capacity

Mounts each have an equipment load. Try looking for mounts with equipments loads of at least 30 lbs, which includes the weight of camera, extra lenses and optical tubes.

Best Astrophotography Mounts for Under $2000 (2017)

We strongly recommend the Orion 9996 Atlas EQ-G for your first mount. If you're a little tight on your budget, the Celestron Advanced VX Mount is a cheaper alternative.

Orion Atlas EQ-G

The Orion Atlas EQ-G comes with a GoTo controller, and can hold up to 40 pounds, which should be plenty once you add on your camera, controller, and optical tube. The GoTo controller comes with over 42,000 celestial objects and will autoguide as the night sky shifts positions.

The mount is heavy and sturdy; once planted on the ground, nothing can shake or move it.

alt
Available on
Product Name
Orion 9996 Atlas EQ-G Computerized GoTo Telescope Mount
Rate Capacity
40 lbs, with a 13" long vixen-style narrow dovetail mounting plate, with two 11 lbs counterweights. Fully assembled weight: 76.0lbs.
GoTo
Included stock controller. Compatible with EQ-MOD software. Up to trackable 42,900 celestial objects.
Slew Rates
Nine slew rates from 2x to 800x.
Noise Level
Smoothe, quiet and accurate.
Motor Speed
3.4 degrees/scan
Dimensions
Tripod leg diameter: 2.00 inches, with a height range of 40.00 to 61.50 inches.
Warranty
1 Year
Unit Cost
$$$ Check price
1499.991499.99Amazon 5 logo(6+ reviews)

Celestron Advanced VX

alt
Available on
Product Name
Celestron Advanced VX Mount with Celestron Polar Axis Finder
Rate Capacity
30 lbs, wider base than previous model, improving stability under heavier loads.
GoTo
Computerized GoTo function included. Track through long exposures with periodic error corrections.
Slew Rates
Nine slew rates from 2x to 800x.
Noise Level
Smoothe, quiet and accurate.
Latitude Range
7-77 degrees latitude.
Dimensions
Tripod leg diameter: 2.00 inches, with a height range of 40.00 to 61.50 inches.
Warranty
2 Year
Unit Cost
$$$ Check price
899.99899.99Amazon 4.5 logo(3+ reviews)

We hope this gives a good overview for the best mounts for astrophotography. Please leave any tips, comments or questions below!