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In this article, we assess and recommend the best mount for astrophotography in 2021.
The mount is one of the most important pieces of equipment for astronomy photography. It allows your camera and telescope to move with the rotation of the Earth and track the objects you are photographing for much longer periods. This means you can gather more light and create better images.
We recommend the SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro as the best mount for astrophotography.
We’ve based our recommendations here on a combination of analysis of what mounts are being used in the most successful astronomy images today, as well as the recommendations from some of the best astrophotographers in the interviews on this website.
Read below for some alternative options to suit different budgets and answers to the key questions about mounts.
Last update on 2021-01-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
What is a telescope mount and why do you need one for astrophotography?
A mount is a piece of equipment connected to your telescope that moves where it is pointing to track the movement of objects in space as the Earth rotates.
This allows you to focus on an object and track it for longer and is essential for astrophotography as it allows you to focus on what you are imaging for longer. This means you can gather more light and take better pictures.
This is especially important for deep-sky photography (galaxies, nebulae, etc) where you are taking pictures of things that are extremely far away and you need time to gather the light for the image.
What types of telescope mount are there?
There are two main types of mount:
- Equatorial (also called German Equatorial mounts)
- Alt-Azimuth (also referred to as Alt-Az mounts)
They are constructed slightly differently and so track differently: Alt-Az mounts move in two directions – up and down and side to side – whereas equatorial mounts can move at the full range of angles.
What is the best type of mount for astrophotography?
There are three characteristics of a good mount for astrophotography:
- Equatorial mounts track more smoothly than Alt-Azimuth mounts and are generally better for astrophotography.
- You will also want a motorized mount. This means you do not have to adjust it by hand to track objects. This is important in astrophotography as moving it manually causes tiny vibrations and will ruin your images.
- The third thing you will want in a mount is GoTo (or “computerized”) functionality. This means that the mount can find and track objects in space from a database which makes it easier and saves a lot of time from manually location.
What mounts are used by successful astrophotographers?
To get a good answer to this question, we analyzed the 252 images from the finalists of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for the past two years (2019 & 2020) to see what mounts were used.
Of these 252 images, 124 used telescope mounts and we found that:
- the SkyWatcher EQ6 Pro is by far the most popular mount, with it used in 28 images;
- the Software Bisque Paramount ME II is second, being used in ten images;
- the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro is third, being used in eight images.
See the results here:
Joint fourth goes to:
If you want to see the full data, see our article RMG Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020: Data Analysis.
Best mounts for astrophotography
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro – best overall
As you can see in the chart above, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is by far the most popular astrophotography mount. This is on account of providing great performance and usability, whilst being relatively affordable.
It is a motorized equatorial mount which, as outlined above, is the best option for astrophotography.
It has GoTo functionality and using the included hand controller, you can get your telescope to automatically point to any of the 42,000 objects in the night sky with the press of a few buttons. The hand controller can also connect to a computer, enabling it to be operated with popular astronomy software and apps, such as Stellarium Plus.
It has a payload capacity of 44 pounds (20 kilograms), which should support most telescope and camera setups.
It also has a port for an autoguider to be attached. This is a functionality that can further increase tracking accuracy for longer imaging periods (see the FAQs below for more details on this).
Other features are that it uses a stepper motor which is quieter than the servo motor alternative and it includes an illuminated polar finderscope to help with polar alignment.
- Motorized equatorial mount
- Computerized functionality (GoTo database of 42,000 objects)
- Payload capacity of 44 lbs (20 kg)
Software Bisque Paramount ME II Robotic Telescope System – best professional mount
Software Bisque are producers of top-end astronomy equipment and software, and this is a premium mount for high budgets.
The Paramount ME II Robotic Telescope System is a professional-level mount that would suit use in dedicated observatories and similar setups.
It has an enormous 220 pound (100 kilogram) weight capacity, but the mount itself weighs 84 pounds, so this is not a grab-and-go mount, but rather one that needs a dedicated setup.
- Motorized equatorial mount
- Computerized functionality for use with Software Bisque’s TheSkyX software
- Payload capacity of 220 lbs (100 kg)
Celestron AVX mount – best beginner option
The best beginner’s option is the Celestron Advanced VX mount.
It has many similarities to the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro above, in that it is a german equatorial GoTo mount and is operated via a hand terminal on which you can select objects from a database for it to find automatically.
It has a payload capacity of 30 pounds (14 kg).
An alternative (and upgrade) from the AVX is the Celestron CGX, which can take heavier setups with a payload capacity of 55 lbs (25 kg).
- Motorized equatorial mount
- Computerized functionality for use with Celestron’s Starry Night software (GoTo database of over 40,000 objects)
- Payload capacity of 30 lbs (14 kg)
Frequently asked questions
What is the best mount for a heavy telescope?
The Software Bisque Paramount ME II Robotic Telescope System mount has an extremely large payload capacity of 220 lbs (100 kg) and so can take heavy telescope and camera setups.
What is the most lightweight telescope mount option?
The Celestron AVX mount is a good, lightweight telescope mount.
One great alternative option, for a set up that is relatively lightweight, portable and affordable is to use a star tracker for the mount. Star trackers are great little pieces of equipment that sit between a tripod and a DSLR camera. They are mini motorized mounts that move the camera slowly in line with the rotation of the earth.
The good thing is that with small refractor telescopes, they are light enough that most star trackers can take their weight (with the addition of a counterweight). For instance, the iOptron SkyGuider Pro can take up to 11 lbs (5 kg).
Read our article on the best star trackers and calculating the payload you can take.
Should I only use 50% of the payload capacity?
The full payload capacity can be used for observing but generally accepted wisdom is to only use about 50-60% of your mounts capacity when taking photographs.
This is because once you go above this, tracking errors are more likely to occur which will affect your astronomy imaging.
Therefore if you have the Celestron AVX mount your accompanying equipment can weigh up to 30 lbs for observing, but not much more than 15 lbs for astrophotography.
You therefore need to check the combined weight of the telescope, camera and any other equipment the mount is carrying.
What is autoguiding in astrophotography?
Autoguiding is the process of using an additional telescope (a “guide scope”) and camera (a “guide camera”) that are attached to the main telescope and are dedicated to tracking the movement of the objects in the sky with the Earth’s rotation.
GoTo equatorial mounts do a great job, but tracking errors usually occur if you are imaging for periods longer than 45-60 seconds (depending on the kit).
Autoguiding allows your telescope/camera to more accurately track astronomical objects for longer exposures.
Can I use a DSLR camera with a telescope mount?
Yes, you can “piggyback” a DSLR or mirrorless camera with a lend on to a telescope to take advantage of the tracking that the mount provides.
To do this you will need a piggyback mount, like this one for Celestron telescopes.
Alternatively, you can use a star tracker. This is a more lightweight alternative to using a telescope mount and is therefore much more portable and suited to take on trips. See our overview of the best star trackers for cameras.
Who are the leading manufacturers of astrophotography mounts?
We also put together the Astronomy Photographer of the Year data to see who the most popular astrophotography mount manufacturers are:
See below for links to the websites of these companies:
- Software Bisque
- 10 Micron
- Parallax Instruments
- Explore Scientific
Over to you – what’s the best telescope mount for astrophotography?
What’s your favorite astro mount?
Do you agree that the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is the best all-round astrophotography mount for telescopes?
Let us know in the comments below.
Please also see our guide to the best telescope for astrophotography.