Best Telescope Mounts for Astrophotography [2021]

The telescope mount is one of the most important pieces of equipment for deep sky astrophotography.

That’s why we analyzed 250+ images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year in the past two years to work out what the most successfully used astrophotography mounts are in 2021. This is how this article is different from others you might read on this topic.

From our findings, we recommend the SkyWatcher EQ6-R Pro as the best mount for astrophotography.

Read below to find out why, plus alternative options for different budgets and a detailed overview of telescope mounts and what the key differences are.

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Best overall
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R GoTo SyncScan Equatorial Mount
Highest payload
Celestron CGX Computerized German Equatorial Mount and Tripod
Best under $1000
Celestron Advanced VX Computerized Mount 91519
Make & model
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Celestron CGX
Celestron AVX
Payload capacity
44 lbs (20 kg)
55 lbs (25 kg)
30 lbs (14 kg)
GoTo
Best overall
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R GoTo SyncScan Equatorial Mount
Make & model
Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
Payload capacity
44 lbs (20 kg)
GoTo
Check prices
Highest payload
Celestron CGX Computerized German Equatorial Mount and Tripod
Make & model
Celestron CGX
Payload capacity
55 lbs (25 kg)
GoTo
Check prices
Best under $1000
Celestron Advanced VX Computerized Mount 91519
Make & model
Celestron AVX
Payload capacity
30 lbs (14 kg)
GoTo
Check prices

Last update on 2021-07-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What telescope mounts are used by successful astrophotographers?

To understand what mounts are actually being used to produce the best astrophotography photos we analyzed all the images from the finalists of the prestigious Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for the past two years (2019 & 2020).

Of the 252 shortlisted images, 124 listed mounts used. From these we found that:

See the results here:

sky-wacther eq6-r pro is the best telescope mount for astrophotography

We also grouped the data together to see who the most successful mount manufacturers have been in the competition, and you can see that Sky-Watcher leads the way, followed by Astro-Physics and Celestron:

astrophotography mount manufacturers

If you want to see the full data, find it here in our article on Astrophotography Equipment.

Now let’s look at these top performing astrophotography mounts in detail.


Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

Best all round mount and most successful for amateur astrophotography

As you can see in the chart above, the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is by far the most successfully used astrophotography mount in our data. 

This is on account of providing great performance and usability, whilst its relative affordability means it is accessible to amateur astrophotographers.

It has a lot of the characteristics that we are looking for in a mount for astrophotography:

Pros

  • It is a motorized GOTO equatorial mount which, as outlined below, is the best option for astrophotography.
  • It has GoTo functionality using the included hand controller. With this you can get your telescope to automatically point to any of 42,000 objects in the night sky with the press of a few buttons. It also has a USB port so that you can control it directly with a laptop or computer, enabling it to be operated with alternative astronomy software.
  • Its payload capacity is 44 pounds (20 kilograms), which should support most telescope and camera setups. The steel tripod comes included.
  • Pretty much any telescope can be easily connected to it with Dual, Vixen and Losmandy Style mounting saddle plates.
  • Tracking accuracy is 1 arcsecond and has periodic error correction (PEC).
  • The stepper motor belt drive is quieter than the servo motor alternative and results in virtually silent slewing. This is pretty handy if you are sneaking into your backyard at night for imaging and don’t want to wake the neighbors.
  • There is a port for an autoguider to be attached. This is a functionality that can further increase tracking accuracy for longer imaging periods.
  • It includes an illuminated polar finderscope to help with polar alignment.

You can watch here a super quick overview from retailers OPT on the EQ6-R Pro:

Cons

The downsides that you might want to consider about this mount:

  • A complaint that it sometimes raised about the EQ6-R Pro is that polar alignment is fiddly as you have to push in an awkwardly positioned lever which makes it difficult.
  • If you want it to automatically input the date, time, and location data you need to buy an external GPS dongle (some similar intermediate mounts, like the iOptron CEM40 have this in-built).
  • It is an intermediate level mount and retails for around $1595 (although please check the live prices using the link below as this may change). Those with lower budgets might want to explore something like the Celestron AVX or its alternatives outlined below for options below $1000.
  • It has a lower payload capacity than some premium mounts, for example the Celestron CGX.
  • It’s quite heavy, particularly in comparison to the Hobym Crux 140 Traveler but also the Celestron AVX.

Overall, this is the perfect astrophotography mount for most. It is proven to be successful for imaging and has enough payload capacity and reliability to be something you can be confident you will get years of use from without needing to upgrade or replace.

Key specifications

  • Type: Motorized GOTO equatorial mount
  • Payload capacity: 44 lbs (20 kg)
  • Mount weight: 38 lbs (17 kg) + tripod 16.5 lbs (7.5 kg)

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro alternatives

With the COVID pandemic there have been disruptions to supply chains that have sometimes made it difficult to get hold of certain items of astronomy and astrophotography equipment in 2021.

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro certainly seems to be suffering from this and so if you want to explore alternatives in a similar intermediate price range and with similar payload capacity then you can consider:

  1. Orion Atlas II EQ-G – this is a very similar mount to the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro. They are both manufactured by Synta in China and just have minor tweaks differentiating them, although the Orion model usually retails at a higher price.
  2. Celestron CGEM II – similar price range and payload capacity.
  3. iOptron CEM40 – has in-built GPS where the others require an external add-on. Also has in-built polar alignment capabilities with iOptron’s iPolar.

Celestron Advanced VX (AVX)

Best budget astrophotography mount

The great option below $1000 is the Celestron Advanced VX mount. It also performs extremely well in our research of the most successful astrophotography mounts.

Pros

  • 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 of 40,000 for it to find automatically.
  • Polar alignment is done with help via the hand controller and in-built software.
  • It has a payload capacity of 30 pounds (14 kg) which should suit many astrophotography setups.
  • There is a USB port on the hand controller to enable it to be controlled via a computer.
  • To take it to the next level of tracking accuracy it also has an autoguider port.
  • It is relatively light (and significantly lighter than the EQ6-R Pro above) with a mount weight of 17 lbs.

See this video from Celestron for a quick overview of the main highlights.

Cons

Downsides to consider are:

  • It’s worth calculating if the payload capacity is going to be enough for you and your particular telescope plus add-ons – remember for deep sky astrophotography you want to be plenty under the weight limit.
  • To fit a telescope with D-Style (Losmandy) dovetail plates you need to buy a saddle upgrade.

Key specifications

  • Type: Motorized GOTO equatorial mount
  • Payload capacity: 30 lbs (14 kg)
  • Mount weight: 17 lbs (7.7 kg) + tripod 18 lbs (8 kg)

Celestron AVX alternatives

If you are having trouble finding an AVX in stock then other good budget astrophotography mount options are:

  • iOptron Smart EQ – probably the cheapest GOTO equatorial mount around.
  • Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro – designed as a smaller version of the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
  • Meade LX85 – very similar in terms of characteristics to the Celstron AVX

Celestron CGX

Highest payload capacity

Joint fourth in our list of the most sucessful astrophotography mounts is the Celestron CGX.

Pros

  • It boasts a whopping 55 lb payload capacity, which really opens it up to use with larger telescopes and deep sky set ups.
  • It also ticks all the other boxes in terms of GOTO, usb connectivity, autoguider port etc.

See this video from Celestron for a quick overview of the main highlights.

Cons

The main downsides with this in comparision to our number one (the EQ6-R Pro) are:

  1. It costs more (check prices below),
  2. It weighs more and so is even less portable.

Key specifications

  • Type: Motorized GOTO equatorial mount
  • Payload capacity: 55 lbs (25 kg)
  • Mount weight: 44 lbs (20 kg)

Hobym Crux 140 Traveler

Most lightweight and portable

Something quite new and a little different is the Hobym Crux 140 Traveler which is currently making some waves and proving popular with astrophotographers.

Pros

  • Its main selling point is that it is very small and lightweight compared to the above mounts, yet offers a payload capacity in a similar ballpark (33 lbs). It weighs just 6 lbs, as opposed to 44 lbs for the Celestron CGX and 38 lbs for the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro!
  • This means it becomes something you can travel with very easily and chuck in a backpack – not something you’d do with any other mount on this page. It’s similar in size to a star tracker, but much higher performing and has GOTO functionality.
  • It runs on harmonic drives, as opposed to geared drives. Harmonic drives don’t need counterweights and can take five times their own weight. Counterweights take the strain off the gears but you have to carry them and set it up which is a pain and an issue for portability. Harmonic drives also have none of the mechanical backlash seen in geared drives that result in periodic errors.

Cons

In terms of downsides:

  1. The payload capacity is not huge, although it should be better able to be pushed up to the limit than other geared mounts.
  2. It’s pretty expensive and you need to buy a separate tripod.
  3. You need a separate dovetail saddle to attach your telescope to this mount

Key specifications

  • Type: Motorized GOTO equatorial mount
  • Payload capacity: 33 lbs (15 kg)
  • Total weight: 6.6 lbs (3 kg)

Software Bisque Paramount ME II Robotic Telescope System

Best observatory grade mount

Software Bisque are producers of top-end astronomy equipment and software, and this is a premium mount for high budgets. It is the second overall in our findings of the most successful astrophotography mounts in the past few years.

The Paramount ME II Robotic Telescope System is a professional-level mount that would suit use in dedicated observatories and similar setups. It has computerized functionality for use with Software Bisque’s TheSkyX software.

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.

Software Bisque and Planewave make the best mounts for observatories. Planewave direct drives are driven by magnets and the Planewave L-600 Direct Drive Mount has a 300 lb payload capacity.

These observatory grade mounts are better in every way than the others on this list other than price – substantially higher than most other amateur options – and portability – it’s not one for moving around.

Key specifications

  • Type: Motorized GOTO equatorial mount
  • Payload capacity: 220 lbs (100 kg)
  • Total weight: 84 lbs (38 kg)

Telescope mount buying guide

For beginners, you can understand telescope mounts by thinking of them as essentially tripods that move. They allow you (or a computer) to point your telescope where you want it to look and can allow you to track objects in the sky for long periods.

There are two main types of telescope mount, and then a range of key specifications that you will want to consider according to what is right for you. There are also specific considerations when thinking about what is best for astrophotography.

Types of telescope mount: EQ mounts are best for astrophotography, Alt-Az are best for observing

There are two main types of telescope mount:

  • Equatorial mounts (also called EQ, and German Equatorial mounts or GEM),
  • Alt-Azimuth mounts (also referred to as Alt-Az).

They are constructed differently and are operate 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. The key thing that you need to know is that:

  1. Equatorial mounts are better for astrophotography
  2. Alt-Azimuth mounts are better for observing and astronomy

The reason that equatorial mounts are best for astrophotography is that they allow your telescope the full range of motion to allow them to smoothly track objects when imaging. Specifically, they move in the right direction and at the right speed to counteract the rotation of the Earth and the apparent movement of objects in the night sky.

Alt-Azimuth mounts only allow an up-down, left-right movement, and so there is a stepping motion when tracking objects through the sky. This is not smooth and will not work for the long-exposure imaging required for deep space photography.

However, Alt-Az mounts are much easier to use when observing with a telescope. Operating and pointing it where you want it to look is simple and intuitive. In contrast, EQ mounts can be ungainly and have heavy counterweights to balance the weight of the telescope.

What to look for in a mount for astrophotography?

So building on this we can look into the other characteristics of a great mount for astrophotography. Ideally we want these ten things:

  1. An equatorial mount (as outlined above).
  2. A high payload capacity – this ensures that it can smoothly carry your telescope and accessories.
  3. Computerized or GOTO functionality – this is where the mount can automatically find and point at whatever it is you want to photograph (e.g. you press a few buttons and it finds the Andromeda galaxy for you). All of the mounts on this page have GOTO functionality.
  4. Reliable and accurate tracking – the key thing for obtaining great long exposures of deep space.
  5. Autoguiding capacity – some mounts allow you to connect an auxiliary guide scope and camera that improves the tracking accuracy by communicating with the mount to correct errors. This is great for taking your imaging to the next level.
  6. Portability – it depends on your circumstances but some will want to be able to easily move the mount and set it up quickly.
  7. USB connectivity – this allows you to directly connect a laptop or similar device to use to operate the mount rather than just the hand controller. This gives you the freedom to use different software of your choice.
  8. Compatibility – you need to make sure your telescope will be able to be connected (look for dual saddle plate support for both vixen and losmandy telescope types).
  9. Ease of use – you want your mount to be simple and easy to use so that it enables, rather than hinders, your nights spent imaging.
  10. In-built polar alignment – lastly, you want the process of polar alignment to be easy and reliable. Different mounts have different ways of assisting this.

Let’s now just look at a few key points of comparison for the mounts covered in this article.

Telescope mount payload capacity comparison chart

A relatively high payload capacity is needed to ensure that the mount can carry and move your telescope and other accessories that may weigh a lot.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the full payload capacity can be used for observing but you generally don’t want to be pushing your mount to its limit when imaging as this is when tracking errors are more likely to occur. In fact, some people recommend to only use about 50-60% of your mount’s capacity for astrophotography.

You therefore need to check the combined weight of the telescope, camera and any other equipment the mount will carry and make sure it it well within the payload capacity of the mount.

Here’s a chart comparing the payload capacities of all the leading astrophotography mounts mentioned on this page:

Note, we haven’t included the observatory level mounts as they are in a different league: Paramount ME II (220 lbs payload capacity) and Planewave L-600 (300 lbs payload capacity).

Telescope mount weight

Another key thing worth considering is the weight of the mount.

As you can see there is a pretty substantial difference between the heaviest and lightest mounts and so is a factor in how you will use it. I.e. do you need it to be portable or will it likely stay fixed in one place?

Also, here is the payload capacity vs mount weight in one chart for ease of comparison:

Astrophotography Telescope Mount FAQs

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.

This may be overkill for many though, and the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro may provide enough for most with a capacity of 44 lbs (20 kg), or the Celestron CGX with a capacity of 55 lbs (25 kg).


What is the most lightweight telescope mount option?

The Hobym Crux 140 Traveler is a great, 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).


Can I use a DSLR camera with a telescope mount?

Yes, you can “piggyback” a DSLR or mirrorless camera onto 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.


Conclusion: the best mounts for astrophotography

In summary, from our findings are recommendations are that:

  1. The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is a proven astrophotography performer and in the intermediate price range
  2. If you cannot stretch to that, then go for the Celestron AVX
  3. If you do have the budget and value portability over payload capacity, then consider a Hobym Crux 140 Traveler
  4. If you have the budget and value payload capacity over portability then go for the Celestron CGX
  5. If you have an observatory, then look at the Software Bisque Paramount ME II

The other option – which is great for beginners – is to consider a star tracker. These are small and mostly for milky way photography but can be used for deep space imaging with smaller telescopes. However, they have no GOTO functionality.

Please let us know your views on this and whether you have any questions in the comments below.

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