Best Telescope Mounts for Astrophotography [2021]

We analyzed 350+ images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year in the past three years to find out the best telescope mount for astrophotography in 2021.

From our data, we find that Sky-Watcher mounts dominate with the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 and the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro the best available in 2021.

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
Best Value
Sky-Watcher HEQ5 – Fully Computerized GoTo German Equatorial Telescope Mount – Motorized Astrophotography Mount with 42,000 Object Database
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
Sky-Watcher HEQ5
Celestron CGX
Celestron AVX
Payload capacity
44 lbs (20 kg)
30 lbs (13.6 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
Best Value
Sky-Watcher HEQ5 – Fully Computerized GoTo German Equatorial Telescope Mount – Motorized Astrophotography Mount with 42,000 Object Database
Make & model
Sky-Watcher HEQ5
Payload capacity
30 lbs (13.6 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 2021-12-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API


What telescope mounts are used by successful astrophotographers?

To understand what telescope mounts are actually being used to produce the best astrophotography photos, we analyzed all images shortlisted for the prestigious Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for the past three years (2019, 2020, and 2021).

Best Astrophotography Mount Manufacturer

From the 376 shortlisted images that we looked at, we found that Sky-Watcher mounts lead the way with 34% of all mounts used from them:

Best Astrophotography Mount Manufacturer

Second is Astro-Physics, then Software Bisque, and then Celestron.

Best Astrophotography Mount

When we look at the individual mounts we find that the Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro was the most successfully used overall, with it being used in 15% of all images using telescope mounts.

This is a fairly old mount that has been superseded by the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro, which can be bought in 2021 (although can currently be hard to find due to supply chain issues).

The similarly discontinued Sky-Watcher NEQ 6 Pro is third overall with the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 just behind. See more on Sky-Watcher mounts below.

The Software Bisque Paramount ME comes in second overall. This is an advanced mount for observatories.

See the results here:

best astrophotography mounts

If you want to read the full results of this analysis with cameras, telescopes, mounts and star trackers, see Astronomy Photographer of the Year: Equipment Analysis 2019-2021.

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


Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro

Best Overall Astrophotography Mount

EQ6-R – Fully Computerized GoTo German Equatorial Telescope Mount – Belt-driven, Motorized, Computerized Hand Controller with 42,900+ Celestial Object Database

As you can see in the chart above, Sky-Watcher mounts are by far the most successfully used for astrophotography in our data and the Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is the best option and has superseded the older and discontinued EQ6 and NEQ6 models.

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.
  • It’s hard to find in 2021.

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: 76.5 lbs (34.7 kg) (total weight for mount, tripod and counterweights)

Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro

Best Value Sky-Watcher Mount Available in 2021

Sky-Watcher HEQ5 – Fully Computerized GoTo German Equatorial Telescope Mount – Motorized Astrophotography Mount with 42,000 Object Database

Another great Sky-Watcher telescope mount for astrophotography is the HEQ5 Pro (often just called the HEQ5 – they are the same mount).

Cheaper than the EQ6-R Pro above, it makes for a more budget-friendly alternative and is also easier to find and buy at this point in late-2021.

It boasts many of the same characteristics as the EQ6-R Pro (and the now-discontinued EQ6-R and NEQ6 Sky-Watcher mounts) in that it is a motorized GOTO equatorial mount that excels for astrophotography.

Its key difference is a lower payload capacity of 30 lbs. If your telescope, camera and other gear in your setup are within this then this is a perfect mount for you and can save you some money. You also have the bonus that this is a smaller and lighter mount than the EQ6-R Pro.

Pros

  • It is a motorized GOTO equatorial mount – the best option for astrophotography.
  • It has GoTo functionality using the included SynScan hand controller. With this you can get your telescope to automatically point to any of 42,000 astronomical objects.
  • 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 30 pounds (13.6 kilograms), which should support many telescope and camera setups – check for you. The tripod and counterweights come included.
  • It is lighter than many other premium mounts at a total setup weight including counterweights of 55 lbs (as opposed to 76 lbs for the EQ6-R Pro).
  • It’s possibly the best Sky-Watcher mount for astrophotography that is available to buy in 2021 (given supply issues on the EQR-6 Pro).

Cons

The only real downside to consider about this mount is that it has a lower payload capacity than the EQ6-R Pro at 30 lbs. However, if your setup is within this though then it is no problem.

Overall, this is a great astrophotography mount for beginners and even advanced users if their telescope weighs less than 30 lbs. It is proven to be successful for astronomy imaging from our data and makes a great option.

Key specifications

  • Type: Motorized GOTO equatorial mount
  • Payload capacity: 30 lbs (13.6 kg)
  • Mount weight: 55.5 lbs (25.2 kg) (total weight for mount, tripod and counterweights)

Best Sky-Watcher Mounts for Astrophotography

Given how far ahead Sky-Watcher mounts are in our competition data and the supply chain issues in 2021, it’s worth looking at all the models successfully used and examining which are available right now.

This chart uses the data of just shortlisted images that used Sky-Watcher mounts to show the most used individual models:

Best Sky-Watcher Mounts for Astrophotography

A quick overview of the differences of these mounts is:

  1. EQ6 Pro – Top overall but hard to find in 2021 and superseded by the EQ6-R Pro.
  2. NEQ6 – A discontinued mount superseded by the EQ6-R Pro.
  3. HEQ5 – Available and detailed above. A great option with a 30 lbs payload capacity.
  4. EQ8-R Pro – A duty GOTO equatorial mount with a payload capacity of 110 lbs (50 kg) Available but currently hard to find in 2021.
  5. EQ6-R Pro – Detailed above as one of the best options for astrophotography. Available but currently hard to find in 2021.
  6. EQ5 Pro – A budget Sky-Watcher equatorial mount available as GOTO or manual with a 22 lbs (10 kg) payload capacity. Hard to find.
  7. AZ-EQ6 Pro – This mount can be used as either an equatorial (EQ) mount – best for astrophotography – or an Alt-Azimuth (AZ) mount – best for viewing, and so is great if you want an all round mount that is for more than imaging. It has a 44 lbs (20 kg) payload capacity and is computerized. It’s quite hard to find in 2021 and the similar but smaller AZ-EQ5 Pro is more available and cheaper.
  8. AZ-GTI – This is a small and portable GOTO alt-az mount that is mainly for viewing but can definitley work for astrophotography, as demonstrated by our findings.
  9. EQ3 Pro – This is a budget equatorial GOTO mount with a 12 lbs (5.5 kg) payload capacity. It can also be bought as a non-GOTO manual version for even cheaper.

Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro / HEQ5 Mount 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 lower-budget option is the Celestron Advanced VX mount. It also performs extremely well in our research of the most successful astrophotography mounts and is a good alternative to the Sky-Watcher HEQ5 for those that prefer Celestron.

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 successful 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 comparison 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)

Best Celestron Mounts for Astrophotography

You can see how different Celestron mount models have performed in the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the past three years here (this chart uses just data for images using Celestron mounts):

Most Used Celestron Mounts in Astronomy Photographer of the Year Shortlisted Images (2019-2021)

There are four Celestron telescopes mounts that can be considered in 2021. These are all equatorial GOTO mounts:

  1. AVX – Best budget and with lowest capacity at 30 lbs
  2. CGX – Higher capacity at 55 lbs
  3. CGX-L – Highest payload capacity for heavy set ups at 75 lbs
  4. CGEM II – Mid-range 40 lbs capacity

The CGE Pro and Advanced GT are discontinued models and the Celestron NexStar SE is the Alt-Az mount that comes with the Nexstar SE packages

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:

Astrophotography mount payload capacity comparison chart

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?

astrophotography mount weight comparison chart

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

Astrophotography mount payload capacity vs weight

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 Celestron CGX may provide enough with a capacity of 55 lbs (25 kg), or the Celestron CGX-L with 75 lbs (34 kg) for even heavier.


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 setup 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. The Sky-Watcher HEQ5 is a great alternative that is cheaper but has a lower payload capacity.
  3. If you cannot stretch to these or they are not available, then go for the Celestron AVX
  4. If you have the budget and value payload capacity over portability then go for the Celestron CGX or CGX-L
  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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