Equatorial mounts are best for astrophotography and having GOTO functionality is essential in 2023.
But what are the cheapest options that tick these boxes and still perform well?
We looked into all mounts available from the leading astronomy retailers in 2023 and narrowed it down to the top three outlined in this article.
Our recommendation is the Sky-Watcher EQM-35i. This is the best, but most expensive of our three recommendations.
The iOptron Skyhunter is a great budget portable option and the Explore Scientific iEXOS-100 PMC-8 is the cheapest but has its weaknesses.
Read on to understand the pros and cons of each. Let’s get into it.
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- German Equatorial
- Payload Capacity 22 lbs
- Weight 23 lbs
- Hybrid AZ/EQ
- Payload Capacity 11 lbs
- Weight 3 lbs
- German Equatorial
- Payload Capacity 9 lbs
- Weight 15 lbs
Cheapest GOTO Equatorial Monts
Our Pick – Best Budget GOTO Equatorial Mount
The Sky-Watcher EQM-35i is our top recommendation.
It is the most expensive on this list but:
- It is a high-quality German equatorial mount,
- It has a relatively high payload capacity of 22 lbs, and
- Sky-Watcher has been dominating the mount market in recent years and this is a premium-build model at a budget price.
The GOTO system on this mount is the same as on other premium Sky-Watcher mounts and is well-tested and used to great success.
Sky-Watcher EQM-35i vs Sky-Watcher EQM-35
This model is the Sky-Watcher EQM-35i but you may also see the Sky-Watcher EQM-35 on sale and wonder what the difference is and why they cost different amounts.
They are exactly the same except that the Sky-Watcher EQM-35 includes a hand controller for operating the GOTO tracking functionality.
The “i” model does not have a hand controller and therefore has to be operated via a smartphone app or similar. This makes it the cheaper version though since you are not paying for this extra component.
This makes it a great budget option if you do not think that you will need the hand controller.
You can watch a short overview here of the EQM-35 model:
- High-quality build mount
- Excellent and reliable GOTO functionality
- Everything you need in one package with a built-in polar scope
- Payload capacity is 22 lbs and should accommodate mid-range setups
- Sky-Watcher is the best in the business for telescope mounts and has been dominating this area in recent years
- More expensive than the other options
- Heavier and less portable than the other options, especially the iOptron Skyhunter
- The Sky-Watcher Synscan app is not well-rated but you can use SkySafari in its place, so not a big problem
This is a great option if you want a high-quality GOTO German Equatorial mount but don’t want to spend over a thousand dollars as you would for the next level-up mounts like the Sky-Watcher HEQ5, EQ6-R Pro, or the Celestron AVX.
There is little compromise on this other than the payload capacity which is mid-range. But you are getting a premium build Sky-Watcher mount with excellent GOTO capacity and you are saving money by going for the “i” version which sacrifices the hand controller.
Overall, this is our premium pick and most recommended for astrophotography if your telescope fits within the 22 lb limit.
- Type: German Equatorial
- Computerized: Yes
- Payload Capacity: 22 lbs (10 kg)
- Weight: 22.7 lbs (10.3 kg)
Equatorial GoTo Mount with WiFi
- Great value German Equatorial Mount from Sky-Watcher - the best in the business for mount
- 22 lbs (10 kg) payload capacity
- Computerized and operable via smartphone app
iOptron SkyHunter AZ/EQ
Best for Travel
Newly released in 2022, the iOptron Skyhunter exists somewhere between a star tracker and a full EQ mount.
The equatorial capacity comes from a wedge component that is included and transforms it from an alt-az into an EQ mount.
Therefore, it is not a full German equatorial mount, but it is computerized and does track equatorially.
Note there are a few different versions of the Skyhunter:
- Skyhunter AZ – This is the most basic version (and the cheapest) but it is without the equatorial wedge for EQ mode or the polar scope
- Skyhunter AZ/EQ – This is the version we have focused on here that includes the equatorial wedge
- Skyhunter AZ/EQ with iPolar – The same as above but also including the iPolar polar scope
If you want it for astrophotography then you will want a model with EQ capacity since that is best for imaging (whereas AZ is best for if you just want it for observing or maybe just planetary imaging).
Then you can choose whether to pay extra for the iPolar electronic polar scope to be included. Buying it separately costs about $230, and so this is the amount added on the iPolar version. We’ve featured here the version without iPolar since we are focused on the cheapest EQ options.
The mount itself is operable via the iOptron Commander software that you can download from their website or by using the excellent SkySafari app on your phone.
It weighs just 3 lbs and is very compact and so is ultra-portable and great for traveling with. Much more so than any German equatorial mount which will always weigh more and be bulkier.
The package comes with a tripod and also a pier that raises the telescope so that it doesn’t get caught on the tripod legs when tracking.
You can watch a good unboxing video of the Skyhunter here:
- Cheap – less than $500
- Ultra-light and compact, making it perfect to grab-and-go EQ mount
- iOptron has a great track record with some of the best star trackers and so this builds on those with the GOTO functionality
- The EQ function comes from a wedge rather than being a full German equatorial mount. Some might find this limiting for their imaging.
- The payload capacity of 11 lbs limits use to smaller refractors or just DSLR cameras with lenses.
Overall, this is a fantastic budget EQ GOTO mount if you are not set on a German equatorial mount style and/or want the most portable option. Just make sure your telescope setup fits within the 11 lb capacity.
- Type: Hybrid AZ/EQ
- Computerized: Yes
- Payload Capacity: 11 lbs (5 kg)
- Weight: 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)
Portable EQ/AZ GOTO Mount for Astrophotography
- Budget Computerized GOTO
- Extremely portable - weighs only 2.9 lbs (1.3 kg)
- Payload capacity of 11 lbs (5 kg)
- Controlled via smartphone app
Explore Scientific iEXOS-100 PMC-8
Cheapest GOTO Equatorial Mount
The Explore Scientific iEXOS-100 PMC-8 mount is the cheapest GOTO EQ mount on the market.
It lists at $599 but is available from multiple retailers at a much-reduced cost of $349 (at the time of writing – check live prices using the links below).
It ticks a lot of the boxes for a budget astrophotography mount:
- It is a German Equatorial mount
- It is GOTO/computerized, meaning that it will automatically locate and track objects for you in the night sky
- It can be operated via a free app that you can download onto your smartphone or tablet
It is fairly light, with the mount head weighing 9.5 lbs (4.29 kg), and the tripod 5.3 pounds (2.4 kg).
The payload capacity is stated pretty unclearly in the online descriptions, but in answer to a question on Amazon, Explore Scientific clarified:
“For astrophotography, the stated weight limit for telescope and photography gear, is 9 pounds. For visual the stated weight limit, including all gear and astronomy equipment, is 19 pounds.”
Therefore for astrophotography, it has a payload capacity of 9 lbs (4 kg).
This is actually quite useful information as a lot of mounts will state the payload capacity but not state the limit before imaging will be affected.
You can watch a video of it being set up here:
Whilst the mount has good feedback overall, there seem to be a few issues with the technical aspects and the accessories provided.
Firstly, the ExploreStars app is out of date on the Android store. It seems that you need to go to a page on the Explore Scientific website (here) to download all the correct software. Not a huge problem, but not as seamless as just downloading an app and connecting.
In addition, whilst it is advertised as being Bluetooth enabled, Explore Scientific stated as recently as April 2023 that this is still in beta and not universally available. Therefore, most will have to use a wifi connection (this shouldn’t be a huge problem for most though).
The other issue is that it does not come with a couple of accessories that, whilst not essential, are very useful. These are the polar scope and altazimuth adapter which are used for polar aligning.
Without these, polar alignment is much more difficult and you may need to buy these parts separately which then of course adds to the cost. You should therefore factor this into the price when buying unless you are confident in alignment without these parts.
- For a computerized equatorial mount it is very cheap
- It is a lightweight package at less than 15 lbs
- Explore Scientific is a reputable, US-based company with a history of producing high-quality astronomy and astrophotography gear
- Customer support from Explore Scientific is known to be excellent and they provide good aftersales service
- It has a fairly low payload capacity. Just check that your telescope and accessories will not exceed the 9 lb limit for astrophotography
- Polar alignment is difficult without the polar scope which is not included but has to be bought separately
- An altazimuth adapter is also not included, but necessary to finely adjust the polar alignment
- Whilst the tripod is light, this can mean that it is not sturdy enough for some and therefore an upgraded tripod may need to be bought
- Installing the controlling software is not as simple as downloading an app from the app store
- The Bluetooth capacity is still in beta and may not work
Overall, this is a good, cheap GOTO EQ mount from a reputable company but just be aware of its limitations and the fact that you might need to buy some extra components to make it work to its full potential.
If you think you would want these additional accessories and a more sturdy mount, then you would probably be better off going for the Sky-Watcher EQM35i as the price will be comparable but you’d be getting a better mount.
This model is best if you really just want a cheap introduction to GOTO EQ mounts.
- Type: German Equatorial
- Computerized: Yes
- Payload Capacity: 9 lbs (4 kg) (for astrophotography) – 19lbs (8.6 kg) for astronomy
- Weight: 14.8 lbs (6.7 kg) (Mount head and tripod)
GOTO Equatorial Telescope Mount
- Cheapest computerized EQ Mount
- 9lb payload capacity for astrophotography, 19lbs for observing
- Smartphone app controlled
- WiFi and Bluetooth Compatible
Verdict: What’s the Best Cheap GOTO EQ Mount?
Overall, our recommendations are:
- The Sky-Watcher EQM-35i is our top pick as this is a premium mount at a budget price.
- If you want a cheaper option then the iOptron Skyhunter might be for you. This is also perfect if you want something smaller and more portable.
- Finally, Explore Scientific iEXOS-100 PMC-8 is the cheapest GEM and good as long as you are confident you can do without the additional accessories to aid polar alignment.
With all of these, you need to watch the payload capacity of your OTA and accessory setup.
If you are looking for more capacity and are willing to go over a thousand dollars then three very well-regarded but slightly more expensive options are:
- iOptron CEM26 – 26 lbs capacity and a weight of 10 lbs.
- Celestron AVX – 30 lbs capacity and a weight of 35 lbs.
- ZWO AM3 – 17.5 lbs capacity (expandable to 28.5 lbs with counterweights) and a weight of 8.5 lbs.
For more high-end options, see the Best Mounts for Astrophotography.
You may also be interested in other guides to things like harmonic mounts in our Telescope Mounts hub.