Star trackers for DSLR cameras are a fantastic and relatively inexpensive way to improve your astrophotography.
Star tracker camera mounts slowly move your camera at the speed of the rotation of the Earth. This allows you to have longer exposures and capture more light without blurring or star trails.
The best star tracker for astrophotography that we recommend is the iOptron SkyGuider Pro.
It provides the best combination of ease of use, effectiveness and affordability that most will be looking for in a star tracker camera mount.
There are really only five players in town fighting for the best star tracker crown and we explore the pros and cons of each below.
Last update on 2020-06-26 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
1. iOptron SkyGuider Pro
We rank the iOptron SkyGuider Pro as the best star tracker overall.
It’s effective as an astrophotography tool, allowing you to capture shots for minutes, rather than seconds.
It’s small and portable, which is needed from a piece of equipment you are going to take out with you on dark sky sessions away from bright lights.
It was released in 2017 and is a high quality (and weather-proof) build. This is particularly where it improves from the other (slightly older) option from iOptron, the SkyTracker Pro.
In comparison to the other star trackers available, it also has the additional advantage of being sold in a package that contains all the additional components needed (apart from a tripod and camera).
It has a payload capacity of 5kg (11lb), so it can cope with heavier weights (and is rivaled only by the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer – see below).
2. iOptron SkyTracker Pro
The SkyTracker Pro from iOptron is the entry-level version of their astrophotography star trackers.
It was released in 2016. Similar to the SkyGuider Pro (above), it is easy to use and is small and portable. It also performs just as well in terms of tracking the camera up to a certain weight.
Its advantages are that it is much lighter to carry, and is cheaper.
Where it falls behind is the quality of the build – it is less robust as it is mostly plastic, compared to the higher-quality metal components of the SkyGuider. It also lacks weather-proofing as so its components are more subject to the elements which may affect its longevity.
Importantly, it also cannot take as much weight as the SkyGuider, with a weight capacity of 3 kg (6.6 lbs). It is possible to add a counterweight kit to the SkyTracker if you need it to take more weight.
You may also want to buy a base as it is not usually included and makes polar alignment easier (rather than just attaching to a regular ballhead – which you can do). The Sky-Watcher equatorial wedge is higher quality than the iOptron version (and completely compatible), so you might prefer to get that.
See a Skies & Scopes case study of Connor Matherne using the iOptron SkyTracker Pro in his astrophotography.
iOptron SkyGuider Pro vs SkyTracker Pro
It carries more weight, is a higher quality build and comes in a package with all necessary components included.
The two positives for the SkyTracker Pro is that as the entry-level option it’ll usually be sold cheaper, and that it is quite a bit lighter to carry.
3. Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is another great star tracker option.
It has a similar payload capacity of 5kg (11lb) and is a serious rival to the iOptron SkyGuider Pro. It is also much lighter, weighing in at around just one-third of the weight of the iOptron model.
There is only really one thing that puts it behind the SkyGuider and that is that you need to buy a number of additional accessories to make it work. You’ll need:
- The equatorial wedge base
- The declination bracket if you want shoot deep sky and not just wide widefield
- You might also want the counterweight if your chosen camera/lens kits exceeds the payload capacity
iOptron SkyGuider Pro vs Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
Where it gets a bit of an edge over the Star Adventurer is in the fact that it comes pre-bundled with everything you would want (the declination bracket, EQ base, counterweight kit are all included).
On the other hand, the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer weighs much less and so has the advantage in being less of a pain for you to carry.
4. Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini (SAM) is Sky-Watcher’s newest star tracker for DLSR cameras.
It boasts being extremely light weight, and also has a smartphone app operated system.
Like the larger version, the SAM attaches to any standard tripod, is capable of astro tracking and regular time-lapse photography.
The unit itself around half the weight of the Star Adventurer while still using the same Latitude Base and Polar Alignment Scope.
On the downside though, it has a lower payload capacity of 3kg (6.6lb).
There is one other notable difference in that it is operated only via the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini (SAM) app and has no buttons for manual control.
Depending on your view, this could be been as either a pro or a con:
- It’s an advantage in that the app is pretty good and allows you to control everything via your smartphone.
- It’s a disadvantage in that you can have issues establishing and maintaining the connection between the Star Adventurer Mini and the app/smartphone. There is also a potential issue if you have traveled to a site and haven’t downloaded the latest version of the app before getting out of internet coverage or your phone has run out of battery etc. Then there would be no way to operate the star tracker.
As with the regular Star Adventurer version, you’ll also need a number of accessories to make it work:
- The equatorial wedge base
- The declination bracket for deep sky astro imaging
- The counterweight if you will be using heavier equipment
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer vs Star Adventurer Mini (SAM)
If you want the maximum payload and don’t mind the larger size & weight then go for the fullsize Star Adventurer.
But if you want the smallest, flexible mount for travel, and don’t mind the reduced payload, then the SAM is well worth considering.
The SAM is also operated only via the smartphone app, which will be a positive for many, but also has some potential issues.
5. Vixen Optics Polarie Star Tracker
The final option is the Vixen Polarie star tracker.
It has a payload of 3.2kg (7lb) it is similar to the iOptron SkyTracker Pro and the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini.
It utilizes an alignment window and compass which allows you to make a rough initial polar alignment, which will probably suffice for wide-field astrophotography. For more precise alignment you can add the optional polar scope.
FAQs about star trackers
What is a star tracker and how do they work?
Star trackers for cameras are small motorized devices that sit between your tripod and camera and slowly move your camera whilst it shoots.
These are particularly useful for astrophotography, as when you shoot objects in space they are moving in relation to you because of the rotation of the Earth that you are standing on.
This then limits the exposure time that you can use for what you are trying to capture.
In general, the longer you keep the shutter open for, the more light you let in, and then the better your astronomy image is.
If you use your camera without a star tracker you will not be able to use a shutter speed of more than a few seconds (the actual number will depend on the camera and lens that you are using).
The star tracker then allows you to shoot for much longer as it moves the camera in time with the rotation of the Earth.
How to use a star tracker for astrophotography?
How you operate your star tracker will depend on which model you have gone for, but the broad steps for using one are:
- Set up your tripod, camera, lens, and star tracker (possibly with an additional base)
- Align the star tracker. to do this you need to make sure that it is polar aligned – that is point at Polaris, the North Star. This might take some learning for a beginner but a good tip is to use a compass to make sure you are pointing North first. It’s worth noting that if you are doing wide-field, milky way photography then you don’t need to be 100% accurate with the polar alignment. Only when you are shooting far off deep sky objects will you need to make sure it is completely right.
- Compose your shot. The camera can point where you want it to, only the star tracker needs to point at Polaris.
- Take the shot. As you would with a normal shot, choose your ISO, aperture and exposure time. The star tracker then starts and moves the camera to allow the longer exposure.
How much weight do I need the star tracker to take?
The star tracker options covered above can take weights ranging from 3 kg to 5 kg. This is known as their “payload capacity”.
But what does it mean for you?
Well, you need to calculate how much your camera and lens weigh together to work out how much capacity you need.
For example, look at these setups:
Example kit 1 for Milky Way photography
- Nikon Z6 camera = 1.29 lbs (0.6 kg)
- Rokinon 14mm wide-angle lens = 1.65 lbs (0.75 kg)
- Total = 2.9 lbs (1.35 kg)
Example kit 2 for deep sky photography
- Nikon D850 camera = 2.02 lbs (0.9 kg)
- Nikkor 200-500mm telephoto lens = 5.07 lbs (2.3 kg)
- Total = 7.09 lbs (3.2 kg)
Generally, if you are shooting Milky Way shots with a wide-angle lens, then your kit should be lighter and the smaller star trackers will cope.
If you are shooting deep sky objects or solar system objects with a heavier telephoto lens then your kit will weight more and so you may need one of the star trackers with the bigger capacity.
One other thing option though is buying a counterweight for your star tracker. These increase the payload capacity of the star tracker to take more weight.
For much heavier payloads (for example, with telescope tubes instead of camera lenses), then the best option might be an astrophotography mount.
Who are the manufacturers of star tracker cameras mounts?
The leading makers of star tracker DSLR tracking mounts are:
Use the links above to visit the websites of these companies.