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Best Star Trackers for Astrophotography in (2020)

Are you feeling ready to have a go with the night sky and wondering what you need you don’t already have? 

If so, forget telescopes, astro cameras, and all the likes: all you need is a star tracker.

In this article, we will compare the most common trackers on the market (and some not so common), to help you choose the right gear for your photography style and needs.

Of all the star trackers available on the market, for us, the best all-rounder mount with the best value for the money is the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer PRO.

But many other trackers can be good alternatives, depending on your needs.

 Best star trackers on the market in 2020


1. SkyWatcher Star Adventurer PRO

For The Enthusiast Astrophotographer (Best All-Rounder)

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro Pack – Motorized Dslr...
  • PORTABLE NIGHTSCAPE TRACKING PLATFORM: Motorized portable tracking platform...
  • WIDE-FIELD ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY: The unique, modular design allows for integration...
  • EQUATORIAL BASE: Deluxe Equatorial base helps position the Star Adventurer at...

The Skywatcher Star Adventurer PRO is the perfect all-round tracker, a mount that will please the beginners and enthusiast astrophotographer.

Lightweight and compact, it can easily tag along when you travel. 

The Pro pack comes with all the necessary bits to have fun with the stars: from starry landscapes to time-lapse, from star fields to deep sky objects.

Tracking accuracy is great, and for deep sky astrophotography, the max payload capacity of 5 kg allows you to use a DSLR with a decent telephoto lens or even a small refractor. 

You can even mount a small maksutov telescope for lunar, solar, and planetary imaging and visual observation.

And just when you think the Star Adventurer has nothing more to offer you, you will realize you can guide it via its ST-4 port. 

By guiding, you can photograph more challenging targets and create images of better quality (lower noise, rounder stars, better details, …). 

If you want a tracker that is easy to use and portable, with solid performances and that you will not outgrow easily, I highly recommend the Star Adventurer Pro.

Have a look at the in-depth Star Adventurer review and ultimate user and set up guide for the Star Adventurer.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 5 kg (11 lbs)
  • Motor speeds: Sidereal, Solar, Lunar, 0.5x, 2x, 6x, and 12x Sidereal
  • Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemisphere
  • Power requirement: 4xAA batteries or external power via 5v (mini-USB input)
  • Pole finder: Yes
  • Total weight: 1.7 kg (3.63 lbs)
  • Autoguide port: Yes
  • Timelapse: Yes
  • Polar axis scale: Yes
  • Motor type: DC servo 144 teeth

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Portable
  • High performances
  • Easy to use and to setup
  • Suitable for Time Lapse
  • Tracking works both in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere
  • Maximum payload capacity of 5kg (11 lbs)
  • Can be guided
  • Complete range of accessories included in the PRO pack

Cons

  • The wedge is ok, but not stellar
  • Flimsy polar illuminator

2. iOptron SkyGuider PRO

For The Enthusiast Astrophotographer: (Runner Up)

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Camera Mount Full Package
  • The SkyGuiderTM Pro is certainly a must have tool for any photographer...
  • Camera, Lens, Telescope,Ballhead and tripod not included

The iOptron SkyGuider PRO is a good alternative to the Star Adventurer Pro, having similar specs and performances. 

But the weaker equatorial base and the lack of fine adjustment settings for the declination bracket means the SkyGuider PRO comes second in the “all-round star trackers for enthusiast astrophotographers” category.

If you are interested in know more, here you can read our iOptron Skyguider PRO review.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 11 lbs (5kg), balanced
  • Motor speeds: (4) Sidereal 0.5X, 1X, Solar, Lunar
  • Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemisphere
  • Power requirement: Internal rechargeable battery (Li-Poly, 3.7V, 2000mAh)
  • Battery charge: Micro USB (5V), 80% charge in 5 hours
  • Pole finder: Yes
  • Total weight: 2.2 lbs (1kg) with battery
  • Autoguide port: Yes
  • Motor type: DC servo motor with optical encoder

Pros

  • It is affordable
  • Solid built – Built from an all-metal body
  • It comes in a complete package for astrophotography
  • It is easy to use
  • Tracks both Northern and Southern hemisphere
  • Good range of accessories to increase performance

Cons

  • The equatorial wedge could be more precise.

3. Omegon Minitrack LX2

For Beginners And Globetrotters (Best Budget Option)

Omegon Star Tracker Mini Track LX2 N - Mechanical...
  • Fully mechanical mount, simply wind it up and activate 60 minutes tracking - up...
  • No counterweight necessary, an innovative spring system produces the same effect...
  • Compact and portable photo mount made of aluminium with 0.43 kg net weight ideal...

The Omegon Minitrack LX2 is the quintessence of portable star trackers. Fully mechanical and with an integrated spring-loaded mechanism, you have all you need in the most compact design.

The mechanical mechanism lets you track the stars for 60 minutes before you need to rewind it.

The Minitrack is the killer tracker for beginners wanting a mount easy to use and for those into starry landscapes and star fields photography. 

Because of its maximum payload capacity of 2kg, classic deep sky astrophotography is not its ideal hunting ground.

Before you jump on it, be careful to order the version that suits you better: the Minitrack LX2 tracks only in the Northern Hemisphere, while the N/S model can track both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.

See more: Read our Omegon Minitrack LX2 review.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 2 kg
  • Tracking speeds: Sidereal
  • Max tracking time: 60 min
  • Tracking mechanism: Mechanical
  • Tracking: Northern Hemisphere (standard) or N/S hemispheres (N/S version).
  • Pole finder: Yes (Polar finder tube)
  • Weight: 430g
  • Overall size LxWxH: 21 x 7,8 x 3 cm
  • Material: Aluminium
  • Type: Mechanical Mount

Pros

  • Never needs charging
  • lightweight and compact
  • easy to use
  • integrated spring-loaded balancing mechanism
  • affordable

Cons

  • mostly limited to starry landscapes and star fields
  • low maximum payload capacity (2kg)
  • Polar align in the Southern Hemisphere is nearly impossible with the included polar tube finder

4. Omegon Minitrack LX3

For Beginners And Globetrotters (Runner Up)

Omegon Photo Mount Mini Track LX3 N - Travel Autoguider...
  • CURRENT-FREE - no batteries or power supply is needed - fully mechanical...
  • PRECISION - CNC milled body for higher stability with a load capacity for reflex...
  • MOBILE - Compact and portable without counterweights thanks to an innovative...

The Omegon Minitrack LX3 is the new version of the LX2. Thanks to the improved design, it can carry payloads up to 3kg. It also comes with a real polar scope.

Despite all that, at the moment the LX2 is still a better bang for the money, also considering that:

  1. At the time of this article, there is no N/S version. Thus the LX3 is only suitable for the Northern Hemisphere.
  2. For beginners, the polar tube finder is easier to use than the (non-illuminated) polar scope of the LX3.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 3 kg
  • Tracking speed: Sidereal
  • Max tracking time: 60 min
  • Tracking mechanism: Mechanical
  • Tracking:: Northern Hemisphere only
  • Pole finder: Yes
  • Weight: 650g
  • Overall size LxWxH: 21 x 7,8 x 3 cm
  • Material: Aluminium
  • Type: Mechanical Mount

Pros

  • Portable and lightweight
  • Never needs charging
  • Increased precision over the LX2
  • Polar finder is an improvement from the polar tube of the LX2

Cons

  • Tracking in Northern Hemisphere only
  • Only tracks in one speed

5. Skywatcher Star Adventurer Mini (SAM)

For Beginners And Occasional Astrophotographers

Sky Watcher Star Adventurer Mini (SAM) – Motorized...
  • PORTABLE NIGHTSCAPE TRACKING PLATFORM: Motorized portable nightscape tracking...
  • WIFI ENABLED SMARTPHONE CONTROL: Wife enabled allowing for smartphone control...
  • ATTACH ANY BALL HEAD: Easily mount any ball-head using the included ball-head...

The Star Adventurer Mini is the little brother of the Star Adventurer PRO. 

With its maximum payload capacity of 3kg, DC motor tracking for both the Hemispheres, Time Lapse capability, and wireless connectivity, it is a definite step up from the minimalistic design of the Omegon Minitrack LX2/LX3.

This mount packs good performances in a portable and extremely easy to use package. It also comes with a good number of accessories, essential to experiment with different astrophotography targets and styles.

The Star Adventurer Mini is the perfect tracker for beginners and occasional astrophotographers wanting a good performing mount that is very easy to operate and fast to set up.

See more, read our Star Adventurer Mini (SAM) review.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 6.6 lb / 3.0 kg
  • Motor speeds: Sidereal 0.5X, 1X, 2X, 6X, 12X, Solar and Lunar
  • Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemisphere
  • Power requirement: 2 x AA batteries or 5V DC micro usb
  • Polar scope: Included (10º field of view)
  • Illuminator: Included
  • Weight: 24.0 oz / 680g
  • Dimensions: 4.1 x 3.0 x 2.8” / 10.3 x 7.6 x 7.0 cm
  • Motors: 5V DC servo

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Compact and lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Controlled from your smartphone
  • Different Time-Lapse modes available
  • Maximum payload of 3kg
  • It can dither

Cons

  • The polar scope is not integrated
  • Flimsy polar illuminator

6. iOptron SkyTracker PRO

For Beginners And Occasional Astrophotographers (Runner Up)

No products found.

The iOptron SkyTracker is a great alternative to the Star Adventurer Mini, ensuring good performances and able to deal with payloads up to 3kg.

But because for the same money, it offers no wifi (which unlocks advance features in the Star Adventurer Mini, such as dithering and 3 different time-lapse modes) and fewer accessories (no declination bracket), the Star Adventurer Mini is a better bargain.

See more: Read our SkyTracker PRO review.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 6.6 lbs (3kg)
  • Motor speeds: (4) Sidereal 0.5X, 1X, Solar and Lunar
  • Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemisphere
  • Power requirement: Internal rechargeable battery (Li-Poly, 3.7V, 2000mAh)
  • Battery duration: Up to 24 hours at 20ºC
  • Battery charge: Micro USB (5V), 80% charge in 5 hours
  • Weight: 685 gm with battery
  • Dimensions: 115x115x95 mm
  • Polar scope: Yes
  • Illuminator: Yes
  • Motors: DC servo

Pros

  • Lightweight and portable
  • includes a padded carry bag
  • Solid built

Cons

  • lower payload capacity could be an issue with heavier equipment
  • Internal battery pack only, no option for AA batteries as a backup

A Few Alternative Star Trackers Worth Mentioning

7. Fornax 10 Lightrack iI

Alternative Options (Best Maximum Payload Capacity)

Fornax 10 Lightrack star tracker unit

Fornax 10 Lightrack II

  • Fits to any photo tripod, can be combined with all commercial ball heads
  • Ready for use within minutes
  • Maximum tracking time 107 minutes

In a world where motorized trackers work on the same basic principle, the Fornax 10 Lightrack II is the outsider. 

Instead of using a classic threadworm coupled to a gear to rotate the camera, the Fornax has a friction system, ensuring better and smoother tracking, with a very low periodic error.

The maximum payload capacity is impressive for a portable mount: 6kg without counterweight and 12kg with counterweight, enough for using serious astrophotography gear such as 100mm refractors and compact telescopes. Plus, it can be guided.

But all this comes at a cost.

You can purchase the mount alone, but to complete the setup with original accessories (wedge, polar scope, and counterweight system), the final price will be well in the range of a good, but less portable, equatorial mount with goto capability.

If you are looking for a setup offering uncompromised performances and you can compromise on portability if you can afford it, this is arguably the best tracker money can buy.

Tech Specs

  • Max payload capacity: 6 kg (with counterweight): 12 kg
  • Power requirement: 12 V DC
  • Continuous tracking duration: Max 107 minutes
  • Tracking power transmission: pre-loaded friction wheel with non-linear microstepping
  • Autoguider port: Yes, ST4 standard
  • USB port: Yes
  • Weight: 1240 grams
  • Dimensions: 28 x 14 x 4 cm

Pros

  • Portable
  • Excellent performances
  • Impressive max payload of 6kg, up to 12kg with counterweight
  • Can be guided
  • Easy to use and to setup
  • Different tracking speeds available
  • Suitable for the Northern and Southern Hemisphere

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Needed equipment is optional and expensive
  • Operate with 12V DC power source only
  • Continuous tracking limited to 107 minutes

8. Vixen Polarie

Alternative Options (Most Easy to Use)

Vixen Optics 35505 Polarie Star Tracker (White)
  • Maximum loading weight is 7 lbs
  • Polar sight hole About 8.9 Degree field of view
  • Optional accessory A dedicated polar axis scope for Polarize

The Vixen Polarie is a good, portable and reliable star tracker playing in the same field of the Omegon Minitrack, the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Mini and the iOptron SkyTracker PRO.

Perfect for wide-angle astrophotography on the move, with lightweight equipment. 

But competition is fierce nowadays and, while being a good performer, the Vixen Polaire falls shorts in far too many aspects compared to other trackers offering higher payload capacity and more accessories for the price or that are cheaper.

Aside from that, the Polarie is easy to use and can be expanded with a complete, but pricey, set of accessories to improve usability and even boosting the maximum payload capacity to a quite impressive 6kg.

See more: Read our Vixen Polarie review.

Tech Specs

  • Maximum Payload: 2.0kg
  • Motor speeds: Sidereal 0.5X, 1X, Solar, Lunar
  • Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemispheres
  • Power Requirement: 2 AA Batteries
  • Battery life: About 2 hours
  • Size: 3.7 x 5.9x 2.3 inches
  • Weight: 26 oz (without batteries)
  • Polar Sight Hole: About 8.9 deg field of view
  • Built-in: Tilt Meter (illuminated)
  • Includes: detachable compass supplied as a standard accessory
  • Optional Accessories: Polarie Polar Scope PF-L, Polar Meter, Time Lapse adapter, Step up Kit, Tripod, Ball Head

Pros

  • Slick and compact design
  • Lightweight
  • Built-in tilt indicator, Compax, and Polar Sight Hole
  • Tracking for both hemispheres
  • Different tracking speeds available
  • Good range of accessories

Cons

  • Very overpriced respect the competitors
  • No wedge and no ball head included
  • Battery life seems to be quite limited
  • Max. Payload limited to 2kg
  • Can’t do time-lapse without buying the Time Lapse accessory

9. SLIK ECH-630 Astro Tracker

Alternative Options

SLIK ECH-630 Astro Tracker Tripod Head, 1", Black...
  • Multi-speed for celestial, lunar or time-lapse photography
  • Compact and lightweight at just 22.4 oz., perfect for backpacking
  • Simple control Menu via LCD display

With astrophotography getting popular among amateur photographers, you can find on the market many star trackers that are not produced by the classic astronomy brands, such as SkyWatcher, Vixen, iOptron, etc.

One of these trackers is the SLIK ECH-630 astro-tracker. This is a very compact and portable motorized mount that can be used for wide-field star photography, moon photography, and time-lapse.

Perfect if you are into hiking to a remote location to shoot the stars.

Payload capacity varies from 5kg if you are using it flat for time-lapse photography, down to 2kg when used at 45 degrees. For higher latitude, the maximum payload capacity will drop even more.

The SILK ECH-630 has no optional counterweight, but it does have an optional base featuring micro-adjustments to easily polar align the tracker.

Unfortunately, this, like many other trackers from previously unknown brands, is not a mount I would recommend.

While it seems to perform decently for wide-angle astrophotography, for what it offers just for the unit alone, you can add a little more to your purchase price and buy the Photo Bundle Pack of the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Mini which includes everything you need.

Tech Specs

  • Maximum Payload: 5kg
  • Motor speeds: (4) Sidereal, Lunar, Solar and Starscape
  • Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemisphere
  • Power Requirement: 4 AA batteries or 5V DC power
  • Battery life: Up to 20 hours
  • Size: 84D x 86W x 65H mm
  • Weight: 630g (without batteries)
  • Polar Sight Hole: 2 Peeping Holes for Polar Alignment

Pros

  • Compact and lightweight
  • Has Time Lapse capabilities
  • Can plug an external battery (in micro USB port) for longer run times
  • Easy LCD menu screen to make adjustments

Cons

  • No optional counterweight

Star Tracker Buying guide

What Is a Star Tracker?

A star tracker is your gateway to the stars. Similar to a classic equatorial mount, a star tracker is a much more affordable and portable device, still capable of improving your astrophotography dramatically.

What Does A Star Tracker Do?

A star tracker is an astrophotography mount that rotates your camera around the celestial pole (CP), in sync with the stars. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, the Northern Celestial Pole (NCP) is close to Polaris, the North Star. In the Southern Hemisphere, the South (SCP) is close to the faint sigma-Octans star.

If you take a long exposure from a fixed tripod, you’ll see stars drawing concentric trails centered on the celestial pole: the famous star trails.

classic star trails rotating around the north celestial pole
Classic star trails image, showing the star rotation around the Northern Celestial Pole.

If you are after deep sky astrophotography and star fields, you do not want the stars to trail. Instead, you want them to be pinpoint sharp.

But because deep sky objects are faint, you need to expose the sky for quite some time to capture enough light. To get round stars in such long exposures, you need a star tracker.

How Does A Star Tracker Track The Stars?

As illustrated by the image below, a star tracker rotates the camera around the CP in sync with the stars, thus preventing them from trailing when taking a long exposure of the night sky.

how a equatorial mount works
The alignment process and working principles of a star tracker.

To accurately track the sky, there are three things you have to do:

  1. Set the proper tracking direction. In the Northern hemisphere, stars rotate counterclockwise around the CP, while in the Southern Hemisphere, they rotate clockwise.
  2. Use the proper tracking speed. Many trackers allow you to select different tracking speeds, depending on the target you are after. Usually, you can choose between sidereal (stars), lunar, and solar tracking.
  3. Align your star tracker to the CP (also known as Polar Alignment) and start taking photos.

Of the three steps mentioned above, the one that requires a bit of practice is the Polar Alignment. 

The longer the focal length you use and the exposure time you need, the more precise the polar alignment must be.

What Are The Benefits Of A Star Tracker?

There are three main advantages in using a star tracker:

  1. Be able to take long exposures of the night sky
  2. Create compelling Time Lapse with controlled camera movement
  3. Improve your visual observation experience

Set Longer Exposure Times

The obvious benefit of using a star tracker is that you can take long exposures of the sky with pinpoint sharp stars.

This allows you to capture much more details and colors for your target respect to photographing it without a tracker.

extra detail you achieve from using a star adventurer skywatcher
The top image shows M42 from a stack of 8 photos from a fixed tripod. The image at the bottom shows the M42 region taken with the Star Adventurer.

Create Dynamic Time Lapses

The second benefit is Time Lapse.

Many trackers have the ability to control your camera shutter so that you can create compelling Time Lapses featuring a controlled camera motion. 

Improve Your Visual Observation Experience

The Skywatcher Star Adventurer Pro and iOptron SkyGuider Pro are capable enough to handle a small telescope for visual observation.

I often use my Skywatcher Skymax 90/1250 on the Star Adventurer Pro to follow the Moon and the Planet, so that I can visually observe without worrying about continuously reframing the target manually.

Features To Consider When Looking To Buy A Star Tracker

There are many different kinds of star trackers available on the market, all excelling in one or more areas.

  1. Portability: some trackers fit in the back pocket of your jeans while others need a small camera bag, but in general they are all very portable;
  2. Payload Capacity: the maximum payload must exceed the weight of the heaviest setup you intend to use;
  3. Ease of use: if you are the occasional shooter just wanting to get some starry landscapes with a great Milky Way, you probably do not need complicated setups;
  4. Performances and flexibility: if you are serious about astrophotography, some trackers have amazing performances and are flexible enough to follow you in your journey to the stars, from the first starry landscape to the advanced deep sky images. 

Weight And Portability

All star trackers are lightweight and compact enough to be portable so that you can easily travel around the world with one of them.

If you value portability most, the best tracker to travel with is, without a doubt, the Omegon Minitrack LX2/LX3, particularly when combined to a mirrorless or micro four-thirds camera.

Large sensor mirrorless camera bodies are lighter compared to equivalent DSLRs, but they still use the same DSLR heavy and bulky lenses. 

Micro Four Thirds cameras, on the other hand, have a slightly smaller sensor than APS-C and benefit from compact and light lenses: a killer combo if you need to travel lightweight. 

Astrophotography images taken with the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Pro

Astrophotography images taken with the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Pro (source: astrobin.com)

Payload Capacity

A high maximum payload capacity is crucial when using heavy payloads, such as long telephoto lenses, full-frame cameras, and small refractor telescopes.

The rule of thumb in astrophotography is that to have the best images, you should not load your mount for more than 60-70% (even 50% for some) of the mount maximum payload capacity.

Among the most common trackers, if you want to work with long telephoto lenses and heavy equipment, you should turn to the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Pro or the iOptron SkyGuide Pro.

The counterweight included in the kit is essential for the heaviest payloads, and it is included in both those trackers packs. 

But the clear winner when it comes to payload capacity is the Fornax 10 Lightrack II: max payload is 6kg without the need to balance the gear with a counterweight. 

If you can afford to buy the optional counterweight kit, then the maximum payload will be an impressive 12kg.

Polar Alignment

polar scope view

As mentioned before, a proper Polar Alignment is crucial if you want to pinpoint sharp stars in long exposures. 

With the notable exception of the Fornax 10 Lightrack II, all trackers considered in this guide, come with a way to polar align the mount. 

A simple plastic tube is enough to polar align the Minitrack LX2 for wide star fields and starry landscapes. 

The integrated and illuminated polar scopes of the iOptron SkyGuider PRO and Skywatcher Star Adventurer PRO are great for deep sky astrophotography, as they allow for the kind of precise polar alignment needed for taking long exposures with fairly long focal lengths.

For the Fornax, the polar scope is available as optional.

Powering Up – Battery Operated vs Power Bank Versions

The option for powering star trackers is more diversified:

  1. Mechanical Trackers: no need to deal with batteries or power banks. Wind the mount, and a spring will set your camera in motion
  2. Integrated battery
  3. AA batteries
  4. 5V DC (Power Banks)
  5. 12V DC (Power Tanks)

The Omegon Minitrack LX2/LX3 are fully mechanical trackers, a feature that makes them even more portable.

The Vixen Polarie and the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Mini and Pro can be powered via AA batteries (2 for the Polarie and Star Adventurer Mini and 4 for the PRO). They also can be powered via a portable 5V DC Power Bank. 

I like the possibility to use both rechargeable and disposable AA batteries, as they are easy to find, to carry, and to replace.

The trackers from iOptron rely on a built-in Li-Polymer battery and can also be powered with a 5V DC Power Bank.

Finally, the Fornax needs a 12V DC power source, like a bulky and less portable 12V Power Tank. 

Ease of Use

The Omegon Minitrack LX2 and the Vixen Polarie are a no brainer, as there isn’t a real polar scope to deal with.

But all trackers are easy to use. Some though can be used in a more sophisticated way to allow you to improve the range of targets you can photograph and the kind of image quality you can get from your gear.

taken with the Vixen Polarie

Astrophotography images taken with the Vixen Polarie (source: astrobin.com)

Quick Recap Of the Best Star Trackers For Astrophotography 2020

Conclusion

Today, the night sky is not reserved for the elite astronomers and astrophotographers armed with expensive, complicated, and huge equipment. Star trackers have unlocked the starry sky to the general public, making it easy for us to peer into its many wonders.

Of all the most common devices on the market, the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Pro is the best high performance, all-round star tracker with great value: affordable, with a complete range of accessories, portable, and flexible.

About Andrea Minoia

Andrea Minoia works as a researcher in a Belgian university by day and is a keen amateur astrophotographer by night.

He is most interested in deep sky photography with low budget equipment and in helping beginners along their journey under the stars.