The iOptron SkyGuider Pro is one of the most common star trackers among beginners, keen amateurs, and astrophotographers on the move.
In this SkyGuider Pro review, we will discover why this star tracker is one of the best trackers you could buy on the market.
If you are serious about photographing the night sky, the SkyGuider Pro (SGP throughout the review) is the perfect tracker for you.
Compact, lightweight, with a good maximum payload, will allow you to photograph with ease anything from starry landscapes to star fields, from deep-sky objects to planetary work with small telescopes.
Let’s see more in detail some of the pros for the SGP.
- It is affordable
- It comes in a complete package for astrophotography
- It is easy to use
- It offers great performances
- It is small and lightweight
- You will not outgrow the SGP very fast
- You can “pimp” it with a range of accessories to increase performance and usability
- It has a user-replaceable built-in Li-Polymer battery
- The SGP is only one serious flaw: the equatorial wedge.
The SGP tracker sits on the equatorial wedge mounted on the tripod, and for many, this is the weak link in this astrophotography setup.
The wedge is used to precisely align the SGP to the celestial pole, thanks to the micrometric movements it offers for both Altitude and Azimuth.
Apparently, the wedge does not allow you to easily align the SGP with the kind of precision required by the use of long focal telephoto lenses or small refractors. Stability is also another issue.
If you struggle to get precise alignment and round stars with your setup, the best solution is to invest in the marvelous William Optics Wedge for iOptron.
This wedge is built like a German Tank and allows the precision of a Swiss clockmaker. Be careful to choose the appropriate version among the High Latitude or Low Latitude ones, depending on where you shoot most.
Here are the main specs for the SGP.
- Payload (Max.): 11 lbs (5 kg), balanced
- Mount weight with base: 3.2 lbs (1.45 kg) with battery
- Body material: All metal
- Tracking speed: Solar, Lunar, Sidereal, 0.5x Sidereal
- Fast slew speed: 144X, forward and reverse
- Tracking: Northern and Southern Hemisphere
- Guiding port: ST-4 compatible
- Polar scope: AccuAlign TM dark-field illuminated (~6º FOV)
- Camera trigger: Yes
- Power Requirement: Internal rechargeable battery
- Battery type: Li-Poly, 3.7 V, 2000 mAh
- Battery Life: Up to 20 hours at 20 ºC
- Power charge port: Micro USB (5V), 80% charge in 5 hours
- Body dimension: 133x115x95 mm (w/o alt-azi base)
- Counterweight shaft: ⌀20×200 mm w/ 3/8-16 threads
- Counterweight: 1.35 kg
- Operation temperature: -10 ºC to 40 ºC
Things To Consider Before Buying
iOptron SkyGuider Pro Or SkyTracker Pro?
Same as Skywatcher, iOptron has two star trackers in their catalog.
With a 3.5 kg max payload, the SkyTracker Pro is capable of handling shooting with mid-range telephoto lenses. It can be used to image bright deep sky objects such as Andromeda Galaxy and the Great Orion Nebula.
While the SkyTracker Pro is very capable, If you are more than the occasional starry photographer, you should get the SGP because of its higher maximum payload, better construction (metal vs plastic), more accessories, and better performances in general.
Use A Sturdy Tripod For The Best Results
The SGP can be mounted on any photographic tripod featuring a ¼” threaded head attachment.
This makes it a convenient choice for photographers on a budget and for astrophotographers on the move. But remember: to get the most out of your SGP, you have to use a sturdy tripod.
Stability is King, so don’t be afraid to invest in the tripod if you want to push the SGP to its limits.
A good tripod must be able not only to support the weight of the tracker with the wedge, the counterweight, and the photographic equipment, but it must also dump vibrations quickly.
If you do not need extreme portability, for example because you can reach your location by car, an excellent tripod I can vouch for is the Skywatcher Stainless Steel photographic tripod.
While it weighs 6kg, the tripod is rated for a max payload of 30kg, and more importantly, the legs are 45mm in diameter, which makes the tripod very sturdy.
If you need to backpack with your equipment, the Stainless Steel tripod is not a good choice: I have good results with both the Manfrotto 055XPROB and the Benro TMA 37-A, but try not to extend the smallest section of the legs.
A wobbly and “skinny” tripod may get the job done for starry landscapes with light gear, but will stop there and photographing anything else will become a frustrating experience.
The pack includes everything you need to start photographing the night sky:
- The SkyGuider Pro unit (mount)
- The Equatorial Wedge
- The Camera Mount block
- The Declination Bracket
- The Shaft with a 1.35kg counterweight
- Padded Carry Bag
- Micro USB Charging Cable
What’s Not Included (But Would Be Useful)
Some interesting accessories are not included in the Pro Pack but are available as accessories.
Frame Your Target Easily With An Hot Shoe Red Dot Star Finder
Are you wondering how to frame a target without a computerized GOTO system?
The simplest and fastest solution is to get a cheap red dot star finder you can mount on your camera hot shoe.
After you have calibrated the star finder to be sure is aligned with your lens, to frame a target look through the star finder and move the payload to superpose the red dot to your target (or the region where it is).
Easy Polar Alignment With The iPolar Electronic Polarscope
While the original optical polar finder is easy to use, and it is illuminated, Polar alignment is a crucial and often stressful step.
Particularly if you intend to use the SGP with a long focal telephoto lens or refractor, a welcome accessory to spare you the struggle of precisely polar aligning the mount is the iPolar Electronic Polarcsope.
To mount the iPolar Electronic Polarscope, you need to remove the original optical polar scope from the SGP unit, but this is not difficult.
Once installed, you need to connect a computer to the mini USB of the iPolar Electronic Polarscope to be able to polar align.
The iPolar Electronic Polarscope is similar to the more common QHY PoleMaster. Although the PoleMaster doesn’t produce a specific adaptor for the SGP and would require a universal adaptor.
But with the iPolar Polarscope, you will gain the possibility to precisely polar align the SGP with no hassle, even if Polaris, or Octans, is not visible.
Cost aside, you will lose portability, as you will need at least a Windows tablet to be able to run the required software.
Features & benefits
Battery Type And Battery Life
The SGP comes with a built-in Li-Polymer battery that can last about 20 hours of continuous star tracking with a camera.
Personally, I am not a fan of the built-in battery pack, and I like rechargeable AA batteries more.
This is because I can always toss a few alkaline AA in your backpack for when I arrive at your location only to realize I have forgotten to recharge my mount. Yes, it happened to me twice.
And if I don’t have them with me, I can find them almost anywhere. And yes, the SGP can also be powered with a portable USB power bank, so it is probably a matter of what you like more.
The SGP has a maximum payload capacity of 5kg, and this does not include the counterweight.
If you can properly balance the payload and your polar alignment is spot on, you can expect to achieve 3 minutes-long exposures with a DSLR and a William Optics Zenistar Z61, a well known and performant 60/360 triplet.
Also, such max payload allows you to use a guiding system to further improve the quality of your images.
Of course, it is no problem to use the SGP with wide-angle lenses for starry landscapes and wide star fields.
Ease Of Use
The SGP, as most of the star trackers out there, is very easy to set up and to use. With no GoTo and other advanced functions found in astrophotography mounts, the only critical step is polar alignment.
All you need to do to begin photographing with the SGP is following this workflow.
- Mount the SGP on a tripod
- Mount the photographic equipment on the SGP unit
- If you use heavy payloads, use the counterweight instead of a ball head
- Balance the weight on the mount
- Polar align
- Frame your target
- Turn on the SGP, select the proper tracking speed, and begin shooting
The SGP is one of the most performant trackers for lightweight and mobile astrophotography.
Thanks to the included counterweight, you can better balance heavy gear on the mount, improving the image quality. Guiding the SGP allows you to push its limits even further.
As usual, if you want to see how astrophotography equipment performs in real life, I suggest you have a look at astrobin.com for a large pool of images taken with the gear you are interested in.
Sample images of astrophotography with the SGP, from astrobin.
Skywatcher Star Adventurer PRO
If you want to stay in the field of star trackers, if we look at the price tag, performances, payload capacity, and the possibility to be guided, the only real alternatives on the markets to the SGP is the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Pro.
You can read our hands-on review of the Skywatcher Star Adventurer PRO here.
FORNAX 10 LighTrack II Tracking Mount
The Fornax 10 Lightrack II and the Vixen Polarie can both perform as well as the SGP, but to do so will cost you more than twice the money you spent on the SGP.
Here you can read our review on the Vixen Polarie.
The video below shows a quick setup and the SkyGuider Pro in action.
If you are interested in getting a tracker, the SkyGuider Pro is an excellent candidate, and you will not outgrow it very soon.
With it’s high payload and high tracking performances, you can use the SGP in combination with a DSLR with a long telephoto lens or small refractor telescope for great deep-sky astrophotography.
And if you want to push the tracker even more, you will be able to guide it and get several accessories to improve the performances, such as the Electronic PolarScope to polar align the SGP with ease and with great precision.
Finally, if you are into travel, all the goodies of the SGP are packed in a lightweight and portable tracker that will follow you in your adventures under the stars.