Have you ever stumbled across images like this while surfing the internet, and pause on them in awe, thinking how nice it would be to be able to do that yourself?
This is precisely what got me interested in astrophotography.
The image above is a great example of how, with a bit of technique, a nice location and a dark sky, one can take decent starry landscapes from a fixed tripod, without the complications of having to track the sky.
Though this is limiting and a camera star tracker will let you do much more. But what if you are on a tight budget, you would just give astrophotography a try, or if you are always on the move, chasing awe-inspiring starry landscapes?
Is there a tracker for you?
The Omegon Minitrack LX2 is what you are looking for, a reliable, robust, easy to use, super portable and very affordable tracker. And this is our review for you.
The Omegon Minitrack LX2 is the weird kid in town when looking at the different star trackers available on the market, such as the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Mini & Co.
The tracking mechanism consists of a swinging arm moved by a mechanical timer. The camera is mounted on the swinging arm.
The timer, similar to those found in kitchen ovens, needs to be manually winded and allows you to track the stars for about 60 minutes.
Perfect for wide-angle (astro)photography.
- Max. additional load capacity: 2 kg
- Max. tracking time: 60 min
- Tracking mechanism: Mechanical
- Tracking rate: Sidereal
- Tracking direction: Northern Hemisphere (standard) or N/S hemispheres (N/S version)
- Pole finder: Yes
- Weight: 430g
- Overall size LxWxH: 21 x 7,8 x 3 cm
- Material: Aluminium
- Type: Mechanical Mount
Features And Benefits
- It is lightweight and compact
- It is easy to use
- It has a clever and compact spring loaded balancing mechanism
- It is arguably the most affordable tracker that is not a toy
- It is a fully mechanical tracker, thus no batteries to take care of
- It has a good number of dedicated accessories
While ingenious, the Minitrack has few cons to consider.
- It is not recommended for long focal length astrophotography
- It’s max payload is limited to 2kg
- While the mount is very portable, you need to carry two photographic heads or a ball head combined with a wedge
- Polar align in the Southern Hemisphere is nearly impossible with the included polar finder tube
Things To Consider Before Buying
As usual, while a list of tech specs, pros, and cons is nice to read, you may wonder how all that translates to practice.
Ease Of Use And Setup
The Minitrack was created by italian enthusiast astrophotographer Cristian Fattinnanzi, and since its first homemade unit, the philosophy was to keep things as simple as possible. And the tradition continued when Omegon decided to produce it.
The LX2 is a tracker without bells and whistles, with no batteries to take care of, no polar scope to fight with, no different tracking speeds to choose from, and no automate time-lapse functions.
Weight And Portability
At 480g, it is arguably the lightest tracker you can buy. And it is small too.
Despite needing two photographic heads to be correctly setup, the ensemble is still very portable for doing astrophotography.
To setup and use the Minitrack, you need two photographic heads: one below the Minitrack, to allow for polar alignment of the tracker, and a ball head on top of it, to frame the target.
Omegon recommends to mount the Minitrack on a 3-way tilt and pan head, or a geared head, but given the importance of polar alignment, there are better solutions:
- You can buy the new Omegon wedge for the Minitrack.
- If you already have the Skywatcher Star Adventurer, you can use its wedge with the Minitrack as well, but you need to buy a dovetail with ¼” screw to fix it below the Minitrack.
- You can look around, and if you have a monopod head and a panoramic base, you can use the two to create a decent wedge.
To set up in the Northern Hemisphere, point the tripod to the North in the general direction of Polaris. Then frame your shot, focus, and start shooting.
The polar alignment is done by looking through the polar finder tube, a simple black plastic tube.
The tube fits in a socket on the body of the Minitrack and lets you see a circular portion of the sky about 6º in diameter.
All you have to do is framing Polaris in the view.
An optional adapter is available to let you mount a green laser for faster and easier polar alignment.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you need the Minitrack LX2 N/S (see available versions).
Since polar alignment in the Southern Hemisphere is notoriously hard, you are better off using either a green laser or a classic polar finder.
The Clock Is Ticking: 60 Minutes Of Tracking Time
If you fully wind the clock, you have about 60 minutes of tracking. On the Minitrack body, though, there are few marks that let you set a shorter tracking time.
If you are after a starry landscape, I suggest you frame the shot, wind the clock, and shoot for the sky. When the tracking is over, get a few images for the foreground.
This way, you are sure that by aligning all the tracked images to the last one, the sky will go nicely with the foreground.
Tips: with a ball head having an independent panning movement, you can rewind the clock to track for another 60 minutes while easily reframing your shot by unlocking only the panning movement.
A final note: the clock ticks, and it will ring when the time is up: just like your grandma’s oven. I personally like the ticking sound while alone under the stars: it keeps me company.
With a maximum payload of 2kg, you can mount a DSLR or mirrorless with a wide-angle or normal (50mm) lens.
Micro four-thirds cameras have lighter lenses than APS-C and full-frame cameras, so they sit comfortably on the Minitrack.
Anyway, because of the rough polar align, it is usually not worth using long focal length and heavy equipment. The Minitrack is not built for that kind of photography.
What’s In The Box?
The Minitrack is shipped in a nice box made of recycled cardboard. Let’s see what is included.
In the box, you’ll find the Minitrack, the polar finder tube (a simple plastic tube), a ¼” photographic screw, and a tool to change the ball head attachment from ⅜” to ¼.”
There is not a manual, but you can download the pdf version from the Omegon website.
What’s Not Included (But Would Be Useful)
There are some useful accessories available for the Minitrack, that are not included in the box.
Polar Finder / Green Laser Bracket
If you find it too tricky to polar align using the supplied polar finder tube, you can buy as an accessory the Polar Finder Bracket.
With this bracket, you can clip on the Minitrack, a classic polar finder or a green laser.
Omegon Carrying Bag for The MiniTrack
Omegon is selling a carrying bag for the Minitrack. This pochette-like bag has a large flap that closes with velcro.
The bag is large enough that I could fit in it:
- The Minitrack
- The original polar finder tube
- An optical polar scope
- The optional polar finder bracket
- The external intervalometer for my camera
- The lens heater to prevent dew from fogging my lens
And had little space to spare.
Omegon has just released a wedge suitable for the Minitrack. This will be the best solution to allow for a precise, stable, and comfortable polar alignment.
One Tracker, Different Versions
The Minitrack LX2 is available in different flavors and bundles.
LX2 (northern hemisphere only)
This is the classic Minitrack, and it tracks the stars in the Northern Hemisphere only.
LX2 N/S (for Southern and Northern Hemisphere)
For tracking in the Southern Hemisphere, you need the N/S version.
A word of caution, though: polar alignment in the Southern Hemisphere is hard, and you need a green laser or classic polar finder.
LX2 Bundle Set (includes Ball Head)
Both the classic and the NS versions of the Minitrack can also be purchased in a bundle with a decent Ball Head.
As a rule of thumb, Omegon suggests a maximum exposure time in minutes of 100 divided by the focal length. This simple formula is also engraved on the Minitrack.
Remember that if you use a cropped sensor camera, you should further divide the time you get from the formula by the crop factor.
With a 50mm on a full-frame camera, your maximum exposure time is 2 minutes (100/50).
But if you are using, say, a micro a four-thirds camera instead, you can expose for 1 minute, as the camera crop factor is 2 (100/(50*2)).Depending on the weight of your gear, though, you can further push these limits. I took the photo below with an 85mm lens on my micro four-thirds camera, while exposing for 50″ instead of the suggested 100/(85*2) = 34″.
To further improve tracking, you can use the clever and compact spring loaded balancing mechanism: a spring can be set accordingly to the weight and orientation of the payload on the mount.
The spring will help the timer to run smoothly and consistently, thus improving the tracking. The user manual provides a helpful explanation of how to set the spring.
Pushing Your Luck With Deep Sky Astrophotography
My friend and fellow enthusiast astrophotographer Stefano Moschini is a pro in pushing the limits of the Minitrack. With his Canon 7D Mark II, Stefano can get incredible images of deep sky targets with the Minitrack, even using equivalent focal lengths of 640mm
Being a mechanical tracker, there is not much competition in the market for the Minitrack LX2, except for …
The Minitrack LX3
Mini Track LX2 Vs LX3 – What’s The Difference?
Following the success of the Minitrack LX2, Omegon has improved the design with the new Minitrack LX3.
While the LX3 shares with its predecessor size, weight, working principles, and tracking time, there is some news:
- The max. payload is now 3kg
- New teflon brushes allow for smoother tracking
- An optical polar finder replaces the small tube
- Capable of tracking in the northern hemisphere only
For me, the problem is the price tag.
If you need to add the cost for the wedge and the ball head to that of the LX3, the final price is dangerously close to that of the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Mini.
For this reason, If you do need extreme portability and you are ok with the max payload of 2kg, I think the LX2 is still a better bargain than the LX3.
The NyxTech Tracker is an affordable tracker using the classic barn door design.
With a max payload of 2.3kg (5lbs), it can track in both hemispheres, has a green laser to perform the polar alignment, and it weighs about 400g. But it looks bulkier than the Minitrack.
The tracker is available without a ball head, with a standard ball head, and with a pro ball head. A nice touch is that the tracker is also available in a kit for you to assemble it.
Performances seem to be good, with the manufacturer claiming you can expose the sky for 25” with a 100mm lens.
Similarly to the Minitrack, you need to mount it on a wedge or photographic head.
SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Mini
Stepping into the world of classic star trackers, the Star Adventurer Mini is a direct contender.
It has a lot more to offer than the Minitrack, but all comes in a slightly heavier and bulkier package.
We have reviewed the Star Adventurer Mini in detail in another article, but here are its significant pros over the Minitrack LX2.
- Max payload of 3kg
- It runs up to 24hrs with 2 AA batteries
- It comes with a wedge, declination plate, optical polar finder, and polar illuminator
- It features 4 different tracking speeds and 3 different time-lapse modes
- Can control your camera
- It is controlled remotely via Wi-Fi with an app for iOS and Android devices
- It can dither between shots
But, it costs at least twice what you would pay for the Minitrack LX2… and it does not tick 🙂
The Omegon Minitrack is an interesting tracker having its strengths in the portability, ease of use, and affordable price. Being fully mechanical, you have no batteries to worry about, nor many functions to complicate your first experiences under the stars.
Highly recommended for beginners, occasional astrophotographers interested in starry landscapes, and Milky Way photography and astrophotographers needing to travel as light as possible.