Not many years ago, astrophotography was a nice and costly market, far from being mainstream.
In more recent years, though, affordable star trackers for wide-field astrophotography flooded the market, making astrophotography more affordable and accessible to the masses.
Among these trackers, the most widely used by beginners and those who need good performances in a portable package are the Star Adventurer Mini and PRO, the iOptron Sky Guider, and Sky Tracker.
Until the Sky-Watcher Az-GTI arrived on the market, a one of a kind Grab & Go, alt/az mount that quickly became a real game changer for the enthusiast astrophotographers on a budget looking to have a fully computerized system.
|Controller:||Free SynScan app for iOS and Android mobile device or Synscan hand controller (available separately)|
|SynScan app database:||Total 10,000+ objects.|
|Deep-sky objects:||10759, including Messier, NGC, IC, Caldwell catalogues|
|Named DSOs, named stars:||305|
|Solar system objects:||7 planets, sun, moon.|
|Objects when working with a 3rd party planetarium software:||Unlimited|
|SynScan app alignment method:||Brightest Star Alignment, North-Level Alignment|
|SynScan Apps Other Features:||Tonight’s Best Sky Tour, Point and Go with a mobile device, identification of celestial objects, remote control over internet, user defined objects, Pointing Accuracy Enhancement (PAE)|
|Pointing accuracy:||Up to 10 arc-minute (RMS)|
|Resolution:||2073600 counts/rev., 0.625 arc-second|
|Encoder system:||Freedom-Find Dual-Encoder Technology|
|Tracking rates:||Sidereal, lunar, solar, alignment-free solar tracking|
|Slewing speeds:||0.5X, 1.0x, 8.0x, 16x, 32x, 64x, 128x, 400x, 800x|
|Tracking mode:||Dual-axis tracking|
|Motor:||DC servo motor, gear ratio 6480|
|Payload capacity:||5 kg|
|Telescope connector:||45 mm Sky-Watcher/Vixen type dovetail saddle|
|Interface:||SynScan hand control port, DSLR shutter release port (optional cables available separately), built-in Wi-Fi module|
|Connectivity:||ASCOM platform for Windows PC, Mobile planetarium App for iOS and Android (SkySafari Plus/Pro, more are coming).|
|Network protocol:||UDP, Port 11880|
|Connection to tripod:||3/8″ thread – suitable for many photo tripods|
|Mount head weight:||1.3 kg|
|Power requirement:||8 AA-size batteries or external power supply (DC 7.5~14 V, 0.75 A), tip positive.|
Tha Az-GTI creates its own wireless network, allowing you to control it via your smartphone with the Synscan Pro App for iOS, Android, and Windows devices. However, only the somewhat slow 2.4GHz frequency is available.
There is another way to control the mount other than using the WiFI connection, and that is through the hand controller port. To that you can connect the Synscan Hand Control but also a computer using an EQMOD cable (mind that this cable uses the RJ12 connector, not the RJ45 used in large mounts).
The Synscan Pro APP
The main way to control the Az-GTI is via the Synscan PRO App: connect your device to the network created by the Az-GTI first, then fire up the Synscan Pro App and ask to connect to the mount.
If you, like me, have upgraded to the dual-mode firmware, when you connect to the mount you can choose whether to use it in Alt-Az or in Equatorial Mode.
Once you are connected, you can use the app to manually move the payload and use advanced functions such as GOTO.
Framing And Tracking the Sky: GOTO And Point & Track
We all know the struggle to find and frame Stars, Planets, and small deep-sky objects like globular clusters and galaxies, particularly at high magnifications.
For a start, the Az-GTI has GOTO. For using the GOTO, you need first to perform a 1, 2, or 3 stars alignment.
Then, choose your target from the app database and tap on GOTO. The mount will sway your payload to center your target in the field of view of your instrument.
For targets that are visible and easy to frame, though, the Az-GTI has another clever way of tracking your target: the Point & Track mode.
This mode does not rely on any sky model or star alignment to automatically frame your target. Instead, use a red dot star finder or optical viewfinder to manually frame your target (say the Moon), select it from the app database and tap on Point & Track to begin tracking the target.
I often use this mode when photographing and observing from my apartment.
Size, Weight, And Portability
The Az-GTI is a very compact mount, as large as the Star Adventurer PRO and weighing about the same (1.3 kg or 3 lbs). It also packs well thanks to the “clean” body shape.
All controls are at the back of the mount, with the clutch for the azimuth rotation the only knob that sticks out on the side of the body of the mount.
On the mount you will find the ON-OFF switch, a red led that when the mount operates blinks in different ways to let you know the status of the mount, the snap port to control the shutter of some camera models, the 12V DC power input and the port to connect a Hand Controller.
The clutch for the altitude is located behind the clamp for the telescope, integrating a metric M12 threaded socket for adding a counterweight.
To start using it, you don’t need any accessories, which makes it ideal for when you go to observe the night sky in the field or participate in star parties.
Like the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, the Az-GTI has a max payload capacity of 5 kg (11 lbs).
It is never wise to surpass the max payload capacity, particularly with such low-budget mounts and even more so if you do not balance your payload using a counterweight. Yes, even alt/az mounts can benefit from using a counterweight.
This maximum payload capacity is enough to allow you to observe and even photograph with relatively large telescopes.
The best telescopes for this mount are compact maksutov and SCT telescopes: for example, it is often sold in a bundle with a Sky-Watcher Skymax 127/1500 Maksutov telescope, and a Celestron C5 fits very nicely on it.
I did try to put my Sky-Watcher Heritage 130p Flextube on the Az-GTI and I was not convinced: Newtonian telescopes are way too large in size to comfortably sit on the Az-GTI in a stable way.
In the spirit of extreme portability, same as with the Star Adventurer PRO, the Az-GTI can be powered with 8 AA batteries (4AA ones for the Star Adventurer PRO).
With a set of Panasonic Eneloop PRO rechargeable batteries, I can run the Az-GTI for multiple nights.
What I like is that if you can leave your gear setup for multiple winter nights, you can remove the battery compartment by simply disconnecting it, to bring the batteries back inside where it is warmer. No need to pull them out one by one.
If you prefer, though, you can also power up the mount with a 12V DC adapter (not included with the mount).
What Makes The Az-GTI A Good Option For Beginners? The Pros
The Az-GTI has many features that make it very interesting for the amateur astrophotographer. Here is a list of some of its strongest points.
- It is small and lightweight
- It is affordable
- It is often sold in many configurations: alone, in a bundle with field tripod and pier and with or without a telescope
- It has GOTO
- It is easily controlled via your smartphone, computer, and/or handset
- It can be converted in a fully computerized alt/az AND equatorial mount
What Should You Be Aware Of? The Cons
As with everything, there are few aspects that could be better:
- The azimuthal movement is very stiff when moving things by hand. So much, in fact, that sometimes my mount itself was unscrewing from the tripod. It can be fixed, but it is annoying to have to disassemble and tune a brand new Az-GTI
- The clutch for the azimuth (the RA if you turn the mount to equatorial) is the weakest point of the mount and not too easy to operate with gloves/cold hands
- The Wi-Fi is a bit weak and the connection is sketchy at times
- The built-in level spirit could be bigger and easier to read.
What Does It Come Packed With?
That’s an easy one: the Az-GTI comes packed with … pretty much nothing.
Aside from things you can get when buying it in a bundle, like a tripod and telescope, the Az-GTI is delivered with no extra accessories. This is because you don’t actually need anything for using it in Alt/Az mode.
This means that if you plan to use it also in equatorial mode, you need to buy a whole bunch of extra gear (more on this later).
Who Is The Skywatcher Az-GTI For?
Interestingly enough, there may be more people interested in what the Az-GTI is not (officially), than people interested in the official use of this mount.
Being a small, affordable alt/az mount, the Az-GTI obviously targets those wanting to start with observing the universe and the solar system on a budget, using relatively small instruments.
For me, the COVID pandemic and the consequent curfew that forced me to stay in the city, was the kicker to sell one of my two Star Adventurer PRO and get the Az-GTI. I wanted something faster and easier to set up for observing and photographing the Moon and the planets from my place.
The Az-GTI is, indeed, the perfect companion for people wanting a simple way to explore the many wonders of the Solar System and the Universe: the Moon, the Sun, the Planets, comets, globular stars, and multiple star systems, etc.
A Portable, Fully Computerized Equatorial Mount In Disguise
The Az-GTI is a fully computerized Grab & Go alt/az mount built for extreme portability, but where it truly shines is in deep-sky astrophotography.
While not officially encouraged, Sky-Watcher did release a firmware upgrade to allow it to use the Az-GTI alt/az mount in a true equatorial mode, opening up a whole different world of opportunities for the keen astrophotographer.
Simply upgrade its firmware to the Sky-Watcher Firmware: AZGTi Mount, Right Arm, AZ/EQ Dual Mode, Version 3.26 to unlock the equatorial mode for the mount.
This upgrade turns the Az-GTI into a portable fully computerized equatorial mount.
While this will be a more costly and difficult approach to deep sky astrophotography than getting a Star Adventurer PRO, it has much more to offer in the long run.
Deep Sky Astrophotography With The Az-GTI: The Equatorial Mode
Let me state this one more time: while Sky-Watcher officially released the AZGTi Mount, Right Arm, AZ/EQ Dual Mode, Version 3.26 firmware upgrade to enable the Az-GTI to work in equatorial mode, it does not officially support it as an equatorial mount.
The mount itself does not come with any needed accessory to work in equatorial mode, and it does not have a built-in way to polar align it.
The wedge from the Star Adventurer PRO can be used on the Az-GTI, but not the counterweight’s shaft: this has a thread M8, while the Az-GTI uses the metric M12 thread for the counterweight shaft. You can get an adapter or just cut a M12 threaded rod from your local hardware store.
Having said this, the Az-GTI does surprisingly well as a fully computerized equatorial mount: I tested with my Evoguide 50ED and could take 5-minutes long subs without breaking a sweat.
And even with the improbable Celestron C5 and 0.63 reducer (for an effective focal length of 900mm), I was able to easily photograph galaxies and small nebulae from my place in Brussels. By guiding the mount, I could take routinely good 2-minutes subs, and could even push it to expose 3-minutes.
Of course, these great performances do not come for free. While there are ways to cut on the initial cost, the best way to use the Az-GTI for deep sky astrophotography is to go down the road of electronically assisted astrophotography.
This means adding a guiding system with a guiding camera, a computer (or ZWO ASIAIR PRO / Stellarmate) to control the mount and to guide it.
We will soon dedicate an entire in-depth article about the use of the Az-GTI for deep sky astrophotography.
Is the Sky-Watcher AZ-GTI Easy To Set Up?
Yes, the Az-GTi is extremely simple to set up. There are only two steps you need to do:
- Mount the telescope on the left side of the tripod
- Level the tripod
Depending on your tripod, it helps to have a leveling base fitted between the tripod and the mount. For this reason, I got a Leofoto LB-75 and everything stays very stable.
Note that if you upgraded the firmware with the AZGTi Mount, Right Arm, AZ/EQ Dual Mode, Version 3.26 one, in the alt/az mount you have to mount the telescope on the right side of the tripod.
After that, use the Synscan PRO app to perform a star alignment before asking the mount to GOTO on your selected target, or manually frame it and use the Point & Track feature to begin tracking.
Sky-Watcher Az-Gti Vs Star Adventurer PRO
This is a comparison that would deserve an entire article to be discussed properly: there are so many aspects to consider.
From the initial cost to performances, from how steep is the learning curve to how long you can push them before you outgrow them.
The Star Adventurer PRO is cheaper to buy and to use, although not by much if you limit to dress the Az-GTI as a very basic equatorial mount. But if you want to unlock its real potential, you have to buy a much more expensive dress right away and get a complete guiding system, computer (or ZWO ASIAIR PRO or Stellarmate, …), etc.
In the long run, though, you will probably get into guiding also with the Star Adventurer, and if you see yourself going there, you will be better off by starting with the Az-GTI.
Finally, let’s not forget what the Az-GTI was intended for: with the possibility to use it in the alt/az mode, you will do visual observations and planetary photography in a breeze.
If you want to know more about the differences I think are important between these two mounts, have a look at my “Sky-Watcher Az-GTI Vs Star Adventurer PRO 2i: Which One Is Better?” article on my personal blog.
Astrophotography is becoming mainstream and many classic photographers, particularly those into landscape photography, are taking an interest in the night sky.
A number of star trackers are available on the market to ease our way into astrophotography, but the Sky-Watcher Az-GTI is one of a kind and a real game changer for the enthusiast and keen astrophotographer.
And if you are one of them but don’t feel like jumping immediately on a full-grown mount for astrophotography, get one. You can thank me later 🙂