Oftentimes, camera mounts are clunky and cumbersome, making tracking celestial objects a difficult task, rather than an enjoyable and convenient one. Plus, obtaining a decent product these days seems to really break the bank.
From the folks at iOptron comes a brand new, ultra-compact update to their SkyTracker Pro, an ideal camera mount for those budding astrophotographers seeking to capture some glorious, wide-depth images.
Shiny new features include a spirit level for that impressive alt-azimuth base, greater precision, whisper-quiet tracking and an internal, rechargeable power source capable of running for 24 hours.
Taking huge leaps forward from previous models, there has been some serious thought put into this mount. We were really impressed with some of the newfound characteristics!
Let’s take a closer look and get into what we loved about it, as well as potential areas for future improvement.
At A Glance
iOptron Skytracker Pro - Specifications
4.5 x 4.5 x 3.75 inches
Die-cast aluminum, ABS plastic cover
Four (1/2x, 1x, 180x forward, 180x reverse)
Weight (With Base and Battery)
Ultra compact single axis EQ
-15 to +40 degrees Celcius
Built in, rechargeable (MicroUSB)
Up to 24 hours (at 20 degrees celsius)
One year, limited
What’s In The Box
- (1) SkyTracker Pro Camera Mount
- (1) Alt-azi base, pre-installed
- (1) AccuAlign dark field illuminated Polar Scope
- (1) 3/8" and (1) 1/4" brass threaded ball head mounting post, preinstalled
- (1) Padded protective carrying case
- (1) Micro USB charging cable
Quick Look and First Impressions
Right off the bat, this is a small and sleek mount, surprisingly so.
Being used to heavier, more cumbersome units means we were instantly struck by the lightness and maneuverability of this neat little product. It fits right in the palm of your hand!
All of the accessories provided are really impressive, especially at this price point, so it could be well worth it just for those alone.
Without further ado, allow us to tell you what we really like about this bad boy.
- Hard wearing, well crafted unit, thanks to the full metal body, doubly protected by an ABS cover
- Ideal for taking both wide-angle sky panoramas and long exposure photographs
- Works in both the northern and southern hemispheres (just flick the switch!)
- DC motor is smooth and practically silent - no irritating whirrs to content with
- Includes accessories such as a polar scope, threads for mounting your ball head and tripod, plus a carrying case for convenient transportation
- Four different tracking speeds, for a variety of astrophotography potential
- Rechargeable thanks to the built in lithium poly battery
- Affordable when compared to similarly matched tracking mounts
It wouldn’t be a fair review if we didn’t tell you about the few tiny sticking points we have...
- iOptron app is currently not compatible with non-iOS devices
- DSLR cameras and larger lenses require a counterweight kit, sold separately
- Adjustment can feel loose at times
- Payload capacity is lacking at only 6.6lbs
Setting Up The SkyTracker Pro
Luckily for you beginners out there, it’s impossible to imagine how setting up the SkyTracker could be any easier - right out of the box, all you’ll need to do is attach to your tripod, affix the necessary ball head, then pop your camera and lens on too.
When it comes to polar alignment, as we’ve already explained, the alt-azimuth base with its inbuilt bubble level makes orientation as simple as possible. Without it, you’d be forced to calculate and manually orient your tripod - no thanks!
There are four distinct methods you can use, ranging in their levels of accuracy. Either:
- Use the mount’s sight hole to center Polaris
- Use the polar scope to center Polaris in the middle of the lens
- Use the polar scope’s marked grid to center Polaris
- Download the iOs Polaris finding app
Set up and alignment should only take you around five minutes, so you’ll actually spend most of your time taking photos! Simply select your hemisphere with the sliding switch, turn the mount on and choose your tracking rate.
Bear in mind, however, that the internal battery requires charging before use - to reach eighty percent capacity, you’ll need five hours of charge, so prepare yourself in advance! They include a micro-USB cable, so you won’t need to provide your own.
Okay, let’s really get into the meat of things: what makes this such an accessible tracker, and where could it stand to see some improvements made?
Features We Loved
Being highly portable, this compact and bag-friendly mount is easily transported from A to B, especially using the carrying case provided, and at less than 3lbs in weight, you’ll forget that you’re even carrying it.
Thanks to its primarily metal construction, it feels sturdy and solid, able to withstand the expected bumps and jolts of photography out and about.
Plus, the ABS covering enables protection against corrosion and other surface damage, for longer life.
Numerous Tracking Speeds
Whether you’re hoping to capture an Earthly landscape or more interested in lunar, solar and celestial photography, the four different tracking speeds allow you to select the perfect range of movement for getting that perfect shot.
Easy Polar Alignment
Solid and precise, the alt-azimuth base is the mechanism of choice for many professionals.
Alignment with poles is simple, as the illuminated Polar Scope provided has been etched with reticles to make locating Polaris as easy as possible.
Impressive 24 Hour Run Time
Where other mounts might run out of power after just an hour of functioning, the high quality lithium battery means that (provided you’re in temperatures within 20 degrees celsius) you'll have a complete 24 hours of run time, if you want it!
Smooth and Quiet Motion
Camera motion is as smooth as silk, with silent tracking that’s ideal for capturing those long term exposures and really highlighting your celestial objects of choice.
Plus, if you’re taking video, there’s no danger of noisy interruptions.
Paired With Smartphone App
Those with compatible smart devices are able to download the iOptron app for a couple of dollars, which amongst other things can be incredibly useful for locating Polaris.
This is a nice extra touch which beginners will appreciate.
Value For Money
Perhaps the thing we loved most about this camera mount is its price: far more budget friendly than some of the other units available, but still more than matching them in capability, it’s affordable and impressive.
That’s a rare combination!
Room for Improvement?
No Ball Head or Tripod
Unfortunately, if you don’t already have a ball head and tripod at your disposal (both of which are also manufactured by iOptron) then you’ll need to buy them before you can install the mount, as neither is provided as part of the package.
Loose Adjustment (Sometimes)
Adjusting the elevation of this mount can, at times, feel a little bit looser than you might like, although there is an integrated silver clamp that allows you to reduce the potential for movement during tracking.
Not Suitable For DSLR/Heavy Lenses Without Adaptation Kit
For those photographers who are using lenses on the larger side, especially DSLR cameras, an additional counterweight is required to use this mount.
It’s sold separately, so be sure to tack one on to your purchase if required!
Low Payload Capacity
Though most of its features are fabulous, sadly this mount can be let down by a limited payload capacity, as it’s only 6.6 lbs, which means you have to be incredibly careful with making sure not to exceed it.
App Not Compatible With AndroidWhilst the app for locating Polaris is an exceptional feature that many could benefit from, as of yet it is not compatible with Android or other non-Apple devices. This is frustrating, but hopefully it will be rectified eventually!
Final Thoughts - Is The SkyTracker Pro Worth It?
This all new and improved version of a well-loved classic has made more embellishments to the original than we ever thought possible. Not only that, but it even costs less than the original mount did, too!
Smaller, sleeker and ideal for the traveling astrophotographer, when paired with a lighter tripod (like carbon fiber, which are admittedly on the pricier end), this mount can make for the perfect on-the-go capturing system.
Plus, since it’s battery operated, there’s no need to haul a generator or some other power source out into the middle of nowhere with you. Get those impressive shots, unmarred by light pollution in the city, without struggling to get there!
Far more affordable than comparable motorized mounts of a similar quality, for those looking to experiment with long exposure photography there isn’t a better option out there, in our opinion.
Plus, even for the larger lenses and DSLRs (in spite of its low payload), it can be accommodating with the addition of a counterweight kit. Although sold separately, this is such a steal on its own that you won’t mind paying a little extra!