iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review

June 26, 2018  •  2 Comments

The SkyGuider Pro is an excellent star tracker, and it features a number of improvements over the SkyTracker Pro.  In this review, I'll explain the most important aspects of the SkyGuider Pro, like the counterweight system, polar alignment, build quality, and if it's worth the price.  Before I get into the actual review, I would recommend you watch the SkyGuider Pro overview video.  This will give you a good look at how the SkyGuider Pro works.

 

 

Alignment

Achieving an accurate polar alignment is relatively easy with the SkyGuider Pro.  The SGP comes with a built-in polar scope, which will allow to you precisely align to the north star, provided you have the smartphone app.  Android users should buy the Polar Finder App, while iPhone users can get this PolarScope Align app.  The app is critical for an accurate alignment, as you will need to know the exact spot to position Polaris inside of the polar scope reticle.  

One very minor problem I do have with the SkyGuider Pro is that the polar scope is only illuminated at certain angles, and you need to rotate the reticle around to get it precisely lined up.  Also, there's a chance your polar scope can be misaligned, which will cause serious problems during your polar alignment.  For more information, check out this discussion.

Almost every other star tracker on the market requires you to manually install the polar scope each time you do your polar alignment.  This can be very easy when using the SkyTracker Pro, and a bit more difficult when using other models.  For example, if you purchased the SkyWatcher Star Adventurer Mini, you would need to install the polar scope each time you did a polar alignment.  Plus, you'd have to install the red-light illuminator, which is another small annoyance.  Ultimately, I like the fact that the Polar Scope is already installed, and ready to go with the SkyGuider Pro.  (Unless you happen to have the problems mentioned above).   

The included base makes alignment considerably easier too.  Simply find your latitude using an app like TPE, then dial that in on the base.  Using the thumbscrews on the front of the base allows you to quickly rotate the star tracker either left or right, to position Polaris in the correct spot inside the polar scope reticle.  There's even a bubble level on the base, which helps verify that your setup is perfectly even and flat.

 

Build Quality / Design

The SkyGuider Pro is a very well-built star tracker.  Compared with the SkyTracker Pro, the build quality is much higher end.  The STP has a plastic body, while the SGP is constructed of a sturdy metal.  The internal components of the SkyGuider Pro are also very high-end.  Read this discussion for more information.  The camera mounting block on the SkyGuider Pro is very nicely designed.  At any time, you can loosen the clutch mechanism and freely rotate the camera mount around.  You also have 2 options for mounting your camera.

The first way to mount your camera is the traditional mounting block, which comes pre-installed.  This is great for lightweight rigs under 3 lbs, you simply attach your ballhead to the screw!  This makes for a fast, easy installation process when you are in the field at night.

If your camera rig weighs more than 3 lbs, you will want to remove the camera mounting block and install the declination bracket.  This dec bracket will allow you to shoot with a camera setup weighing up to 11 lbs!  You'll need to install the counterweight system and properly balance it first though.

Thankfully, the counterweight system is very easy to install and use.  Balancing the counterweight is also a quick, easy process thanks to the design of the SkyGuider Pro.  Simply loosen the clutch, rotate the mount so that the camera and counterweights are horizontal and move the actual counterweight in or out until the system is balanced.  Having come from the SkyTracker Pro, and its awful counterweight system, this is my favorite part of the SkyGuider Pro!

Depending on how you setup your declination bracket, you may have some balancing problems.  The SkyGuider Pro gives you multiple camera installation options when using the SkyGuider Pro.  Choosing the right one is critical to having a properly balanced setup.  I recommend watching my SkyGuider Pro Overview video for more information on the different mounting options.  If you mount the camera on the long end of the declination bracket, you will probably need to purchase an additional counterweight in order to properly balance your rig.  For example, I only need 1 counterweight to balance my 70-200mm lens when the camera is mounted on the short end of the declination bracket.  If I mount the camera on the long end, I will need 2 counterweights.  An additional counterweight can be purchased for $25.

Overall, I'm very pleased with the build quality of the SkyGuider Pro!  One of my biggest problems with the SkyTracker Pro was the poor build quality and design of the optional counterweight system.  Thankfully the SGP handles a heavy camera rig with ease and the camera mount is very sturdy.  

 

Battery

The battery lasts a very long time, I have shot for over 4 hours straight without needing to charge the star tracker.  Surprisingly, I haven't actually even seen the low battery light yet, even after using the SkyGuider Pro for probably 20 hours over the past month.  I never would've expected the battery to do this well!  This is a huge plus for the SkyGuider Pro!

There is one confusing thing about the battery though.  When you are charging the battery, the light will flash when the battery is full charged (the SkyGuider must be turned on to see the flashing light).  Sometimes the SkyGuider Pro will flash even when the battery is unplugged.  I didn't understand why this was happening, so I contacted iOptron.  After talking with iOptron support, I learned why.  If the voltage of the battery gets too high, the flashing light will appear.  So, if you've charged your SkyGuider Pro, unplugged the USB cable, and still notice a flashing light, leave the SkyGuider Pro turned on until it stops.  Then the battery should be running optimally.

The battery in the SkyGuider Pro is definitely a winner!  Not only does it last a long time, it can be charged quite fast using a simple micro-usb cable and any number of charging options, including your laptop.

 

Tracking

Let me first say that I'm still an amateur astrophotographer.  I have spent a year using the SkyTracker Pro and I've now spent a month using the SkyGuider Pro extensively.  In my experience, the SGP doesn't track any better than the STP.  However, the big difference is the counterweight kit.  On the SkyGuider I can now use the 70-200mm lens and even the 150-600mm lens.  However, the results aren't quite what I was hoping for.  

I've been able to shoot up to about 2 minutes on the 70-200mm and up to 25 seconds on the 150-600mm.  I recently spent an hour photographing the Andromeda Galaxy and noticed that the galaxy drifted substantially in the frame over the course of an hour.  My polar alignment was accurate, and the counterweight kit was balanced pretty well.  (I needed 2 counterweights for both lenses).  

As an amateur astrophotographer, I soon realized how hard photographing nebulae and distant galaxies is!  The slightest vibration of the lens will ruin the shot, therefore you won't have any luck on breezy nights.  Since the 150-600mm is an f/6.3 lens at 600mm, low-light problems also became apparent. (Including Amp Glow and some Thermal Noise).  If I was able to shoot longer than 30 seconds, those problems would have largely disappeared.  

Thankfully the SkyGuider Pro comes with a input for a Guiding Remote.  This should allow you to shoot longer shutter speeds with more success, but I have yet to use one.  If I do get some experience using the guiding remote, I will be sure to update this review.

Rho Ophiuchi

 

Customer Service

iOptron's customer service is pretty good.  I've had a few questions about the SkyGuider Pro over the past few weeks, and their support team has always responded very quickly! 

When my SkyTracker Pro randomly died on me, they were very quick to respond and get me an RMA number.  However, I was required to pay for shipping my star tracker to and from their facility.  Even though the fix was covered under warranty, I still paid about $20 total for shipping.  Not a big deal, but I wish they would've at least covered the return shipping.  They also never told me what went wrong; it would have been nice to learn what had broken. 

I have not had any issues with my SkyGuider Pro yet.

Andromeda Galaxy - 600mm (Uncropped)

 

Final Thoughts

Overall, the SkyGuider Pro is a solid star tracker.  For me, the best part is the improved camera mount and the ability to use a big camera and heavy lens without any problems.  I had originally bought the SkyTracker Pro, which did a great job for wide angle photos, but was unable to handle a 70-200mm lens.  Since I was planning to spend a lot of time under dark skies in 2018, I wanted a star tracker that could handle a heavy payload.  The SkyGuider Pro does the job!

I love using the SkyGuider Pro for all of my astrophotography now.  If you've never used a star tracker before, you'll be amazed by how much better your night sky images can look!

Personally, I wish I would have bought the SkyGuider Pro instead of the SkyTracker Pro.  At the time, I didn't want to spend over $400 on a star tracker.  Now that I've seen just how much of a difference star trackers make in image quality, and how bad the counterweight system is on the SkyTracker Pro, I think the SkyGuider Pro is well worth the price.  If you are finding yourself in a similar position, keep in mind the SkyGuider Pro will scale with you as your interest and skill in astrophotography progresses.  It's almost like going from a crop-sensor camera to a full-frame camera.  

 


Comments

RANDALL BEEM(non-registered)
I'm using a Sigma F 1.818 to 35 mm lens with a Canon T6. I'm wondering Using the Sky guide pro how long of an exposure can I make of the milky way before I need to be concerned with star trails. Going to Bryce Canyon next month hope to get some really good pictures
Peter Zelinka
Hi Gary,

Yes, using a star tracker is a big focus for me when teaching astrophotography. Whether in a private lesson or astrophotography workshop, I will be teaching how to use a star tracker correctly
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