iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review

June 26, 2018  •  36 Comments

iOptron SkyGuider Pro Review

Last Updated: April 26, 2020


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.

If you're interested in learning even more about the SkyGuider Pro, I've recently created a course that contains over 15 hours of tutorial videos!  You'll learn the best camera settings to use, how to setup the SkyGuider Pro in the field, and even post-processing.  Click here for more information on the iOptron SkyGuider Pro Full Course

If you want to learn more about photographing nebula and galaxies with the SkyGuider Pro, check out my new Deep Space Course, which has over 12 hours of tutorials!  You will learn how to find, photograph, and edit your images.

 

 

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 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.  Depending on your declination bracket configuration, this may cause some problems.  For example, I need to rotate my entire camera upside-down to activate the red light.   This is scary at night, having my camera dangling while I do a precise polar alignment.  If you keep the default configuration, you should only have to rotate things slightly.  For more information, check out this discussion.

If you plan to do deep space astrophotography, you may find that the included latitude base is a pain to use.  The azimuth screws can be hard to turn and they aren't very precise either.  I've also had the altitude knob fall off my latitude base multiple times.  For those just doing Milky Way photography, this isn't that big of a deal.  You don't have to be as precise with your polar alignment.  However, a rough polar alignment will cause a lot of problems for deep space work.  I now use a William Optics Latitude Base instead.  This base is way better than the default iOptron one.  I would only recommend the William Optics base for those focusing on deeps space work.  It's not necessary for Milky Way photography.

 

Build Quality

I was originally a big fan of the SkyGuider Pro's build quality.  I liked the small size of the tracker, clutch mechanism for securing your camera mount, Guider input, declination bracket and counterweight, etc...  Apparently, the internals were also well designed.  Read this discussion for more information.  

Now that I've worked with dozens of students across the country, I'm starting to change my opinion of the build quality, and more importantly the Quality Asssurance, from iOptron.  In November 2019 I taught a deep space astrophotography workshop in Florida.  During that workshop, 5 students had SkyGuider Pro's.  Sadly, only one student's SGP actually worked flawlessly.  Every other student had serious problems with their SkyGuider Pros.  In some cases, the clutch could never be tightened down far enough.  That meant a slight nudge to the camera would cause the entire camera, lens, and counterweight system to move!  There was another student who's SkyGuider Pro clutch was so tight, it took us half a day to finally pry it loose.  Based on all the problems I've seen over the past 2 years, it seems that iOptron needs to work on their Quality Control.

 

Design / Installation

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.  Even if you are using a full-frame camera and heavy wide-angle lens, this mounting method should work fine.

If you want to use a telephoto lens, then I'd recommend removing this camera mounting block and attaching the declination bracket instead.  The declination bracket also includes a counterweight, which can be used to balance everything out.  Once you have a balance setup, you can shoot longer exposures without star trails.  It will also put less stress on your star tracker.

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!

Light-weight Wide Angle Setup Heavy Wide-Angle Setup Telephoto Setup

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, and I've been able to shoot multiple nights without a problem.  According to iOptron, the battery should last for up to 24 hours before needing charged.  I prefer the rechargeable battery compared to AA or AAA batteries.

There is one confusing thing about the battery though.  When you are charging the battery, the light will flash when the battery is fully 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 and Guiding

I've been able to shoot up to about 2 minutes on the 70-200mm and up to 45 seconds on the 150-600mm.  At wider focal lengths, I can comfortably shoot between 3 - 5+ minutes, without star trails.  All of this really depends on how well you did your polar alignment, and if you balanced your camera properly.

Therefore, the SkyGuider Pro can easily handle wide-angle shooting, but tends to struggle when you add a telephoto lens.  This is caused by a variety of factors.  Keep in mind, even the big telescope mounts have problems with tracking accuracy, by default.  Almost every astrophotographer with a telescope and big mount use an auto-guider.  This auto-guider is usually a small CCD camera attached to a guide scope.  

Thankfully the SkyGuider Pro comes with a input for an auto-guider!  When I use my auto-guider, I can easily shoot 4+ minute exposures, even at 600mm!  This results in much cleaner photos at telephoto focal lengths.  Plus, an auto-guider will allow you to do a much more precise polar alignment.  Instead of crouching down and looking through the polar scope, you can use an application called SharpCap.  This will make things much easier on your back!

For more information on auto-guiding, check out my detailed article and tutorial video here. Rho Ophiuchi

 

SkyGuider Pro - iPolar Edition

In 2019 iOptron released a new version of the SkyGuider Pro which included their iPolar camera.  The main benefit of the iPolar version is that you can do a precise polar alignment using the iPolar software on your laptop.  If you've ever had trouble doing a visual alignment with a polar scope, this could really help!  For those living in the Southern Hemisphere, where a visual alignment is much more difficult, the iPolar may be a wise investment!  

Unfortunately, the iPolar replaces the polar scope.  Therefore, you will always need a laptop out in the field with you to do a polar alignment.  You can no longer do a visual alignment.  This is a big problem, as far as I'm concerned.  If you buy the iPolar version and want to do Milky Way photography, you'd need to lug around your laptop out with you.  

All things considered, I usually recommend that people avoid the iPolar version of the SkyGuider Pro.  If anything, it may make your life more difficult at night.  For example, using the original SkyGuider Pro, I can quickly look through the polar scope and do a visual alignment.  I can also quickly check that the polar alignment is still accurate by looking through the scope.  If I want to do Milky Way photography, I can travel fast and light.  However, if you had the iPolar version you would need to bring your laptop with you everywhere.  

 

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.  Apparently that means I'm very lucky!  As I mentioned in the Build Quality section, I've had many students who had serious problems with their SkyGuider Pro.  While iOptron's QA needs some work, their Customer Service is usually very good and responsive.

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. 

Finally, if you want to learn how to use the SkyGuider Pro to capture amazing photos, check out my full-length SkyGuider Pro Tutorial Course.  This course will teach you everything you need to know, including post-processing!   

 


Comments

Peter Zelinka
Hi Mike,

You'll be pushing it a bit, but you should be alright at 24mm.

To be honest though, I think you'd be better off with a slightly different setup. If you just attach a ballhead to the front of the mount (don't worry about the declination bracket and counterweight kit), then attach your camera to the ballhead. From there, you can pretty easily pan from left/right or right/left using the ballhead. Since the Milky Way is so far away, you shouldn't need to worry about the nodal rail.

Because you're using a star tracker, you don't want any foreground in your SkyGuider Pro shots anyway, since the foreground will blur out. I would take your nodal setup with you to photograph your foreground exposures though. Just concentrate on taking your foreground photos first. Then go back to the car, or a nearby spot with less foreground obstructions in the way. Setup the SkyGuider Pro, ballhead, and camera and take your tracked sky exposures. (try to have 90% sky, 10% foreground in each composition). Then you can stack / align the foreground and sky separately. Finally, bring both mosaics into photoshop and blend them together.

-Peter
mike farwell(non-registered)
Hi Peter, ok I bought the sky guider pro, and I weighed my "payload" nikon d810, nodel slide rail, nodal gimbal,, 24mm rokinon lens and on e ball, came up to 7 lbs 5 ounces. So am I correct in thinking that I'm safely underweight by capacity by 3 pounds and a few ounces? As you can figure out I want to do multi row panning and stiching......
Manuel Cassar(non-registered)
Hi Peter,

First of all great job on all your vides they are very very helpful.

I have had the skyguider pro for almost a year know and recently got to autoguding and polar aligning with sharpcap.

An issue that i have found is that the latitude lock of the SGP throws the PA off when locked down. Any work arounds / suggestions regarding this issue ?

Thankyou and regards
Mike Milne(non-registered)
Hi again,

Just to say that I've found a partial solution to the declination problem on the DEC bracket. It doesn't completely eliminate the problem of a shift when you tighten the thumbscrews, but it's a whole lot better, and also holds the plate safely on the camera mount even if the thumbscrews are completely removed. It only costa a few pennies for the parts, and it’s easy to do.

If anyone’s interested, I’ve put pics and instructions here:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/9itd4jaryu265w3/AAAmAbBDSnJ_6RW7apBzzfBta?dl=0

- Mike
Mike Milne(non-registered)
Thanks for the speedy reply! Well, I guess I'm relieved that I'm not just being dumb...

I was thinking about designing a custom bearing to replace the camera mount, and having a local machine shop run it up - but then I took a step back and thought no, this is just a camera tracker, and it's fine at what it does - If I want to use a scope I'll get a proper equatorial mount and a good telescope.
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