Last Updated: May 19, 2021
If you are looking to buy your first star tracker, or maybe upgrade your existing one, you have a lot of options! These include the iOptron SkyTracker Pro, iOptron SkyGuider Pro, Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini, Vixen Polarie, and MoveShootMove. All of these star trackers are designed for photographers getting into astrophotography, however each model has some distinct benefits. In this review, we will look at all of the star trackers and see which one works best for your own personal needs.
If you already have a star tracker, but don't know how to use it effectively, you can check out my full-length Star Tracker Tutorials, which will teach you everything you need to know!
A Star Tracker allows you to capture much higher quality nightscapes
Before I begin, I just want to clear up the naming of these star trackers, as it can get very confusing. iOptron makes the SkyTracker Pro and SkyGuider Pro. Sky-Watcher makes the Star Adventurer and Star Adventurer Mini (also known as the SAM). These 4 star trackers can be broken into two categories - lightweight and heavy duty.
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro and the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini are the 'lightweight' models. They both have nearly the same specs and will work great with lightweight camera setups (4 lbs or less usually). The MoveShootMove star tracker is another lightweight model, and is easily the most compact star tracker on the market.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro and the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer are the 'heavy duty' models. They both have nearly the same specs and can handle a heavy camera with a telephoto lens (up to 11 lbs). These are both great options for more advanced users with full-frame cameras.
iOptron also makes an iPolar version of the SkyGuider Pro. This model does not have a polar scope, and it requires you to use a laptop in the field to do the polar alignment. If you plan to do Milky Way photography, this will be a major hassle! You'd need to lug a laptop around on your hikes with you. Therefore, I personally don't recommend buying the iPolar version. I would argue the original SkyGuider Pro is a better option for most people.
I recorded a video back in October 2019 which covers the main points of this article. It may help to watch the video first, since this post is quite dense and wordy.
The first thing you need to determine is the weight of your camera gear. This is ultimately going to be the biggest factor in your star tracker decision, as each model can only handle a certain amount of weight. If your camera gear exceeds the weight limit of the tracker, you will not get good results. So, measure each piece of gear that you have, (and plan to use at night) and find the total weight.
Nikon D750 - 1.7 lbs
Kirk L Bracket - 0.27 lbs
Acratech GP Ballhead - 1 lb
Tokina 100mm - 1.2 lbs
Nikon 14-24mm - 2.18 lbs
Tamron 70-200mm G2 - 3.28 lbs
Tamron 150-600mm - 4.3 lbs
That means my usual setup is between 5lbs and 8 lbs. Once you've determined the total weight of your setup, you can look at the different star tracker weight limits. Let's start from weakest to strongest.
iOptron SkyTracker Pro - 2.6 lbs (or 6.6. lbs with optional counterweight kit)
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini - 6.6 lbs
MoveShootMove - 6.6 lbs
Vixen Polarie - 7 lbs
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer - 11 lbs
iOptron SkyGuider Pro - 11 lbs
I want to be very clear here, you don't want to actually use the weight limits listed. In fact, most astrophotographers recommend using 1/2 the weight limit. If you put too much weight on any star tracker, it will likely have problems tracking. There's a little motor inside each tracker, which ultimately moves your camera with the speed of the stars. If you have too much weight on the star tracker, that motor is going be put under a lot of stress. This will prevent you from shooting long exposures (4+ minutes), and you may eventually fry the motor completely.
Try to keep your total camera rig below 6 or 7 lbs with the SkyGuider Pro and Star Adventurer. You could go above this, but it's generally not recommended. Plus, you'll probably need a second counterweight or rod extension to actually balance your setup.
In order to get the full payload limit as advertised for each star tracker, you will need to balance the star tracker's counterweight system properly. For example, the iOptron SkyGuider Pro can be used with its standard camera mount, for rigs up to 3 lbs. However, in order to get the full 11 lb limit, you'll need to attach the included Declination Bracket and balance the counterweight. We'll cover the counterweights more in-depth next.
If you are shooting at very wide angles - 35mm or wider on a full frame camera - you can likely go over the weight limit of the smaller units and still take long exposures. For example, I had over 5 lbs of camera gear attached to the iOptron SkyTracker Pro, rated for just 2.6 lbs, and was still able to shoot up to 4 minute exposures at 14mm without star trails. When I tested out the MoveShootMove star tracker I was able to get 5 minute exposures with about 6lbs of camera gear attached.
The main problem that I've seen my students have is an oversized ballhead. For example, many people like to use the ReallyRightStuff ballheads, which tend to be very large and heavy. Others like to use a 3-way Pan/Tilt head, which just make everything more difficult. Plus, the tilt heads usually weigh a lot more than a simple ballhead. With all that in mind, I personally recommend using something like the Benro IB2 ballhead. It's small, lightweight, and easy to use at night. You can find cheaper / lighter ballheads, and they usually work fine too.
If you want to use a telephoto lens, like a 70-200mm or 100-400mm, then I would only recommend the SkyGuider Pro or Star Adventurer. The other trackers are not designed to handle the weight of those lenses.
If you plan to stick with a wide angle lens, then any star tracker listed here will do fine. The only caveat would be those who have a D850-sized camera with a heavy ballhead and a large wide-angle lens. For people with large setups like that, you're better off sticking with either the SkyGuider Pro or Star Adventurer and avoiding the smaller trackers.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer iOptron SkyTracker Pro iOptron SkyGuider Pro
The photos above show each star tracker with the standard ballhead camera mount, suitable for camera rigs weighing up to about 5 lbs.
Each tracker has an optional counterweight kit, and they all perform a bit different. Ultimately, their function is the same. A perfectly balanced counterweight will allow you to shoot longer exposures without star trails. Properly balancing your camera gear will also put less stress on that motor! Listed below are the specs and prices for each counterweight kit.
iOptron SkyTracker Pro - Optional ($80)
MoveShootMove - Does not have a counterweight system
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini - Optional ($30) and requires dec bracket ($40)
Vixen Polarie - Optional ($1,299)
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer - Included!
iOptron SkyGuider Pro - Included!
I highly recommend watching my video below on how to balance your counterweight with the SkyGuider Pro. This same concept applies to all trackers. Once you understand how to balance your camera gear, you'll be in good shape!
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro's counterweight kit is a pain to use and I can't recommend it for most people. Frankly, you'd be better off upgrading to the SkyGuider Pro, which was designed with the counterweight system in mind. Whether you have the SkyTracker Pro or SkyGuider Pro, you may need a second counterweight. You can purchase an additional counterweight for the iOptron SkyGuider Pro for $25. Alternatively, you can get this nice extension rod from William Optics. It should allow you to use a single counterweight and still maintain balance with a heavier camera rig.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer and Mini will both use the same declination bracket and counterweight kit. However, the larger Star Adventurer can handle twice the weight of the Mini. This system works largely the same as the iOptron counterweights.
Very simply, if you plan to use a telephoto lens, or you have a heavy camera/lens, then I'd recommend going with the iOptron SkyGuider Pro or the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer. These two trackers are built for heavy rigs, while the other trackers are more designed for small DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer iOptron SkyTracker Pro iOptron SkyGuider Pro
This series shows the optional counterweight kits for each star tracker, the Sky-Watcher models use the exact same components
As usual, each star tracker uses a different battery style. Some have built-in lithium ion batteries, and others require AA's. The batteries usually last a surprisingly long time on star trackers.
Vixen Polarie - 2 AA batteries ("4 hours runtime")
MoveShootMove - Internal Lithium Ion Battery ("5 hour runtime")
iOptron SkyGuider Pro - Built-in Lithium Ion Battery ("20 hour runtime")
iOptron SkyTracker Pro - Built-in Lithium Ion Battery ("24 hour runtime")
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini - 2 AA batteries ("24 hour runtime")
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer - 4 AA batteries ("72 hour runtime")
With the exception of the Vixen Polarie and MoveShootMove, all the star trackers should last you multiple nights shooting without a problem. Personally, I prefer the rechargeable batteries found in the iOptron trackers, which last a long time and charge very quickly as well. Plus, they can be charged with a standard micro-usb cable. This makes it easy to charge the iOptron models while traveling, as you should have easy access to multiple USB chargers. However, you may prefer to use AA batteries.
There's only been two nights where I've had a dead star tracker. The first was with the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini. Since I didn't have any AA's in my car, I was out of luck. The second time was with the iOptron SkyGuider Pro. Thankfully, I had a portable battery with me this time! That allowed me to power the SkyGuider Pro while I photographed a nebula for a few hours.
With that said, all of the star trackers, including the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer and Mini, can be powered by using a USB cable. This can be great if you have a portable power source!
*In the previous version of this article I mentioned that it was possible to "overcharge" the SkyGuider Pro battery. This was based on reading the manual, and talking with one of iOptron's service reps a few years back. They recently clarified that this was a misunderstanding. When the SkyGuider Pro / SkyTracker Pro's internal battery reaches a max threshold (fully charged), the main red light on the unit will begin blinking rapidly. (You'll only see this if the unit is turned on while charging). That's your cue to unplug the USB cable. After you unplug the USB charging cable, the unit may still have a blinking red light (provided the tracker is turned on). That's nothing to worry about, just leave the tracker turned on until the blinking red light stops, at that point the battery should have reduced the charge current to 0. You can now turn off the tracker, and it's fully charged and ready to go! According to iOptron - "one may leave the unit charged for any extended time (days) without worry about overcharge."
The camera mount is an integral component of the star tracker, and it directly affects your ability to use a heavy camera and lens. Every star tracker comes with a basic ballhead mounting screw option. This allows you to attach your ballhead directly to the star tracker mount, and works great for lightweight setups. (Usually 3 lbs or less)
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer and iOptron SkyGuider Pro both feature a much more sturdy camera mount that features a clutch mechanism. This clutch allows you to tighten down the entire camera mount and have a very secure setup. The smaller star trackers, SkyTracker Pro and SAM, only have a simple screw(s) that you tighten down, which keeps the camera mount from rotating. In the photos below, you can see the two screws on the side of the SkyTracker Pro's camera mount, and the clutch mechanism on the SkyGuider Pro.
If you want to use a telephoto lens, I would highly recommend either the iOptron SkyGuider Pro or the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer. The rest of the trackers don't have an ideal camera mount option for a 70-200 style lens.
SkyTracker Pro SkyGuider Pro
The SkyTracker Pro and SAM both use screws to secure the camera mount, while the SkyGuider Pro and Star Adventurer have a full clutch mechanism
An Alt-Az base, also known as a wedge or latitude base, allows you to adjust your star tracker very precisely when doing your polar alignment process. The altitude adjustment knob will move your star tracker up and down. The azimuth adjustment knobs will move your star tracker left and right. You will use these knobs to move Polaris precisely in your polar scope. If you don't use the Alt-Az base, you will need to attach the star tracker directly to a ballhead. This will make a precise polar alignment much more difficult.
The iOptron star trackers both include the same alt-az base that helps with precise polar alignments. First, it features a bubble level which will help ensure your tripod is level. Also, you can adjust the altitude to match your current latitude, which will angle the star tracker to the same position as the North Star. Then you can use the azimuth screws to move the stars left or right inside the polar scope. This combination of altitude and azimuth adjustments means you can very precisely place Polaris at the proper location in your polar scope reticle. However, the iOptron alt-az base isn't perfect. The Altitude knob can be a pain to turn, especially if some grit gets inside the gears. The azimuth screws are also pretty flimsy and hard to turn. They don't have much room to turn either, which means you'll have a hard time doing your polar alignment in some cases.
The Sky-Watcher's base has a better design than the default iOptron base. Not only is it easier to use, the movements are a bit smoother. It is larger and heavier than the iOptron base though. This base isn't perfect though, and it does share some of the same problems as the iOptron base. Most notably, the altitude knob has a tendency of falling off. Unless you have a small allen key that is needed, you will be unable to reattach it. The azimuth screws can also be somewhat of a pain to turn.
William Optics also makes a replacement base for the SkyGuider Pro. To be clear though, you can use this base with the Star Adventurer, SAM, and SkyTracker Pro. This base is a huge improvement over both the iOptron and SkyWatcher bases, and the price reflects that. The William Optics base retails for $198! The WO base also comes in two different options - High Latitude and Low Latitude. If you are usually 30 degrees or higher, then get the High Latitude Base. If you find yourself below 27 degrees most of the time, get the Low Latitude base. You can always take the base apart and convert it to either High/Low if you plan on traveling. I would only recommend buying this base if you plan to do a lot of deep space astrophotography with your SkyGuider Pro or Star Adventurer. If you will be shooting with a wide angle lens this base is overkill, both in size/weight and price. You can read my full review of the base here.
The MoveShootMove star tracker does not come with a latitude base. Instead, you must attach it to a ballhead. Of course, if you already have a latitude base, you could attach it to that (you will need a dovetail plate to securely attach it though). A ballhead will not be as precise as a legit latitude base, but it does the job well enough. Since the MSM tracker is designed for wide angle lenses, you don't need to be super precise with your polar alignment.
All things considered, the base that comes with your tracker should suffice. I would only recommend swapping it out if you break your base, or have serious problems with it. I'm currently using (and loving) the William Optics High Latitude base for my astrophotography.
The William Optics base is noticeably larger and heavier than the iOptron base, however the screws are much easier to turn. It's also much easier to do precise adjustments with the WO base.
The Polar Scope is an integral piece of your star tracker setup. If you plan to shoot at focal lengths 50mm or longer, you will need to do an accurate polar alignment. Therefore, you will want a good polar scope to help find Polaris. Let's see which star trackers actually come with a polar scope and how good they are.
iOptron SkyTracker Pro - Included (Requires installation each night)
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini - Included (Requires installation each night)
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer - Included (Built-in)
iOptron SkyGuider Pro - Included (Built-in)
MoveShootMove - Optional - I recommend getting the Laser Pointer too!
Realistically, if you are using a wide angle lens with any of the star trackers, all you have to do is make sure it's roughly pointed up towards the North or South Celestial Pole. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, just look for Polaris. If you can see Polaris somewhere inside the Polar scope, you should be able to shoot up to 4 minutes at 14mm with sharp stars.
The MoveShootMove tracker is the first to include a laser pointer to help with the polar alignment. This not only speeds up the process, it makes it very easy for beginners! All you have to do is turn on the laser, and adjust your ballhead until the laser is pointed right at Polaris. Then you can lock everything down, and begin shooting! However, there are a few problems with this. First, you need to watch out for airplanes (you don't want to blind anyone by accident!) Second, laser pointers may be hard to acquire in some countries. Third, a laser pointer is of no real use if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, since there is no "South Star". Having struggled with a polar scope for years, I really like how easy it is to do a polar alignment with a laser pointer. You could always just buy your own, and fasten it to any star tracker. The MoveShootMove includes a nice laser pointer bracket though, which locks it in and helps to quickly do a polar alignment. If you don't want to use a laser pointer, MSM does offer a traditional polar scope instead.
The two entry level star trackers, the Mini and the SkyTracker Pro, both require the polar scope to be installed each night for your polar alignment. This is very easy to do, you'll just slide it right into the slot. This actually works out pretty well, especially on the SkyTracker Pro.
Both the high end star trackers, SkyGuider Pro and Star Adventurer, have the polar scope built-in. You shouldn't have to worry about them. You can take off the front and rear caps and quickly do your polar alignment. However, it is possible that the polar scopes were not installed properly. Before using your star tracker, you will want to double check for these problems.
It's important to note that the iOptron models both have a built-in red light illuminator, which will help you see the reticle at night. However, the Sky-Watcher models both require you to install an illuminator at the end of your polar scope, which can be a minor pain. Therefore, I highly recommend the iOptron trackers when it comes to the polar scope.
If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, you are going to have a bit more trouble doing your polar alignment. As there is no "North Star" to easily align to, you will need to do your polar alignment on multiple stars. I recently created a full tutorial for doing a polar alignment in the Southern Hemisphere, I would recommend watching it first. A laser pointer will be of no help to those in the Southern Hemisphere unfortunately.
The Sky-Watcher models' polar scope has a nifty graphic in the reticle which may help with alignment. You can align the 4 Sigma Octans stars to the polar scope reticle markings. This can make your alignment much easier. The iOptron polar scopes don't have anything like this. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, you may seriously want to get one of the Sky-Watcher trackers just for the improved polar scope! (This is something I explain the Star Tracker Tutorials)
Lastly, you'll need a smartphone app to help with your precise polar alignment. Basically, you need to position Polaris in the correct spot or else you will get star trails. I recommend using the free SAM Console App for all Sky-Watcher users (iPhone and Android). The app has a built-in Polar Clock Utility that matches the reticle below. For iOptron users, you can get the PolarFinder App or the Polar Scope Align App.
In 2019, iOptron released a new version of the SkyGuider Pro which includes a built-in "iPolar" camera. This camera replaces the polar scope and should allow you to do a more precise alignment with your laptop and the iPolar software. However, I do not recommend getting this variant of the SkyGuider Pro. In most cases, the iPolar version will cause more headaches than anything. If you want to do Milky Way photography for example, you'll always need to drag your laptop out on-location with you, to do a simple polar alignment. The only time I would recommend the iPolar version of the SkyGuider Pro is if you live in the Southern Hemisphere. This may actually really help you out, since the software can tell you exactly how to get a perfect polar alignment.
Sky-Watcher Polar Scope Reticle
The Sky-Watcher reticle will make polar alignments easier in the southern hemisphere
All of the star trackers are very easy to use, once you understand the basics. The biggest difference between the star trackers is the button layout.
The MoveShootMove only has two buttons. One to power on/off the tracker, and the other to change the tracking speed. I like the simplicity of this design. A dim red light will illuminate your current tracking speed and the hemisphere. The MSM tracker is different than all the others, as it does not come with a latitude base. Therefore, you will need 2 ballheads - one to hold the tracker, the other to hold your camera. Thankfully I already had 2 ballheads, so this wasn't a big deal. My favorite part of the MSM is the included laser pointer. This makes the polar alignment process incredibly simple! No polar scope required! I can now do a polar alignment in seconds, rather than minutes! I would say the MSM tracker is one of the easiest to use at night.
The iOptron models have very simple layouts, with just a few buttons. The SkyTracker Pro features switches on the back that allow you to easily change your tracking speed, hemisphere, and red-light brightness. There's also a RA slew button, pressing it once will move the camera around clockwise and pushing it again will rotate the camera counter-clockwise. The SkyGuider Pro only has 3 buttons. Again, you can control your tracking speed, hemisphere, and red-light brightness. You can also slew the camera clockwise or counter-clockwise using the arrow buttons. I like the simplicity of the iOptron models, and I haven't had any problems with them.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer and Mini could not be any more different. The Star Adventurer has a rotary dial that allows you to set your tracking speed, a hemisphere switch, and RA slew buttons. This makes it fairly quick and easy to get setup and start shooting. However, it's possible this rotary dial will get nudged at any time. When I was driving out to the desert from LA, this happened to me. The tracker was left running for hours, and I didn't realize until I began setting up for the night. Granted, the Star Adventurer boasts the best battery life of all the trackers. Still, it's a serious design problem. If you're just shooting long exposures at night though, the Star Adventurer is very easy to use - turn the dial to the "Star" icon and begin shooting!
The Star Adventurer Mini only has one button! This is used to turn the star tracker on and off. Once the Mini is turned on, it will begin broadcasting its own WiFi network. You will need to connect your smartphone to this WiFi network first. Then, you can open the SAM Console App to control the Mini. The app lets you control all the basic star tracker functions, like the tracking speed and hemisphere and it even features a built-in Polar Finder utility. This will easily allow you to position Polaris precisely in the polar scope. If you've connected your camera to the Mini via a SNAP cable, you can even use the SAM Console App to set the intervalometer on your camera to help create a timelapse or just capture long exposure images.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini is great when it works, and a nightmare when it doesn't. Since it only has a power button, you will need to control everything from the SAM Console App on your phone. When I was testing out the Mini, I did have some connectivity problems using the app. It would randomly disconnect and sometimes the Mini would stopped tracking in the middle of a photo. However, after switching to a different Mini, I didn't have any problems. I'm not quite sure what was going wrong with the original Mini I had been using. That's the problem with being dependent on an app and WiFi connection, you are out of luck if something goes wrong. Every other star tracker can be controlled by buttons on the device itself, no smartphone connection required!
SAM's single button Star Adventurer's Rotary Dial SkyTracker Pro's buttons SkyGuider Pro
The SAM is the only star tracker without dedicated buttons to change your Hemisphere, Tracking Speed, and RA Slew
Another important consideration is the design of the star tracker. Even if a star tracker excels in other areas, a bad design will ultimately cause you a lot of frustration when you're actually trying to transport and use the star tracker. Let's take a closer look at each one next.
*You can click on the star tracker's name to visit the corresponding photo gallery, and get a closer look at each tracker.
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro is an all-plastic body, with all the necessary switches and inputs located on the back of the tracker. *I was informed by iOptron that this plastic body was a design feature, in order to minimize the weight of the device. The internals are all metal. The camera mount features a nice rubber padding to protect your ballhead from any scratches. Protruding from the right side of the tracker is a slot for your polar scope. Overall, I like the simple and compact design of the SkyTracker Pro. However, it is by no means weather-sealed. I've noticed that you can clearly see the circuit boards and other internal components from the outside of the star tracker.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro currently comes in two different configurations - Polar Scope and iPolar. The polar scope version is more traditional, and works quite well. The new iPolar version relies on a small camera and software to do your polar alignment. This might be great if you live in the Southern Hemisphere (where a visual alignment is difficult), but in the northern hemisphere the iPolar is more of a hassle than anything. The software is not very user friendly, and I could never get it to work on my laptop! I've also heard reports from many people that the software did not do the best job with the polar alignment process. Therefore, I recommend you avoid the iPolar version, and stick with the original SkyGuider Pro model. Regardless which model you get, the SkyGuider Pro has some nice features. It's one of the most compact star trackers available, making it easy to travel with. It's also got a decent clutch mechanism and declination bracket, which are required for deep space work. However, the Quality Assurance could be better. Some SkyGuider Pro's work great for years, while other SkyGuider Pros have serious problems right out of the box. If you get a working SkyGuider Pro, it will do a great job!
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer was recently updated to the 2i edition. This new version of the Star Adventurer is almost identical to the original, with one notable exception - WiFi. This allows you to control the star tracker from a smartphone app, just like the Star Adventurer Mini. That might sound like a great addition, but I wouldn't say it's worth upgrading if you have the original Star Adventurer. The WiFi features are nice, but still leave a lot to be desired. The Star Adventurer 2i is still a big, bulky, and clunky star tracker. I have a few big problems with the design of this tracker. First, the battery compartment door. Whenever I reach into my case to pull out the Star Adventurer, I inevitably grab the sides of this flimsy plastic cover, and it falls off. This might sound like a minor problem, but it's incredibly frustrating to deal with every time you use this tracker. To make matters worse, it's surprisingly difficult to put the cover back into place for some reason. The Star Adventurer also has a rotary dial on the side, which is used to select the tracking speed. When the dial is moved to any other position besides 'OFF', the tracker will be turned on. Unfortunately, this dial is moved very easily. In my experience, there were a few times where simply putting the star tracker into my hard-case caused the dial to rotate, and the tracker to turn on. Therefore, it would be very easy to accidentally drain the battery on the Star Adventurer. Finally, the polar scope on the Star Adventurer could be much better. There cheap plastic illuminator is easily lost, and that means you have no easy way of seeing the polar scope reticule at night. I recommend just shining a red headlamp over the front of the polar scope, to briefly illuminate the reticule when needed. There's also a chance your polar scope is not aligned properly from the factory. That means you need to make some adjustments yourself, which is a real pain to do. All things considered, the Star Adventurer is a solid, but clunky star tracker.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini is a small, compact star tracker with a simple design. It is basically a small cube that can be installed and used in a variety of different configurations. The Mini only has one button on it, the power button, and 2 LED lights to indicate the WiFi and Power. On one side is a battery compartment to fit the 2 AA batteries. To use the Polar Scope, you will need to remove the small rubber plug on the camera mount, and also remove the circular piece on the back of the tracker. Then you can slide the polar scope up through the middle of the star tracker. Overall, I like the design of the Mini, and everything works quite nicely on it!
The MoveShootMove is the most portable star tracker here, it can even fit in my pocket! This makes it great for hikers and backpackers who don't want to lug any additional camera gear into the backcountry. I really like the simplified design and the included laser pointer. It's very easy to use, especially for beginners. The only real downside of this tracker is that you generally need two ballheads. Therefore, if you only have one ballhead, this will add to the total cost. The tracker itself is very streamlined, and there aren't any extra features.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer iOptron SkyTracker Pro iOptron SkyGuider Pro
All star trackers are largely designed the same, with a polar scope going through the tracker, and a camera mount on the front
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini has 3 timelapse modes built into the SAM Console App. These timelapse modes will allow you to have a beautiful panning motion throughout your timelapse, when setup properly. You'll want to get a SNAP cable and connect your camera to the Mini, to get the most out of this tracker. Once connected, you can control your camera's shutter directly from the SAM Console App. The Astro Timelapse will track the stars for the duration of the exposure, then rotate back to the starting position, and repeat. This will create a timelapse where the foreground stays the same, and the stars move overhead. The Regular Exposure Timelapse can add a simple pan to your daytime timelapses, you can even control how far the Mini pans across the scene. The Long Exposure Timelapse can be used at night, or during the day with ND filters. In this mode, the Mini stops moving for the duration of the exposure, then pans slightly, and takes another exposure. The SAM Console App also includes a Polar Clock Utility which will show you where to position Polaris or the Sigma Octans stars in your Polar Scope, it can also show your current latitude. Clearly, the Mini has a ton of great, innovative features!
The latest Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i now features the same WiFi functionality as the Star Adventurer Mini. With the help of the SAM Console App on your smartphone, you can control various aspects of the tracker. The main use, as of right now, is to do different timelapse modes. I personally don't do many timelapses, so this feature isn't very useful to me.
Neither of the iOptron models have any such features, and the iOptron alt-az base isn't really designed with timelapses in mind. For example, the Sky-Watcher alt-az base can be rotated to 90 degrees, which is necessary to have a horizontal pan in your timelapse. The iOptron base can only go to about 60 degrees. Of course, you could attach your iOptron star tracker directly to a ballhead. At that point, you could put the tracker at a 90 degree angle and do simple left / right panning motions, just like you would be doing with the Sky-Watcher trackers.
The same applies to the Vixen Polarie, you could attach it directly to a ballhead and adjust the ballhead to either 90 degrees, or 0 degrees to have a simple panning motion (either left/right or up/down).
The PleiadesCaptured with the SkyGuider Pro and Tamron 150-600mm
I captured this photo of the Horsehead Nebula with my SkyGuider Pro, William Optics SpaceCat telescope, and ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro
Depending on which bundles you are able to find online, you may see slightly different prices. However, I'm going to list the total prices based off the MSRP listed on the official websites. The links below will take you to B&H. Therefore, there may be some slight pricing discrepancies. Also, if a star tracker has prices added together, that includes all of the necessary components required for a sturdy setup. You can click on each price to take you directly to the corresponding accessory.
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini - $299 + $65 +$20 = $384
Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i - $419
The iOptron SkyTracker Pro has an optional $80 counterweight kit that can increase the total payload to 6.6 lbs. However, it's poorly designed and you'd be better off investing that $80 into the SkyGuider Pro, which can easily handle more weight.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Mini works well when paired with the Sky-Watcher base, which retails for $65. This will allow you to utilize the Mini for the different timelapse modes, and it makes your polar alignment process considerably easier. You will also want to get the SNAP cable for your particular camera, which will allow you to control the camera's shutter via the SAM Console App. While the SNAP cable isn't necessary, I'd highly recommend it. You can also purchase the Declination Bracket ($40) and the Counterweight Kit ($30), however I wouldn't say they are necessary. The combined package would allow you to have a more balanced setup in some scenarios and will let you use a telephoto lens. If you decide to upgrade to the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer in the future, which can handle more weight, you can always use the same base, declination bracket, and counterweight.
The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i now includes everything you'll need in one bundle. This includes the latitude base and counterweight kit.
The iOptron SkyGuider Pro has everything you'll need in one package. iOptron also makes the iPolar version, which retails for $598! I do not recommend buying the iPolar version, you are much better off sticking with the normal SkyGuider Pro with the built-in polar scope.
The MoveShootMove has multiple bundles available, which range in price from $200 - $400. Personally, I would recommend the $218 bundle which includes the laser pointer. This is the easiest way to do a polar alignment and you really don't need any of the other gear in the various bundles. However, if you are in the Southern Hemisphere, the laser pointer will be pretty much useless. Therefore, you'd want to get the polar scope bundle instead.
Orion NebulaTaken with the SkyGuider Pro and Tamron 150-600mm
I captured this photo of the Orion Nebula from a fairly light-polluted area in Northeast Ohio using my SkyGuider Pro, Tamron 150-600mm lens, and Nikon D750.
Unfortunately, each star tracker has at least one drawback. The iOptron SkyTracker Pro's weakness is the sub-par counterweight kit that is frustrating to set up and use effectively. The Star Adventurer Mini's weakness is that it relies completely on the SAM Console App to function. The Star Adventurer's main weaknesses are the flimsy plastic covers that are always falling off, the easily rotated tracking speed dial, which can drain the battery if turned on by accident, and the overall size and weight of the tracker. The iOptron SkyGuider Pro's weakness is the overly complicated installation and setup process for the declination bracket and the lack of Quality Assurance. The MoveShootMove has a fairly weak battery life of 5 hours and can't safely handle large telephoto lenses. With that said, these are all very minor problems and each star tracker will get the job done.
All things considered, you should choose your star tracker primarily based on the combined weight of your camera, lens, and ballhead. Frankly, as long as you will be using a wide angle lens, any star tracker will do the job. However, if you want to use a telephoto lens too, then I would only recommend the SkyGuider Pro or Star Adventurer. Both star trackers can handle up to 11 lbs of camera gear, and they feature a sturdier design.
If you are a complete beginner living in the Northern Hemisphere, I would highly recommend the MoveShootMove star tracker with the laser pointer bundle. I've been using this star tracker quite a bit lately, and I really do like it. Not only is it very compact and easy to carry around, you can do a polar alignment in seconds with the laser pointer. I guarantee this will make your life a lot easier at night, especially if you are new to star trackers. Just remember, this tracker is primarily for wide-angle shooting (50mm or wider). If you plan to use a telephoto lens, I would go for the SkyGuider Pro instead.
For those living in the Southern Hemisphere, the iPolar version of the SkyGuider Pro may well be your best option. Many people have a hard time doing a visual polar alignment in the Southern Hemisphere, and the iPolar software can make this process much easier! Of course, you'll always need a laptop with you.
My final recommendation would be the iOptron SkyGuider Pro. It has allowed me to capture some breathtaking photos over the years, and I haven't had any problems with mine. However, I cannot say the same for many of my students. I recently taught a deep space astrophotography workshop, and 4 out of 5 SkyGuider Pro's had serious problems that all required taking the tracker apart and repairing manually. Apparently iOptron has some Quality Assurance problems, although their customer service is usually pretty quick to respond to any emails. The SkyWatcher trackers, including the Star Adventurer, are prone to have QA problems too, so this is not just an iOptron problem.
Now that I've worked with dozens of people and star trackers, it seems like every tracker has its own problems. Sometimes the clutch gets stuck, or it won't ever tighten down all the way. Sometimes the tracker's motor stalls and will not run. The iPolar software can be a pain to use, and randomly does not work. I've seen multiple times where the altitude knob on both the iOptron and SkyWatcher base falls off completely! Point being, all of these star trackers could use a new 2020 version. I'm hoping iOptron and SkyWatcher have been creating the next generation of star trackers, with a focus on better design, higher-quality parts, and more rigorous quality assurance. The current star trackers work, but I'm starting to get a bit worried by the amount of problems I've seen lately. I suppose I'm lucky I have had no real problems with my SkyGuider Pro over the past 3 years...
Regardless which star tracker you choose, you will undoubtedly have questions. Over the past 2 years I've been hard at work creating a full-length tutorial for each star tracker! My goal with these tutorials is to teach you everything, from A to Z. That includes planning, camera gear, camera settings, how to setup the star tracker, and even post-processing!
For more information on these tutorials, please click here.
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