Once you have a telescope picked out you need to find the best astrophotography mount for that particular scope. Unfortunately there is no one best, but only the best for the weight you need to support and your budget.
What follows is the best equatorial mount for astrophotography in order of weight supported, and funny enough, price.
The Best Astrophotography Mount under $2000
If you are just starting out and have a little 80mm refractor you might want to start with something inexpensive to see how you like it. The Orion AstroView EQ Mount & EQ-3M Motor Drive Kit might be the best astrophotography mount for you.
Allowing you to use up to 12lbs of payload (telescope, camera, and all other attachments) it is ideal for small refractors such as the Orion ED80. This is not a GOTO system and is not computerized, but instead has a tracking motor that keeps the telescope pointed at the celestial object you initially point it at.
The entire assembly weighs right around 28lbs making it easy to take into the field even if that is a little hike from the car.
The least expensive mount I would recommend for anything other than playing is the Orion SkyView Pro Equatorial GoTo Telescope Mount. This mount is a little older design than the others we will talk about however it has not been replaced simply because it is robust and stable.
The perfect base from which to use small telescopes such as an 80mm refractor or even a 6″ astrograph, it includes compatibility with my favorite software; EQMod. Another nice feature is that if you have other Orion mounts, the same hand controller and software drivers work on this mount too, meaning you can use the same laptop or other device to control your small and large mounts.
This also makes it nice to have backup components.
While supporting at payload of 20lbs, the assembly weighs in at 36.5lbs making it very easy to travel with. In my opinion this is probably the best telescope mount under 1000.
The Celestron Advanced VX Mount ups the ante by supporting 30lbs. This replaces the old Celestron CG-5 “coffee grinder” model and is a very nice improvement.
Weighing in at just over 47lbs it is a little heavier than the Skyview Pro but makes up for that with it’s increased load capacity.
Celestron has included the polar finder scope in this model (which is an additional purchase of around $63 for the Skyview Pro) and makes this an exceptional value.
While not compatible with EQMod and heavier, it is in every other way an upgrade over the Orion Skyview Pro for an astrophotography mount. You will find this is probably the most popular beginner mount for budding astrophotographers and one of the overall best telescope mounts in this weight range.
The next step up is the Orion 9995 Sirius EQ-G Computerized GoTo Telescope Mount which can support up to a 30lb payload. This is where things start to get serious as you need this level of stability when dealing with a more serious full astrophotography setup.
Yes, it seems like this mount and the Celestron VX carry the same weight, don’t be fooled, they are not the same. Use both and you will quickly see that the VX might just barely be able to use 30lbs but will be straining with everything it has while the Sirius won’t even break a sweat. This is one of the most under rated mounts out there.
With an extremely stable 1.75″ stainless steel legs, and an incredibly solid baseplate, the entire mount head is very solid. Add in the fact that they include a lit polar alignment scope and this makes for a really sweet setup. No wonder why astrophotographer’s like Allan Hall swear by this mount (see the astrophotography book reviews here for more about him).
Like the Orion Skyview Pro, this mount supports EQMod software.
Weighing in at 44lbs with the counterweight attached, this comes ready to rumble. While not top of the line, it certainly is one of the best astrophotography mounts out there in it’s price range.
Another great mount from Orion is the Orion 9996 Atlas EQ-G Computerized GoTo Telescope Mount. According to the specifications this mount will support up to 40lbs, which is an understatement. I believe Orion tends to be too conservative when they give ratings on their mounts. This means that owners of the mounts tend to be quite happy even when they run their payloads right up to, and sometimes a little over, the recommended payload limits.
The Atlas ups the game with a larger 2″ set of stainless steel legs and a very solid base on top to make this mount one of the most stable mounts you can carry into the field. It also adds a saddle that handles both narrow Vixen style or wide Losmandy style dovetails.
If you are using a large APO refractor or an 8″ astrograph, this is the mount you need to keep your stars tack sharp on long exposures. As with the previous two Orion mounts, this one is fully compatible with EQMod software and includes an illuminated polar-axis scope.
Weighing in at 76lbs including the two includes 11lb counterweights this can be a beast, but stability and accuracy are its middle name making it a very popular astrophotography mount.
In a tie with the Orion Atlas is the Celestron CGEM II GoTo EQ Mount with Tripod. Like the Atlas, it supports 40lbs but I would give a slight edge to the Atlas in how much it could really support. That said, the CGEM is an outstanding mount and very popular mount.
In addition to basically the same features as the Atlas, you subtract the EQMod compatibility, and add USB connectivity.
While weighing about the same as the Atlas, 75lbs, it only comes with one 17lb counterweight. This means that it is a little heavier than the Atlas supporting the same payload (the Atlas uses 22lbs of counterweights at 76lbs total weight while the CGEM uses 17lbs of counterweights at 75lbs total weight).
Overall the Atlas probably supports a couple more pounds of weight, comes with 22lbs in counterweights as compared to the CGEM’s 17lbs, and supports EQMOD so I would probably take it for the same price. On the other hand, the CGEM is a newer model and has USB connections instead of the RS232 on the Atlas which makes it easier to connect to computer equipment for imaging.
Either one is an excellent mount, period.
The curve ball here is the Orion 10010 Atlas Pro AZ/EQ-G Computerized GoTo Telescope Mount. While it can “only” support 44lbs which seems like a small upgrade compared to the Atlas or CGEM, it has a few tricks up its sleeve which make this mount truly drool worthy.
Let’s start with the fact that while supporting four pounds more payload, the setup weighs three pounds less than the standard Atlas and two pounds less than the CGEM. Support more weight, takes less weight to do it, what isn’t to like?
My favorite feature is that it includes optical encoders which tell it exactly where the telescope is pointing. What does this mean? This means that you can align the scope and shoot for a couple hours, then loosen the knobs and point the telescope in a completely different direction, and the mount knows exactly where it is pointed with no need for realignment! I know, right?
But there is more! Like the Meade series of mounts you can take off the counterweight shaft and mount a second telescope tube and use the mount as an Alt Az visual setup. How cool is that?
I hope this article has helped you choose the best astrophotography mount for your budget and needs!