Navigate the night sky easily with OPT's wide selection of telescope mounts for visual observing and astrophotography.
The mount is often an underestimated component of any telescope setup, especially for astrophotography. With all of the different options available, it can be difficult to decide which mount is best for you. At OPT, we're to help make that decision easier. Click Learn More.
Types of Telescope Mounts
There are many types of telescope mounts, but they can all be split up into three main categories: altitude-azimuth mounts (alt-az for short), equatorial (EQ) mounts, and hybrid mounts. Below, we'll go over these three main types along with their sub-types and what their best uses are.
Best for visual observing and basic imaging
Altitude-azimuth mounts, or alt-az for short, are ideal for visual observing and are the easiest type of mount to use. They move in the altitude (up & down) and azimuth (left & right) directions, ensuring that the telescope always stays upright for comfortable eyepiece viewing. This makes alt-az mounts a perfect choice for any visual observer. As an added bonus, they can be used for some basic imaging of bright objects like the moon, sun, and planets.
For deep sky imaging, however, alt-az mounts are not an ideal choice. This is because the stars appear to spin in a curved motion throughout the night causing objects to slowly rotate through a telescope, which is an effect called field rotation. Alt-az mounts cannot fully account for field rotation with simple up, down, left, and right movements, and can only track the night sky for a few seconds at a time without star trailing occurring in images. Equatorial mounts, especially German equatorial mounts, will be a much better choice for those looking to do deep sky imaging as they can accurately track objects for much longer. However, alt-az mounts, including Dobsonian telescopes, are still the ideal choice for any visual observer.
Best for astrophotography, especially deep sky imaging
Equatorial mounts are ideal for astrophotography, and come in many different shapes and sizes. Equatorial mounts work by aligning to one of the celestial poles in line with the axis that Earth spins around. By aligning to the celestial pole, an equatorial mount can cancel out the apparent motion of the stars during the night caused by the rotation of the Earth. As a result, this allows equatorial mounts to stay locked onto targets for hours at a time, enabling the long exposures required for deep sky astrophotography. This is in stark contrast to alt-az mounts, which can still track objects but cannot account for field rotation, and are therefore limited to exposures only a few seconds long.
Equatorial mounts range from being lightweight and portable, such as star trackers, all the way up to large and heavy mounts designed to be permanently installed in an observatory. Here at OPT, we carry all of these varieties, and are happy to help you find which one works best for you. For true beginners in astrophotography, we recommend starting off with a portable star tracker and using a DSLR/Mirrorless camera and lens or lightweight telescope.
Best for both visual and imaging, but at a higher price point
Hybrid mounts utilize the best of both worlds and can be used in both alt-az mode and equatorial mode — usually shortened to AZ/EQ. This makes them great tools for both visual observing and imaging, which is ideal for those who enjoy swapping back and forth between the two such as for public outreach events. Unlike converting an alt-az mount to an equatorial mount by using a wedge, these hybrid mounts have a true counterweight system like German Equatorial Mounts do, and can therefore be used with excellent results for astrophotography. When used in alt-az mode, some hybrid mounts can even carry two telescopes of similar weight at once. This can give an added benefit of observing at multiple focal lengths without swapping eyepieces. Of course, the added functionality of both AZ and EQ modes mean that hybrid mounts cost more than alt-az or equatorial mounts on their own, but hybrid mounts are a fitting choice for those who frequently do both.
Which mount should I buy?
In as simple of an answer as possible, here is which mount type we recommend based on your skill level and what you're trying to do:
|Beginner||Intermediate & Advanced|
|Visual Observing||Usually comes with telescope||Alt-Az|
|Deep Sky Astrophotography||Star Tracker||German Equatorial Mount|
|Planetary Astrophotography||Alt-Az||German Equatorial Mount
|Both Visual & Imaging||Alt-Az||Hybrid Mount|
Though the chart above can be used as a guide, we recommend doing more research to find the mount you want based on your budget and what you want to do. Once you've got it narrowed down to a few choices, contact our Sales team to help finalize your decision.
Can I use a motorized alt-az mount for astrophotography?
The short answer: yes, you can! The long answer: using an alt-az mount for astrophotography can have its limitations. If you're just looking to take images of bright objects within the solar system, such as the moon and planets, then an alt-az mount will be a good choice.
If you're hoping to take images of deep sky objects, this is where alt-az mounts reach their limits. Depending on your camera and your telescope's focal length, an alt-az mount can track the night sky for up to 30 seconds or so before star trails start to occur. This is long enough to capture some of the brightest deep sky objects like the Orion Nebula, but is not long enough to capture most deep sky objects, which are very faint.
How do you attach a telescope to the mount?
Telescope mounts have a part called the saddle, which is where the telescope connects to the mount. The part of the telescope that connects to the mount is called the dovetail. The telescope attaches to the mount via the dovetail being clamped down by the saddle, which has knob tightening screws to hold the telescope securely in place. Dovetails and saddles come in two common shapes:
- Vixen / V-style): found on almost all beginner equipment, used to carry smaller & lighter telescopes
- Losmandy / D-style: found on higher end telescope equipment, used to carry larger & heavier telescopes
Some modern mounts feature saddles that can carry both types of dovetails. This is convenient as it lets you swap between smaller and larger telescopes easily without having to remove dovetails.
What does computerized, go-to, motor drive, and other mount terms mean?
When shopping for a mount, you'll often come across terms that may be confusing. To help, we've defined a few of the most popular ones:
- Computerized: This means that the mount not only features motors for tracking the night sky, but it also has a built-in computer that can automatically point the mount (and telescope) to an object of your choice and track it. Computerized mounts come with an accessory called a hand controller, which is a wired remote control used to control the mount.
- GoTo: Similar to computerized, this specifically means that the mount can "go to" an object of your choosing when you select one on the hand controller. You'll often see "computerized go-to" used together.
- Motor Drive/Clock Drive: This usually implies that the mount is not computerized, but still has motors that can track the night sky. You need to manually point the telescope at the object, but it will keep it centered and not drift out of the eyepiece.
- Tracking: This is the process of tracking an object as it moves throughout the night sky. If a mount has tracking, it likely means it has motors to keep an object centered in view when looking through the telescope.