There are several things you should think about when shopping for an equatorial mount. The most important considerations include the size and weight of the telescope optical tube assembly you plan to pair with the mount, whether you’ll be doing astrophotography or visual astronomy (or a mix of the two), and, as always, your budget. If you answer these questions before you buy an equatorial telescope mount, you’ll be much more likely to pick a model that will serve you well for many years to come.
How to Choose an Equatorial Mount - Getting Started
How will you use your new equatorial mount? Most people buy a stand-alone equatorial mount and tripod because they would like to upgrade their telescope system for astrophotography, however many have simply outgrown their first telescope and want to move on to a sturdier, computerized equatorial mount for visual astronomy.
Whatever the reason, before you choose a telescope mount it helps to know what you plan to do with it. For instance, a mount for visual astronomy alone should be sturdy and have enough weight capacity for your load, but it can be a manual, motorized or computerized equatorial mount; your choice. However, if you plan to dive into astrophotography, you will require an beefy equatorial mount with a minimum of a motor on both axes, a hand control, and a weight capacity that is quite a bit higher than the weight of your optical components and OTA accessories.
Decide on a budget. Of course, only you can decide how much money to spend on an equatorial mount, but here are a few guidelines to keep in mind: In general, the more load capacity a mount is capable of, the bigger, heavier, and more expensive it is. Electronics also effect price. A manual equatorial mount is definitely less expensive than a computerized equatorial mount, but you will need a dual-axis drive at the very minimum to do deep-space astrophotography.
You can save money on the OTA or the equatorial mount, or if you are planning on doing astrophotography, the camera. There are less expensive OTA’s like this Apertura 6” Imaging Newtonian, and since it only weighs about 11 lb. an equatorial mount like the Celestron Advanced VX would work great.
Pick your OTA. In order to choose the right equatorial mount you will need to know how much weight capacity, or load capacity, you need. The heaviest component will be the telescope optical tube assembly, which is why you need to know its weight before you choose a mount. Write down the weight of your OTA and any other accessories you will be using on the equatorial mount.
How to Choose an Equatorial Mount - Other Considerations
More on Load Capacity If you will be doing astrophotography with your new equatorial telescope mount, choose a load capacity, also known as weight capacity or payload, that is twice the weight of your OTA, camera, flattener, guide scope, or any other accessories you plan to use on it. For instance, if your optical tube assembly weighs 20 pounds and all other accessories weigh 5 pounds, then shoot for a mount with a weight capacity of at least 50 pounds. This extra wiggle room will allow your mount to track and guide at its best.
For those who plan to do visual work with their equatorial mount, give yourself at least 5 pounds of extra weight capacity in order to accommodate any new accessories you may acquire in the future. Visual use does not require the same level of tracking accuracy that astrophotography does, so as long as you have a well-balanced load, your telescope mount should perform as the manufacturer states as long as you do not go over the published weight capacity.
Mount Electronics Equatorial Mounts can be purchased with different levels of electronics or none at all.
Manual Equatorial Mount: For visual use and quick photos of the moon & planets, these equatorial telescope mounts do not have a motor or motors to help track objects. The user manually moves the telescope to find celestial objects and make small adjustments to compensate for the earth’s rotation. A manual equatorial mount can often be upgraded by adding a motor or motors to track movements in either right ascension (RA) or declination (Dec). Deep space astrophotography requires two motors and a hand controller on a reasonably solid eq mount.
Motorized Equatorial Mount: Adding at least one motor turns a manual equatorial mount into a motorized mount. Quick snapshots of the moon & planets will be easier if your mount tracks in right ascension (east to west movements) but for the longer exposures needed to take astrophotos of fainter objects outside of our solar system you will need to be able to correct movements in declination (north-south) as well.
There are not a lot of Manual Equatorial Mounts, Motorized EQ Mounts & Drive Motors available anymore since computerized GoTo mounts became more affordable, but you can still find a limited selection of smaller equatorial mounts with and without motors at High Point.
GoTo Equatorial Mount: If you can afford one, we highly recommend a computerized equatorial mount, or GoTo equatorial mount. These amazing telescope mounts help you set up, polar align, find objects and track them so that your chosen subject remains in the center of your eyepiece or camera sensor. With GoTo electronics on your mount you can do so many cool things, from WiFi control via your smartphone or tablet to remote observing.
Tripod - Yes or No? You may have noticed that many computerized equatorial mounts are offered with and without a tripod. While it is true that most everyone will need a tripod, there are lucky amateur astronomers that do not, and that is because they plan to permanently mount their telescope in either a backyard observatory or remotely in a dark-sky location. Another reason to say “no” to a tripod is if you would like to upgrade to a telescope pier, even if you are not putting it in an observatory. If you decide on an iOptron equatorial mount, you might want to consider upgrading to a Tri-Pier (have tripod, half pier) like the iOptron Tri-Pier .
Regardless of which you choose, take a few moments to think about the final height of your telescope set-up and check out specifications to see what the heaviest component will be. Like any telescope and mount, you want to be able to set it up and break it down without hurting yourself. If you are shooting for that big dream telescope, go for it, just figure out if you need to permanently mount it. Figuring it all out is part of the fun, after all! If you need help or want to run your plans by a member of our Product Advisor team, feel free to contact us!
Read our Telescope Mount Buying Guide for a lot more information on choosing the right mount for you. It will talk about alt-azimuth mounts as well, but most of the article discusses equatorial mount considerations and offers some options for mounts with different weight capacities and features.
Our Team’s Favorite Equatorial Mounts
Celestron AVX Advanced VX GoTo Equatorial Mount - The Celestron AVX is a super popular mid-weight computerized mount with 30 pound weight capacity
iOptron GEM28 GoTo Equatorial Mount & Tripod - Fairly new to the scene, the iOptron GEM28 has a 28 pound load capacity yet weighs only 10 pounds without the counterweight. Polar alignment is easy with the built in AccuAlign polar scope. Built-in WiFi, PEC, Go2Nova technology and more make this model a good portable eq mount choice.
Skywatcher EQ6-R Pro GoTo Equatorial Mount - The EQ6R Pro has a 44 pound capacity, built-in illuminated polar alignment scope and it is super stable.
Celestron CGX GoTo Equatorial Mount - The Celestron CGX is great for larger loads (up to 55 pounds) and comes with spring-loaded gears, all-star polar alignment. The CGX supports remote operations, plate solving and lots of other high tech mount capabilities.
Skywatcher EQ8-RH Pro with Encoders on Pier Mount - The Skywatcher EQ6 is super popular; this is it’s big brother and is decked out with upgraded encoders, a 110 pound (!) weight capacity and beefy pier tripod. The EQ6-Rh Pro is one amazing equatorial mount. It also comes without the tripod/pier for those who have other mounting plans.