So, you’ve gone out and bought an iOptron SkyGuider Pro. You’ve assembled it, read the instructions, maybe even watched a YouTube video on how to use it, and you’ve got the basics down. But you find yourself wondering if it could be better. Yes, it can be heaps better.
I have been using the SkyGuider Pro for several years now, and it's a great little star-tracking mount, but I ran into a few pain points which I thought could be improved upon.
I want to preface this guide by stating first that you don’t need anything extra to take quality astrophotos with this mount. But in my experience, items that can make the practice of doing something easier are worth consideration. I am more likely to continue to do something if I enjoy it, and all of the items on this list will make the acquisition of images much easier and more enjoyable. I have spent the last couple of years buying and testing various products. and I have found five items that vastly improve the usability of the mount. Remember that these items are optional, and with any luck, you might already have a few kicking around from other projects.
Panning Base With Arca Swiss Clamp
The first revelation I had was that the panning (declination) adapter that comes standard on the top axis of the SkyGuider is pretty terrible to use. The tightening screws kept getting in the way, and it’s not a fluid rotation, which causes the whole setup to jump unexpectedly while rotating around this axis. It just leaves a lot to be desired. So, replacing the standard mounting base with a panning base was essential to alleviate any errors caused while rotating the camera on this axis. As a bonus, the Arca-swiss clamp makes balancing, setup, and teardown a breeze. I searched for "panning base" and bought mine on eBay for $30.
Right-Angle Viewfinder With Polar Scope Adapter
I’m getting older (which is hard for me to admit), and I hated having to get down on one knee to properly polar align the mount. With the camera and everything mounted on top, this was made even more difficult. So, I found a right-angle eyepiece that could be attached to the polar scope. Now, polar aligning is much easier, and I can see all the demarcation lines in the polar scope. The 2.5x zoom on the eyepiece allows for even better fine-tuning. I found the set on Amazon for $70.
Counterweight Extension Bar
I found out pretty quickly that the lens and camera combo I chose to use for astrophotography was pretty heavy and was nearly impossible to balance correctly with the standard equipment provided. Thankfully, Williams Optics makes an extension bar that allows you to drop the counterweight farther away to allow for more precise (and easier) balancing with heavier loads. This item allows me to use a full frame DSLR with a 100-400mm lens with no balancing issues. Williams Optics sells this for around $30.
Green Laser Pointer
I found that I could increase the speed of my setup and polar aligning by using a laser pointer. It can be tricky finding Polaris in the polar scope without assistance. So, after many frustrating nights trying to eyeball Polaris in the polar scope, I just bought a laser green pointer and shined it through the polar eyepiece. This way, the green laser points at whatever the polar scope sees, so it makes the initial setup much faster. Any green laser will do, you can find them on Amazon for around $20.
*WARNING: Do not use laser pointers while planes or helicopters are flying nearby.
Lastly, if you are struggling to find perfect focus or believe that there’s always room for improvement, then you will want a Bahtinov mask for your lens/scope. There is no cheaper, clearer way to establish the perfect focus that I’m aware of. Just grab one that fits the outer diameter of your lens, slap it in front of everything, and adjust the focus until you see all the diffraction spikes intersecting. You can buy them here.