Sky-Watcher’s HEQ5 Pro mount is arguably the single best equatorial mount you can buy for astrophotography. It’s not too expensive, it can carry a variety of instruments, and it performs well enough out of the box that it won’t drive you crazy. The HEQ5 Pro is portable enough to serve as a glorified star tracker but at the same time can carry an 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain for visual use or planetary imaging when you need it to.
The HEQ5 Pro is identical to the beloved Orion Sirius EQ-G, which was recently discontinued; newer HEQ5 Pros sport a dual Losmandy D-style and Vixen V-style dovetail bar saddle as with the Sirius, while older models need to be upgraded with a third-party saddle attachment to accept Losmandy-style dovetails.
Sky Watcher HEQ5 Pro
FEATURES: 30bs max load bearing, Equatorial GoTo mount with SynScan hand control, and 42,900+ Objects in Database
- Equatorial mount meant for long-exposure astrophotography
- GoTo easily zeroes in on your targets
- Easy to use with a variety of astronomical imaging software packages on your PC
- Built-in polar scope for polar alignment
- Stepper motors for accurate tracking
What We Like About It
- Fairly lightweight and portable. The HEQ5’s mount head easily fits in luggage and the counterweight shaft retracts instead of screwing on. The tripod is lightweight as well.
- Plenty of spare capacity for most beginner deep-sky rigs. You can put up to about 15 pounds or up to a ~1200mm focal length telescope on the HEQ5 for deep-sky imaging.
- Very good guiding accuracy. Unmodified, with a proper guide camera and scope the HEQ5 can achieve sub-arc second accuracy with a modest sized payload.
- Easy to use. For visual astronomy you can align the HEQ5 on just one star after completing polar alignment, and the mount comes with a decent polar scope to help you with that part.
- EQMOD compatibility. The HEQ5 works with EQMOD allowing you to ditch the hand controller entirely with the proper cables, and makes it a bit friendlier to interfacing with control software like NINA or Sequence Generator Pro.
- Can hold a fairly big scope for visual/planetary imaging. The HEQ5 can handle a 7” Maksutov or 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain fairly well with little in the way of vibrations, but is still fairly easy to assemble yourself.
What We Don’t Like
- Low capacity, particularly for visual use. The small tripod provided with the HEQ5 means it is not as stable as it could be with something like a 9.25” SCT or 8” Newtonian, which we wouldn’t recommend using on this mount.
You could swap the tripod for one from a bigger mount like an Advanced VX or EQ6, but this can be costly. For astrophotography, the HEQ5 is plenty stable however.
How This HEQ5 Compares to Similar Products
- Celestron Advanced VX – The Advanced VX is slightly cheaper and has a bigger tripod than the HEQ5, so for a purely visual or planetary imaging mount it’s a slightly better choice. For imaging, however, the Advanced VX is a disaster.
The Advanced VX has basically no declination bearing and suffers from horrible backlash, periodic error, and guiding problems which cannot be fully remedied even with extensive DIY modifications.
The mount also doesn’t work with EQMOD forcing you to deal with the annoying hand controller, it doesn’t become as compact as the HEQ5 Pro unless you take it apart with a hex wrench, and no polar scope is included.
- iOptron CEM26 – the CEM26’s extra gizmos may seem alluring, but are largely irrelevant if you know how to use any good imaging software on your laptop. The mount has a little less capacity too, but otherwise there’s no real difference in capabilities from the HEQ5 Pro.
- Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer GTi – The GTi mount is more portable than the HEQ5 Pro and cheaper, but has a lot less capacity limiting you to the smallest refractors or telephoto lenses for photography, and little else besides maybe a small Maksutov-Cassegrain for visual use.
- Sky-Watcher EQM-35 – The EQM-35 is a little beefier than the GTi but again just can’t hold nearly as much stuff as the HEQ5 Pro, has worse guiding, and is basically the same physical size and weight anyway.
- Explore Scientific iEXOS 100 – Don’t let the gimmicks fool you; this mount is a glorified star tracker like the Star Adventurer GTi and cannot compete with the HEQ5 Pro in weight capacity, guiding accuracy or stability.
- Explore Scientific/Bresser EXOS-2GT/Meade LX85 – These mounts are all the same and are annoying to use, with poor guiding/tracking and massive backlash issues.
- Sky-Watcher EQ6R Pro – The EQ6R pro is basically everything we like about the HEQ5 Pro but bigger, and with a belt mod upgrade essentially already done for you.
It can hold a bigger scope, and performs slightly better out of the box than the HEQ5 Pro even with smaller rigs. However, this mount is quite beefy and can be annoying or even back-breaking to transport and set up on a frequent basis, so unless you have the ability to leave your scope set up overnight, if you can fit it on the HEQ5 Pro we’d stick with the smaller Sky-Watcher mount.
- Celestron CGEM II – The CGEM II suffers from basically the same issues as the Advanced VX but is similar in size and capacity to the EQ6R Pro. Given the pricing of the two being identical we’d again recommend either the HEQ5 Pro or EQ6R Pro instead.
For visual astronomy or planetary imaging, where near-perfect tracking over hourlong periods is not required, the HEQ5 Pro is theoretically able to hold 30 pounds, which would equate to something like an 11” Schmidt-Cassegrain, 10” Newtonian, or 6” refractor.
In practice the HEQ5 Pro is limited to about 20 pounds or so; a 9.25” Schmidt-Cassegrain or 8” Newtonian is getting a bit wobbly as will a 5” refractor. For pleasing results, we’d recommend you go no larger than an 8” SCT, 7” Maksutov, 6” Newtonian or 4” refractor.
If you want to use a bigger scope, you need the EQ6R. An overmounted telescope may be a bit cumbersome, but an undermounted one is shaky and infuriating to use.
The HEQ5 Pro’s load capacity for imaging is limited to about 15 pounds, but this number depends on a few things – namely the focal length and design of your telescope.
A 6” Ritchey-Chretien or 8” SCT may seem fine weight-wise, but these scopes boast long focal lengths and thus struggle to maintain consistently accurate enough guiding (having tried a 6” RC on the HEQ5 Pro, we wouldn’t recommend it).
However, an 8” RASA or HyperStar, or a 6” f/4 Newtonian, will be just fine. For refractors, longer tubes also can be a bit more problematic; we’d recommend no larger than a 4” unit – some users have done okay with 115mm doublets but this is partly just luck.
Remember that the numbers stated here are including everything on your telescope, from the dew heaters to filters to finder/guide scopes. An 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain optical tube, for instance, weighs 13 pounds itself but is pretty much guaranteed to exceed 15 pounds with all the “junk” added by any conceivable imaging or visual setup; it’s likely to weigh closer to 20 pounds depending on what you put on it.
Polar Alignment with the HEQ5
The HEQ5 Pro comes with a built-in polar scope which you can use to polar align. Attaching a third-party polar alignment camera or polar aligning through drift alignment or other fancy software techniques is probably a good idea for serious imaging.
If you’re just getting started with the mount or simply don’t plan on using it for deep-sky astrophotography however, the HEQ5 Pro is really just fine with the included polar scope.
Polar aligning the mount with the scope just takes a few minutes, after which you’ll need to either align on a few stars (if using the hand controller) or start up your plate-solving software for astrophotography with a camera.
The HEQ5 Pro tends to be pretty accurate in its slewing when doing GoTos; the mount’s accuracy is dependent on basically three things:
- Polar alignment – This is critical for astrophotography anyway.
- Star alignment – This is required to use the GoTo system, but can be skipped for astrophotography if you have a plate-solving tool. Accurate star alignment can be difficult with bigger telescopes on the HEQ5 Pro.
- Balance – Heavier visual rigs can often have issues achieving perfect balance on the HEQ5 Pro, thanks to things like finders and eyepieces bearing an uneven load – leading to inaccuracies building up over time.
The HEQ5 Pro is much quieter than servo-driven mounts like those from Celestron, and uses a proper declination bearing making it much smoother and less prone to backlash.
The HEQ5 Pro does use standard metal gearing which can be prone to periodic error – a tiny back-and-forth motion of the mount swinging back and forth like a pendulum in right ascension due to irregularities in the gears – but it’s minimal.
You can easily adjust and lubricate the gearing yourself to reduce backlash, and it won’t strip over time. Belt mod kits are also available to further improve the tracking and guiding accuracy of the mount.
Power consumption is a concern with pretty much any motorized telescope mount, particularly those with GoTo. For casual imaging or visual use, a small lithium-ion battery (which could easily fit in a carry case and stick to the HEQ5’s flat sides or tripod legs) is sufficient.
For overnight imaging, however, you’ll want a large rechargeable 12v battery or to plug the HEQ5 Pro into a consistent AC power source.
The HEQ5 for Deep-Sky Astrophotography
The HEQ5 Pro is used by beginners and experienced users alike for good reason – it has a lot of capabilities, it’s portable, and it doesn’t cost a ton.
You can control the HEQ5 Pro with the included hand controller to get it lined up with your target the old-fashioned way, but this can be a difficult process if your object of interest is large, faint, or needs careful framing.
The hand controller can also be difficult to use for moving the mount in very small increments. Plugging in the mount to your PC and using EQMod will allow you to click buttons to make measured incremental adjustments to the positioning of your HEQ5 Pro in the sky.
Using a program like NINA or Sequence Generator Pro allows you to run your entire camera, PHD2 autoguiding setup, and the HEQ5 Pro itself from your computer and obviates the need to align the mount on stars and use the hand controller altogether, as well as doing troublesome tasks like meridian flips and moving on to new targets for you.
You can autoguide the HEQ5 Pro with either the standard ST4 port or through the serial port using NINA or Sequence Generator Pro (some users say the latter is a bit better than using the ST4, but it makes little difference to most people besides reducing the number of cluttered cables on your rig).
The author has successfully used a 76mm f/8 refractor for guided exposures up to 3 minutes long with 0.9-arcsec average guiding accuracy, and up to 60 seconds with a 6” f/9 Ritchey-Chretien.
The image below of the open star cluster NGC 7789 was taken with a Takahashi FC-76 with a Canon T3i, 200 30-second subframes, ISO 600 on an unmodified HEQ5 Pro. Guided with a ZWO ASI120MC, 250mm focal length guide scope.
Entire sequence was captured with NINA with no human operator standing by. Processed in PixInsight.
The HEQ5 Pro is a little light-duty for big telescopes where a smaller GoTo or manual alt-azimuth mount is probably more convenient; an 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain is about as big as you can go.
However, it’s quick to set up the HEQ5 and the SynScan controller is fairly easy to use. If you’re in a hurry, a coarse polar alignment and one-star alignment should do for viewing most bright targets and to get tracking to work well enough.
If you’re looking for a sturdy mount purely for visual use, however, a Celestron Advanced VX is a better choice with its heavier-duty tripod and simpler NexStar controller, and costs less too – though of course the HEQ5 Pro is vastly superior for astrophotography.
Skywatcher HEQ5 Pro Specs
Final Thoughts on the HEQ5 Pro
Overall, it’s hard not to like the HEQ5 Pro. Sky-Watcher has delivered a great mount at a great price.
We would recommend the HEQ5 Pro in a heartbeat if you are looking to:
- Get started in astrophotography with any reasonably sized instrument
- Support a medium-sized telescope for visual astronomy or planetary imaging, such as a 6-8” catadioptric or 4” refractor
We would not recommend the HEQ5 Pro if you want:
- The most stability for a visual-only mount for the price
- To use a telescope larger or heavier than an 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain
- To do photography with a telescope setup over 15 lbs/1400mm focal length
- A convenient mount for a visual-only small telescope
For most cases, though, the HEQ5 Pro mount is simply the best in its class, and provides unmatched capabilities for the price.