Data Updated: 15 November 2018
If you want to know how good our mounts are compared to everybody else's you've come to the right place. Or, if you're thinking about a new mount or tuning the one you have and need to decide. I try to update at least once or twice a month, to refine the data and add to it. This is truly independent customer data unless specified in one place. You can do your own research and please do, but none of this is skewed, as you'll find similar data elsewhere in online owner reviews. It has come to light that some keyboard warriors on several forums world wide are disputing this data. DYOR, and you'll find that this data is real and quite accurate. We have also conducted our own tests with our own specially developed test rig, which we use for tuning QC/QA and modelling solutions. Data is all and it serves no purpose at all to mislead with inaccurate data. If you think any mount is misprepresented here, please e-mail and let me know. I'm sure we're all interested in real-world results, not factory claims.
Not just hypertuned mounts either, (as no other 'tuner' seems to publish any data for comparison to stock mount on this scale...), but ALL equatorial mounts and compare them online. It makes it easier when making decisions about which one to buy, or whether to tune your mount. Is it that easy? Of course not, this is Astronomy! I have included the native periodic error too, as this is causing the most consternation amongst some owners. The claim is that this figure is the true mark of the potential of a mount from a quality perspective in terms of build and assembly, and that less mounts don't make the grade. Most people guide though with these mounts. Top of the tree are the Paramount's with a guaranteed 7 arc-seconds RMS (±3.8 arcsec) across their range, although our StellarDrive 6's now match or exceed this...
Now let us manage a little expectation here and a disclaimer. Pretty much any well set up EQ mount that can guide via an ST4 port 'should' guide when properly set up down to less than 2-3 arcseconds, which discussed elsewhere is enough for longer exposures under UK skies. Well, under any skies actually. Oh, it needs to do it with your telescope of choice, with a DLSR or CCD/CMOS, guidescope and guide camera or OAG. Your Imaging Pixel Scale dictates all. No point having a mount that can't achieve balance, or track erratically or worse than your imaging pixel scale. With guiding, some mounts are more equal than others when achieving this. Yes, you should also get what you pay for. If you can balance and polar align precisely, then you are halfway there. sadly, this isnt always the case.
All the information supplied is independent owner averages, real-world data unless stated. Your mileage will vary. But before you beat up on your dealer/manufacturer (or us!) for supplying a lemon of a mount, and it is statistically likely it won't be, it's down to you to demonstrate it as fact with some tests yourself. So, if your mount doesn't do as stated, check your set up first. On a good night, it should be in the realm of what you see in the tables. If it's 0.3 of an arc-second or so off, that isn't the time to launch off with a flurry of forum posts or lawyers letters to fix it. Work with your supplier. Mounts benefit from running and good practice. If you're guiding or just tracking within or under your limits of seeing, then you are doing really good. Everything comes into play, for long exposure - Polar Alignment, Focus, lubrication and wear, Age of mount, Balance, Guide setup, backlash even voltage! That's 13.8v/3 amps dedicated power supply for you EQ6'ers by the way, not a laptop adapter...
The common rule of thumb is to take off 1/2 to a 1/3 of the stated maximum payload of a low-end mount, especially if you're astro-imaging. S'not fair you cry! But it makes sense. Sort of. This applies to any low-end worm-driven EQ mount, and should typically be set up slightly east-heavy to provide the mount with an attitude of a controlled fall, so that the RA motor is dictating that precise movement. Most low-end mounts are not fully optimised. Your guider is looking at a star dictates sidereal movement, that your motor corrects to. Our tuned mounts can run at full payload and still be sub-arcsecond. It really is down to the build quality control in all cases.
Have a read of this data table: http://lambermont.dyndns.org/astro/pe.html
This list which has been around for awhile lists over 120 mounts stated and independently quoted via owners and forums. It's not quite up to date but illustrates cost in Euros, Payload (max), Period Error (PE) and after PEC training or other control. There's no quoted guide performance here as it doesn't account for that, but useful none the less. If you mount isn't in the tables below then try here.
So why is guiding such a mixed bag? Guiding is needed for exposures longer than 60 sec and EQ mount with a lens or telescope over 400mm focal length. The best I got unguided was 8 mins unguided at 320mm fl lens and Canon EOS450D on a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, and also using an AstroTrac TT320X-AG. However, that's because it's light and my Polar Alignment was god-like (it normally is, but I also have to work on my modesty), after 15 minutes of tweaking. Start using a small 70mm refractor even at f4.8, or a 150mm f5 Newtonian and it will start to fall apart quite quickly. Auto-guide and your exposures are transformed from 1 minute to 5, 10 or even 20 minute exposures. As you do this your signal to noise ratio drops, and you are rewarded with more detail and resolution as you gather more of those much travelled photons. However, weather dictates all. Seeing is the speed limiter on this visual highway. Pixel Scale affects all of this...
But your mount is now having to work harder when guiding. Remember all mounts should be able to guide down to 2 arcsecs? Heck, even a well tuned EQ5 will guide down to 0.64 arcsec RMS with a lot of practice and fettling, https://stargazerslounge.com/topic/243782-expectations-with-guiding/ ) so what's the deal with these more expensive mounts?
Short answer: Payload and Focal Length vs Exposure for reliable imaging.
If you read the above thread then 10 minutes tracking means that you can guide forever? Well, your skies will ultimately dictate that, but your mount has to track the sky, not for 10 minutes but for a few hours if you want to gather enough meaningful image data to create those amazing images. 4 Hours is usually what most pro-imagers say is the minimum. That's where reliability comes in and the closer you get to the limit, then the less more critical your balancing will need to be as your telescope changes orientation. We load test our tuned mounts to ensure that the mount is operating to how you use it. It means the performance will be consistent as you will be guiding for longer. Every time you use it.
The venerable HEQ5 and NEQ6 are seen as the benchmark EQ mounts upon which all others are judged. As well as our reference mounts our customers send us regular data, so not is this only independent, they paid to find out how good their mounts are improved, and they usually had data before and after so here it is as an average in a table.
The PE Factory/guided values are out-of-the-box as independently published on the Internet and customer supplied. The first figure is the peak-to-peak unguided figures for the respective mounts, the second under PHD2, then the third is the overall RMS. Home Modded, is usually owner modified mounts, run via PHD2. DarkFrame tuned data are either our own or customer Reference EQ Mounts. We have verifying RA values further, as we have acquired a Telescope Drive Master system and a range of adapter to test and tune various mounts, using PecPrep, to see what's going on under the hood. This system can reduce the PE (in RA only) down to just 1.4 RMS arcseconds on an EQ6. Mounts like Avalon, Paramount, MESU and 10Micron (Table 3) are by their nature a better engineered platform with unguided periodic error figures typically into single figures that may match a TDM (Telescope Drive Master) Adapter, for the ultimate unguided performance.
How do I makes sense of all this data?
Some mounts are more equal than others. So think of it like a racing car, where 1/100th of a second determine Pole Position and second place. The simplest example is how we evolved our EQ6 mounts. They've gone down from tracking 0.39 Arcseconds (HEQ5) and just 0.16 Arcseconds RMS (NEQ6) in our latest StellarDrive builds. Doesn't sound much but it equates to 72% more accurate guided tracking. Remember, you're tracking a star light years away so the movement is so tiny you can barely see it, it's less than the twinkling of a star in fact. That's more than double the performance of our previous EQ6 rebuild. So at this level, reliable consistent and accurate tracking is all both guided and unguided. It's how easy you can access that performance consistently which is just as important.
Image: Cropped Single Frame 72mm WO Megrez 72+0.8xFRIII (537mm focal length) modded EOS450D ISO100 3600secs on DarkFrame Hypertuned HEQ5 guided with QHY5L-II mono with 50mm WO Guide scope. On Dual bar with WO ZS71/EOS40D Guided Payload 9KG ©2016 David Woods/DarkFrame Ltd
Table 1 (15/11/18) EQ Sky-watcher - Arc-second Unguided/Guided Performance over 300 second exposures
|Sky-watcher Mount||Payload Kg||±PE Factory||±PE Home Modded||±PE DarkFrame Tuned**||Tested Payload Kg||@Focal length|
|AZ EQ6 GT||20/18*||10-15/2**||28/0.8**||7/2.0/0.3-0.5^^||22/25||2000mm|
Key: *Recommended Imaging Payload **Avg Guided RMS (Customer supplied- StellarDrive) @Focal length (tested OTA's on reference mounts/customer data) *** Build Type: 6.5.5 (Flat Earth) ^^ Build Type: 6.3.x (Bonneville)
Table 1.1 (18/12/17) Maximum exposure time vs dropped frames (4 hour session @900sec)
|Sky-watcher Mount||Payload Kg||Dropped Frames**||Unguided Exp**||DarkFrame Dropped Frames**||Guided Exp**||@Focal length|
|Star Adventurer||5+3||25-70%* (@4kg)||600 sec||Unguided<10% <5% (guided only)***||900 sec***||537mm|
|EQ5||9/6*||30-60%**||600 sec||Unguided<10% <5% (guided only)**||900 sec||500mm|
|HEQ5||18/12*||10-40%**||600 sec||5-10% (Gen1) 0% (Gen2)||3600 sec***||537mm|
|(n)EQ6||25/18*||10-20%**||600 sec||<5% (Gen0) 0% (Gen2)||3600 sec***||2000mm|
|AZ EQ6 GT||25/18*||10-20%**||600 sec||<5% (Gen0) 0% (Gen2)||2700 sec***||3200mm|
|EQ8||25/18*||5-10%**||no data||>1%||1800 sec||1600mm|
Key: *Recommended Imaging Payload **Avg Customer Data ***tested OTA's on Reference Mounts to Bonneville Build Type v6.3.x
Table 2: (12/06/2018) EQ iOptron - Arc-second Unguided/Guided Performance over 300 second exposures
|iOptron EQ Mounts||Payload Kg||Factory ±PE||Owner/Tested**||DarkFrame Tuned||Test Payload||@Focal Length||Max Exp|
Key: **Avg Guided RMS (Customer supplied) @Focal length (tested OTA's on reference mounts/customer data)
Table 2.1 (18/10/2018 EQ Celestron Arc-second - Unguided/Guided Performance over 300 second exposures
|Celestron EQ Mounts||Payload Kg||Factory ±PE||Owner/Tested**||DarkFrame Tuned||Test Payload||@Focal Length||Max Exp|
|CGem DX||22||15/>2||15/1.1||8/0.6||16**||1000mm||900 sec|
|CGE Pro||25||30/>2||no data||26/0.8||15**||1000mm||600 sec|
Key: **Avg Guided RMS (Customer supplied) @Focal length (tested OTA's on reference mounts/customer data)
Table 2.2 (15/11/2018) EQ Capable Meade mounts - Arc-second Unguided/Guided Performance over 300 second exposures
|Meade EQ Mounts||Payload Kg||Factory ±PE||Owner/Tested**||Test Payload||@Focal Length||Max Exp|
|LX600*||40*||Awaiting data||Awaiting data||--||2032mm||600 secs|
|LX850||40||In test||In test||--||2845mm (14")||900 secs|
Key: *With EQ Wedge **Avg Guided RMS (Customer supplied) @Focal length (tested OTA's on customer data) More data please!!!
Table 3 (18/10/2018) Higher end EQ mounts Arc-second Unguided/Guided PE Performance
|Manufacturer||±Native PE (RMS)*||PEC^||
|Guided RMS**||Max Payload||Cost|
|Pierro Astro EVO6||8||1.6||2.2*||0.6*||20kg||£2250|
|Celestron CGX-L||5-10 (mfrs*)||n/a||tba||tba||34kg||£3650|
|Celestron CGX||5-10 (mfrs*)||n/a||1.5*||0.25*||25kg||£2350|
|iOptron CEM60||4-6* (mfrs*)||n/a||2.0*||0.42*||30kg||£1800|
|iOptron CEM120||4-6* (mfrs*)||n/a||1.5*||0.4*||52kg||£3400|
|Takahashi EM200 Tekka II||7||1.4||3.2*||0.25*||18kg||£5300|
|DarkFrame NEQ6 (6.3.x)||7.5 (±28 ∆)||1.4||2.0 (5.9)∆||0.4* (1.5)∆||20Kg*||£499|
|DarkFrame AZEQ6GT (6.3.x)||7.5 (±25 ∆)||1.4||1.0*(6.5)∆||0.25* (0.8)∆||20.3Kg*||£529|
|StellarDrive 6 Series||3.0-7.5*||1.4||>1.0*||0.16-0.5**||25kg*||£799|
Key: *Customer/Test data ^PemPro/PPEC/TDM **PHD Data ∆ (stock)
Have a read of this data table for other brands and models: http://lambermont.dyndns.org/astro/pe.html
Table 3 is a new table This answers the question concerning real Periodic Error (PE) performance. This data will make you think: Why bother buying a more expensive mount? Well, as you can see they do offer serious performance. For a serious price. The limiting factor is our wonderful UK Skies. If you are thinking your needs are more than your EQ6 can handle, start saving. Payload is the biggest advantage these more expensive models offer as well as amazing design and build quality. What is interesting is that our mount Bonneville EQ6 rebuilds meet the Pierro Astro EVO6 head-on with similar PE of circa ±8 arcsecs. The equivalent EVO6 has impressive performance from a geared platform, and with a precision RA worm gear. Ours though is with the stock worm gear. StellarDrive's have precision worm-gears in both axis that take the periodic error circa ±5 arc-sec and matches the Takahashi EM200 of which it is an almost copy of. It also means that a StellarDrive 6 GT can image sub-arcsecond at full 25Kg payload, instead of deducting 7Kg for a stock mount. The EQ6 version is still a little lower 20Kg due to its geometry, and build.
What is proven beyond any doubt is that we have defined that tuning your mount works, but ultimately there is a limit The data proves this fact. Now, the skeptics among you have doubted this, but this is fact over opinion. Mount tuning was always seen as a slightly dubious affair, but these results prove there is now a genuine alternative, that allows you to access more of the Deep Sky at lower cost.
The previous upgrade path of jumping from an EQ6 straight to an Avalon/Mesu 200 solution is now thrown sharply into focus. It isn't always needed, unless you plan for bigger telescopes. There's more choice in the middle now. I've added the new Celestron CGX, CGX-L, Skywatcher EQ8, and the iOptron CEM60, as they are newer intermediate class of mount, and all £1800+. We await the new OGEM mount with interest. Our StellarDrive 6 is a the well-known Sky-watcher based platform that meets that higher end mount performance envelope at a ground breaking price below all of these, with aerospace grade components such as our SPX Worm-gears in both axis. Just as accurate and much cheaper.
We have had to recall and validate several customer mounts (at our own expense) with 60 minute single images, because they doubted the capability of our mounts. We found nothing wrong. We did this under warranty, which means our mounts have proven to be very reliable tracking platforms. In fact, latest data illustrates this with 0.99 arcsec per minute drift, at 5000mm (5 meters) focal length on Jupiter and just 0.66 arcsec/min sidereal. Unguided.
We took several customer tuned mounts with similar 4000-5000mm focal lengths and ran the same tests on Jupiter and Sidereal, and came back with equally similar results. We're still testing, as the less than 2 pixel per minute drift (@ 0.36arcsec/pixel) on sidereal means we can in the future calculate an unguided exposure vs focal length... Our custom made test rigs can now ensure that all mounts that ship from our workshops are optimised. This also means we can test and model new solutions.
However, as illustrated in these tables it proves that your existing Sky-watcher can be brought up to date and refreshed very cost effectively, to match other EQ mounts costing at least £1200-£4000 more from new. Importantly, our mounts are much more reliable (and quieter) over longer exposures than a factory mount, because they have been setup and optimised individually. Data on our latest "Bonneville" Build Type v6.3.x with its enhanced build package improve guided performance by up to 0.3 of an arc-second over the previous build type (Flat Earth), and at least twice as good as any Rowan Belt Kit install you'd attempt yourself. All of this contributes to more reliable imaging, even in poorer seeing conditions. It's not just all down to the figures though. Like any mount, it's how well they are made. That is what you are paying for, and the high end mounts are worthy of such distinction.
I have both Celestron and iOptron tables updating as an ongoing basis as well. We have enough comparable independent customer data to publish built up over the past three years to go with the above, but less PHD2 data than we would like on tuned mounts. We have also started modifying more of these mounts which in time formulates a viable Build Type, for consistent production values. Also my research online to find more comparable data is also added in to the median values stated. Please send any guide data you have on your mount especially Meade/Celestron, and I'd be happy to add it to the tables so that others can make more informed buying decisions.
You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org for truly unbiased advice or to help add to this data.
Hope you find the above useful.
E&OE ©2018 David Woods/DarkFrame Ltd. None of this data or content is to be re-published without the owners consent. All Rights Reserved.