When it comes to choosing a telescope most potential buyers tend to concentrate on the optical tube assembly of itself. The telescope mount can often get completely overlooked, especially by the novice or someone buying a telescope as a present.
However, as any experienced amateur astronomer will know the mounting that the telescope is on is every bit as important as the telescope optical tube assembly itself. A telescope mounted upon a flimsy or poor quality mount can render the telescope hugely frustrating to use and many cheap department store offerings sadly fall into this category.
Luckily today we have a wide and varied range of telescope mounts available at every price point. From basic manual alt-azimuth mounts to fully computerized go-to equatorials, there is something to suit every experience and budget level.
There are also many portable mount options available for those who do not have a permanent observing site. In this article, we look at six different mounts currently on offer from basic low-cost designs to sophisticated mounts that can be used for long-exposure astrophotography.
What type of mount should I buy?
Telescope mounts come in a wide variety of designs. The most common types are: Alt-azimuth, German equatorial, Fork mounted equatorial and Dobsonian. See our summary at the bottom of this page to discover how each mount varies and what they're best for.
All of these types can be offered in manual, motorized, or computerized formats. The best choice depends upon your own observing requirements. For example, a manual mount such as a low-cost Dobsonian would be ideal for visual observing. For astrophotography, a motorized or computerized equatorial mount is desirable.(opens in new tab)
Sky-Watcher's EQ-5 mount has long been used by amateur astronomers worldwide. Its modest size, low cost and array of features have made it among the most popular small telescope mounts ever produced. It is one of the most popular entry-level equatorial mounts on the market. The EQ-5 also comes as part of many small telescope packages offering the option to purchase a complete telescope with a proper astronomical mounting.
Above is featured the manual version, but for an additional cost dual-axis motor drives can be added enabling a great platform with which to venture into trying astrophotography. An optional polar scope is also available for fast and accurate polar alignment. The EQ-5 is a highly capable portable mount and is easily capable of holding most small telescope tubes up to around 20cm aperture.(opens in new tab)
The fully computerized version of Sky-Watcher's EQ5 mount represents a great mount to venture into the world of astrophotography with. Along with dual axis motor drives, it offers full go-to capability with a large object database. Multiple tracking rates are also available as is an autoguider port for long-exposure deep-sky imaging.
The EQ-5 performs best of all with small telescope tubes. Refractors below 5-inches (13cm) and reflectors below 8-inches (20cm) are the best fit for this mount. For example, it is perfectly capable of providing a solid platform for the highly popular 8-inch (20cm) Schmidt Cassegrain telescope. The EQ-5 is also highly portable and is an ideal choice for those without a permanent observing site.(opens in new tab)
Celestron's Advanced VX mount is a modern revision of their popular CG-5 mount and a direct competitor to the Sky-Watcher EQ-5. It offers an array of advanced features and a slightly increased payload capacity meaning larger optical tubes can be used. For example, Celestron offers this mount as part of a package with their popular C8 Schmidt Cassegrain for which it is well suited.
The slewing and tracking accuracy of the VX mount is also impressive and the control system is very user-friendly and easy to get to grips with. The polar alignment method available using the telescope software is easily accomplished and results in accurate alignment. Overall the VX mount is a great platform for most small telescopes and is one of the best available at its price point.
The Celestron Heavy Duty Alt-Azimuth tripod is an ideal entry-level mounting for binoculars or small telescopes. It offers manual slow-motion controls for fine adjustments and its standard camera tripod mounting bracket allows quick attachment of many small telescopes, binoculars or cameras.
Though the simplest entry of the six mounts we look at here, it's a sturdy and solid tripod that will nicely hold a small telescope in the 3-inch to 5-inch (7-13cm) aperture range. The addition of slow-motion controls is useful, especially for observing objects at higher magnifications. Overall, this is a nice low-cost mount for those just starting out, or anyone looking for a quick 'grab and go' mount for a small telescope or binoculars.(opens in new tab)
The AZ-EQ6GT mount is the latest incarnation of Skywatcher's much-used EQ6 mount. This mount has proven hugely popular over the past two decades, and this latest version offers some great features. The ability to operate in either equatorial or alt-azimuth works well and its decent payload capacity means many different telescopes can be mounted to it.
The mount also has a neat feature of the user being able to move the telescope around manually without the mount losing its positional information meaning it can be slewed using the motors or pushed by hand. The quote payload capacity is impressive and well above the entry-level mounts such as the EQ-5. The EQ-6, in any form, is a great choice for the more serious amateur astronomer and this latest version is a great addition.(opens in new tab)
The Losmandy G-11 mount is one of the most popular serious telescope mounts of the past few decades. Its superb build quality and great performance has garnered a loyal following over the years. The latest version offers dual-axis go-to slewing via the Gemini 2 system. It can also carry larger telescopes and is an ideal platform for serious astrophotographers.
Having been a long-time owner and user of the G-11 mount its flexibility, performance and build quality put it among the best serious mounts available. You can also order the mount with a high-quality polar alignment scope which allows fast and very accurate alignment for those who do not have a permanent observing site. Overall, a superb choice for the more serious or experienced observer.
There are different mounts to account for different types of skywatching and stargazing techniques, each with their own unique uses. Alt-azimuth mounts are the most basic, offering a design whereby the telescope is moved in a horizontal or vertical motion to locate objects. These mounts can come in either manual or computerized formats. Typically most Dobsonian's are manual alt-azimuth mounts with fork-mounted Schmidt Cassegrains being computerized alt-azimuth.
The German equatorial mount is probably the most popular telescope mount design for amateur size telescopes. The equatorial mount compensates for Earth's rotation by having one axis aligned to the celestial pole allowing a motor drive to move the telescope in sync with the apparent motion of the night sky. This allows the telescope to keep track of any celestial target for long periods allowing astrophotography to be attempted.
The fork-mounted equatorial is often found these days as an option for computerized Schmidt Cassegrain whereby the fork-mounted telescope will sit on a wedge allowing it to be aligned to the celestial pole.
This type of mounting is a variation on the alt-azimuth design specially for Newtonian reflecting telescopes. These are available in simple manual push-pull design or fully computerized with object tracking and go-to.
As mentioned above the type of mount you require will depend upon exactly what you want to do, but there are a few rules that apply regardless of the mount you choose. Those are:
Make sure the mount is not seriously under-sized for the telescope it carries. Unstable mounts can be hugely frustrating. Don't choose something way above your knowledge/experience level. Once again you'll likely end up frustrated. When buying the mount and telescope separately don't spend 90% of your budget on the telescope and the remaining 10% on the mount. A good mount that matches the size and weight of the telescope is important.