iOptron SkyTracker

Every saga has a beginning…

One of the photographic projects on my to-do list is to shoot some time lapse where the stars remain fixed, and the foreground rotates with the spin of the Earth. This could be done in software (though not trivially, as it requires rotating about an arbitrary point that may not be in frame), but I think it’s more elegant to do it in camera. That requires an equatorial mount, of the kind commonly used for telescopes, which aligns to the north celestial pole and rotates to track the sky. Unfortunately telescope mounts are generally heavy and cumbersome, and ill suited to carting into the backcountry. I was delighted, then, to learn of the existence of the iOptron SkyTracker, a lightweight battery powered mount designed specifically for astrophotography with a DSLR. Back in October I ordered one as a birthday present to myself, though between work and various trips it’s taken till now to find time to start experimenting.

iOptron Sky tracker

There’s not much I can usefully say about the device itself. Michael Reichmann has written an excellent review, and based on my own brief experience to date it is indeed a quality piece of kit. My own setup is shown above: the SkyTracker is mounted directly to the tripod, my Arca Swiss ballhead is mounted to the Skytracker, and the camera is mounted to that. It all sounds a bit precarious, but although the SkyTracker is fairly light it’s still reassuringly solid and the chain of equipment holds the camera without problem.

Common sense suggests that before deploying equipment in cold, dark and remote locations, it’s best to shake out the bugs in slightly less cold and dark spots that are closer to home. With that in mind, I drove ten minutes up to Chautauqua tonight to shoot the Flatirons under an almost full moon. Here’s what I captured (click for the video).

flatirons

For a first effort I’m reasonably pleased. It was straightforward to set up, and even with a very rough “by eye” alignment to the pole star it tracked the stars pretty reasonably. Come the new year, there’s no excuse not to get out there and start work…

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