As the largest mount re-tuner in Europe we don't hold any affiliation to any manufacturer. Thewhole point of this review is to give you the pros and cons of each mount, which is what any of us would do if making a buying decision. The advantage we have is that I've rebuilt, refurbished and hypertuned all these mounts many times over.In my last Editorial I wrote about the longevity of mounts and why you need to get them serviced.Now we look at the real world performance and use of these very popular mounts.Many people migrate from SkyWatchers venerable EQ3-2 or EQ5 to either an HEQ5 or (N)EQ6.This is a logical upgrade path for many, while some people start out with Celestrons CG5-GTreplacement - the AVX. The newest kid on the block is an updated version of the ever popular EQ6 – the EQ6R. Is it an evolution of this ubiquitous classic or does it really offer something new. Read on.......The SkyWatcher HEQ5 is in many respects a smaller version of the EQ6 mount which itself was introduced back in 2001. World wide the EQ6/Orion Atlas Pro has become the benchmark forimaging mounts around this price range. The HEQ5 is often touted as the sweeter tracking of the two but in many respects the EQ6 doesn't just outperform the HEQ5 in terms of payload, it's more responsive to tuning as well.A lot of HEQ5 owners previously owned the smaller EQ5 brother, and probably became quitefrustrated when trying to image with their 8” 200P Newtonian. The EQ6 is by far the more capable mount in terms of payload, but is much heaver to lug around than the HEQ5!
If you're thinking of sticking to smaller telescopes then the Celestron AVX and SkyWatcher HEQ5 are quite similar, with a sweet spot of about 11kg to 13kg payload in stock trim. This isn't too far behind the EQ6 which, rated at 20kg visual use, is advised as being half to two-thirds this figure for imaging use! This is where all these mounts start to differ. The geometry of the mounts as well as their architecture is fundamental to how they run. While we all trawl through the online reviews this is something that is often overlooked.Certain mount designs are far better at coping with various payloads and moment arm issues than others. Like bicycle frames that are designed for different riding styles, the geometry affects how the telescope is driven by a mount and this is an important consideration, especially if you are using or planning to use long, large telescopes like 150mm Refractors or 10” Newtonians. SCT's or compound scopes have their mass at the other end of the tube and while the AVX can run a C11 SCT it won't be very good for any long exposure imaging required for long focal length deep sky work. You're simply going to need to look at the next class up. However, for planetary work andshort burst imaging it's fine.For the AVX the C9.25 is probably the best out of the 3 sizes you can use – be warned though, thatstrangely Celestron don't offer a 0.63 Flattener /Reducer, as they do for their other SCT's.If you're looking at any telescope for long exposure over three minutes or 750mm focal length, then guiding will come into the equation and the payload for this can range from, sensibly, 0.5kg to 3kg, depending on the ratio between your guide scope and CCD compared to your imaging setup for the main scope. Most people get this bit wrong, and I'll be explaining this in greater depth in a future article.But basically – if you have a small guide scope with a focal length of less than 200mm and the wrong CCD you could be trying to guide at say – 9 Arc seconds per pixel. That's just too clumsywhen your telescope may have a imaging scale of perhaps 0.36 of an Arc second at 5000mm focal length. It should be 4-6x difference at most.Now – back to the HEQ5 and AVX. The HEQ5 can be belt driven but even with properly adjusted drive gears it outperforms the AVX. There are several reasons for this, but apart from it's moreaccurate and more 'torquey' stepper motors, the AVX still relies on a stacked reduction gearbox on top of servo motors whose torque is more limited. That's not to say it's an inferior product but the mount requires more careful balancing in setting up and this is where the flaw of most mounts lie – stiction.Car engines have become more efficient over the past 20 year as engineers worked to extract more performance and economy for them. This is the thing that most amateur mount tuners try to do, by using lithium or teflon greases with varying degrees of success. Because of the mounts median build they have to use thicker greases, and remember they're being built to a price point. We spend 4 – 6 hours rebuilding a mount, this would simply not be economic on a production line.
Interestingly, I've found that most Celestron users who end up with an AVX, don't really guide with them. As we get very little data from our Celestron customer base. I think this is because when youlook at the average pricing, the benchmark EQ6/Altas Pro is almost a 'halo' product whereby people looking to get into imaging bought what 'other' people bought. It's that VHS vs Betamax moment but it's not! The £1000 price point for the EQ6 is still the measurement by which all others arejudged. All the way to the top it seems.Celestron only have the AVX and their new, refreshed CGEM-II mounts, which eerily share same similarities with the new EQ6-R, but in reality they are different. So you can see how SkyWatcher dominate this arena with a greater choice of products, and a loyal following.. What Celestron should have concentrated on was an EQ mount at a price point in between the AVX and the CGEM. But instead they went chasing the EQ8. It's very difficult to produce accurate mounts from scratch at the low end part of the market, it makes more sense for most manufacturers to concentrate their efforts on lower volume/higher profit items. You can't decry any manufacturer for wanting to do that.
If you look at iOptron, who entered the market quite late with superior build quality and wellthought out products, they demonstrate that they can make an impact in the marketplace but it requires huge resources to do so. However, the volume of SkyWatcher products out there means that it's still a very tough nut to crack. People buy at cost over performance at the end of day.So what about the EQ6-R? Sporting their new green and white livery, this is seen as an essential update to the ever popular EQ6 albeit at a higher price point Because of the rise in belt tuning and modification Celestron have responded to customer feedback
and sorted out a number of issues that plague most of the SkyWatchers designs. This is the one of the 'bendy' latitude bolts. There have been several fixes for this including case hardened bolts (which incidentally can still strip out the threads!) to the pricey EQ6 Wedge and now there's Bodai-Global's simple, yet effective, EQ6 Rail at half the price.The Rowan Belt Kit mod, which improves the mount, opened the opportunity for people to improve the EQ6. SkyWatchers belt driven EQ6-R potentially offers greater performance over the EQ6 but again it's built to a build level which is easy to remain consistent on a production line.Below is a table of comparison of unguided PE data of the four main SkyWatcher mounts:
However, the figures don't tell the whole story. The EQ6 is a proven design, loosely based on theTakahashi EM200. The EQ6-R is an evolution of this so will perform very similarly to a belt driven EQ6. The AZEQ6GT, for completeness, should sit in between these two but is actually better for slightly heavier payloads and larger telescopes. The EQ6-R is being positioned as a better product than the EQ6, but leaving the marketing aside there's not much in it in reality. With ultimately your skies being the limiting factor.
So which one should I buy? Well first off – you may say that the HEQ5 wins hands down, but actually that's not quite right. If you buy into the whole Celestron eco system then as a solution the AVX works really well but the stiction problems that it suffers from makes balancing difficult tooptimise and the inherent issues with the drive train would make you think that it can't do longer exposures – but for European skies at least it's more than adequate.Most AVX's are bought as part of a package with a telescope, by far the best combination would be the 80ED for wide field imaging or the Edge HD8 for planetary work. Either one of these options will provide you a useful imaging platform. Most people getting into imaging are usually targeting 3 – 8 minutes guided because at shorter focal lengths (read wide field imaging) this is easier to do and with less sensitive DSLRs light pollution is less of an issue to overcome when editing. Some of the pro-imagers,who built their reputationsusing EQ6's over the past 10 years will image at 10 – 30 minutes, often using long focal length and/or narrow band imaging. You simply can't do this with an AVX.
A similar usage for imaging is also bestowed upon the HEQ5 but because of the EQ6's reputation some more serious imagers didn't upsize to the EQ6 and focused on portability instead. Like any EQ mount payload is all, so I would not recommend any lengthy imaging with any scopes over 8” with a stock mount. Once tuned AZEQ6GT's can run 10” LX200 up to 30 minutes very reliably – far better then an EQ6 can. It's purely down to geometry.So where does this leave the EQ6-R?The EQ6-R comes from a great stable of provenmounts, and time will tell if it can take the EQ6'scrown. It is uses a tried and trusted formula that keep Sky-watcher in the limelight. However, with prices in the UK lower than in the rest of Europe and the fact that our imaging community here in the UK. at least, is highly discerning when it comes to mount performance, I can't see how the EQ6 will be usurped by it's newer, more sophisticated brother any time soon, unless the EQ6-R drops even further in price by about 20%, which is unlikely.
In conclusion –If this is a four horse race then we are looking at a photo finish, ironically. The AVX does trail the HEQ5 in terms of capability when it comes to imaging, in part because it's been around longer and is a proven thoroughbred just like the bigger EQ6. The AZEQ6GT when launched wasn't without it's teething troubles but there's no reason why the EQ6-R can't be the best mid-range mount that SkyWatcher has made.This leaves the EQ6 still leading the pack in some respects but it's no three-legged horse. It's a few hundred pounds cheaper than the EQ6-R and lighter too, and when you can afford it you can upgrade the mount to out perform a stock EQ6-R or to match it at the very least with a Hypertune.The EQ6-R also has room for improvement, but less so than the EQ6. If you don't want to messaround with your mount later on then there's very little that you need to do with an EQ6-R, and wins by a nose.
The HEQ5 is the lighter more useful option over the other two, and when teamed with a small refractor, can offer a very rewarding imaging and easy-to-live with rig. The AVX, is a more less racy version, and is fine for the casual imager and far from a regrettable purchase. It just needs understanding to get the best out of it. If you know what you are doing, then it is more than adequate for most imagers needs. Just don't overload it, balance it properly and it's a worthy steed.Like all purchases it's down to economics. If you already have an ageing EQ6 and can afford it, an EQ6-R is your logical choice. If you want something smaller then the HEQ5 is potentially a better buy than the AVX if you want to do more than say 60% imaging. The Celestron scores highly on it's goto pointing ability but once you add GPS and a QHY Polemaster to any of these telescopes then they are virtually all the same.Whichever mount you choose, think carefully about your longer term purchases regardingtelescopes and the sort of Astronomy imaging you'd like to do, and you'll have a mount that will serve your well.