Casually observing the wonders of the cosmos with a small, light telescope – the type most budding star gazers will have cut their astronomical teeth on – will require little or no thought to the capabilities of the mount it sits on. But chances are, if you were bitten hard enough by this 400 year old practice of telescopic observation, you started to crave bigger and heavier scopes capable of smoother and more accurate tracking; it is at this point that the inescapable necessity of a stronger, sturdier tripod with a more robust mount becomes clear.
The HEQ-5 from Skywatcher is a modest £350 and for that price you get an incredible balance between affordability and practicality. With a maximum load capacity of 39.6lbs (300 percent that of the EQ3-2, a popular beginners mount) the HEQ-5 will take a 10″ Newtonian although this will be on the very limits for the mount. For astrophotography you may want to consider lowering the weight, possibly going no higher than 20lbs or so. The less weight present, the more accurate the tracking; this is preferred in visual observation but essential for effective astrophotography.
For such an effective mount the HEQ-5 remains quite light, 33lbs in total with 2 counterweights at just over 11lbs each bringing it to 55lbs when fully set up. This makes it a very attractive mount to those who need to travel distance to get to darker skies.
Each tripod leg can be extended by 24cm and locked into place with a simple black hand screw, curiously though there is no built in spirit level; I am unsure as to the reason for this seemingly deliberate omission but as perfect polar alignment can be achieved even when the mount is uneven it’s not the end of the world.
Practically the mount is extremely competent and above all consistent, even when pushed to capacity. Tracking is rendered effortless by the built in right ascension and declination control, using a system of gears to gently move the telescope hands free, in all directions. A simple hand control provides an easy and intuitive means to centre objects and (depending on the accuracy of your polar alignment) keep them centered for hours.
When all this is considered alongside its stylish, elegant black finish and convenient circular eyepiece holder the HEQ-5 should be the first port of call for any astronomer considering portability, cost and most importantly performance.