Orion has dominated telescope sales for many years, and are indisputably a giant in the industry. But how does the Atlas Pro AZ/EQ-G mount fair? Is it worth the hype, and the money, or are you better off settling for a more budget-friendly model? Here is a comprehensive overview and some tips before you buy it.
Avid astronomers may have heard of Orion’s Atlas EQ-G Equatorial mount– a popular model that reigned as a standard for almost a decade. This mount, the Atlas Pro AZ/EQ-G, is its official upgrade. It is safe to say that it is the new and improved version, with many additional or enhanced features that the previous model lacks. It is likely that the Atlas Pro will come to replace the former as a favorite and many astronomers predict inevitable success. So what is all the fuss about?
The Atlas Pro is a dual mount that you can operate in two different modes: GoTo Equatorial for a single telescope, or GoTo Alt-azimuth if you install two telescopes to the mount. It is a computerized mount that you can control with a hand controller and PC; or even your iOS smart device with the right components.
Upgraded features include improved latitude adjustment, right ascension, and declination, each serving more accurate alignment. This mount also has a wider counterweight shaft at 1 inch in diameter, which is also retractable and features thread-on extension. It is also lighter than the previous version but can hold up to 44 pounds on each side if you are operating the mount in its GoTo Alt-azimuth mode with two optical tubes attached.
The tripod and mount head together weigh 51 pounds and can be considered heavy duty. For ease of use and greater portability, they easily detach from each other. Another noteworthy feature is the dual-width dovetail saddle that is compatible with both Vixen and Losmandy plates. Orion has also thrown in a second dovetail saddle for use in GoTo Alt-azimuth mode while operating two different telescopes.
Its drive system has also been enhanced. There are more than 42,000 objects included in its database, and the Atlas Pro is accurate 0.1436 arc-second steps. The instrument is smarter than a lot of other telescope mounts too, thanks to its closed-loop electronics and two encoders per axis. This means that the mount will remember where it is supposed to point, regardless of manual adjustments or relocation. The mount will also recall its previous targets (or find new ones) without realignment.
The motor has nine slew speeds that you can control, the highest of which is 4.2° per second. Its speed, precision, and convenience are excellent for astrophotography, and you will even get a camera control cable (compatible with select Canon DSLRs) in the box. The mount utilizes Permanent Periodic Error Correction too.
A nice touch is the illuminated polar axis scope, with adjustable brightness to suit your preferences. Also included with your purchase are two 11-pound counterweights, a 12-volt DC power cable, and an RS-232 communications cable.
If you would like to use this mount in conjunction with your iPhone or other smart handheld device, you will have to purchase Orion’s Starseek software and a Wi-Fi module separately. Regardless of this, the Atlas Pro seems simple at a glance but is a comprehensive mount that includes all the important features and functions that astronomers look for.
At first glance, the Orion Atlas Pro may seem a little basic. Compared to some competitors there are few extras, freebies or bonus goods bundled in with the mount, but this should not deter you. This mount does what you need it to and more, without the need for bells and whistles. You must also keep in mind that it uses highly sophisticated technology that most other mounts cannot compete with. It may not look it, but it is the full package.
One thing to note is that you will get the best use from this mount for deep sky observations. It is not to say that it does not do well in simpler stargazing, but deep sky exploration is where it shines. It is recommended that you set it to its Alt-azimuth mode for casual stargazing.
Setting up the mount with your telescope is extremely simple, as the hand controller will walk you through it. When you fire it up, it will ask a series of questions, such as which mode you want to operate in and your preferred star brightness alignment (1-3). Setting this to 2 does the job perfectly for quick, relaxed stargazing. Once you have selected a star, allow the telescope to effortlessly aim at it, confirm that it is centered, and everything will be up and running for you to enjoy.
You can tell that Orion took extra care in considering astrophotographers, as complaints regarding camera set up are few and far between. If you are a beginner at astrophotography, this mount may be the best starter for you, as it simplifies everything you need to get it working and hassles are unlikely. Not to mention its speed and efficiency support excellent and accurate shots.
So what are the drawbacks to this mount? To be quite frank, there practically are none. Anything that can be said against this model is circumstantial and does not speak for the quality or value of it.
There is one catch though, although Orion market the Atlas Pro as suitable for beginner, amateur or start astronomers, it will be an exuberant purchase if you do not take astronomy or stargazing seriously. Some of its features are better suited to intermediate or advanced astronomers. They are not indecipherable to beginners, but some patience will be required in learning the ropes. An example of this is its polar alignment, which has been criticized for being a little bit tedious. The caveat is that this speaks of manual alignment, which you will need a working knowledge of if you have any hope for it to be easy. If all else fails, leave it up to the mount’s automation.
Another common criticism is its weight, but this is only natural given the mounts capacity and dual capabilities. Remember that it can operate two telescopes at a time. For rigidity, the extra size and mass is necessary, and so the consensus is that it cannot be judged too harshly in this regard.
Finally, there is the matter of its cost, which may be considered excessive to some. But again, it is not unjustified. When you consider the features and sophisticated technology that the mount employs, it makes sense that it is not a budget-friendly model. It is well worth what you will spend on it, as the fact of the matter is that most other mounts simply cannot compete.
Pros & Cons
- An excellent upgrade to the much loved Atlas EQ-G.
- Dual modes; a choice between GoTo Equatorial and GoTo Alt-azimuth.
- Works with one or two telescopes attached.
- Lighter than the previous version.
- Dual-width dovetail saddle is compatible with Vixen and Losmandy plates.
- Enhanced drive system has more sophisticated features, including loop-electronics and two encoders per axis. The mount will remember previous inputs without realignment.
- Controls are convenient and easy to navigate.
- Excellent for astrophotography; includes camera control cable.
- Error correction settings are built in.
- Large database of more than 42,000 objects.
- Recommended for deep sky observations.
- Suitable for serious astronomers of all skill levels.
- It is a somewhat cumbersome mount.
- There is a learning curve for absolute beginners.
- The instruction manual is complicated and may be difficult to understand.
- It does not come cheap.
As you can see, the pros far outweigh the flaws of this mount. It may be a somewhat complicated model, but there is almost nothing to complain about when you judge it by its capabilities. Mounts with so few drawbacks are difficult to come by, so the Atlas Pro is without a doubt one to take note of. Everything about this mount works well, and there is generally nothing wrong with it. The only considerations that you should keep in mind before you buy it are that of skill level, convenience, and funds.
If a perfect mount exists, the Orion Atlas Pro is a strong – perhaps the strongest – contender for this title. Still, it will not appeal to everyone, and if you are simply a casual stargazer rather than a serious astronomer, this mount might take up more time and money than it is worth to you. On the other hand, regardless of whether or not you are a beginner, if astronomy is a serious hobby of yours, the Atlas Pro has everything you could possibly need, want or make use of. Just remember that operating it may be tricky if it is your first time using a mount of this scale.
All that said, it has the same excellence of Orion’s telescopes and is bound to last you years to come, so there is time to find your way around it. This mount is highly recommended to serious astronomers, stargazers and astrophotographers alike. If its capabilities do not impress you, its fancier features, like its dual modes, will do the trick.