Telescope Mount Types [Telescope Support Design Differences]

Are you interested in learning about the different Telescope Mount Types? If so you’ve come to the right place. This article will be explaining the varieties, whether subtle or more obvious and the similarities behind the different designs of telescope support. It’s good to have an understanding of the different types so you can understand what is available and what you may need.

So, what are the main Telescope Mount Types? There are two main types of mounts for astronomical telescopes: Altazimuth (Alt-Az) and Equatorial (EQ). However, there are are also further designs and varieties that have been produced by manufacturers including: Dobsonian, German Equatorial, and Fork. Each mount was designed for specific purposes, While they may visually look different, they all operate and adhere to the functions of the two major mounts.

A mount is one of the most important components of a telescope. Along with the tripod, in many ways a telescope will only be as good as the mount that it operates from.

While the overarching purpose of a telescope is to observe the sky and magnify celestial objects, an unwanted side effect of such actions is that vibrations are also experienced and amplified.

Thus, the purpose of a telescope mount is twofold:

  1. Provide stability and hold the telescope firmly in place. This will enable celestial objects to be observed and/or photographed and overcoming any vibration.
  2. Enable effortless, fluid and steady movement to point and guide the telescope when and where you desire.

Telescope Mount Types

Let us know take a look at the different Telescope Mounts more closely so that you can understand how they operate and what they do.

Altazimuth (Alt-Az)

The Altazimuth Mount (often called just an Alt-Az/AZ) is the perhaps the most common type of mount because of its ease of use. It is very simple in terms of its design and how it works. It basically operates via two axes – the altitude (vertical) and azimuth (horizontal) axis. The latter is where the mount obviously gets its name from.

This mount enables you to move the telescope in two directions, whether this be up and down or side to side. The better models will have knobs that you can manipulate in slow motion to make tiny adjustments and track objects in the sky more accurately and finely. You ultimately have a freedom in your observations and can in many ways it acts as a locate and point. They work best on lower-powered telescopes but are not ideal for deep-sky photography.

Certain Altazimuth mounts will be computerized meaning that they can automatically locate and track objects in the sky on your behalf (as long as they are within the mounts database). All you would need to do is enter your desired target, the coordinates, time and date. This is ideal for beginners without a knowledge and experience of the sky.

The Altazimuth is often used on cheaper telescopes because of its user friendliness and also the lower manufacturing costs.

Alongside the standard Altazimuth model, which is positioned top of a tripod, there is also a variation – the Dobsonian Mount.

Altazimuth Sub-Design #1: Dobsonian Mount

Technically an Altazimuth, the Dobsonian mount is an adapted version that has not been around for much time (since the inventor John Dobson designed it during the 1970’s).

Dobsonian mounts are quite unique to look at and you can easily identify one when you know how they are designed.

They mount is attached to a solid platform, forming as a solid base to support larger Newtonian Reflectors.

Dobsonian Telescopes were designed to utilize cheaper components without degrading optical quality, so you can find  higher specification Dobsonian telescopes (with very large apertures) for very affordable prices.

Telescope sizes go up with the Aperture (light gathering ability) which is in effect the power of the telescope, and you can find Dobsonian telescopes for sale in the 6-20″ aperture range.

Equatorial Mount (EQ)

The Equatorial Mount is more complex and more difficult to use than a non-computerized Altazimuth. However it provides superior performance for longer astronomical observation sessions when used correctly. This means you’ll be able to more easily stay on an object once located in the sky. As such, it is a lot more useful and often recommended if you want to pursue Astrophotography. The longer exposure on objects that this mount offers makes taking photos far easier and more effective.

Having said this, an EQ mount takes time to learn, and get used to the atypical way you need to operate and align a telescope that utilizes this design.

Here’s how it differs from an Altazimuth:

Due to the way the earth rotates around its axis, stars (that are fixed in position) appear to be moving. So if you decide to observe the stars with an Altazimuth, you’ll notice that the stars will soon move out of view (on both of the different axes). However, when you are using a correctly aligned Equatorial mount, you can guide the telescope on a star (or celestial object) easily and manually using the controls or through the electric motor.

An EQ mount also operates via two different axes. One of the axis twists the telescope whereas the other axis points directly at the north star. The electric motor turns the telescope one revolution every 24 hours, eradicating the movement of the earth. If you point a telescope with an EQ mount at a celestial object, the motor will slowly and automatically move the telescope so it stays in position.

There are two main variations of equatorial mounts:

Equatorial Sub-Design #1: German Equatorial Mount (GEM)

This variation of mount is generally used on Newtonian Reflectors and Refractor telescopes. The GEM is different to the standard EQ because it has counterweights that balance the telescope. This provides balance along the polar axis which means that when you aim the axis the mount will be aligned with the Earths rotation.

Equatorial Sub-Design #2: Fork Mount

Telescopes that are comprised of shorter tubes will typically have Fork Mounts. So you’ll notice that a lot of Catadioptric telescopes have them. This style of mount balances the telescope at the center eradicating the need for any counterweights.

With a Fork Mount, a computer operates the two arms by calculating the right settings.

It is a completely automated mount which makes observations easy and simple; the user does not need to locate or point toward an object to observe it. This is why a lot of modern, research-type telescopes utilize this style of mount.

To operate a telescope on a Fork Mount the only thing you actually need to do manually is align the telescope with the celestial south. Then, you have to enter your longitude and latitude. From there the mount will take over.

Another thing to mention is that Fork Mounts are considered hybrid than standard EQ Mounts. This is because you can easily change from an AZ to an EQ mode as and when needed. This gives you extra versatility but consider that it also adds weight making them less portable compared to the other types of mount discussed above.

Recommendations

If you are new to astronomy, then you are going to want to identify a telescope that suits your own needs and preferences. In the beginning, you’re not going to need the highest specification or the highest power. I advise that consider what you want to observe, how much aperture you realistically need (and can afford) and then make sure you understand what mount is going to be best for you (and that you can still afford).

Typically, a lot of telescopes come as a package and are easy to setup and use, and come with everything you need. The mount should be included and will best suit the precise requirements of your telescope.

If you are looking for a new telescope, be sure to read my comprehensive guide: Best Telescopes for Viewing Planets and Galaxies

Final Words

I hope you enjoyed this article, and now have a better understanding on the different types of Telescope Mounts.

In summary, there are two main types: Altazimuth (Alt-Az) and Equatorial (EQ), from there you are going to find a further three variations: Dobsonian (Alt-Az variation), German Equatorial (GEM – EQ Variation) and Fork (EQ Variation).

Each type of mount has a different design, how it works, and is suitable for different use cases.

Let me know what you thought about this guide by dropping a comment down below!

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