Orion Atlas Pro Mount Review
By: Vlad Fedosov / Prem Kanakaraj
EQ mounts have been around for a long time, but in recent times they seem to be getting more and more popular as many more people are getting into astrophotography where the EQ platform shines. The Orion Atlas Pro mount is designed to meet the needs of both the visual observer, as well as the astrophotographer. I’m mostly a visual guy so this review will focus on that aspect of the mount, but I personally know several astrophotography's that use this mount and have great success with it. The Atlas Pro is a mid-weight mount that is rated for 44lb and can also be used in AZ mode to carry two optical tube assemblies(OTA’s).
My astronomy club had the crazy idea of scheduling a new years star party on December 30th. The reason that this was a crazy idea is that here in the northwest, the likeliness of having a clear sky around this time of year is quite dismal. Well, the day of the star party the forecast looked bleak but I did have a bit of free time so I decided to take the risk and make the hour-long drive to Stub Stewart State Park. By the time I arrived at sundown, there were a couple of club members already setup. I proceeded to chat with them a bit and it started raining! I sure was glad that I did not setup any of my gear, By this time I was ready to head home. Since was there I decided to hang out and see if the clouds would clear. Much to my surprise about 45 minutes later we were treated with a clear sky!
I eagerly setup my Atlas Pro, and outfitted it with an Astro Tech 80mm APO for some wide field visual observing. Flipping the switch on the Atlas Pro, I was greeted with a screen that asked if I was in AZ or EQ mode, and then asked me to put in my location, time, date… After all, that was input I proceeded to do a two-star alignment. This is where you will be amazed! The first time you hear the mount slew is an unreal experience. It is Sooooo quiet. I have never heard such a quite mount or GOTO scope. There is a very, very slight buzz at full slew and I would estimate that it is only about 10-20% as loud as a Meade/Celestron goto system(LX200, LXD75, AVX, CPC) and about 40% as loud as my g11 mount. This is definitely a very cool feature of the mount.
Once I did the two-star alignment I proceeded to view some wide field deep sky objects(DOS) such as m31, m33, and m45. The GOTO accuracy was spot on! Changing the slew rate for centering an object is just like on a Celestron hand controller. You hit the rate button and a number 1-9. I do like Meade's controllers better in this respect as you just hit a number that is 1-9 and away you go. Inputting objects into the controller is straightforward; you hit the appropriate catalog button and then you input the object number. This I like better than the Meade Autostar since you do not need to scroll through menus.
A nice feature of this mount is that the counterweight shaft of the mount retracts into the head while not in use. You also use this feature to get the proper distance between the two scopes in AZ mode to have then counterweight each other. I did not get a chance to try out the AZ mode of the mount, but I do think that this is a neat feature if you enjoy using two OTA’s side by side. The overall fit and finish of the mount is very nice and on par with what you would expect to get from Meade/Celestron/other Chinese re-branders. The machining on the mount is definitely not on par with my g11 however, and I suspect that will be true about any of the other premium mounts.
If you are considering this mount as a platform for astrophotography, as mentioned earlier I'm not an astrophotogropher. I do have a friend and fellow club member who uses is an avid astrophotographer who happens to use the Atlas Pro. First I want to show what is possible with the mount in the hands of a skilled astrophotographer. This strikeing image was taken of m78 by Prem Kanakaraj(thanks Prem!) with the Atlas Pro.
Here is what Prem has to say about the Atlas Pro when used for astrophotography:
The Orion Atlas Pro is an improved design of the widely used Atlas. The main reasons I picked it over the regular Atlas are the improved altitude adjustment mechanism (which a lot of users of the Atlas would agree is a pain to use when the mount is loaded) and belt drive. I’m primarily an imager so critical polar alignment is very important to me, and I didn’t want to put up with adjustment issues on the Atlas. Another major selling point is the use of belts to drive the axes, compared to gears in the regular Atlas. Theoretically this should minimize backlash, providing smoother guiding.
The Pro version can also be used in Alt-Az mode, but I have never used it in this way.
Tracking & guiding performance of the Atlas Pro is very good to excellent for the price & load range. Out of factory my mount had about 20” peak-to-peak periodic error, which I was able to bring down to about 3” using periodic error correction (PEC). The mount guides very well using PHD2, and should be able to handle high resolution imaging easily provided the conditions are good.
The mount is also built like a tank. It’s heavy and bulky, which might not be to some people’s liking. The benefit is the mount can take a good amount of bumps and less than ideal handling without suffering damage. Once on a cold winter night thanks to numb fingers I dropped the mount from about tripod height on asphalt, but the mount didn’t even register the impact. No performance issues either (though this particular mount’s control board failed several months later due to some electrical issue. Orion couldn’t find what the issue was, so they replaced the entire mount for free as it was still under warranty. Excellent customer service!)
Now for the cons - from an imaging point of view I felt the stock tripod to be inadequate. When using long focal length scopes or long refractors I could feel the extra vibrations in PHD2 guiding graph. I added a TPI spreader and battery tray, and that made the tripod a lot more solid and stable. I have now replaced it with an Avalon TPOD 110 tripod. Another con is the weight & bulkiness, which I mentioned earlier. Might be a deal breaker for some people given the comparable mounts from iOptron are much lighter.
Overall, an excellent mount for the price for serious astro imaging. Orion offers very good support, and Atlases have been around for so long that the software and drivers are stable & excellent. I’m very happy with mine!
Overall I had a really good time with the Atlas Pro, and if you are considering this mount for primarily visual use I can confidently say that; it just works! As the example image taken by Prem clearly shows the mount is also very capable as an astrophotography platform. Overall the mounts GoTo is very accurate and the motors are so quiet. The hand-controlled is user-friendly as well. You also have the option of the dual OTA configuration which is very nice! I would not hesitate to recommend the Atlas Pro to anyone in the market for a high quality mid-weight mount.