Guiding options

Guiding variants

Guiding is compensating the remaining deviations, which are still left over from the alignment. Only by eliminating the residual errors long exposure times can be realized. A guiding camera connected to a PC is used to focus on a guide star in the sky. Via a program on the PC (e.g. PHD2) correction commands are given to the mount, which then adjusts the tracking movement accordingly.

There are two ways to integrate a guiding camera in the setup:

    • via a guiding telescope, or
    • via an Off-Axis-Guider


Guiding telescope

Guiding telescopes are placed outside the optical path parallel to the telescope and are especially suitable for refractors and telescopes with short focal lengths.

Setup with a guiding telescope [Source: (supplemented by labels)]

Telescopes with long focal lengths have a high magnification. Therefore, even the smallest tracking errors quickly become noticeable. To be able to give accurate guide star positions, a guiding telescope for such telescopes should also have a larger focal length. As a rule of thumb, a guiding telescope should have at least 30% to 50% of the telescope focal length.



For large reflecting telescopes with long focal lengths (e.g. large Newtonian telescopes from 1000 mm focal length, Schmidt-Cassegrain) it is recommended to use an Off-Axis-Guider.
Since an Off-Axis-Guider is located directly in the optical path, it uses the same focal length as the telescope and can compensate tracking errors well. As it were, the telescope is the guiding telescope.

Setup with an Off-Axis-Guider [Source: (supplemented by labels)]

Another reason to use an Off-Axis-Guider with reflector telescopes is that the mirrors are not absolutely fixed. During the slow tracking of the telescope, there are occasionally minimal changes in the position of the mirrors. Due to the optical law "angle of incidence equals angle of reflection" the error doubles when deflecting at the mirror. Thus, the image on the camera experiences a slight offset, which is especially noticeable at large focal lengths. In contrast to the guiding telescope located outside the system, this offset is noticed by the Off-Axis-Guider located in the beam path and can be compensated by countersteering the tracking unit.

Since refractors do not have mirrors but fixed lenses and usually have short focal lengths, a guiding telescope can be used here.

Guiding cameras are operated with exposure times of 1-3s. When using low light systems (slow optics) and because of the decoupling via a small prism, there are therefore often problems to find bright stars as guiding stars.



There are several things to consider when installing an Off-Axis-Guider

  • The deflection prism should be positioned in such a way that it does not cover the chip surface.



  • In theory, the distance from the deflection prism to the chip of the guiding camera is the same as from the deflection prism to the chip of the recording camera in order to have the same focusing.


Graphics of the cameras: and


In practice, however, differences of 1 to 2 mm occur here from time to time. The reason for this is that the deflection prism uses the edge rays, which often cause imaging errors in optical systems due to different path lengths.

Source: Xentropic at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Graphics of the cameras: and


The question often arises as to the orientation in which the prism must be inserted into the beam path. The following graphic illustrates this with an enlarged prism representation.

Graphics of the cameras: and


At the interface between an optically thinner medium (in this case air) and an optically denser medium (in this case prismatic glass), the light beam is refracted towards the perpendicular to varying degrees depending on the angle of entry and the refractive indices. When leaving the optically denser medium into the optically thinner medium, the light beam is refracted away from the perpendicular (right-hand diagram).

From a certain critical angle (depending on the refractive index of the medium), total reflection occurs at the transition from the optically denser to the optically thinner medium. The prism has such a refractive index that total internal reflection occurs at an angle of 45° (left-hand diagram).


Depending on the camera model, the correct distance can be set with a helical extension or corresponding distance rings.

  • When using filters, make sure that they are installed behind the off-axis guider. With an additional filter in front of it, the already rather faintly illuminated and short-exposed image would be able to show even less bright stars.
  • For Newtonian telescopes, note that it can be difficult to use an Off-Axis-Guider. The Off-Axis-Guider shifts the position of the camera further away from the telescope and the chip can then sometimes no longer be brought into the focal point. The Off-Axis-Guider should therefore be as slim as possible, or a guiding telescope must be used.


Overview table for the two guiding variants

Guiding telescope
  • easy mounting
  • due to the good light gathering ability a suitable guide star is almost always found → no aborts in the guiding software → constant guiding over the whole night
  • only suitable for short and medium focal lengths
  • errors due to mirror movements in the tube cannot be compensated for
  • uses the telescope as a guiding telescope → in the tube errors caused by mirror movements can be compensated for
  • can be used at any focal length
  • complex installation and setup
  • it can happen that no guide star is found
  • when using additional lenses and a filter wheel, it can happen that the specified backfocus is exceeded by installing a wide off-axis guider, which means that the camera chip can no longer be brought into focus