Since you have dark skies, you are going to get great shots from shorter exposures than most examples you see here. That goes to your benefit. For imaging, responsiveness to guiding matters a lot. In that category, the Vixen mounts are a better choice than iOptron as long as you can make the budget work.
I also believe they good positive experiences translate into future use. I gifted a CG5 to an enthusiastic photographer at a dark site and a Vixen SXW to an equally enthusiastic photographer in the city. The CG5 owner struggled with polar alignment even all star polar align so he wasn’t interested in astrophotography after a few failed tries. The Sphinx owner went from having no telescopes to having a flagship astrograph beyond your budget and a flagship Questar for visual use!
Attached is what I would get, backed by some evidence
1) Vixen SXD2 (under 3k)
2) Mgen-3 (under 1k, imported to US from UK 365 astronomy)
3) EOS Ra (2.5k) or a Fuji APS-C camera.*
The Vixen line is hated by Rod Mollise due to a horrible product some 10-15 years ago. The contemporary Vixen line really captures the Japanese level of precision and electronics design, optimized for the dense cities of Japan. That means it is incredible by every metric except weight carrying capacity. However owners of the Vixen mounts will say it is the very best photo/visual mount because of Starbook Ten. The pointing model in that is on par with flagship designs from AP, 10Micron, Software Bisque with capabilities of atmospheric refraction compensation and an align-on-anything design.
The Eos Ra is a polarizing camera here but remains the only Astro-DSLR you can buy from Best Buy or Amazon have a return policy. It has strengths and weaknesses but remains one of my most used astro DSLRs for reliable use. If you are doubling duty for daylight and night photography, it is hard to beat the FujiFilm line as it has more Ha sensitivity than typical cameras (both the X and GFX line). Pentax actually fits into this category too, but it only makes sense if you have reasons not to use the Canon or Fuji line.
Then you just have to budget for your scope.
If you have run out of money due to my recommendations, getting a Made in China scope saves you a lot of money. Their industrial optical companies are cranking out lenses for surveillance systems and that know how translates across to consumer optics. Dollar for dollar, it’s hard to beat the pure assessment of immediate value. There are politics involved which aren’t allowed for discussion.
Moving up to a Made in Taiwan William Optics refractor is the next step. You still get a lot of cost savings but without worry about politics/tariffs. William, the owner of Williams Optics, is actually based in Southern California. So you are supporting an American company that manufactures in Taiwan, the way that Tele Vue is an American company that manufactures in Taiwan. Not quite, but somewhat true. Virtually their entire product line offers high value.
1) But jumping up to the premium tier line of 3K to 4K, I will offer the following advice shooting from Bortle 7 skies from the dense city of San Francisco. Sharper lenses punch above their expected performance due to images being sharper and being able to get better signal to noise ratio. I can pull more data out of my sharpest lenses than I would expect for the aperture and f-ratio. It is worth that investment. So while spending someone else’s money, I would encourage you to make as big of an optical purity investment as possible.
2) Larger aperture scopes will show more stars and having pinpoint stars makes for a nicer image. The larger the scope, the more critical it is to get sharper images.
3) for nightly setup and tear down, a 4” scope is vastly more manageable a 5” scope.
4) I have imaged at 1800mm f/9 with the SXD2 - weight not focal length is the issue.
5) The best/cheapest astrograph is probably the Canon 400/5.6L. It’s a 72mm FPL53 triplet with a flattener. Doubles as a great daylight photography lens too. As far as I know, still made in Japan. This is a great focal length for context in your astrophotos. The one thing the Hubble Space Telescope cannot do is give widefield images. The 300/4L non-IS and the older FD 300/2.8L are also good choices.
6) Moving up, the Takahashi FC100 line is good. You have to budget for all of your accessories and gizmos, but these modern designs give you a lot of bang for your buck, and act as a wider field visual instrument. The performance loss from the high f-ratio is made up by your dark skies. I think the 800mm focal length is great for many targets.
7) Moving up, get the Tele Vue NP101is. A French magazine compared the FSQ106N/ED, NP101is, VSD100/SDUFII under the same conditions. Everything you expect is true. NP101is is the best visual instrument with widefield capability. The FSQ106ED isn’t bad either, but the other 3 don’t play well with 2” diagonals without a lot of hand wringing. Optically, the FSQ106ED had the highest strehl while the VSD100 had better color correction, less field curvature, and more even illumination. In Japan, the VSD100 had a higher price tag than the FSQ106 despite the 6mm of aperture loss. Not tested but confirmed by personal use and Vixen Japan’s charts, the VSD reduced at f3 is sharper than its native f3.8 (the same way the FOA-60Q is better than the FOA-60). It will beat the FSQ-106ED reduced to f3. The VSD100 is discontinued though. Behind those two were the NP101is and FSQ106N which were very very close in performance. Then last place was the Pentax SDUFII, but again only against those flagships.
The NP101is is the cheapest of the batch so that’s your best bet if going for a wide field astrograph. These provide a lot of context which is great for doing Astro-art where you have some foreground elements in the final image and showing the dust lanes or IFN between objects.
8) Going beyond 4k takes you into the TOA-130, TEC140, AP130 range. You will want a bigger mount.
Proof for my recommended combo of the mount/guider/camera recommendation
Vixen SXD2 with Astro-Physics 130EDF (overloaded mount)
50mm guide scope (180 f3.5 camera lens)
30 minutes on M42 from Bortle 7.
Every scope you are looking at will be lighter and even easier for the mount.