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There is a new trend that started taking astronomy and astrophotography by storm recently and that is automated smart telescopes that have cameras built-in.
In this article, we dig into the emergence of these new telescopes, examine the most popular models (the Vaonis Stellina and the Unistellar eVscope), and layout the pros and cons of each and of using them over more conventional telescopes.
A new trend: Smart telescopes for astrophotography & astronomy
Obviously telescopes have been around for a while and taking photos with them has been possible. What has emerged recently though is a new type of hybrid telescope that take photos with an in-built camera.
This means that advanced astrophotography is possible with just one piece of equipment that is relatively easy to use.
Previously, if you wanted to get into deep sky astrophotography you needed to research and buy a camera, a telescope or zoom lens, a mount or star tracker, plus any adapters required to make the parts fit together.
Getting all these pieces together and finding the right ones for you and your budget is a lot of work (hence the buying guides of thousands of words for each of these things on this website) and creates a barrier to entry for more casual astrophotographers.
In addition, even once you have you kit all together taking the photos is a lot of work and requires a lot of learning (again, reflected in much of the content on this website).
Of course, for many this is the fun part that can make it so rewarding, but many others crave something much simpler.
Solving visual astronomy in light polluted cities
One of the major things that these telescopes also do is overcome the light pollution problem with regards to visual astronomy for those that live in or near cities.
Essentially, the light from cities makes it very hard to just look up at the skies with a regular telescope and see what you want to see in the night sky.
With these smart telescopes, they gather the light and develop the image of the galaxy, planet or whatever you are looking at for you to view through the eyepiece (for the eVscope) or on your phone (for both).
This means that you can do it from your backyard or rooftop in a city in a way that you can’t with similar sized regular telescopes.
Telescopes for the experience
Therefore these new telescopes are a massive breakthrough in making astronomy and astrophotography more easily accessible for beginners, particularly with people keen to share images on social media.
They are also perfect for those that want the results of observing and photographing the night sky without spending months or years learning and just want to grab-and-go outside and get instant results.
Also they are future proofed, in that once you buy one it will continue to improve in features and performance as updates are provided over wifi.
There are two main smart telescopes that can take photos on the market right now – the Vaonis Stellina and the Unistellar Evscope. We examine each of these below and see how they compare to each other.
The Stellina telescope from French company Vaonis is a pretty amazing piece of kit.
It comes out of the box looking a bit like a large router standing 68cm (26 inches) tall:
How it works is you turn it on, it takes a few minutes to automatically establish the time and date and where it is in the world by GPS and then it is good to go. There’s not much more to it, no collimating (adjusting) the telescope or manual focusing.
It is operated via an app on your smartphone or tablet. The Stellina knows from your location what you should be able to see and gives you a list of options of objects in the night sky.
You then choose which galaxy, nebula or other object that you want it to point at and it will take the image at the press of a button and send it to your smartphone.
The images are of a high resolution of 3096 x 2080 pixels and are processed automatically and sent as jpeg files. One thing to note though is that you can connect a USB-C cable and get the raw FITS data, which means that, if you want to, you can get the unprocessed image data and play around with it yourself in PhotoShop or whatever software you use.
It is battery powered with a rechargeable battery that lasts around five hours and has an in-built light pollution filter built onto the front so that it can be used from within cities and other built-up areas.
I think of this as being like the Apple version of a telescope where they have made the ease-of-use right out of the box a priority.
This then makes it appeal to a different market from experienced astrophotographers.
This video from Vaonis gives a good overview of how it works:
The only real downsides are that it is not cheap and that the images it produces, while good, are not of comparable quality to those being taken by advanced astrophotographers with good camera/telescope/mount set ups.
However, it’s about a thousand times quicker and easier and the prospect is there that the Stellina will improve in performance over time as updates take place over its internet connection, much like your laptop or phone does.
Stellina pros and cons
- Simple, quick and easy to use with an intuitive interface
- Up to 20 users can connect to it at once to share the images which adds a social element
- Performance improvements and new features can be added after you have bought it as it receives software updates over the internet
- Not cheap (although in the ballpark of buying high-quality astrophotography equipment like a camera, telescope, mount)
- Not so good at photographing planets or the sun, it mostly specializes in widefield deep sky astrophotography (galaxies, nebula etc)
- Fairly large
- Aperture: 80 mm (3.25 inches)
- Focal Length: 400 mm (15.7 inches)
- Weight: 29 lbs (13 kg)
- Height: 68cm (26 inches)
- Sensor: Sony IMX 178
- Resolution: 6.4 MP (3096 x 2080 px)
The eVscope comes from another French company, Unistellar.
It is similar to the Stellina in many ways – it is a smart telescope with a camera built in to take photos.
It is operated via smartphone app and automatically finds objects in the night sky and captures images of them which are then sent to your phone or tablet.
Comes with a tripod included and a backpack can be bought separately for easy storage and transport.
A couple of things do mark it as different from the Stellina though:
- It has an eyepiece on the side so you can see what it is looking, rather than waiting for the images to be sent to you. This is quite a cool feature as you can see the galaxy or whatever you are photographing live as it is being captured and processed and means you see it more brightly than you would through a regular telescope.
- It enables you to take part in citizen astronomy initiatives as Unistellar are working with the SETI Institute. This allows you to connect your eVscope to a network of thousands of others around the world and help scientists while viewing astronomical events live they are happening.
With a 4.5 inch aperture, it is a more powerful telescope, and is also smaller and lighter than the Stellina.
This video from OPT gives a good overview of the eVscope:
The only real downside is that some setup and adjustment is required. The telescope has to be collimated and then manually focused. This is fairly easy though and you are taken through it step-by-step.
eVscope pros and cons
- It has an eyepiece allowing you to view objects in space live
- It enables you to join a citizen astronomy network and take part in fun and educational initiatives
- It has a relatively high aperture (the best measurement of a telescope’s viewing power)
- It is relatively cheaper than the Stellina (although, please check live prices)
- It is smaller and lighter than the Stellina
- Does require some collimation and focussing
- Aperture: 114 mm (4.5″)
- Focal Length: 450 mm (17.7 inches)
- Weight: 19.8 lb (9 kg)
- Height: 63.5cm (25 inches)
- Sensor: Sony IMX224
- Resolution: 1.2M (1305 x 977px)
Stellina Vs eVscope: advantages & disadvantages
The Stellina and eVscope are fairly similar in that they are:
- Easy to use for beginners out of the box
- Smartphone or tablet operated
- Have in-built cameras to provide all the equipment you need in one for astrophotography
There are a few things that make them differ from each other though and might help you choose whether the Stellina of the eVscope is right for you.
eVscope advantages versus the Stellina
- The eyepiece on the side allows live viewing of the objects being imaged, rather than having to wait for it to come through on your phone
- It enables you to join a network and take part in citizen astronomy activities
- It is cheaper (at the time of writing – but please check)
- It has higher aperture for better light gathering and imaging
- It is smaller and lighter
Stellina advantages versus the eVscope
These mostly relate to ease of use:
- No focusing or collimation of the telescope is required
- Capable of higher resolution images
Essentially the Stellina is easier to use and is literally a matter of turning it on.
But the eVscope is better than the Stellina in a number of other ways. It is just slightly harder to use since each time it needs manual focusing and collimating. These processes are easy and should take around ten minutes once you know what you’re doing but it is a slight barrier to being fully ‘grab-and-go’ like the Stellina is.
Do the Stellina and eVscope take good pictures?
The answer is yes, they do.
Many experienced astrophotographers do prefer the results they get from their conventional telescope/mount/camera set-ups, however the time and dedication required to get to this level is beyond most casual users looking for an easier way to get into astrophotography.
To see galleries of images taken with the eVscope and Stellina, check out:
What’s the difference between the Stellina and eVscope and GoTo / computerized telescopes?
The difference is that the Stellina and the eVscope are telescopes that have cameras built in and that they automate many of the set up processes required for regular telescopes.
They use the same “GoTo” technology utilized by computerized telescope mounts that enable you to choose an object for the telescope to find for you from a database at the click of a button. The difference is that conventional telescopes need you to connect an external camera to take pictures and then go through a rigorous manual process for capturing the image.
What’s the Vaonis Vespera?
Towards the end of 2020, Vaonis, the manufacturer of the Stellina, announced a smaller smart/hybrid telescope called the Vespera that will be released in Spring 2022.
See more information on the Vaonis website.
Can you attach your smartphone or digital camera to a regular telescope to take pictures?
Yes, you can. This is what the vast majority of people do to take night sky photos.
Quite a lot of beginners’ telescopes now come with smartphone adapters (or they can be bought separately). Similarly, DSLR cameras can be attached to telescopes with the right adapters.
See our guides to astrophotography equipment and astrophotography for beginners for a good introduction to this, as well as the best camera for astrophotography and the best telescopes for astrophotography.
Will you be buying a Stellina or eVscope?
We hope you find this useful if you are considering buying one of this smart telescopes.