The new trend disrupting telescopes is hybrid smart telescopes that have cameras built in and are operated by your smartphone.
These make astrophotography easy and provide an answer to the problem of light pollution for astronomy.
Right now there are two models that you can buy right now, each with its pros and cons:
- Vaonis Stellina – offering complete simplicity out of the box
- Unistellar eVscope Equinox – more powerful and cheaper, but requires a little more work to operate.
Read on to understand more. We also preview the upcoming Unistellar eVscope 2, the Vaonis Vespera and the Vaonis Hyperia, none of which have yet launched.
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A new trend: Smart telescopes for astrophotography & astronomy
Obviously, telescopes have been around for a while and taking photos with them has been a popular hobby in recent decades.
But what has emerged recently is a new type of hybrid telescope that can take photos with a built-in camera.
Smart Telescope Astrophotography
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, a telescope mount, plus any adapters and cables required to make the parts fit together and likely connect to your laptop to operate.
Getting all these pieces together and finding the right ones for you and your budget is a lot of work and creates a barrier to entry for more casual photographers wanting to take photos of objects in space.
In addition, even once you have your kit all together, taking and processing the photos is a lot of work and requires a lot of time and learning.
Of course, for many, this is part of the fun and contributes to making it so rewarding, but many others crave something much simpler and faster.
Solving Light Pollution with Hybrid Telescopes
One of the major challenges of modern-day astronomy is light pollution.
Most of us live in towns or cities where the light generated from the street lights and buildings effectively brightens the night sky.
This makes it significantly harder to view the stars, planets, and galaxies through regular telescopes, astronomy binoculars, or with our eyes.
What these smart telescopes do is overcome the light pollution problem and make observing the night sky easier.
They do this by how they work – they gather light from the night sky over a short period of time (seconds to minutes) and build a digital image of the object you are viewing in space.
You are therefore looking at a picture that is built up of multiple images and enables you to view much better in less than perfect conditions. This compares to regular telescopes where you are observing just a single live view with your naked eye.
This means that with smart telescopes you can observe the night skies from your backyard or rooftop in a city in a way that you can’t with similar-sized regular telescopes.
Digital Telescopes for the Sharing Experience
Therefore these new telescopes are a massive breakthrough in making astronomy and astrophotography more easily accessible for beginners, and 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.
We examine each of these below and see how they compare to each other.
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. You can also 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.
It comes with a high-quality mini tripod from Gitzo (one of the best tripod manufacturers). You can also buy a separate tall Gitzo tripod for the Stellina with a height of 130cm (51 inches).
I think of this as being like the Apple version of a telescope where they have made 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 setups.
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: 80mm (3.15 inches)
- Focal Length: 400mm (15.75 inches)
- Focal Ratio: F/5
- Weight: 24.7 lbs (11.2 kg)
- Height: 68cm (26 inches) – with tripod
- Sensor: Sony IMX178
- Resolution: 6.4MP (3096 x 2080 px)
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.
Unistellar’s first smart telescope was the eVscope. This was discontinued in 2021 and replaced by this second-generation model.
It’s a sleeker, black telescope that looks a lot nicer than the original eVscope. The battery life was improved and it is easier to set up (it can be done in under a minute).
It’s very similar in terms of specifications to the original eVscope – a 4.5-inch aperture reflector telescope with the same focal length and same Sony sensor.
One fairly big change was that Unistellar removed the eyepiece that was on the side of the original eVscope.
You may or may not care about this but to some it was a big positive versus the Stellina as it allowed it to be used as an observing telescope. This was great for those living in light-polluted areas where observing is very difficult. Instead, now you can just see the images on your smartphone or tablet. However, it is the removal of the eyepiece that has resulted in the improved battery performance.
You can watch a quick overview of the Equinox from Unistellar here:
Equinox pros and cons
- It has a high aperture (the best measurement of a telescope’s viewing power)
- It enables you to join a citizen astronomy network and take part in fun and educational initiatives
- Longer battery life of 12 hours from a single charge (versus 5 hours for the Stellina)
- It is cheaper than the Stellina (although please check live prices)
- It is smaller and lighter than the Stellina
- Does require some collimation and focussing
- No Eyepiece – this removes the element of taking it out and using it like an observing telescope that you had with the original eVscope.
- Aperture: 114mm (4.5″)
- Focal Length: 450mm (17.7 inches)
- Focal Ratio: F/4
- Weight: 19.8 lbs (9 kg)
- Sensor: Sony IMX224
- Resolution: 1.2MP (1305 x 977px)
Stellina Vs eVscope Equinox: advantages & disadvantages
The Stellina and Equinox 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 Equinox advantages versus the Stellina
- 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 Equinox
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 Equinox 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.
Upcoming Smart Telescopes
There are three upcoming smart telescopes from Vaonis and Unistellar that are due to enter the market soon and go alongside the Stellina and Equinox. These are the:
- Vaonis Vespera
- Vaonis Hyperia
- Unistellar eVscope 2
The Vaonis Vespera is due to be launched for general sale in Spring 2022 (after a launch to Kickstarter backers at the end of 2021).
It is essentially a mini-Stellina – the same easy-to-use smart telescope with many of the same advantages, but substantially smaller, lighter, and cheaper.
Even though it hasn’t been launched, there are a few key metrics by which we can compare the Vespera and the Stellina:
Stellina vs Vespera
Vespera advantages versus the Stellina:
- The Vespera will weigh less than half of the Stellina – 11 lbs versus 25 lbs
- It will be shorter at a height of 15 inches (versus 19 inches for the Stellina)
- It will be cheaper at less than half the price of the Stellina (TBC – check when launched)
There are some downsides to this extra compatibility and reduction in cost though:
- The aperture is smaller at 50mm (2 inch)
- The focal length is shorter at 200mm (7.8 inch)
It seems inevitable that these reductions will impact the viewing and imaging power of the Vespera versus the Stellina as a 50mm/2-inch aperture would be a fairly low light gathering capacity in a regular telescope.
Therefore, the Stellina will be better than the Vespera in terms of power and the images it delivers, but it will cost less and be more portable and easy to store.
In 2021, Vaonis also previewed the Hyperia:
This is a completely different beast from the Stellina or the Vespera as it will be substantially larger and more powerful – it stands 6ft 9 inches (210 cm) tall and weighs 165 lbs (75 kg)!
It’ll be a triplet refractor telescope (great for astrophotography) with a 6 inch (150 mm) aperture.
The other key difference is the price: Vaonis are currently pricing it at $45,000, so this is a serious telescope aimed at those with observatories and similarly high-priced telescopes and mounts.
Unistellar eVscope 2
eVscope 2 vs Equinox
It’ll be very similar to the Equinox in many ways – the same aperture (4.5 inches) and same weight and size.
The key difference is that it will have the eyepiece on the side for real-time viewing – many people liked this about the original eVscope (although many others didn’t see the value).
Now when the eVscope 2 is launched there will be a pretty straightforward choice for that feature between that and the Equinox which has no eyepiece.
You can see a preview video here from Unistellar:
Do the Stellina and eVscope/Equinox 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.
Here is an example image taken with the Unistellar eVscope Equinox:
To see galleries of images taken with the eVscope and Stellina, check out:
What’s the difference between the Stellina/eVscope/Equinox and GoTo / computerized telescopes?
The difference is that these new “smart telescopes” have cameras built-in and that they automate many of the setup 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.
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.
What’s the Best Smart Telescope? Stellina vs Equinox
We hope you find this useful if you are considering buying one of these smart telescopes.
Right now there are two available models on the market:
- Vaonis Stellina – Super easy to use
- Unistellar eVscope Equinox – Cheaper and more powerful but slightly harder to use
Please let us know which one you favor and why in the comments below. We will update this article when the eVscope 2, Vespera, and Hyperia launch in the future.