New Smart Telescopes – sans eyepiece

A new crop of high tech telescopes aim to provide observers with enhanced views of astronomical objects using high definition cameras rather than traditional eyepieces. These smart telescopes also integrate high tech features into small portable packages aimed at newbie observers.

Stellina Telescope
The Stellina telescope is a 3.5 inch refractor

Three examples are the Stellina from Vaonis, the eVscope from Unistellar Optics, and the Hiuni but they all have a number of features in common. Be forewarned that they are all just taking pre-orders with no expected deliveries until 2019.

Where is the eyepiece?   These smart telescopes forgo a traditional eyepiece by incorporating  digital camera that makes live-views visible on a small display or remotely on a phone or tablet.  The sensitivity of the camera boosts the brightness and colour of  objects that appear dim and colourless in an eyepiece.  To be fair, the eVscope does have an eyepiece but it is non-traditional in that it uses their “Light Amplification” technology to enhance the view.

eVscope image
The eVscope is a 4.5 inch reflector from Unistellar

Easy setup –  all you have to do is attach the tripod and turn it on.  Your location is found using GPS then the telescope, camera, and mount then work together to automatically align the scope. The telescope determines where it is pointing using a process traditionally called plate solving: the camera takes an image and compares this field of view with a database of star patterns to calculate the sky coordinates (right ascension and declination).

Image of Hiuni Telescope
Hiuni’s 6 inch Cassegrain telescope

These scopes can automatically find and track thousands of objects similar to today’s goto-mounts.  The user experience in using an tablet or phone app can be better than using a traditional hand controller.  For example, you can easily enter the name of an object rather than scrolling through long lists on a hand controller.

The built-in camera makes astrophotography easy.  Images can be taken and downloaded with the phone/tablet app.  Standard astrophotography techniques such as image stacking and stretching are applied to improve the image quality.

These new smart scopes are not without heir detractors. One argument is that viewing a digital image is not the same experience as seeing the object with you own eye. Others argue that a higher quality system with equivalent features can be put together at less cost using existing equipment and free software.  It will be interesting to see how these smart telescopes evolve and how the major telescope manufacturers respond.