Are “Smart” Telescope/Camera Hybrids Worth the Price Tag?

Just like cars that suit your everyday needs, when it comes to telescopes, I believe there’s a type for everyone with varying degrees of convenience, portability, and accessibility – it’s the setup that fits YOUR needs regardless of how large, pretty, and technologically sophisticated it is.

The road that I have been on when it comes to telescopes is one path out of several that most dedicated observers follow – start smaller, and work your way up to a setup that you are willing to pay for and deal with. Some end up becoming telescope makers themselves, some stick to visual views through large setups, while others like me go the astrophotography route. I will always say that there is no “wrong” way to observe the sky – you do it how YOU want to do it!

The “traditional” way into backyard astronomy and astrophotography is admittedly not for everyone, especially when a casual viewer or potential new telescope buyer gets turned off by the perceived overload of information.

It’s not that people don’t want to learn, it’s more that their attention spans are too short, hence the impression that conventional telescopes are much harder to use than they actually are. In this case, it matters more that they can just get a scope that does most of the work for them, and all they have to do is turn it on. The more such technology becomes available, the more people become reliant on it.

So what if there was such a telescope that you could just control with your phone, takes stacked exposures automatically, and lets you look at “live” views of the deep sky in color detail versus grayscale? What if you could just instantly become a hybrid astrophotographer overnight without all the extra steps in a setup that’s super convenient to own?

For the hefty starting price tag of $2,899 – $4,000, that’s what the Unistellar EVscope and Vaonis Stellina Smart Telescope essentially offer.

I’m not talking about traditional computerized GoTo telescopes that have been on the market for decades – even more recent models have smartphone compatibility. Traditional telescopes show grayscale views of nebulae and very little structure to galaxies when viewing with just your eyes, and require you to switch between visual and imaging mode depending on what you want to do.

The EVscope and Stellina are a different breed and I don’t consider them traditional telescopes. Neither do most of the “old school” users who often spam the comment sections with dissenting opinions whenever these products show up in their social media feed – even I was guilty of it at first. To me, they are “Hybrid” Telescopes.

But of course, I had to do more research to see what these things are actually capable of, and had to ask the question, are they worth the price tag?

Are they Scams? No.

Yes, the aperture is small by traditional telescope standards, whether it’s the EVscope’s 114mm (4.5 inch) diameter, or the Vaonis Stellina’s 80mm. But it’s NOT the size, it’s the included technology that is the attraction, as that is what gives you the full color views.

No, these devices are not just downloading images off Google and passing it off as an actual live view. They are actual stacked exposures done by the technology included in the scope. Plus they offer portability and convenience. A lot of people don’t want to perform all those alignment procedures that require near perfect accuracy to work, nor do they want to transport heavy and bulky setups.

Remote telescopes are nothing new either, as many professional telescopes are remotely operated, such as the Samuel Oschin Telescope at Palomar Mountain Observatory near San Diego – it’s controlled by CalTech in Pasadena! EVscopes and Stellinas offering that same feature is also a plus for those who’d rather not stay outside in the cold while enjoying views through their scope.

They offer a new avenue for casual viewers to get inspired by astronomy outreach!

Throughout decades of modern astronomy outreach, a lot of casuals got super disappointed when their views of deep sky objects didn’t contrast well to the sky; their views of galaxies were just dim gray smudges, and their views of nebulae were grayscale rather than the colorful displays they see in pictures.

Of course, I could always use my own long exposure picture of it, and show the casual what the object in question actually looks like if their eyes could accumulate more light like a camera could. To me it’s a good demonstration and shows people how dedicated observers gaze at the heavens. But that doesn’t suit the casual who is uninterested in that information, and just wants a colorful detailed live view in that exact moment we have their attention.

My conclusion is, they are not necessarily a replacement for the traditional setup, but more of a different avenue for casuals who were never impressed with what traditional telescopes have to offer.

So would these devices be great outreach tools? Absolutely!

We all want astronomy to be accessible to everyone, including short attention spans, and those who want to get into observing the easiest way possible. These devices can appeal to those that traditional scopes cannot. And if it helps them learn about the cosmos, then who am I to say it’s “wrong?” It’s simply another way, and as said before, “there is no wrong way!”

So then the question is, why is there a level of resistance among “traditionalists?”

Because the technology is offering a “free pass” if you will, allowing a first time user to skip learning to polar align, slew, and fine focus. To do what I do, and achieve what many fellow astrophotographers can capture – it took a lot of time and dedication to learn how to compose “science magazine quality images” as many would say.

I take pride in the deep sky and solar system shots that I share on social media that come straight from my telescope and camera setup. So when Mr. Joe Casual is suddenly able to take good quality images without having to learn anything, it’s easy to have a level of resentment towards those who never took the time and dedication. It’s easy to think, “hey wait a minute, you mean all of what I learned and all of what I spent is for nothing? What’s the point of it then?!”

So Are They Ultimately Worth the Price Tag?

Screenshot from YouTuber Galactic Hunter’s review of the EVscope… He used a setup pretty similar to mine as well.

If you ask me personally, based on what I can do, my answer to that is still, “No!” And I will give two huge reasons why!

They are for Deep Sky Only! Planets? Not so much!

One of the major flaws with these hybrid scopes is that it’s one eyepiece, hence one magnification setting with no way to change it. The focal length is simply too small, essentially meaning the amount you’re “zoomed in” is no better than a pair of binoculars, therefore even Jupiter will appear super tiny, and not at all resemble what it looks like through my 8″ f/4.9 Newtonian. So if you’re expecting to be able to see big crisp high magnification views of the planets, then you’ll have to stick with a traditional telescope for that!

I have achieved just as good, if not better deep sky images for LESS money than what the EVScope or Stellina are asking for!

The Horsehead Nebula on 12/19/19.

People ask me all the time the cost of my setup. Well, here is the setup I used to take my 10 minute single exposure picture of the Horsehead Nebula:

  • Orion SkyView Pro EQ w/GoTo and 8″ (203 mm) f/4.9 Newtonian – $1,100.00
  • Nikon d5300 – $500
  • Starshoot Autoguider w/50 mm guide scope $400. –

So the total setup cost for me to achieve that Horsehead image was about $2000… significantly less than the EVscope’s and Stellina’s price tag. Even if you count the cheap Dell Inspiron Laptop I use for PHD Autoguiding software, the portable battery to power on the scope, and the student price I paid for Adobe Photoshop Elements 15 to process the image, it still doesn’t get over the price tag for the EVscope when they offer a promotional discount!

And the best part? It was achieved with SKILL! Besides the computer scope and autoguiding software, it would not work if my scope setup wasn’t properly balanced, and the mount wasn’t polar aligned enough to allow the guiding to work on a mount that’s well known for backlash problems!

M33 – Triangulum Galaxy

Currently, I pair my same 8″ Newtonian telescope with an Atlas II, which the mount alone is worth about $1,500. So while I’ve paid about $3,000 for my current imaging setup, I’m using a telescope that collects more light and sees more depth into the heavens thanks to the larger aperture, and my images are only going to get better – the results on my first night out with the Atlas II in Joshua Tree National Park speak for themselves. Oh, and I can view the planets up close, and take images of them just fine!

Only time will tell if this technology catches on, and a decade or so from now these types of telescopes become the norm. But that’s a big IF…

As it currently stands, the simple matter is you’re paying a lot of money for a novelty item that doesn’t offer everything that even a smaller traditional telescope can offer. The four figure price tag is a lot of money for something that you cannot view planets really well on – you know, the most popular celestial sights that casuals always ask to see?

If you want something that’s about bright results with ease of use, something that’s super portable and convenient, and has great appeal for outreach purposes, then you might find the price tag worth it. I have met plenty of people who have one, and they enjoy what they have to offer. For that I say, “Good for them!”

But if you want something for the dedicated astrophotographer who is much more savvy with the processes, then you can find MUCH bigger setups for less money and achieve images that people will say “oh that needs to be in a magazine!” Sure, it isn’t convenient, and these setups are almost too bulky to be considered portable, but my images alone are proof of the dedication achieving better results!

Even though the appeal is there, and I agree that when it comes to outreach these devices are useful to make astronomy accessible. However, as long as they remain out of the price range for most people, and until the technology does become more accessible, then these items will remain a gimmick novelty and nothing more.

But that doesn’t mean they will never catch on.

Remember when CD players used to cost an arm and a leg? Remember when giant flat screen TV’s seemed out of everyone’s price range? It wasn’t that long ago when traditional computerized GoTo telescopes were considered a major luxury, and now they are almost considered the norm when it comes to affordable telescopes! Technology will continue to evolve and I predict so will “Hybrid Telescope” technology. So maybe we can check back 5 years? 10 years from now?

In the mean time, check these telescopes out yourself by going to Unistellar or Vaonis‘ websites, and don’t just listen to me, there are plenty of honest reviews done by other bloggers and YouTubers. Only you can decide if they’re currently worth the price tag!

Me? I’m doing just fine with what I have!

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