Plus: bright and colorful images; copes well with light pollution; autonomous star-field detection alignment; 12-hour battery; easy to use app
Minus: expensive; app occasionally crashes; some objects requires patience; narrow field of view
Summary: Like Unistellar’s first-generation attempt at a smartscope, the eVscope eQuinox effectively live-stacks images of deep sky objects even under light-polluted skies. This version loses the electronic eyepiece, ups the resolution and allows up to 10 smartphones and tablets to see its images as its intelligent image processing power brightens them with time.
Who Is It For? Urban amateur astronomers, educators, and citizen scientists looking for a way to see and share images of the deep sky.
Here’s a second generation of the ‘smartscope’. An update, or rather, an alternative version of the original Unistellar eVscope from last year. The eQuinox lacks something every other telescope has had. There is no eyepiece.
The mainstay of all observing, it seems unthinkable to lose the eyepiece, and yet it makes a lot of sense if you understand the concept behind the eVscope eQuinox. It’s a go-to reflector telescope for seeing deep sky objects, something that your average 4.5-inch reflector is pretty terrible at—particularly from urban areas. So the eVscope eQuinox uses a Sony IMX224 CMOS image sensor to repeatedly image galaxies, nebulae, open clusters and globulars, stacking them ad infinitum to produce ever brighter, ever-better views (only) via an app on a smartphone or tablet.
Unistellar calls this Enhanced Vision (EV), and it’s incredible. Who needs an eyepiece? What’s more, up to 10 smart devices can hook-up to the eVscope eQuinox’s WiFi hotspot to share its real-time images.
Besides, the eyepiece on the original eVscope is electronic, and the dropping of it altogether on the eQuinox sees an increase in battery power from 10 hours to 12 hours.
Its absence does make it slightly more fiddly to focus, however. On the original eVscope, the fastest way to focus is to observe through the eyepiece and adjust the focusing knob at the base of the tube. Since that’s not possible, the eVscope eQuinox can be focused quickly using a Bahtinov mask, which is hiding inside the lens cap. Placed on the front of the tube, use it to simply focus on a star until spikes of light from the mask’s three patterns intersect.
While the telescope sits on a tough, though proprietary tripod, and the tube on an L-shaped alt-azimuth mount, the eVscope eQuinox’s autonomous field detection software generally makes short work of alignment, but is at its most reliable when pointed at a star-filled region of the night sky.
The eVscope eQuinox images are excellent. Upped from 1.27 to 4.8 megapixels via a firmware update during my review, I was instantly impressed when the eVscope eQuinox was fixed on M51, the Whirlpool Galaxy. Initially visible, left on EV for just a few seconds it produced excellent results. After 10 minutes the image featured distinct dust lanes.
Similarly spectacular results were obtained from the Ring Nebula (M57) – typically invisible from cities – and globular clusters M5 and M13. It’s not always that good, with some nebulae failing to reveal themselves to any kind of impressive extent even when left on EV for 30 minutes. So it can sometimes be a slightly frustrating waiting game …but not very often.
The app makes it easy to jump around from target to target, but the slower you take it, the better the results. It’s not possible to micro-slew after the EV mode is engaged, so centering on initially faint objects means repeating the targeting process, which is a touch frustrating. However, generally speaking it’s a rather relaxed observing session.
Sure, it’s rather odd not to have a wide-field view of the night sky before swapping eyepieces to ‘zoom’ in on a galaxy, nebulae or globular cluster. In fact, its 30 arc minutes field of view is too tight to observe the Moon, M31, and even M81 and M82 together. I’m also not convinced I want to spend my spare time staring at a screen. But the eVscope eQuinox is a hugely rewarding way to access and learn about the deep sky in exchange for very little technical know-how.
Is this aimed at astrophotographers? No—it’s primarily for clear views from cities, for sharing observations, and for citizen science (Unistellar runs occasional group observing sessions of asteroid occultations, in conjunction with SETI). For now, images produced using the eVscope eQuinox are held on the onboard computer’s 64GB storage (four times more than on the original eVscope) and can be downloaded to a phone’s camera roll, but they’re otherwise not easy to access for post-processing. Unistellar tells us that this could change soon, with various raw file formats accessible in a new backend.
Many purists will be suspicious of the eVscope eQuinox’s lack of an eyepiece and deride it as an expensive novelty. There will also be astrophotographers who see it as merely a sleek-looking and overpriced setup that under-performs the kinds of rigs they’ve spent many years assembling.
The eVscope eQuinox is neither of those things. Designed purely to overcome both the crippling effects of light pollution on amateur astronomy and the general poor quality of small backyard telescopes when it comes to viewing deep sky objects, the eVscope eQuinox is a new kind of telescope for the digital, connected era that opens-up the deep sky in style.
Yes, it’s very expensive and no, it’s not perfect. But before you criticise the eVscope eQuinox, see if you can find the Ring Nebula from the middle of a city and then try to have a go on a an eVscope; staring at a smartphone or a tablet instead of at the night sky (or a handheld controller) might seem odd, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.