Will so-called ‘smart’ digital telescopes save us from light pollution? The Unistellar eVscope2, which is the new version of the original eVscope, is a 4.5-inch reflector telescope fitted with an all-new camera sensor to combat serious bright skies.
The eVscope 2’s highlights are its skill under light-polluted skies and its simplicity. Its go-to capabilities are impressive, including ‘autonomous field detection’ that uses artificial intelligence and the GPS in the user’s phone to calibrate itself. That said, it’s wise to use the included Bahtinov mask to focus correctly, which absolute beginners might be nervous about doing.
Unfortunately, cost and availability will be barriers for the new version, which is on pre-order for $4,199 (plus a $59 delivery fee), about a third more expensive than the original eVscope’s cost of $2,999.
Also, Marseille, France-based Unistellar did not wait long before creating this new version of its flagship product, launched in 2020. The eVscope 2 also succeeds the eyepiece-less eVscope eQuinox launched earlier this year, and appears to be competing with the Vaonis Stellina go-to telescope.
Compared to these three products, the new telescope includes several technical advances appealing to those wanting to use a ‘smart’ telescope for astrophotography, outreach astronomy and even citizen science.
Sensors, pixels and eyepieces
The biggest change to the eVscope 2 is its sensor. Now fitted with a Sony IMX347 chip, the eVscope 2 is capable of producing images of the night sky measuring 3,200×3,200 pixels, which equates to 7.7 megapixels. That’s compared to a mere 1.4 megapixels on the original eVscope, though a firmware upgrade has recently upped that capability to 4.8 megapixels (ditto on the eVscope eQuinox).
Do those extra pixels make much difference? Yes, but it’s not hugely noticeable. eVscope 2’s all-important ‘enhanced vision’ live-stacking mode produces cleaner, more contrasty images than previous iterations, with noticeably deeper and more convincing black … which there’s a lot of in space. Wisely, the eVscope 2 has 64 GB of onboard storage to house those extra pixels.
Those extra pixels also prove handy for another of the eVscope 2’s innovations. While the other two smart telescopes in the Unistellar stable have a field of view measuring 30 arc minutes, the eVscope ups that to 34 arcminutes. It’s only a slight increase, but it allows users to gaze at the whole of the Moon’s disk. For beginners in particular – and for all amateur astronomers during ‘full moon week’ when the skies are blighted by strong moonlight – the ability to observe the Moon properly makes all the difference.
However, the most noticeable improvement for traditionalists is the new electronic eyepiece on the eVscope 2. Made by Nikon, it presents much clearer, better defined images against the background of space that also looks much blacker. Star clusters, in particular, are better defined than before and are sharp in the eyepiece as soon as the eVscope 2 slews to them.
It’s unclear if the eVscope 2 actually needs an eyepiece, as the experience is so intuitive without that it’s curious they went to the trouble and cost to include it. Another argument against the eyepiece is that up to 10 smartphones and tablets can tune-in to this smart telescope’s WiFi Direct network to peruse the telescope’s live-stacked images. Maybe the eyepiece is there just to convince amateur astronomers who are understandably suspicious of ‘smart telescopes’ … particularly given their sky-high prices.
Other differences between the eVscope and eVscope 2 are slight, with the latter’s processing power boost costing some battery life; Unistellar quotes it dropping from 12 hours to 10 hours. Hardly a major issue.
The eVscope 2 also makes for an excellent outreach telescope. Although it weighs a hefty 19.8 lbs (nearly 9 kg), it does ship with an excellent backpack, which might be useful for schlepping it out to an observing location. Although up to 10 devices can join in, only one can be ‘operator’ mode while the others are simple ‘watcher’ mode. Happily, there’s no complex joining process; you just download and launch the Unistellar app and instantly get views of whatever it’s observing.
The first eVscope impressed, but needed more megapixels, a sharper eyepiece and a lower price. The eVscope 2 is a noticeable upgrade from its predecessor and is an even more intuitive experience for those looking to get started in go-to telescopes.
Summary: This second-generation digital telescope continues to produce bright and colorful live-stacked images even under light-polluted skies, but with an excellent new Nikon eyepiece and a higher resolution Sony camera sensor. Offering hassle-free astrophotography with an intruding citizen science dimension, this version has a slightly wider field of view of 34 arcminutes that puts the whole of the Moon in the picture.
Plus: Autonomous star-field detection alignment; deals well with light pollution; field of view fits the Moon; 7.7 megapixel images; ships with custom-made backpack; simple to set-up; up to 10 smartphones/tablets cane tune-in
Minus: Expensive; slewing to objects requires patience; manual focusing; slightly reduced battery life