Telescopes are for looking through, right? Not this one. A so-called ‘smart telescope’ that’s operated purely using an app, the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox is small but with a big ambition – to change amateur astronomy as we know it.
You see, the eVscope eQuinox isn’t for looking through. Unlike most of the best telescopes, here the eyepiece is replaced by apps for smartphones and tablets that relay skillfully processed ‘live’ images to you. In fact, you can set-up the eVscope eQuinox outside and simply sit inside inspecting its images.
It can do all this because at the heart of this small reflector telescope is a Sony IMX224 CMOS image sensor. The eVscope eQuinox takes photographs, but not just one per object. Select ‘enhanced vision’ after it’s pointed at an object and it takes image after image of the same object, with the intelligently processed stacked image on your device getting better with time. You can then save those images to your phone and share them on social media.
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UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX: FIRST IMPRESSIONS
The eVscope eQuinox isn’t identical to its predecessor, the eVscope. Though it looks the same at first glance, its tube is a dark grey rather than light grey and, of course, there’s no eyepiece. Whether or not you see that as a positive or a negative, it has consequences, largely by allowing the telescope to have a much longer battery life. Whereas the original telescope worked for 10 hours, the eVscope eQuinox works for 12 hours.
Perhaps more crucially it’s got a lot more storage space than the original eVscope, with a healthy 64GB versus 12GB. Why is not immediately clear since the resolution of the images it produces hasn’t changed, remaining at 1.27 megapixels. However, during our review a firmware update upped that to an impressive 4.8 megapixels thanks to some advances in its image-stacking algorithms. Backyard astrophotography is on!
UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX REVIEW: SPECS
- Optical design: Reflector
- Objective lens diameter: 4.5”/114mm
- Focal length: 17.7”/450mm
- Focal ratio: f/4
- Software supplied: Unistellar app
- Optical tube length: 65cm
- Mount: Motorised alt-az
- Tripod: Aluminium construction, adjustable
- Weight: 19.8 lbs / 9kg including tripod
- Storage capacity: 64 GB
- Battery life: 12 hours
- Connectivity: WiFi (10 devices can connect at once)
- Maximum magnitude: up to 18 in dark skies/under 16 in urban areas
- Level: Beginner
UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX REVIEW: PRICE AND RELEASE DATE
On pre-order in May 2021, the eVscope eQuinox hails from Marseille, France and costs €2,799 with €59 shipping (UK£2,599 with UK£59 shipping / US$2,999 with US$59 shipping. The standard package does not include a backpack, but there is one available from Unistellar for €359 / £329.00 / US$429.
UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX REVIEW: DESIGN AND SETUP
The eVscope eQuinox is very easy to set-up and the build quality is excellent – as you would expect at this high price. The first task is to unfurl its solid two-stage tripod, make sure it’s level using its built-in spitting level, then carefully place the tube onto it, tightening two screws to lock it in place.
As for aligning it with the stars, Unistellar’s Autonomous Field Detection technology takes care of that by imaging whatever stars it’s pointed at and cross-referencing them with its built-in planetarium software. It’s incredibly accurate. The only time it’s likely to fail is if you accidentally point it at clouds, try it too early in the evening before it’s properly dark, or point it close to a near-full Moon.
Its lack of eyepiece makes it slightly more difficult to focus, but we had no problems using an included Bahtinov mask. All you have to do is place this plastic disk on the end of the telescope, slew it to a bright star, then twiddle the focusing knob until you get three spikes of light to intersect.
UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX REVIEW: FEATURES AND USABILITY
One of the joys of using a telescope outdoors is to share the night sky with others, so the eVscope eQuinox allows up to 10 observers to download the Unistellar app on smartphones or tablets and get the image fullscreen. It’s possible to pinch-to-zoom, too.
The Unistellar app has a catalogue of 5,400 objects, which it aligns to using your phone’s GPS in conjunction with its built-in compass and accelerometer. You tell it where you’re observing it from – an urban or rural location – and it will customise its suggested targets of what it thinks you’ll get good views of. Although the app teaches you exactly what most of those objects are, there are significant gaps.
It’s not obvious how long you must point the eVscope eQuinox at any given object to get the best image; sometimes you may already have the best possible image after 10 seconds while other times you can wait 10 minutes before the image really starts to become impressive. So some patience is required.
In our tests the eVscope eQuinox ran for a marathon six-hour observing session no problem, though we did have a portable battery (of the kind you might use for your smartphone) nearby just in case. It hooks-up via USB-C, while a USB-A slot lets you recharge your phone from its built-in battery.
There’s also a ‘citizen scientist’ community dimension to this telescope, with Unistellar setting-up occasional virtual star parties where users can manually punch-in coordinates of, say, a comet that’s just appeared, or an asteroid that’s occulting a star.
UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX REVIEW: IMAGES
Doesn’t the eVscope eQuinox just download images from the internet and show them to you on your smartphone or tablet, thus easily fooling you into parting with your cash for no reason? No, it does not! We know this because, firstly, a satellite went right across a few of the objects we pointed the eVscope eQuinox at. And it also becomes obvious fairly quickly that while some objects – such as the Ring Nebula (M57), the M81 spiral galaxy and M5 globular cluster – look great at first glance and, as the ‘enhanced vision’ mode keeps snapping away, just get clearer and more colourful, some galaxies and nebulae (such as a the delicate Bubble Nebula) don’t look great.
There are lots of variables at play here, from sky clarity to local light pollution, but the eVscope eQuinox shows you much more detail, brightness and colour than any other small telescope you can buy to use in your backyard. Unfortunately, it’s 20 times more expensive than most decent backyard telescopes. Is it 20 times better? Well, yes, in terms of what it can show you, yes it is.
UNISTELLAR EVSCOPE EQUINOX REVIEW: VERDICT
The Unistellar eVscope eQuinox does a lot with light. Not having a live view through an eyepiece does feel odd for anyone who is used to using a small backyard telescope. While most small telescopes with similar optical specifications to this one really only offer decent views of planets and the Moon, the eVscope eQuinox concentrates solely on deep sky objects. So in many ways it's a complement to a small backyard telescope, not an upmarket replacement.
Is it an astrophotography telescope? Technically, yes, and all the images it produces are increasing in resolution, but the eVscope eQuinox will be most adored by anyone frustrated with how little of the deep sky they can see from a light-polluted back garden.