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- Who’s Afraid of a Phantom: Istar Phantom 140mm F/6.5, that is?
- SHARPSTAR 94EDPH APOCHROMATIC REFRACTOR
- My Losmandy G11T review
- FIELD TEST: THE NOH CT-20 ALT-AZ MOUNT
- SkyTee-2 Alt/Az Mount Review
- SharpStar Askar ACL200 200-mm f/4 astrographic telephoto lens
- A review of the Unistellar EVscope
- Astrotrac 360 tracking platform – first impression
- FIELD TEST: CARL ZEISS APOCHROMATIC & SHARPEST (CZAS) BINOVIEWER
- Omegon 32mm 70º SWA eyepiece review
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A review of the Unistellar EVscope
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A review of the Unistellar EVscope
Well here is another product that has received a lot of hype and press, but without divulging much useful information about the telescope itself. Well needless to say, the hype worked on me….and I took delivery of my (used) Unistellar EVscope today.
Why did I buy, and why should you?
I’ve been in the hobby since I was 13 years old. Over the years I’ve had everything from homebuilt 6F8 newts, to 11” SCTs to Questars and Televues, and you know what? - M13 and all the rest look exactly the same today as they did 40 years ago - so something had to change. I thought about getting into astrophotography as a way of perhaps looking at this differently, but there is a considerable investment in equipment, a steep learning curve, and generally you need to be attendant at your telescope when imaging.
So the EVscope checked several boxes for me.
· GOTO – check
· Self-aligning – check
· Portable – check
· Astrophotography for idiots – check (albeit on a limited basis)
· Ability for scope to operate remotely (ie: me indoors) - check
So what follows is a brief description, first impressions and first-light performance.
What is it?
The EVscope is essentially a Newtonian based camera in as much as the parabolic 4.5” F4 primary mirror focuses its image directly onto a Sony IMX224 sensor located in the position that would normally be occupied by the diagonal in a Newtonian or secondary in a Cassegrain.
The Sony IMX224 is a color sensor with a resolution of 1.2 Million pixels (1305 x 977).
The OTA is carried on a single fork arm ALT-AZ Goto mount with an integral lithium ion battery supposedly good for up to 10 hours. Also packed in there is a lot of computing power as evidenced by the scope’s ability to;
1. Recognize any star field you point it at and derive its internal map from that. (Plate solving)
2. Offer full GOTO and tracking capability.
3. View in both live view (no enhancement) or enhanced vision (EV) which takes frames every 4 seconds and stacks them internally in real time to provide an enhanced vision rendering of the target.
4. Cancel out field rotation that you get with any non-equatorial mounted telescope.
5. Sets up its own wireless network so it can access your phone or tablet to:
a. Get current GPS coordinates and time
b. Send real time pictures to your device (and 8 others)
c. Your phone or tablet runs the Unistellar app which is a free download from Google Play or the Apple store.
The eyepiece is not really an eyepiece in the sense that we’re all familiar with, but a ‘window’ looking at a Hi-res OLED display. You see on this display (and on your phone or tablet) whatever the main Sony chip sees. The sensor image is roughly the equivalent of 50X optical magnification. There is no facility to be able to change magnifications, although can zoom digitally on your device.
However, it is the EV mode that makes this scope different. While it is true that astrophotography has been around for decades, and no one thing that the EVscope does is groundbreaking – the EVscope accomplishes this without all the gear, wires, setup and steep learning curve necessary to get results with a more traditional setup.
It is this ability to capture and stack 15 images per minute with the commensurate increase in brightness and detail of the target that allows the EVscope to make some of its extravagant claims. I have an 8” SCT (which mathematically has 3X the light gathering power) and I can tell you that, with the possible exception of M42, the lowly 4.5” mirror on the EVscope reveals a lot more detail, brightness and color of the Messier and NGC objects when in EV mode – the magic of light stacking vs. raw aperture.
The EVscope arrived packed in the usual double cardboard box. Well protected. Once you get the outer wrapper off, you will be met with the following promise.
Opening the inner box reveals the following
a) EVscope in parked position
c) Accessory box for the AC adapter
d) Quick start manual and user manual
The scope and tripod together weigh approx. 20lbs. I wondered what the EVscope would be made of. The answer is aluminum for the OTA tube and plastic cladding for the lower end cell and mount cladding. The fork arm/base /rear cell have aluminum skeletons but in truth is, I was a bit disappointed.
With this scope commanding almost $3000USD, you’d like to think you could get away from the ETX black plastic syndrome, but the scope does have some heft to it, hinting perhaps at a substantial aluminum frame beneath the cladding.
The tripod is basically a heavy-duty camera tripod and the feet are tipped with squishy rubber pads which seem to allow a lot of ‘wiggle’.
Several times I would get the message that the ‘EV mode was dropped due to vibration’. It was a breezy night. I wonder if the squishy feet were allowing too much movement?
The tripod design allows the angle of the legs to be altered from a narrow footprint to almost horizontal in 3 steps. There are 3 ledges that the leg stop can butt against. Just pull out the detent to allow the stop to clear the lower ledge and butt against the next. It is not spring loaded so be sure to re-seat it.
The interface between the mount base and tripod head could also be more rigid. There are only 2 hold-down screws around the periphery, and this allows some movement between the scope and the tripod head. 3 screws would eliminate this issue, and indeed, there is a raised boss in the casting identical to the other two locations that has not been drilled/tapped. This would be an easily fixed oversight.
There is also some unwanted lateral play in the AZ axis. This could be contributing to the vibration warnings I sometimes get. I am currently working with Unistellar to address this issue and will advise the outcome.
Looking down the tube you will see the primary mirror at the bottom, and the ‘secondary cage’ forming the cross at the top of the tube where the Sony sensor is mounted.
Interestingly, the tube is double walled.. Whether this is to help with thermal stability, or to hide the wiring going up to the sensor – who knows? The inside of the OTA is painted a satin black which does a poor job of reducing stray light. A flat black paint, or even better, a textured flat black would help the cause.
The overall length of the OTA is a bit longer than a 4.5”F4 system would normally dictate. This is because the secondary light reflections that occur in a Newtonian or Cassegrain design that eat up some focal length are missing in the EVscope. It’s straight from the mirror to the sensor with nothing in between, so the OTA is as long as the mirror focal length plus whatever is needed at either end to house the optics and sensor.
Underneath the mount arm, there are two ports. The small one (USB-C) is the charging port. The large one (USB-A) can be used for powering a phone or other USB device from the scope’s internal battery.
The Unistellar documentation is not, well….stellar. It’s bare bones and basically covers taking the scope out of the box and setting it up and how to start the app. Then you’re pretty well on your own.
Spread the tripod and level with the integral bubble level. Plunk the mount/scope into the socket and secure with the two thumbscrews, take off the dust caps and the physical stuff is done. Maybe a minute - tops.
Press the power button about 2 seconds and it will initially turn Purple, and then to Red as it finishes its boot sequence and establishes its Wi-Fi network. At this point you can acquire the EVscope network on your phone or tablet, and then start the Unistellar app on that same device.
Use the app joystick to depress the scope to point at any open area of sky with visible stars.
A note on the joystick. The center yellow circle is the ‘tip’ of the joystick. Drag it onto any of the four direction arrows to move the scope. The further from the center you drag it, the faster the EVscope moves. Fine adjustments can be made by tapping just the arrows. I found it a little cumbersome to use in practice.
Tap the Autonomous Field Detection icon to start the alignment procedure.
Once the scope identifies the viewed star field with its internal database (called plate solving) it knows where it is and you’re good to go.
It seems to be very accurate, which it needs to be to land the image dead center on a small CMOS sensor. The only caveat is that it needs to see a star field, not just a single bright star, so you have to wait a little longer for the sky to darken before you can do an alignment.
Tap the ‘Explore’ icon on the lower menu bar to call up the GOTO database. Here you will find most of the popular Messier, NGC and IC targets grouped into several categories. If the selected object’s ‘GOTO’ icon is greyed out, this means it is not viewable at your time/location.
The EVscope is not a fast slewer, and during a GOTO, it seems to pause a couple of times along the way to review its plate solving algorithms in some wayward part of the sky, but whatever it is doing, it’s doing it well as the GOTO’s were spot-on middle-of-field when done, and they stayed there for as long as you want.
During slewing the ‘Live view’ will shows the stars as streaks until the scope settles down to tracking rates. Once on target, it stays in Live view mode unless you tap the EV mode icon. The Live view mode can be pretty grainy on dim objects. You can fiddle with manual controls for the live view mode to provide a less ‘boosted’ image. I don’t know if dimming the live view mode also dims the view for the EVscope’s Sony sensor.
So you’ll want to tap the EV icon and this is where the magic happens.
The EVscope then starts taking frames 4 sec apart, stacking and processing them to present a gradually improving image of dimmer astro targets. Brighter targets may only seconds to image, dimmer ones may run to several minutes depending on how dark your skies are.
In my fooling around the first time out, it only needed 20 sec to provide a nice pic of M42 and M82 – the Cigar Galaxy.
And I saw the Crab nebula for the first time ever….
And obviously, from this article, once you have the images on your phone or tablet, it’s easy to manipulate them.
The nice thing about all of this is that other than the preliminary setup, I was sitting comfortably in my den about 25 ft away while the scope was outside in freezing temperatures. I was able to move to the other end of the house which would have been about 40ft away at that point and still had a signal.
The scope seemed to be well focused and collimated when it arrived judging by the star images. Both the focus and collimation are manually adjusted with the app software providing the necessary feedback. There is an included Bahtinov focusing mask located under the front dust cap. Between the mask and the app-based cues for collimation, it is not difficult to do (easier than a standard Newtonian).
A couple of things seem to disorient the EVscope.
1. If there are clouds or obstacles in the way of the FOV, then the scope cannot see a ‘plate’ to solve. It’s not like a regular GOTO where you tell the scope where it is on the face of the earth and what time it is and the controller then predicts the target location from there on. That GOTO system does not care about obstacles, it will cheerfully point at your target on the other side of a barn. By comparison, the EVscope navigates by comparing star fields to its internal maps. If any of the FOVs are blocked when it drops out of warp to have a recon, then the GOTO is aborted, and it returns to tracking mode.
2. If excess vibration detected, the scope will drop out of EV mode. As mentioned, the rubber tripod feet or ‘squishy’ and there is excess play in the AZ axis that may be contributing to this issue…
So far, it is early days, but I am encouraged. The EVscope allows me to view the same old objects in a completely new light (no pun intended) and to save those views to my phone/tablet for use any way I want.
I am able to see things I could never see in my strictly visual scopes, or if visible, as my wife would say….meh...
So instead of doing a Messier marathon and saying ‘yeah, I think I saw it’, you can now have an image of each one for your Messier log. And like our hobby in general, the next night, the seeing or the next image could be better than the last.
The moon and planets can be viewed with the EVscope and indeed, they are GOTO objects in the Apps target list, but it is important to realize that this is not the EVscope’s intended purpose. The EVscope excels at aggregating light and detail from dim objects. The moon and brighter planets will require that you fiddle with the manual adjustments in live view mode. EV mode is not required. Just bear in mind that you are only dealing with 450mm of focal length so the planet views are going to be very small. However, for the moon and bright planets, any decent scope will do.
When it comes to looking for and viewing dim astro objects, there are basically two solutions:
a) Big aperture, with all the attendant problems with portability. And at the end of the day, most faint fuzzies stay exactly like that – faint.. even in bigger scopes.
b) Light stacking ie: Astrophotography. The EVscope is well along the way to astrophotography, albeit with limited resolution and light grasp compared to more professional setups. The meager 4.5” EVscope can show more of deep space objects than you could ever hope to see with direct vision. I’m sure there are some 24” newt owners that would dispute that statement, but please refer to my comment in point a).
So if you want to see more of deep sky objects than is possible with visual observing, and you’d like to be able to take pictures of these views, then this is perhaps a good fit for you.
I know that there are Astrophotographers out there that will sneer at this little scope, and there is no argument that for the money, you could get a much more capable telescope optically, and/or a better resolution AP setup - but you still have to carry it all out, hook it all up, learn how to use it, and accompany it with your computer while you’re taking the pics. And then you need to process the images through various software to tease out the details. I’ve done some basic webcam stuff and then processed it through a couple of stacking programs. I found it time consuming, tedious and not straightforward.
So the EVscope can get you into basic AP without the various components, wires, cables, computers, frostbite and steep learning curve.
I can take the scope outside, set it up and capture a decent image of M42 before the Pro AP guys have even finished carrying all their AP gear outside. And for now, I’m good with that.
· Good introduction to basic astrophotography. It adds another dimension.
· Accurate GOTOs and tracking
· Fully integrated package so no wires, hookups or compatibility issues.
· Works with any Android or Apple mobile phone or tablet with WiFi.
· Capable of revealing very faint astro objects and saving the image files.
· Good basic App interface. (would be better with a proper manual)
· Very portable (OTA and tripod less than 20lbs)
· No other accessories required.
· Small learning curve.
· Fully integrated package. If anything fails, you have a paperweight.
· Limited capabilities compared to more sophisticated setups. Reports are that Unistellar is working on upgrades to make their scope more AP friendly for those that want to have more control. After all, it uses the same Sony IMX224 sensor as a couple of popular aftermarket AP cameras.
· Sparse documentation for scope, and, in particular the Unistellar App. (to be fair though, they responded quickly to two questions I asked them)
· Not really intended for the brighter solar system targets (although they can be imaged…)
· Not good for terrestrial use.
- kc6zut, Bob Campbell, chazcheese and 43 others like this
Well balanced review
IMHO we will see more of this type of product
this is just the beginning like Apple I was
It will get more capable and smoother as time goes on
and less expensive
At that price you'd expect them to have included a larger sensor. The IMX224 is popular for planetary or guiding, if you are making a system with a single integrated sensor it makes no sense apart from saving costs, which is from your review the major factor going on here (i.e. lots of plastic). While charging a rather hefty $3k...
I am sure others will do it much better - for that cost people make some amazing custom builds with integrated mini computers that are much more capable.
The review was good in any case, thanks!
I sort of get the overall impression that cobbling a working EEA setup together is a bit like building your own computer in the old days. Remember? Buy a case/tower, a motherboards, drive, video card, sound card - but not those ones because they won't talk to the whatsit, and these ones are a lot quicker when you pair them with those other thingamajigs.
Looking to avoid this in an EEA setup.
I get that it sounds pretty neat, and the eye candy and low effort is what could draw (extra) people into the hobby (if they can swallow the upgraded price from $1>$3k), a good thing, but in the end how long will they stay entertained anyway?
In the end it's a bit like virtual reality, you're still looking at a screen/image of something. I don't want to make the argument that you could just as well look at Hubble images on your pc, because you're out there, you're (or your scope) is doing 'something', but still it feels gimmicky to me. Then again, most of us who put in the effort to be involved and/or lurk astroforums are probably not the target audience.
It's funny, a couple of nights ago I was out and wondering, why can't someone come up with a camera/scope setup that autofocuses itself. Well, here it is. Now, if you could buy something like this with a better sensor as an OTA that could plug and play with an EQ6-R...
Technology amazes me, heck I still am dumbfounded that cars don't have keys anymore.
Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights.
Nice write-up. Like a lot of other "new tech", there will be version 1 issues, but this will likely become part of the future.
Very nice review. Only two questions.
1, Do you consider this money well spent?
2. With the knowledge you have collected during this process, would you purchase this instrument again?
I bought the scope used, so didn't have to pony up for the full price. If I had of, I may not have considered it money well spent (but then again, that's why CN exists isn't it...lol). But I was getting tired of looking at the same old things thru different scopes only to have them look well, just the same. So something had to give. I could easily have spent the same $$ on acquiring a full AP setup and used it in one of my other scopes, but nothing I could find made it seem simple of straightforward.
Secondly, I would not purchase another EVscope unless they improved their sensor. It's early days and I'm not grousing about picture quality. Things can always be better.... Below is a 22 minute image of M51 - not too bad all things considered.
But I am learning that EEA is an up and coming growth industry, and as a result, the components will get cheaper, better and easier to use. So I would probably go that route if I was to do it again. Not because of dissatisfaction with the EVscope, but to free up the $$ for other things.
Just as an aside - the EVscope does not autofocus. The main competitor Vaonis Stellina - does. Focusing is easy on the EVscope and it's not like you have to do it every time. Once it's set, unless things get bumped around - it'll hold.
I am still not appreciating the real difference (other than technical) between looking at an image in real time comprised of 15 images a minute and stacked, vs and Astrophotography image which is comprised of longer exposures, but still stacked, processed and tweaked to get an image.
Without electronic assistance, we'd all just be looking at Hubble images.
I'd also argue that it is more likely that someone like myself would get into EEA as an easy introduction, and then if I like it enough, get into AP later.
Excellent write up. I’ve begun dabbling in electronically aided astronomy (EAA) which has been an “eye opener” in its own way, but this is really a neat concept worth considering. Thanks for the review!
Thanks for the write-up. Such a set up is intriguing for those of us under highly light polluted skies, which is why I use simple EAA with my 4.5" scope. What seems limiting in regards with the EVscope (and Stellina) is the number of objects that can be targeted. How many would you estimate are available with the EVscope? It's not clear why it cannot allow you to target your own objects. All it needs to do is track once you manually slew it to a position. Obviously, your ability to find an object may be low because there is no finder. But, it should be able to plate solve for the star field it sees after you slewed to an area, and then show where it is pointing in a simple planetarium app.
I suppose that in the demographic that the EVscope is targeting, the Messier and NGC catalogues are all they figured they'd need. You can also enter objects by Name (ie: Iris Nebula) that may lie outside these two catalogues..
I wouldn't be surprised if future updates of their APP will provide either more targets, or the facility to enter coordinates directly. Time will tell.
Maybe if you were looking say for supernova, it's utilitarian images and potential speed and ease of obtaining might be of value?
I love mine!
The version 1.3 makes the images alot better too!
4.8 Megapixel so it 4 times larger than the 1.2.
Here's a shot this morning of dumbbell.
Nice write up!!
Are you talking about a software update, adding something like software interpolation? From what I see they are still advertising an IMX224 sensor, which is just a 1.3 Mpixel sensor.
Thanks for this write-up. I've been involved in EAA for a few years now and I'm constantly torn between the "feel" of true visual and the capabilities of using a camera to see things my eyes simply can't. Eliminating all of the wires and general complexity is a dream that the EV-Scope and other similar products accomplish, but they always see to suffer from inferior performance. A good entry level product but nothing more. Maybe some day...
Not the sensor i would say but they enlarged the image you see 4X on the screen.For some reason the images look better.Not sure if the are up scaling or what?I just see it as a better image .
There's a youtube video of it. describing it.https://www.youtube....h?v=Ke7mIpw6QIs
Though Unistellar seems to not answer how they are doing it in the replies.
Thank you for a nice, balanced and informative review of this product.
The EVscope is vastly overpriced, but then, there don't seem to be any competitors. The bigger question I would ask is why Orion, Skywatcher, Meade, Celestron (as well as ZWO and QHY) aren't in this market with add-ons for their much better scopes.
For that matter, it seems like SharpCap could just embed their software in a camera, dumb down their UI, and offer up a serious competitor at a fraction of the price. I'd like to see them do it, since they are only charging 10 pounds a year for a great product ... they should have a chance to make a bit more money buy embedding in hardware.
I would guess it is something like drizzle, a common technique when stacking images. They should really just put a bigger sensor in there, but I am not their intended audience anyway.
Here's my pic of the Dumbbell.
As far as I know, the only competitor to the EVscope is the Vaonis Stellina - which is even more money!! It is an 80mm refractor based vs the EVscope's 4.5" reflector design, and seems to have a higher res sensor..
Nice shot!! Was you on 1.2 or 1.3 version.?
What I've noticed on the differences of the 1.2 Vs 1.3 was slightly more darker colors with a bit more detail's in the fainter things.Not night and day but there's a slight more crispness to the pics.especially nebulas.star clusters not a whole lot of difference but something brings out color and tendrils slightly better on the 1.3 in gas clouds.Galaxie's seem to show more definition too.
Here's a shot of the Ring and I was really impressed with it over my other images of the ring I've taken with the EV scope.
Hi Keith - I'm running 1.3 also.
Here's my pic of M57.
Um i would not buy one!?its aimed at a very narrow audience perhaps for those who don’t want to do the ground work and prefer shoot and snap kind of scenario,maybe for a $1000 but for half the price you get an larger aperture scope with even an DLSR camera would outperform the evescope.