Stellina Telescope Review The Amateur Astronomers Antidote to Light Pollution

The new telescope from Stellina has great promise for the amateur living under light polluted skies

Published on 20th Dec, 2019

Get Stellina Telescope Here (aff link): Hello everybody and welcome to my thoughts on a brand new telescope for amateur astronomers that was released by Vaonis, a French company that has done something remarkable with the Stellina telescope, they’ve created a fully-automated, self-contained optical system that is unlike anything I’ve seen before. This telescope is a real paradigm shift for amateur astronomy, never before has getting into the hobby been easier. Vaonis sent me this unit to play with for a few weeks and I’ve spent a lot of time with it, to be blunt, this is the funnest telescope I’ve ever used - I actually want to take this outside and see stuff with it. In this video, I’m going to give you my thoughts and experiences with the scope, but it’s so easy to use, I’m not going to go into great detail on how to use it and stuff like that - because well, I don’t have to - it really is plug and play simple. To use it, all you have to do is level the tripod, turn it on and connect with the telescope via the Stellinapp for your smartphone. That’s literally all you gotta do to get started using it, it’s that simple. But, if you want more examples and a more complete description than what I’ll give here, please watch the video that Galactic-Hunters made on stellina, they’ve done an outstanding job introducing the Stellina Telescope so I’m going to give a different perspective. The link to their video is in the description box and that is also a channel well worth subbing to if you think you’re going to get into astro imaging in a big way. So when I got the scope, the first thing I noticed was that there was no eyepiece, this is strictly an imaging scope, which depending on your outlook is either a good or a bad thing. I put the battery in and downloaded the app from the Google Play store, then I turned it on. The startup process boots up the telescope and starts a wifi hotspot that you’ll connect to with your phone. The only tricky thing to remember is that when you’re connecting to the wifi of the Stellina, turn off your data connection to your cell provider because otherwise the phone won’t fully connect. You won’t be able to surf the web from the telescope’s hotspot, only connect to it so you can control it. Alright, so with those preliminaries out of the way, which I did indoors, I was ready to go outside. Here is how I used the scope, I just put it on the tailgate of my truck. It was easy and the tailgate is at a comfortable height and allowed me to drive anywhere I wanted easy and setup fast. And man is this scope easy to use. I’m not overstating it when I say that this telescope is the easiest and most fool-proof telescope I’ve ever used. Ever. Any night I wanted to go out, all I had to do was grab it and in less than 10 minutes I was imaging something. What a satisfying experience that was because anyone who owns a large, heavy, complicated telescope system will tell you that deciding whether you want to schlep all that stuff outside, polar align it, boot up computers and cameras and grab eyepieces and all that jazz isn’t all that easy. Sometimes you just say, ‘well, maybe I’ll stay inside tonight’. Unless you have a permanent setup where you can just go outside and turn things on, you’re not always keen on getting all that gear out on a cold night. I promise you won’t do that with this scope. Ten minutes from decision to imaging will make all the difference in whether you go out under the stars or not. So here are some of the specs: this is an f/5 system that is a composite refractor/reflector design that has a Nasmyth focus meaning the image plane comes out the side of the optical tube. The objective lens is an apochromatic ED doublet made from lanthanum glass and it has anti-reflection coatings. The camera is based on a 6.4 MP Sony CMOS chip that has 3096 x 2080 pixels and because it is sitting on an alt-az mount, it has an optical field derotator built in and since I live in Florida, one thing I appreciated was that it also has a built-in dew control heater. So basically, this thing has everything you’re going to need to get started imaging objects in space. You won’t need to buy anything else. Actually, I don’t think you can buy anything else for it, where are you gonna put it? But even with all that sophisticated mechanical, electronic and optical components, what really sets this telescope apart in my opinion, is the onboard control and imaging software - the software is the hidden treasure here. What advanced imagers learn the hard way is that taking a good image is tricky, you need to have good alignment with the sky, great focus and your processing after the fact needs to be great before you get an image that looks halfway decent. All of that really tricky stuff is dealt with in Stellina. After it boots up and starts the wifi network, it begins a series of tasks that are not trivial, but it seems that way because of how they’ve implemented it: it looks up and immediately starts focusing by implementing an onboard focusing routine, then it does a plate solution to figure out where it is on Earth and where it’s looking in the sky (it has an onboard GPS too). This takes several minutes to complete but that simplicity belies a lot of hard work in software control and design that I don’t think beginners can fully appreciate. This little telescope has the same sophistication in software that you would only find in professional observatories. I know this because I’ve written that code in my previous life and it’s one of the things that impressed me the most with Stellina. This is a complete remote observing unit where you don’t need to touch it once it’s started. Now we’re ready to start looking at stuff. The app is where you’ll search for what’s up right now and gives an estimate of how long you should observe to get a decent image. I picked several of my favorites starting with M57 the Ring Nebula. This is where my jaw started dropping. What happens after you tell Stellina to look at something is revolutionary and why I think this telescope is a game-changer: it slews to the object, focuses for a bit more and then begins to take a series of images that will appear on your cell phone. For most objects I looked at with Stellina, it took 8-15 second exposures and started adding them all up together. This is something professional astronomers and imagers do routinely: they make a bright image of a dim object like a galaxy or nebula by adding together successive, short exposure images together. This increases signal and reduces noise, and what you get is a remarkably detailed image made from shorter exposure images. Using the app, you can scroll through the stack of images you’ve taken as it goes along. Each image in the stack is exposed, dark subtracted, enhanced then added to the stack. But here is where they’ve hidden another really advanced feature in the software: over the course of the 20 minutes or so I was imaging the Ring Nebula, clouds would periodically cover the object. Those frames never made it into the final image which tells me that there is an algorithm running that gives an idea of the image quality and throws out the bad ones. Otherwise, one cloudy frame added to the stack would ruin the final image. As a software engineer, I’d love to see that algorithm because it did a really good job, again rivalling what I’ve seen in professional data pipelines. I also took some images of the Andromeda Galaxy and the Orion Nebula, here’s my image of the Double Cluster in Perseus and a quick shot of the Moon. The time I had with the scope saw a lot of cloudy nights, but I managed this really cool image of the Crab Nebula. And this image of the Crab Nebula brings me to why I think this telescope may be the future of amateur astronomy - but isn’t necessarily the future of astrophotography. Let me explain. Many of you that are advanced astro-imagers have already expressed the opinion that you can get way better imaging setups for that this telescope costs you and that it will never replace a truly dedicated system designed for taking high resolution, long exposure astro photos. I see your point, but I would argue some of the details, I mean granted at $4000 this thing ain’t cheap, but it’s comparable to what you’d spend on a high quality imaging station that included a 6MP chip, field derotator, lens dew control system, control and processing software and all the other stuff the Stellina has. By the time you’ve spent money on all that stuff, you’re still looking at a similar price point although you might get a 102mm objective and a better mount - maybe. But I’ll concede that point for the moment and just say that this telescope may not be future of astrophotography, but it most DEFINITELY is the future of observing. If I were manufacturers of eyepieces, I’d be a little worried about the Stellina. I love you TeleVue, I really do, but there are storms on the horizon. Why? Everyone knows we are losing our night skies. They are dying a slow death. Very few people have ever seen the Milky Way much less a planet or the Andromeda galaxy on a clear, dark night. Too many people can’t even see all the stars in the Big Dipper I predict that in most places in the world, visual observing through an eyepiece will be a dead hobby in my lifetime. And I’m old. What this telescope represents is the future of visual astronomy. With our disappearing night sky and lack of good observing sites, this telescope is the replacement of the eyepiece. I am a visual astronomer at heart, I love looking through an eyepiece but even during the best of times, with dark skies and no moon, all I ever really saw were colorful smudges at best and faint incoherent smudges at worst. And try as I might, throughout my whole life of living, I never saw the Crab Nebula anywhere near like this! To get even a small hint of color from an eyepiece on this object, I’d need a 20 inch scope minimum, preferably a 30 inch or larger and that’s just not practical for casual amateurs. Here, with an 80mm scope and ten minutes of my time under light-polluted, partly cloudy skies I can see this? I’m sorry but nothing in all my years of observing using an eyepiece have I seen anything as exciting. This image was taken almost directly under a street light on my property and the clouds were all over the place. After about 30 minutes, I stopped imaging because it was gonna start raining. So no, this probably won’t replace serious astrophotography, but I gotta say it’s gonna come close, these images are pretty damned good and if you get one of these and decide to get serious later, you can attach a thumb drive to the usb port in here and you can save the raw fits images yourself for further processing or analysis if you’re doing science with it. Here’s another part of the hobby that will forever be changed by this scope: star parties. Stellina will connect with up to 20 other smartphones with the Stellinapp which means that a large group can get the image themselves on their phones to do with whatever they want with it. Star parties will never be the same again. Imagine watching an ever brightening Orion Nebula appearing on your smartphone, full of color and detail, while sharing it with 20 other people all looking at the same thing. That is an experience unique in amateur astronomy and may very well bring to an end the nights at the eyepiece while heralding in an era of high detail casual observing behind the small, high resolution screen of a smartphone. Remember, this is coming from a guy who spent his life sitting behind $1500 eyepieces and staring directly at objects whose photons where falling directly on my retina. I always cherished that feeling of a direct connection with the cosmos. But I’m a realist and I know those times are fading away, literally, with the onslaught of light pollution. This telescope, the stellina, is poised to take that place and improve on it. I was surprised at how thrilled I was as the image progressed through the night, especially objects that have always been challenging to see in an eyepiece, like the Crab Nebula. I was just as excited seeing the image build up on my phone as I was looking through the eyepiece. Actually a little more so because of the detail I could see with so little effort. Sharing to social media is a given in this day and age, and of course it’s trivial to do that when the images start out on your phone. Now for reasons I’ve never understood, some harumphing seasoned amateurs think of what Stellina does as "cheating" but seriously, OK boomer (hey wait a minute, I’m a boomer - OK me). In my defense though, I’m on the tail-end of the boomer era, I’m barely a boomer. These scopes are a real advance for amateur astronomy IMO, it’s as big a leap as the arrival of the Schmidt-Cassegrain in the 70’s and the Dobsonian in the 80’s. Beginners won't get the amazing results that seasoned amateurs get but it gets them in the door really fast and in a way that keeps people who've never had a scope before engaged in the hobby. If there’s anything bad to say about this scope, it’s the price. Four thousand dollars is a lot of money, and while an argument can be made that most hobbies have a price point like this (motorcycling, bicycling, photography, stuff like that), it’s still a lot to ask a beginner to spend. I would say though, that while many beginners buy a smaller, cheaper scope that’s harder to use and they don’t go out with it much, this scope you’ll use - I promise. It’s easy, fun and capable of growing into advanced uses as your skills grow. One other small problem that I see is that you can’t add any filters. While the on board processing does an excellent job of getting rid of sky background noise, to get the most from a telescope under lights, adding filters would be a nice-to-have, but that’s not enough for me to say don’t get it. If you live under street lights and have always wished you could see the beauty and wonder that’s up there over our heads, deep in our universe - the Stellina Telescope will open that door to you - even if you live directly under streetlights. It is one of the best weapons that fight against the loss of one of our most precious treasures: a dark, night sky full of stars. While dark skies may forever be lost to the majority of us who don’t live under them, we now have a tool that can pierce the curtain of light pollution and show us what lies behind. I want to thank Vaonis for sending me this Stellina to play with, I promise I will one day send it back (just kidding), you’ll get it by June, I promise - kidding! If you want to support Deep Astronomy Content, please consider clicking on the link below in the description box. It’s an affiliate link to OPT Telescopes and anything you buy there benefits Deep Astronomy and allows me to continue making content. 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