What is a “Smart Telescope” and what do you do with it?
A Smart Telescope is a single, all in one piece of equipment that combines a telescope, computerised mount, camera and other accessories, all controlled remotely by an app or PC application. They can be used to view astro objects or nature on your phone and even take pictures. The apps controlling Smart Telescopes also handle image processing, especially for astro photos.
The main idea behind a Smart Telescope is that you don’t have to worry about long set up times that involve connecting all the various components needed to take photos of the night sky. They also automatically locate and track astro objects without the need for calibration or polar alignment. You simply take your Smart Telescope outside, switch it on and connect to it via your phone or tablet.
It will scan the sky to position and align itself. You can then take astro photos via the app or view objects “live” on the screen. You could even display images from your phone or table onto a larger TV or monitor while you relax with friends and family. A very cool way to share your love of space and astronomy!
Smart Telescopes usually make it easy to post astro photos to social media. Some models such as the DWARF II are also designed to capture nature and wildlife during the day as well.
Easy setup and viewing of the night sky on a phone or tablet is something we’ve been constantly asked for at BINTEL for some time.
For the higher end models, it might possible to buy and set up telescope gear to achieve similar photographic results for slightly less cost if you have the time and experience to do so. You would also need to the expertise to handle the image capture and later processing to get the best from your telescope. While these sound like tricky tasks, astrophotographers relish the challenge of trying to improve their images. Smart Telescopes will basically do all this for you. (Although they do allow some manual overrides when capturing astro objects and you’re free to improve or tweak their images later on with software processing.)
For the DWARF II and the ZWO Seestar S50, we don’t thinks it possible to assemble your own telescope hardware to do what they do for the same price.
The hardware in a Smart Telescope is also non-upgradable. They’re not modular. For example, after a number of years, a better camera might become available. Current Smart Telescopes don’t allow you to remove internal components and replace with newer hardware. This is similar to a lot of other hi-tech consumer electronics such as phones and TVs. (This is not to say that new features could be added via software and firmware upgrades. We’ve seen this already, especially with the DWARF II, which has had some very cool new features added by their makers, DWARF Labs.)
Currently, Smart Telescopes all have a relatively short focal length. This makes them great for large, deep-sky objects. Planets like Jupiter and Saturn appear quite small in the sky and aren’t ideal targets for Smart Telescopes.
Who uses smart telescopes:
Since the end of 2021, BINTEL has supplied some hundreds of Smart Telescopes to our customers across the Vaonis Stellina and Vespera models, Unistellar eVscopes and of course, the tiny and mighty DWARF II. Many dozens of our customers have also pre-ordered the new ZWO Seestar S50 which due in the second half of 2023.
BINTEL has found that Smart Telescope buyers fall evenly into two categories. First of all, there are the folks who are fascinated by space and astronomy but have never purchased a serious telescope before. Smart Telescopes offer the easiest way to start exploring the Universe and with a minimum of hassle. We also found many experienced visual astronomers and astrophotographers purchased Smart Telescopes as easy to set up astro devices that are handy for sharing the delights of the night sky with those around you them.
If you can use a mobile phone, you’ll be able to use a Smart Telescope to look at and photograph the night sky!
This currently has the best specifications of any Smart Telescope across hardware and software and the images it produces are superb.
Vespera Smart Telescopes have found their homes with new astronomers as well as experienced star gazers. For many, the Vespera has been the pathway to taking their first astro photos. They also seem to be the choice for among our seasoned astrophotography customers who have complete astro imaging setups and are after an easy to use and setup telescope for traveling or more casual use yet want one powerful enough to capture quality images.
The Vaonis Singularity app used by the Vespera is probably the easiest to use of any Smart Telescope. We’d also consider it the most powerful. Their new CovalENS system is the first panorama mode ever incorporated directly into a telescope. This allows a Vespera to automatically image a much larger patch of the sky compared to other Smart Telescopes.
Finally, the Vespera is a compact and very elegant example of French design and manufacture.
Unistellar eQuinox and eVscope 2
The Unistellar Smart Telescopes are reflectors that use 114mm mirrors. This gives them an advantage in terms of light gathering capabilities. The Unistellar eVscope2 is the only Smart Telescope that offers an eyepiece that you can directly view what the telescope is seeing. It’s also electronically enhanced, which means you see a view that’s vastly improved compared to what you’ll see through telescopes of the same size.
The Unistellar Network – a worldwide collection of eVscope and eQuniox users working together on common astronomical projects – is unique among telescope communities. If you’re interested in contributing to genuine scientific research, outreach or education then the Unistellar Smart Telescopes might be worth considering.
Unistellar have also recently received major investment from renowned Japanese camera and optics company, Nikon, so we feel their product and support going forward will be fantastic.
DWARF II from DWARF Labs
The DWARF II is currently the lightest and smallest Smart Telescope available. It also has the smallest aperture main lens meaning that ultimately that while its astro imaging capabilities are good, the images it produces won’t be as detailed as those from larger Smart Telescopes.
One major upside to the DWARF is its size. This thing is tiny! It weighs just 1.2kg and can easily be picked up and moved around in one hand. It comes in a small carry case with room for a tabletop tripod and accessories. The entire kit is probably a bit too big for a car glovebox, but not far from it. If you’re tight on space or travel and want a small “grab n’ go” Smart Telescope, then the DWARF II might be worth considering. We have a number of Vespera owners who have also purchased as DWARF II as well.
The DWARF II is a twin lens Smart Telescope. It has both widefield and telephotos lenses which are equivalent to about 675mm and 48mm DSRL lenses. It can quickly switch between the two lenses via the DWARF app. This, and its AI based object tracking system that allows the DWARF II to do things like track birds in flight. The small size and features have made it the #1 choice if you need a Smart Telescope for capturing the night sky along with sports, bird watching, wildlife and nature as well.
ZWO Seestar S50
This is the newest Smart Telescope and is due to be released to the public in the 2nd half of 2023. BINTEL staff were able to check out a pre-production ZWO Seestar in person at its launch in the USA a few weeks ago and we liked what we saw!
ZWO have a long history of astronomy camera, focusers, filters, mounts and complete astro system control packages. Over the last decade or so we’ve supplied a wide range of ZWO gear to thousands of astronomers from complete beginners to professional observatories and we know the quality of their products. ZWO are obviously combining their “smarts” across all these different types of astro systems into the Seestar S50. When it’s released in the second half of 2023, we expect it to offer the most features of any Smart Telescope for the price.
What’s BINTEL’s Opinion?
Here’s a quick overview of options for Smart Telescopes
|Best overall Smart Telescope||Vaonis Vespera|
|Best outreach/scientific research Smart Telescope||Unistellar equinox and eVscope2|
|Best portable/multi-function Smart Telescope||DWARF II|
|Best bang-for-your-buck Smart Telescope||ZWO Seestar S50|