Unistellar eVscope - Second Conclusions (Version 1.1)

Introduction | Where Are We with Version 1.1? | What is (still) Missing? What else Could One Wish for? | What Can I Do with the eVscope? | What Does the "eVscope Experience" Mean to Me? | Final Words | Links

On this page, I consolidate my second conclusions (October, 2020) on my electronic 4,5" Newton telescope Unistellar eVscope (I took part in a Kickstarter campaign in mid-November 2017; it arrived on January 27, 2020), which reflect the state of app version 1.1. Possibly, this page useful for others who want to acquire the eVscope as well...

Notes:

 

Introduction

In November 2017, when reading the "Abenteuer Astronomie (Adventure Astronomy)" newsletter, I learned about the Unistellar eVscope for the first time. For a few weeks already, a Kickstarter campaign was running on this new kind of telescope , which can be assigned to "electronically augmented astronomy" (EAA), and I also supported this project (it ended up with more than 2100 supporters and more than $ 2 million in cash by November 24, 2017). Regrettably, I was already far too late to get hold of one of the two cheap offers. My eVscope arrived at my home at the end of January 2020.

Photos: My eVscope (End of January 2020)

From mid-August to the end of September 2020, I participated in a beta test of the new app version 1.1, which was released "silently" on October 5, 2020 and was the officially announced in a newsletter the next day; I also came across a video presenting this version with its new features. This version offers a number of long-desired new features, which I describe and will describe on page First Experiences Part 3 in more detail. And it offers me the opportunity to draw my conclusions once again and ask to what degree the eVscope has achieved its goals and fulfilled the wishes of its owners - and what, in my opinion and that of others, still needs to be done to make the eVscope, within its technical limits, the "ideal telescope."

By the way, according to the newsletter, almost 3000 eVscopes had been delivered by the beginning of October, but these were by no means all the telescopes that had been ordered in two crowd-funding campaigns. According to Kickstarter, the Website states that by the beginning of October, about 2500 telescopes had been delivered in Europe, the USA, and Canada (since the campaign produced about 2100 orders, the number seems also to refer to the total quantity).

 

Where Are We with Version 1.1?

Before I discuss the changes that version 1.1 introduced, I would briefly like to reiterate which improvenments version 1.0 introduced compared with the "original state" of the eVscope:

Compared with the "original state" the most important improvements for me were the use of the whole sensor area for photos and the possibility to use the iPad with the app (if the latter possibility would have been available from the beginning, I would not have had to buy an iPhone...). Other improvements concerned things that should have been there at the beginning or were useful, but not "earth-shattering". All in all, at the end of the version's life time, I was certainly able to observe better with the eVscope than at its beginning and before version 1.0.

According to the Apple Store, the app version 1.1 offers, besides bug fixes and various user interface improvements (whatever that may mean...), the following new features (in my own terms):

I find it pleasant that objects in Enhanced Vision mode are now saved before the Goto approaches a new object; this way, the dwell time in Enhanced Vision mode is used optimally. I had suggested this change, but certainly other eVscope owners had done so as well. Maybe, this is one of the changes that fall under "a significant and automated improvement of observation"...

The possibility to move an enlarged image so that the object can be brought back to the center of the image is a great help and improvement for me. Now I use screen magnification much more often. But I wonder why this feature was not available from the beginning... The display for the dwell time in Enhanced Vision mode is also very useful, but unfortunately the dwell time is not saved with the photo. More about this below! Experience will show to what extent the changes to the manual controls of the Enhanced Vision mode have brought about an improvement. I would have preferred "classic" histogram sliders (maybe even based on a logarithmic histogram).

Saving images in live mode is very useful for lunar and planetary imaging and a welcome (and often requested) addition.

All in all, Unistellar has responded to a number of user requests, but by far not realized all (my) wishes. I will go into this below.

 

What is (still) Missing? What else Could One Wish for?

The main problems of the app for me are still its instability, the frequent Wi-Fi connection breakdowns, the Enhanced Vision mode breakdowns and various small nicks (sudden change to observer mode, deactivation of certain keys for no apparent reason, ...), which sometimes make working with the eVscope a real test of patience and can spoil the fun. All in all, the app still lacks sufficient stability and reliability. Otherwise, I have got used to the procedures and find them simple and understandable.

Furthermore, and for a long time now, I have been wishing for a recording of the photo data, which could be done in various forms:

It may be that all this is in the data that is transferred to the SETI server, but first of all, the transfer rarely works for me, the transfer takes a long time, and last but not least, I have no access to this data, although this was promised for the future by Unistellar.

Another wish, but that would already be luxury, would be a "small mosaic mode" à la Vaonis Vespera/Stellina (up to 4 x 4 or even up to 10 x 10). This would compensate the small field of view of the eVscope and make a "rich field" telescope out of the it, of course at the expense of fast observing... The mosaic would not have to be "square", but could also be rectangular (portrait or landscape), depending on the celestial object to be ohotographed.

DSO, which are not included in the eVscope's object catalog, can be approached by entering the coordinates (J2000). It would be useful to be able to save objects that are accessed via coordinates as user-defined objects. Regrettably, Unistellar has not yet fulfilled this wish...

 

Has My General Assessment Changed, and if so, how?

In the following, I take up the points of my first conclusions and check whether I still share the assessments I made there - and if not, why not any more?

DSO Library

I document my DSO observations on my Website, which is a lot of work. With the eVscope, I now have the possibility to take pictures of observed DSO and thus, capture a memory in the form of a photo that can be called up and passed on again and again. I had therefore announced to create a kind of "eVscope photo library" of sky objects with the photos. This has indeed started, and of course, will go on. However, I will have to think about how I can deal with the masses of photos that will be created over time...

Support of Visual Observation

So far, it has practically never come to this, because, for various reasons, I have observed almost exclusively with the eVscope. Nevertheless, I am still convinced that my eVscope photos will be useful for visual observations.

Expect the Unexpected!

A somewhat unexpected experience with the eVscope was for me that it is always good for a surprise. By this I mean that you find objects in the photos that you had not expected and that you usually did not even know about before. This has been confirmed again and again in the meantime.

eVscope for "Fast Observing"?

That still applies! But you should put the eVscope outside in time to allow it to thermalize. And above all, you should take the time to check the eVscope's focus for sharpness before the observation session, otherwise disappointment is inevitable! You should also check from time to time whether the collimation is still correct and whether you should take a dark frame. Of course, these are all things that slow you down and are therefore oftenomittedt...

Flexibility of the eVscope

The eVscope represents a complete, integrated solution and one can only hope that the Unistellar developers found a good compromise with the eVscope - and in my opinion they did! And the more I observe, the more I believe that a really good compromise was chosen. And because you cannot have all in one device, I decided to support the Vaonis Vespera in a Kickstarter campaign to get more field of view for larger nebulae and star clusters (also thanks to its mosaic mode). Neither is the eVscope suitable for planets and small planetary nebulae or galaxies due to its short focal length.

The topic "flexibility" also includes the transportability. Unistellar points out that the eVscope is light enough to be transported. And I had written in my first conclusions that I would not, like Arnaud Malvache, carry the eVscope on my back on a mountain (in my case, the Heiligenstein)... In this respect, the Vespera with its 5 kg (plus backpack and tripod) weight will open up new perspectives for me!

Is the eVscope a Toy, Can It Get Boring?

In my previous conclusion I wrote: Again and again the eVscope is called a "toy", especially when it is compared to "real" astrophotography. This mostly means its limited capabilities (image quality, flexibility). But also the easy access to DSO might make the eVscope a toy, because one has seen the most beautiful DSO in quite a short period of time and observing becomes boring afterwards, because the quality of the photos can hardly be increased. And I soon experienced myself that it goes fast with the collecting of DSO with the eVscope. I have never found so many DSO in such a short time with any other telescope!

Since my previous conclusions I have observed almost half a year with the eVscope, and of course often the same objects. Can this become boring? No, I would say in the meantime. On the one hand, the quality of the photos varies a lot depending on the quality of the sky, so that after a longer time you start to hunt for the best possible photo. On the other hand, the photos look nevertheless again and again quite similarly. In this respect, a good preparation becomes more and more important, so that the whole affair actually does not become boring. And you should always look for new objects to expand your object catalog and horizon.

Conclusion

On the whole, half a year later, I share the assessments of my first conclusions, but admit that observing with the eVscope could become boring if you always observe the same objects because you have not prepared your observation sessions well.

 

Final Words

I am glad to have taken part in the Kickstarter campaign for the eVscope, to have it already delivered and, despite a rough start, to be able to use it quite a lot. I will not give it away anymore - and hope that this opinion will hold for quite a number of years (and the eVscope as well). Thank you Unistellar for this great telescope!

 

Links

 

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What Can I Do with the eVscope?

Observe and Rejoice!

First of all, with the eVscope, I can simply look at the sky, have DSO shown to me, photograph them and be happy about all this. But I want to achieve a little bit more! In the following, I will therefore discuss a number of use cases for the eVscope that came to my mind.

DSO Library

I document my DSO observations on my Website, which is a lot of work. Beside all the work, another shortcoming was that I describe DSO only in words in the end I usually forgot about their appearance very soon. I do not want to take photos from the Internet or other sources, especially since they rarely correspond to my visual impression.

With the eVscope I now have the possibility to take photos of observed DSO and thus to capture a memory in the form of a photo that can be revived and passed on again and again.

With the photos I intend to create sort of a "eVscope photo library" of DSO. This is basically, on the one hand, my eVscope photo gallery (with different sections) containing my best photos, on the other hand I will present the photos on the pages dedicated to the DSO that I observed.

Support for Visual Observation

As already written, I usually forget quickly what I have seen when observing visually. On the one hand, this sometimes causes identification problems, on the other hand there is often no or only a faint memory of the object left.

Only when I find striking patterns that I can remember, I can later look for them on photographs (or on images in astronomy programs) and hope to find them again and identify the object in case that I am unsure about its identity. But rarely do these photos correspond to the visual impression (which is why I also have books with drawings that come closer to the observations).

Since eVscope photos are closer to the visual impression than photos in books or on the Internet, it is obvious to use my DSO "photo library" for comparisons with the visual impression and also for identification. If this is done afterwards, the problem of recollection is again present. But because the eVscope photo is more similar to the visual impression than normal photos are, the comparison should be easier.

On the other hand, I might also use the eVscope and a visual telescope in parallel and check with the iPhone in my hand whether I have found the right object in the visual telescope - and how it looks there in comparison. Whether I will really do this, will of course only become apparent in practice...

Expect the Unexpected!

A somewhat surprising experience for me with the eVscope was that it is always good for a surprise. By this I mean that you can find objects on the photos that you had not expected and that you usually did not even know before. These can be, for example, other small galaxies, or structures within objects such as HII regions (for example in M 33).

With an angle of view of about 30', the field of view of the eVscope is comparatively small (size of the moon or sun. Nevertheless, especially since it is possible to use the entire sensor area, in some cases several objects can be observed simultaneously in the field of view, for example the galaxies M 65 and M 66 or the galaxies M 84 and M 86. It is not possible, however, to observe several objects that are located within a field of view between about 0.5° and about 4°, which can be done using rich-field telescopes.

But here I am concerned with something else, namely objects which are located within the field of view of 0.5° and which one had not expected at all - at least when one discovers them for the first time. I am amazed at how many other objects I have already discovered on photographs when I visited and photographed a certain DSO. Apparently, this is especially the case when you look for galaxies with other, smaller galaxies in their vicinity. I am curious what I will discover when the constellation Virgo will be better visible from my home village Mühlhausen. The eVscope has made me a true "galaxy hunter", whereas before I was more focused on star clusters, because I was seldom able to find galaxies in my visual telescopes.

eVscope for "Fast Observing"?

Admittedly, I do not like the German term "Schnellspechteln" at all, but I must also admit that with the eVscope you can be ready for observation in a few minutes (5-10 minutes, I never measured this...). This is not only an advantage over many other visual telescopes (except for my little table-top Dobsonians that I once owned...), but of course, especially over other astrophotography solutions. Clouds are sometimes even faster than you can set up the eVscope, but all in all, I can hardly imagine a faster solution - and it is one that you can quickly activate in between cloudy periods.

It should be noted, however, that Unistellar recommends a cool-down time of about 15 minutes for the eVscope. In this respect, it makes sense to put the eVscope outside a little earlier than one would like to start observing. Perhaps, the waiting time can be used for a routine check of the sharpness with the Bahtinov mask. It is easy for me to touch the focus wheel on the tube when I insert the tube into the mount and thereby misadjust the focus.

I also noticed that the automatic alignment (autonomous field detection) fails when the sky is still too bright. So you cannot start observing too early!

If you want to observe spontaneously, the problem of what to observe arises immediately, of course, because you did not prepare yourself. So you are danger of just visiting "old friends" once again. You can also quickly start an astronomy application and have a look at what DSO are visible at the moment (books are also possible...). Perhaps, the list of recommended DSO provided by the eVscope might prove useful here! But I have not used it yet, because I knew what I wanted to observe...

Flexibility of the eVscope

The eVscope represents an integrated complete solution, whereas with the Atik Infinity camera, which I also own (and any other camera...) many parts (telescope, tripod, accessories, camera, laptop, power supply) are needed and have to be assembled. Accordingly, it is not as flexible as such a solution, in fact it is not at all flexible. The eVscope has only a fixed magnification (plus electronic magnification) and a fixed field of view of 0.5° (corresponding to the size of moon/sun). Cameras, on the other hand, can be operated on different telescopes, plus focal length extenders and reducers. Even more flexible is a visual telescope with different eyepieces and other accessories. And almost every hobby astronomer has more than one telescope...

So you can only trust that the Unistellar developers have found a good compromise with the eVscope - and I think they have! But of course, the eVscope does not allow you to observe large nebulae and star clusters, nor planets or other very small objects. Planetary nebulae are possible, but still quite small...

Part of the "flexibility" issue is transportability. Unistellar stresses that the eVscope is light enough to be transported. In addition, the integrated solution (few parts) makes transport easier! For me, however, it is true that the eVscope is transportable, but only by car (12 kg)... I will not follow Arnaud Malvache and carry the eVscope on my back up a mountain (in our case, the Heiligenstein)...

 

What Does the eVscope Experience Mean to Me?

Before I learned about the eVscope, I observed visually, but only since 2016 have I also observed DSO systematically. These observations were often nice for me on the one hand, but on the other hand many were also very disappointing, because I often was not able to find the objects or they made a disappointing impression on me. The eVscope now looked like a unique chance to experience more success in observing, and so I took part in Unistellar's Kickstarter campaign.

The eVscope replaces the eyepiece (and the secondary mirror) with a sensor and thus, works like a digital camera (this is called EAA = electronic augmented astronomy). Because a sensor, unlike the eye, can store light, it is possible to detect weaker DSO and see colors. The eVscope's eyepiece can be compared to an EVF in digital cameras. The image is also transferred to a smartphone, which controls the eVscope via an app.

For die-hard visual observers, however, this form of observation is no longer "real" observation, and they reject it. And indeed, the eVscope turns many things that are familiar from visual observation "upside down":

Other things remain the same:

This list can certainly be extended, and if I can think of anything in this regard, I will do so.

Seeing (transient)/Drawing (much work, for afterwards) versus Digital Image (while observing, transient)/Photo (for afterwards)

When you observe visually, you have the immediate impression, but it is transient. If you want to capture it, all that you can do is drawing, which requires a lot of work, skill, and practice.

On the other hand, if you take astrophotographs, there is no possibility to observe; instead, you have a lot of work afterwards, but a result that remains and is presentable.

The eVscope lies somewhere in between: You can observe a digital image through an eyepiece or a smartphone. But for me personally, this eyepiece image has little to do with the impression in a visual eyepiece (I prefer the smartphone anyway...). On the other hand, you can take "snapshots" of the current image and thus get a result that stays and can be used in many different ways. I described this in some detail above.

Is the eVscope a Toy, Can It Become Boring?

The eVscope is often referred to as a "toy", especially when compared to "real" astrophotography. This usually refers to its limited possibilities (image quality, flexibility). But also the easy access to DSO might turn the eVscope into a toy, because in a relatively short period of time one sees the most beautiful DSO, and observing becomes boring afterwards, since the quality of the photos can hardly be increased. And I soon experienced for myself that collecting DSO can be fast with the eVscope! I have never found so many DSO in such a short time with any of my telescopes! Only bad weather can slow you down!

First of all, I cannot exclude that the eVscope might quickly become boring for at least some of its owners, especially if you observe without much preparation and, except maybe sharing the photos via smartphone, do nothing else, for example, do not document your observations (which I try to do, but it takes a lot of work...).

Above, I have describe what I plan to do with the eVscope, and I believe that I will keep my busy for the next few years. However, I cannot rule out a certain "wear and tear" effect for me either. And here the visual telescope has perhaps even an advantage over the eVscope: Because I forget the image impressions with time, the DSO may appear to me as new again (or almost, depending on the object...) when I observe them again. So I have an inexhaustible resource of DSO "thanks" to my forgetting. Thus, the advantage of the eVscope to produce lasting results might also turn into a disadvantage, because repeated observations are so similar. These are all thoughts that I have at the beginning of a hopefully long friendship with the eVscope...

 

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14.01.2021