Vaonis Stellina Review by Zane Landers
Vaonis’ Stellina is arguably the iPhone – or iMac – of astrophotography telescopes.
Vaonis’ Stellina is arguably the iPhone – or iMac – of astrophotography telescopes. Unlike competitors (namely the eVscope) that make false and misleading promises of “realtime views” and use shoddy designs to achieve their marketing-driven goals, the Stellina is a no-nonsense astrophotography rig designed with convenience and simplicity in mind, utilizing some truly impressive technology and at a reasonable price for what you get, too. However, the price, limitations of the onboard hardware, and lack of any ability to swap components or upgrade are all factors you should take into consideration if you’re looking at purchasing Stellina or a similar all-in-one or “smart” telescope.
80mm (3.15”) Aperture
400mm Focal Length
Petzval Doublet Optics
The Vaonis Stellina uses an 80mm Petzval refractor optical design, with an ED doublet objective lens and a field flattener permanently installed towards the back, making it an f/5 system with a focal length of 400mm. A broadband light pollution filter is also permanently installed in the telescope.
The camera used in Stellina is a Sony IMX178 CMOS color sensor. This is the same sensor used in the ZWO ASI178MC, which is considered an acceptable – if somewhat low-end and uncooled – deep-sky astrophotography camera. This camera is of course not removable and arguably is the single biggest bottleneck on the telescope. A cooled color camera will walk all over it, and the small chip size limits Stellina to a 1 x 0.7-degree true field, utterly tiny for an 80mm f/5 refractor. The images are, however, spit out of the telescope as TIF files in 3096 x 2080 resolution and can be processed either by Stellina internally or by you with appropriate processing software and a PC.
Stellina is operated via your smartphone or tablet, and slews/tracks objects automatically, a process known as GoTo. As soon as you turn it on Stellina will automatically plate solve and align itself to the sky, after which it will seek out any object you choose. Stellina takes short exposures and stacks them live to create a “real-time image”, but you can of course choose to offload the images onto your device and stack/process them yourself. The live stacked images are generally not as good due to the JPEG internal compression and the lack of manual adjustments, but will still look quite impressive.
The alt-azimuth mount design of Stellina causes field rotation over long time periods, but the only capable of taking up to 10-second individual exposures where field rotation is not a factor, but thanks to the IMX178’s low read noise the hundreds of stacked frames are quite impressive as a final image, and any tracking errors simply don’t have time to build up in a single exposure. There is a derotator in the telescope anyway, though it’s arguably overkill due to the very short exposures. A lithium battery is also built-in with enough of a capacity to run Stellina for about one whole night without recharging.
The Stellina uses an internal focuser and auto-focuses to a 12-micron accuracy, refocusing if there are any significant temperature changes. It also has an integrated dew heater for the optics, which means you don’t have to worry about snoozing only to wake up to a soaked rig and unusable images. The included tripod is a very short Gitzo; since you can’t look through it there is technically no benefit to raising it up on a wobbly or bulky tripod. However, using Stellina on a table is going to make it prone to vibrations, and leaving it on the ground in an actual dark location may make it into a trip hazard for unaware people nearby, or prone to being disturbed by curious animals.
Lack of Customization
Tiny Field of View
Exposure Time Limitations
Stellina’s lack of customization, sub-optimal chip, tiny field of view, and exposure time limitations are all huge limitations that will probably bug experienced astrophotographers. You are giving up a lot for the sake of convenience. If you like tinkering and constantly improving your gear and images, Stellina is not for you. If you like looking through your telescope, Stellina is not for you. Stellina is also not really any good for imaging the planets; a large, long focal length telescope and dedicated video camera is what you need for that, and planetary imaging need not be nearly as expensive as Stellina either.
Stellina, being an all-in-one rig, is also not unique. Astrophotos through your Stellina are not going to be different from someone else’s. This calls its very purpose into question.
The Vaonis Stellina is a great telescope for deep-sky astrophotography, taking the human operator (and human error) out of the equation altogether and giving you decent deep-sky images without any effort whatsoever. However, you might end up outgrowing or becoming frustrated with it if you decide astrophotography is really for you, and buying Stellina and finding it’s not right for you is quite a costly mistake.