Whether you’re a professional astronomer or a novice, everyone knows the biggest barrier to gazing into deep space. High-quality telescopes are very expensive. Sure, plenty of cheap options are available through retailers like Amazon. But those telescopes will only take you so far. A professional-grade telescope that can give you stunning views of deep-space objects costs a small fortune. On top of that, this equipment is extremely complex and often difficult to use. That’s why I was so intrigued when Unistellar asked if I wanted to try an eVscope eQuinox for review.
The idea of a powerful telescope that doesn’t even have an eyepiece is interesting, to say the least. It connects to a smartphone or tablet to display images rather than viewing objects in outer space through the telescope itself. But even more compelling is the notion of a powerful telescope that is easy to use. Unistellar says that even a novice can set up the eVscope eQuinox and begin viewing deep-sky objects in a matter of minutes.
It can’t possibly be that easy, can it?
eVscope eQuinox review: Getting started
Before I even took the eVscope eQuinox out of its box for the first time, I had a chat with Unistellar CEO Laurent Marfisi. During our conversation, I asked him the best way to get started. He offered just two simple pieces of advice. First, position the eVscope eQuinox in a dark area, away from city lights. Second, open the app.
This, perhaps, is the thing that impressed me most about the eVscope eQuinox. Despite how powerful it is, this telescope is astoundingly easy to use. It is rare to come across such a sophisticated piece of professional-grade equipment that has no barrier to entry. Any novice can experience in minutes what would take even the most accomplished astronomer an hour or more to observe with conventional equipment.
I am living proof of that last point. Prior to receiving an eVscope eQuinox to test, it had been decades since I last touched a telescope. I was a small child on a school trip at the time. Now, in a matter of minutes, I was suddenly viewing deep-space objects in stunning clarity.
Setting it up
“Prepare to be amazed”. That’s the simple phrase that greets you when you first open the eVscope eQuinox box.
Inside the box, you’ll find just a few main components along with some tools. The telescope itself is accompanied by a special tripod that comes with the eQuinox. Beyond that, you’ll find some papers and a small box that contains the charger and the tools. The unit uses a standard USB-C charger, so you don’t need to worry about a proprietary power cord when you travel with it.
How difficult is it to get started with the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox? Set up the tripod, then place the telescope on top. Secure it with two thumbscrews and press the power button for one second to turn it on. That’s basically all you need to do. There’s also a small bullseye spirit level on the top of the tripod so you can ensure your setup is perfectly level. The manual says that it may be necessary to perform a mirror alignment after long trips with the telescope. Of note, my eVscope eQuinox review unit didn’t need any major adjustments. I just powered it on and I was good to go.
You can use any iPhone, iPad, or Android device with the eVscope eQuinox. The telescope broadcasts its own Wi-Fi network when powered on, and that’s how you connect your smartphone or tablet. If you use the telescope at home, that means you’ll need to open your settings app and switch Wi-Fi networks each time you use it.
The first time you connect, a series of pop-ups in the app walks you through the basic functions. Additionally, you’ll be prompted to take a dark frame the first time you use the eQuinox. All you need to do is replace the cover on the end of the telescope so that no light can reach the sensor.
Now, you’re ready to start exploring space.
Of note, the telescope’s cover also has a Bahtinov mask attached to the inside of it. A simple twist separates the mask from the cap. You can attach the Bahtinov mask to the focus wheel for precise focusing instead of focusing by eye. There are simple instructions in the user manual that teach you how to use it properly.
If there’s one area where I might ding the eVscope eQuinox, it’s Unistellar’s mobile app. It gets the job done and there’s plenty of functionality baked in. But the UX is a bit cluttered in some areas. Also, the UI is very dated. The graphics look like an iPhone app from 2011, not 2021. This is just a minor niggle since the app’s functionality is far more important than the interface.
There are no controls on the eVscope eQuinox itself beyond two things. First, there’s a power button that turns the telescope on and off. Second, there is a focusing wheel at the very bottom of the main tube. That’s it. Every other control is inside the app.
There’s a simple four-way joystick on the first tab in the app. It’s located just beneath the live viewfinder. The joystick lets you move the telescope up and down or side to side. Meanwhile, the viewfinder shows a live image of what your telescope sees.
eVscope eQuinox review: Using the telescope
The “Explore” tab in Unistellar’s app is where you’ll be spending much of your time. On this tab, the app recommends things to view based on your geographic location in relation to space objects. You can choose from galaxies, nebulae, planets, stars, clusters, and more. Sure, you can manually pan the telescope around with the joystick. If you want to check out the moon, for example, you shouldn’t need any assistance. Objects that are farther away require pinpoint precision to see, however. For that reason, the Explore tab is where you want to be.
A “Recommended” section at the top of the Explore tab offers suggestions that will deliver the best viewing experience. There are also “Fading soon” and “Appearing soon” sections that list things disappearing from sight or coming into view. This section isn’t just informative, though. Tap on any item and you’ll jump to a screen like the one above on the right-hand side. Then, simply tap the “Go to” button, and your eVscope eQuinox will use the motorized base to aim itself at the space object. All you need to do is sit back and watch.
If you do decide to go hunting around the sky on your own, you’ll probably end up seeing a bunch of stuff that looks like this:
An Autonomous Field Detection feature will recognize objects in your field of view, which is very nifty. It achieves this by comparing objects in the frame with a coordinates database containing tens of millions of stars. Still, you’re not going to get very far by manually hunting around the night sky.
On the other hand, if you let the app guide you to recommended deep-space objects, that’s when the fun really begins. Find a pitch-black area on a clear night and let the app recommend the best things to see. If you’re patient and leave the telescope in place for long exposures after focusing perfectly, you’ll be blown away by what you see.
What is Enhanced Vision?
There’s a reason the eVscope eQuinox telescope captures images with stunning detail unlike imagery from comparable telescopes. Unistellar uses what it calls Enhanced Vision to produce brighter images with more vivid colors. According to the company, Enhanced Vision makes the eQuinox 100 times more powerful than a regular telescope.
Photos captured using Enhanced Vision are indeed quite impressive. At times, they can be jaw-dropping. But the technology behind Enhanced Vision isn’t entirely novel. In fact, it’s becoming more and more common these days. Believe it or not, your iPhone uses similar technology each time you capture a photo.
With Enhanced Vision enabled, the eVscope eQuinox doesn’t just capture one frame when you take a photo. Instead, it captures many images at an interval and stacks them. Here’s how it’s explained on Unistellar’s website:
Turn [Enhanced Vision] on and the system will use its low-light sensor to accumulate light continuously through a series of short exposures.
The resulting image is projected into the eyepiece as the accumulation occurs, which means that once you start [Enhanced Vision], not only will you see something, but the object will keep on improving with time.
Depending on observing conditions (light pollution, moon phase, weather, etc…) and the objects you are pointing at, it can take from a few seconds to several tens of seconds for you to start seeing the beautiful colors and shapes of galaxies and nebulae usually invisible directly through the eyepiece of a regular or even a high-end telescope.
According to company CEO Laurent Marfisi, this is actually a big part of the reason Unistellar created the eVscope eQuinox in the first place. Seeing dim objects with conventional telescopes — even expensive ones — can be difficult and time-consuming. The eVscope eQuinox, on the other hand, is perfect for viewing things like nebulae and galaxies. The eQuinox’s low-light sensor and image stacking tech produce more color and detail than comparable telescopes. It also has other software features that enhance images, such as smart light pollution reduction.
Viewing stars, nebulae, galaxies, and comets is a blast. Finding new ones and photographing them provides endless enjoyment. But if you fancy yourself an amateur astronomer, you’re going to want to take things even further. That’s where Unistellar’s citizen science features come in.
The eVscope eQuinox is good for so much more than just observation for observation’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with stopping there, of course, but the eQuinox also lets you play an active role in contributing to the Unistellar Network of citizen scientists.
Unistellar eVscope eQuinox users can actually make meaningful contributions that aid SETI scientists. When the telescopes are used to observe objects like asteroids, comets, and exoplanets, that data can be shared with astronomers at SETI. It’s not just throwaway data, either. Astronomers will analyze the information and use it to help build models and predictions.
Three citizen science programs are available to eVscope eQuinox users: planetary defense, exoplanet discovery, and asteroid observation. You can read more about Unistellar’s citizen science initiatives on the company’s website.
eVscope eQuinox review: The verdict
Sophisticated technology that had previously been accessible only to working astronomers has been repackaged and simplified by Unistellar’s eVscope eQuinox. Now, even beginners can enjoy it. And they can jump right in, without any advanced knowledge previous experience with telescopes. I was able to capture stunning images of deep-space objects within minutes of setting up the eVscope eQuinox for the first time.
It’s also important to bear in mind that the eVscope eQuinox is capable of so much more than just observation. You can make real, meaningful contributions to the space science community through Unistellar’s citizen science programs. You can also use other eQuinox owners as a resource, and vice versa. There’s an active global Facebook group packed with enthusiastic eVscope eQuinox users. They chat about deep-space objects they’ve observed, share images, help out newbies with questions, and more.
The bottom line is this: the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox is an incredible digital telescope. Additionally, the eVscope eQuinox is a remarkable technical accomplishment. There is no other telescope I’m aware of in this size range that does such a good job of viewing deep-space objects. Dim objects like nebulae and galaxies light up like the moon thanks to the eQuinox impressive Enhanced Vision tech. The result is a bright, shockingly clear view of gorgeous deep sky objects that would be invisible to any other similarly sized telescope.
Of note, Unistellar is currently running a summer promotion on the eVscope eQuinox. Use the promo code SUMMERDEAL before the end of the month and you’ll save $150 on your purchase.