Vaonis Vespera Observation Station smart telescope review
The smallest smart telescope offers unrivaled portability and a new panorama mode.
The Vaonis Vespera is more than just an Observation Station, as its makers call it. A hybrid between a telescope and a camera, it’s an all-in-one astronomy and astrophotography starter pack designed for urban observers. Although it is a telescope at its core, it does not have an eyepiece to look through. Instead, it features an onboard computer and a Wi-Fi connection. By downloading the Singularity app onto a smartphone or tablet, users can see and save images of whatever Vespera is pointed at.
The smallest and most affordable smart telescope when it went on sale – and radically different from its bigger sister, the Vaonis Stellina Observation Station – the Vespera weighs just 11 lbs. / 5 kg and can even be used to take images of our Sun.
Are you ready to see what this smart telescope is capable of? Here’s everything you need to know about the Vaonis Vespera Observation Station from six weeks of testing – including lots of test images of the night sky and even a solar eclipse as we take a deep dive into Vaonis’ new Singularity app:
Vaonis Vespera Observation Station smart telescope: price and availability
- A CES 2021 Innovation Awards Honoree at the CES Show, Las Vegas in January 2021
- Originally on sale in September 2022
- On sale for US$2,499 / UK££2,175 / €2,499
It’s fair to say that the Vaonis Vespera Observation Station was something of a slow burner after its initial Kickstarter campaign. After being a CES 2021 Innovation Awards Honoree at the CES Show, Las Vegas in January 2021 it took a further 18 months for the Vaonis Vespera Observation Station to go on sale. Sadly, that was at the height of the supply chain crisis in world markets, so what was planned to be an extremely affordable smart telescope rapidly increased in price as it got closer to its launch date (it was originally announced to cost US$1,499). Since it’s been on sale several filters and other accessories have come on the market.
Vaonis Vespera Observation Station smart telescope: electronics and battery
- Sony Exmor IMX462 CMOS sensor
- 10GB flash memory
- Built-in lithium-ion rechargeable battery (4 hours)
Unlike traditional telescopes, Vespera doesn’t have an eyepiece, instead utilizing a 1/2.8″ Sony IMX462 image sensor to create images. Its onboard 1.6GHz computer stacks live images to produce lossless raw TIFF and FITS files that are saved to its 10GB flash memory. These files can only be extracted via WiFi using a web browser on a computer.
Vespera creates its own WiFi network that up to five iOS or Android devices can connect to simultaneously using the Singularity app. However, in testing, the network’s range was limited; we had to stand within about 15 feet / five meters of the telescope to observe and check its progress.
Vespera has a 7,000 mAh internal battery that can last for at least four hours, although it typically lasts for five or six hours. As it’s recommended to observe some objects with the Vespera for an extended period of time, the battery life of four hours could become problematic. Either way it’s advisable to have a fully charged smartphone battery with you along with the proprietary charging cable when using the Vespera.
Vaonis Vespera Observation Station smart telescope: connections
- USB-C (proprietary connector)
Vespera’s 7,000 mAh battery can is recharged using a USB-C cable. Unfortunately, that cable has a proprietary connector on one end, which is unnecessarily inconvenient. However, it does boast a magnetic connection, which prevents the cable from easily falling out.
Vaonis Vespera Observation Station smart telescope: accessories
- Full-size tripod (available separately)
- Solar, nebulae and light pollution filters (available separately)
- Backpack (included)
Vanois offers a range of accessories including an extendable full-size tripod priced at $149/£118.
Vaonis also offers optional filters that can replace the plastic ‘dummy’ filter surrounding the lens, and each filter includes a small case. Filters available include a light pollution filter for observing from cities at $199/£158, a dual-band filter for better capturing faint nebulae at $399/£316, and a solar filter for solar viewing and partial solar eclipses at $99/£79. Vanois also has a hygrometer sensor priced at $99/£79, which provides information about humidity. The telescope and its accessories fit neatly into a high-end and beautifully made backpack, which can be purchased for an additional $149/£118.
Vespera Observation Station smart telescope: mount and tripod
- Motorized single-arm altazimuth GoTo
- Short tabletop tripod in the box
- Small magnetic bubble level included
Vespera is mounted on a motorized alt-azimuth mount above a connector for a small tabletop tripod, which is included in the box. The Vespera stands at 15 inches tall when placed on its tripod. The tripod’s three legs are detachable, making it easy to transport, but it’s a very tiny tripod nevertheless. We recommend users upgrade to a full-size tripod as it widens the telescope’s field of view and enables it to observe more targets closer to the horizon. Luckily, Vespera’s undercarriage includes a standard 3/8-inch connector, which is compatible with all photographic tripods.
Also included in the box is a small magnetic bubble level, which must be connected to the bottom of the telescope to ensure it’s in a stable position. This is incredibly important for the GoTo system to work accurately. However, we’re not convinced that a very easy-to-lose accessory like this is suitable for the job. A bubble level should be built-in.
- 2-inch / 50mm Newtonian apochromatic quadruplet refractor
- f/4 aperture
- 8-inch / 200mm focal length
- Limiting magnitude of 13.
Optically, the Vespera is nothing special. The apochromatic quadruplet refractor telescope features a 2-inch/50mm aperture, a focal length of 200mm, a focal ratio of f/4, and a 33x magnification. The telescope has a limiting magnitude of 13, which is somewhat less than the 16 in light-polluted cities and 18.2 in rural skies claimed by its main rival the Unistellar eVscope range.
Vespera Observation Station: field of view
- Increased to 96 x 54 arcminutes
- Large enough for Moon and Andromeda galaxy
The Vespera has a field of view of 1.6 x 0.9º or 96 x 54 arcminutes, which makes it able to capture the whole of the Moon as well as other, larger objects such as the Andromeda galaxy and the Pleiades. Its field of view is slightly wider than that of its bigger sister the Vaonis Stellian, which boasts 1° x 0.7 pr 60 x 42 arcminutes.
In astronomy, an arcminute (often abbreviated as arcmin.) is a unit of angular measurement used to express small angles, such as the apparent size of celestial objects, the separation between two celestial objects, or the angular resolution of telescopes.
One arcminute is equal to 1/60th of a degree, which means there are 60 arcminutes in a degree. The symbol used for arcminute is ‘ (a single quote).
For example, if a star has an angular size of 1 arcminute, it means that its apparent size is equivalent to 1/60th of a degree when viewed from Earth. Similarly, if two stars have an angular separation of 2 arcminutes, it means that the angle between them, as measured from Earth, is 1/30th of a degree.
Arcminutes are an essential unit of measurement in astronomy since many astronomical objects have very small apparent sizes or separations that can only be measured accurately using angular measurements.
Vespera Observation Station: set-up and alignment
- Star Pattern Recognition
- Aligns in minutes
The Vespera boasts remarkable ease of use. Once the device is secured onto a tripod and connected to a smartphone via Wi-Fi, its Star Pattern Recognition software aligns itself with the night sky in just a matter of minutes. The Singularity app then generates a list of potential targets, from which the user can select one. The Vespera then slews to the target and captures an image every 10 seconds, be it a nebula, galaxy, or globular cluster. The images are then cleaned up to enhance contrast and reduce image noise. The app advises on the duration of observation for each object, ranging from 10 to 15 minutes to over an hour. While observing, the user can stay in close proximity to the device, or even stay indoors.
Something we loved about the app is that it presents a short video showcasing how the image has improved over time. It’s available for viewing at any time, but unfortunately cannot be saved for later viewing. That’s a shame because it could be a valuable tool for demonstrating the Vespera’s clever live image stacking capabilities on social media, particularly to those skeptical about smart telescopes.
Vespera Observation Station: control and app
- New Singularity app for 2022
- Five smart devices can be connected
Vespera’s Singularity app is the primary mode of operation for the telescope, allowing users to select recommended objects based on the telescope’s location and time. Once selected, Vespera quickly slews to the object and begins live-stacking the image, with a video showing the composite image improving over time. Users can download the current image to their smartphone or share it on social media, and manual control of image parameters is also available.
The Singularity app is an excellent hub for controlling and targeting the Vanois Vespera. It is slick, fast, and reliable, and kick-starts the alignment process. Vespera’s computer uses a smartphone’s GPS position and its own planetarium software to plate-solve star fields in about three minutes, much faster than the Vanois Stellina when it was tested a couple of years ago. The app also offers a range of deep sky targets, including stars, star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies. Each object in the app comes with specific magnification and focus data, and it is possible to manually adjust the imaging settings and re-focus the optics.
Vespera Observation Station: battery life
- 7,000 mAh rechargeable
- Only lasts four hours
- App is battery-intensive on a smartphone
It’s best to keep a 10,000,Ah portable battery nearby when using the Vaonis Vespera. Arguably, two would be better. One for the internal battery, which is rated at 7,000 mAh and lasts about four hours (though in practice we managed to get about six hours from it). Nevertheless, users may need to charge the telescope during both observation sessions and actual observations. Another portable battery is handy for keeping a smartphone charged because the Singularity app is energy-intensive by dint of the screen needing to be switched on constantly.
I did also encounter some difficulties with the 58-inch/140cm-long proprietary cable. Despite being magnetic and supposedly easy to clip in, it proved challenging to use in practice. The slot is positioned slightly too low, making it difficult to see, particularly in low-light conditions. The cable connector also requires a specific orientation to be successfully attracted, which adds to the complexity.
Vespera Observation Station: usability
- Easy-to-use app and quick set-up
- Third-party tripod recommended
- Auto-focus is unique in smart telescopes
The Vaonis Vespera is very easy to use, though it does require careful placement if you use the bundled mini-tripod. If you do that means the telescope is close to the ground, and consequently, it can’t see as much of the sky, as if it was on a much taller tripod. This may not be a major issue if you are using it on open ground under a big sky, but if you are in an urban, setting, surrounded by walls, fences and buildings, it’s recommended you use a third-party tripod to lift the Vaonis Vespera higher.
However, in all other aspects, this is an incredibly easy-to-use telescope, with a very simple-to-use app and also a line system that takes no more than a few minutes to work. Something that the Vanois Vespera has that rival Unistellar smart telescopes don’t have is auto-focus. While Unistellar products necessitate a manual focus process. The Vaonis Vespera has a ‘smart focus’ option.
Vespera Observation Station: image quality
- 2 megapixels (1920×1080 pixels)
- JPG, TIFF, or FITS files types
Once you initiate the capture process, you can sit back and wait for the image quality to improve. A series of images taken over five minutes can provide a reasonable representation of a galaxy. However, if you wait for an hour, you may witness astonishing details like spiral arms and dust lanes. Similarly, faint nebulae may require at least 30 minutes of observation to reveal themselves. During the observation, you can download the image to a smartphone or save a high-quality 6.2-megapixel version to the Unistellar eVscope eQuinox 2‘s 64GB hard disk.
The Vespera creates 1,920 x 1,080-pixel images, which is equivalent to two megapixels. However, unlike the Stellina (which offers 3,072 x 2,080-pixel images, so 6.4 megapixels), it allows both raw image formats (TIFF and FITS) as well as JPEGs for post-processing. Getting the images off the Vespera requires attaching a desktop PC or Mac to the telescope’s WiFi network, which is a somewhat clunky solution compared to the Singularity app’s slickness. The images produced by the Vespera are not the sharpest astrophotos, but they have plenty of color and contrast, and are excellent at cutting through light pollution. The Vespera delivers impressive results, particularly if used with its optional light pollution filter, which costs $199, though it performs well without that. Advanced users can engage full manual mode and bypass the default image parameters for deep-sky imaging.
Vespera Observation Station: sample images
Here are some images taken with the Vespera Observation Station during October 2022:
Try pointing an optical telescope at the Dumbbell Nebula (M27) in the constellation Vulpecula from a light-polluted city and you’ll see nothing. So the color and detail that the Vanois Vespera obtains from this planetary nebula is nothing short of exquisite.
North American Nebula
Another target impossible to see with anything other than inky black skies and a large aperture optical telescope is the North America Nebula, a supernova remnant located 2,100 light-years away in the constellation Cygnus. The results are fabulous.
The Andromeda galaxy, also called M31, is one of the most popular astronomical targets for astrophotographers. It’s so bright that a simple image is possible within a few seconds. However, if you leave the telescope for half an hour it begins to show fine details of gas and dust lanes within it.
This nebula in the constellation of Cygnus (also called NGC6960) is hugely vulnerable to light pollution. So this image, which contains color and detail in its dust clouds, is hugely impressive – though it did demand a long period of observations to get this image.
The Vanois Vespera can image the Moon, which isn’t something rival Unistellar smart telescopes can do. The images are basic, but impressive in color and detail.
- Solar filter available
- Tracks Sun successfully
- Ideal for sunspots and partial solar eclipses
The solar filter makes Vanois the first smart telescope capable of observing the Sun. Hidden in the Singularity app is a Solar Pointing mode that can only be used if you purchase the optional solar filter from Vaonis, which we were able to use to image a partial solar eclipse. In our tests, the Vespera found the Sun within three minutes and perfectly tracked it during a four-hour observing session. Sunspots were easily seen on the sun’s surface and it was a spectacular experience watching on the Singularity app as the Moon gradually obscured part of the Sun’s disc.
Vaonis Vespera Observation Station smart telescope: mosaic mode
- Captures images larger than its field of view
- The only ‘panorama’ mode on a smart telescope
The Vespera is now equipped with a mosaic mode that can capture multiple images of objects that exceed its field of view, such as the complete expanse of the Andromeda galaxy (M31). It then seamlessly merges them together to produce one large image. It’s also called ‘CovalENS’ and is the first ‘panorama mode’ ever embedded in a smart telescope. However, we’ve not had a chance to test this yet. Inputting of coordinates of an object not in its database is also possible, which is likely to appeal to comet watchers.
The Vespera provides a new and impressive way to view deep-sky objects such as galaxies and nebulae, even from a light-polluted city. It is user-friendly, shareable, and easy to travel with. If you are a casual stargazer or an amateur astronomer just starting out, the Vaonis Vespera is sure to impress. Compared to most beginner telescopes, the Vaonis Vespera offers a much simpler user experience and produces better results. Although the Vespera does not have an eyepiece – something that means it may not appeal to purists – its live image stacking technology shouldn’t be mistaken for either an optical telescope or an astrophotography setup. Is this the most convenient smart telescope available? It’s hard to disagree.
Vaonis Vespera Observation Station: specifications
|Price||US$2,499 / UK£2,199 / €2,499|
|Optics||50mm (2-inch) apochromatic quadruplet refractor|
|Focal length||450mm, f/4|
|Field of view||96 x 54 arcminutes (1.6 x 0.9 degrees)|
|Sensor||Sony Exmor IMX462|
|Image resolution||1,920 x 1,080 pixels, 2 megapixels|
|Image format||JPEG, TIFF, FITS|
|Mount||Motorized single-arm altazimuth Go-To|
|Battery||Built-in 7,000mAh lithium-ion rechargeable (4 hours)|
|Tripod||Tabletop aluminum, fixed height|
|Ports||Proprietary USB-C for charging, Wi-Fi|
|Weight||11 lbs / 5 kg|