In telescope terms, the best way to describe it is…not a telescope. There is no kind. There is no range finder. It’s really a large white bean, measuring about 15 inches long and weighing about 11 pounds. The relatively small lens you use is invisible even when set up.
Vespera is best described as a dedicated satellite camera. Astrophotography – taking pictures of objects in space – is a great hobby. However, even more than just setting up a scope and peeking at something in the night sky, getting a nice photo can be very challenging in terms of both the equipment and the skill needed to take and process a photo. Vespera makes everything easy. So easy, in fact, that those who have mastered all the steps of doing it the hard way are bound to consider this cheat.
To set up the Vespera, carry it to a relatively flat and clear area and align it using the adjustable legs on the mini tripod. A small bubble level is included, which makes this simple, but I recommend sitting atop the Vespera while there is still a little light in the sky so you can take a good look at how the scope is leveled and double-check for a clear view in which direction you might want to look mechanism.
When you turn on Vespera, it creates its own Wi-Fi network. Several people can connect to this network and, with the free app, view what’s happening in range. However, only one person is actually responsible for “driving” the Vespera at any one time. That person can hand control over to someone else on the network, but not having to fight anyone about where Vespera is pointing at is a good thing.
A quick click on the “configuration” button is enough to launch the Vespera into the setup routine. The lens unfolds at one end of a multi-motor movable arm. Then he swings his arm, looks up at the night sky, checking the stars he sees against an internal catalog of locations. After about five minutes of aligning all of its elements and setting up the software, the app asks for a target, and you’re off.
If you really want to, you can give Vespera specific directions. It will go to a specific location in the form of coordinates and lock anything there. This can be useful if you want to point to a specific star, or maybe some thing that isn’t in the device’s extensive library. However, if you want to look at something well known – the Orion Nebula, the Bod galaxy, the Hercules cluster, or any one of hundreds of others – things will be easier. The app will help you find what’s in the sky at that time, let you know the quality of the show, and give you an idea of what you might find if you choose to take a look.
There’s even a system that theoretically allows you to schedule an entire night’s watching, and send the range from one object to another sometimes that you can preset. As of this writing, this function only works with Vespera’s older sister – the more capable Stellina—But there doesn’t seem to be any reason why it couldn’t work with Vespera after some app updates were made down the road. What you can do with Vespera now is set it on target and walk away. You can disconnect from the range’s Wi-Fi, go back to your car, watch Netflix, and come back in 20 minutes or so to check progress. will wait.
Even if you don’t currently allow viewing hours to be scheduled in advance, the display is still very useful. It contains a list of everything exciting in the sky for any evening. It shows when they are rising, when they are moving away, and tells you when they are at their maximum height above the horizon. You can filter this list by types (clusters, galaxies, nebulae, etc.), by brightness, or by several other factors to find the type of things you might want to see.
The app will also provide a helpful list of potential “targets”, providing a scrolling set of photos and a brief description of some of the evening’s recommended candidates. One nice touch overall, but also a little disappointing, is that the images included in the app’s catalog are all intentionally obscured and partially blocked by text. This is gentle in the sense that it makes the imagining of the thing in question a revelation. It helps generate those “Wow! Look at all the colors!” moments when you’re slamming into a nebula, or making the number of stars in a cluster shocking in the best sense. On the other hand, it can also make it hard to tell if the object you’re looking at in the app is something you really want to spend some time getting a snapshot of in the first place.
And you’ll want to know, because what each photo takes is time.
This is the real trick of Vespera. Its lens is actually very small with only 5 aperture0 mm (about 2 inches). Any budget telescope you have hanging out at home will likely be larger (although the quality of the lens for any scope you likely own won’t be even close). But what this budget scope doesn’t, and the Vespera does, is capture 10 seconds of exposure to the object in focus. Then do it again. and again. and again.
This is a Vespera party trick. It takes those 10 second images, over and over, and uses some rather complex image analysis, for the sake of not getting a better term, to add the results together. In general, the longer you leave your Vespera aimed at a target, the more image you’ll get. The Flame Nebula shot above this piece is caused by the scope being directed for about 20 minutes. That was really too short. A good image of this object would have taken about twice the length, and the result would have looked completely different. I only took that shot on the first clear night after the binoculars arrived, and I was eager to look around. (Side note: If your area suffers from a lack of rain, can I recommend buying a new telescope? We only had two clear nights the following month after the Vespera arrived.)
You can see the image being compiled as the data arrives, and that’s the really fun part – especially with so many people watching on a nice evening, maybe one that also includes taking out some binoculars or that budget scope to look at the waning moon. When looking at a distant galaxy or nebula, the first 10 seconds may produce only the faintest smudge. After a minute, a figure begins to form. Five minutes later, you can see what’s to come. Then every minute after that just adds more detail, more color, more scene.
There are limits of course. This is not the Hubble telescope. Nor is it the most expensive Stellina or any other high-end device like Unistellar’s eVScope. Stellina has a larger aperture and a more complex optical system. Perhaps most importantly, it carries a much better camera element with Sony IMX178 Which captures 6.4 mega pixels. By comparison, Vespera captures a relatively small 2.1 megapixels using older Sony IMX462.
This is not a bad group at all. The IMX462 was the heart of some of the most expensive hobbyist gear not too long ago. But its 1920 x 1080 resolution definitely limits the final quality of any image. Don’t expect these shots to reach poster size unless you’re fond of pixels. On the other hand, if you want to impress people on Twitter, they will definitely do the job.
Another thing to keep in mind is that while the Vespera’s ability to gather light and its sleek software is nearly infinite, its magnification is not. You can certainly photograph the moon or the planets (and the program will help you find any of them in the sky, just like other important objects), but they won’t impress the way you might hope. You are not going to choose the shades of the moons that transit Jupiter or identify the divisions between Saturn’s rings. You can get a good, clear image of a really small disk with moons appearing as bright spots.
This system was actually designed with deep sky objects in mind. Nebulae, clusters, and distant galaxies are where Vespera shines. If what you want is to see ice caps on Mars, you’re looking at the wrong tool.
The same is true if you’re looking for something that will produce professional-quality astrophotography, or even extend to doing some amateur research. You’ll want something that costs a little more. If you want someone to say “Is this yours or NASA?” Buy Stellina, or start assembling your rig from all the great parts available now. Oh, and let me introduce you to Vaonis, which has 61 million pixels, starting at $45,000, and it’s very high-end. Hyperia wonder range. It’s near the top of the “If I Won the Lottery” list.
What the Vespera will do is allow you to throw a telescope party even if that’s the only scope in the field. You can set up in minutes, collect great photos from the moment the sky turns completely dark, and you never have to sweat for anything more complicated than “What do I want to see next?” Plus, everyone loves watching Vespera do its thing, whether it’s unfolding from the shape of a giant capsule to swinging a robotic arm in the sky, or opening a picture in 10-second bursts on the screen of your phone or tablet. It’s just…awesome. And that’s a major feat for something as intrinsically eccentric as a telescope.
It will also allow you to see things – like all those galaxies and nebulae – that are really hard to see through your usual backyard scope. Remember when I said the first 10 seconds of a photo might be nothing more than a smudge? This is it Better You will probably see with your own eyes even a rather bulky instrument.
Vespera is nothing but a typical telescope. But with the way it conducts light and images, it can take hundreds of thousands of light-years across the universe to see things you might not think are really above your head.
- Not designed to take good pictures of the planets or detailed pictures of the moon.
- The bubble level is detachable and easy to lose (trust me on that).
- lacks AField derotator, which means that some tall images can be noisy (especially near the horizon).
- 1920 x 1080 image resolution limit.
- At $1,499, the post-Kickstarter price tag is still somewhat of a pain, even if it’s a bargain for the quality of the components.
- Ease of use.
- Ease of use.
- You’d think I’d say ease of use again… and you’re right.
- Good pictures from a small scale.
- A very useful application that makes setting goals and recording photos easy.
- Surprisingly tolerant of light pollution, making it a handy staple of your average suburban backyard.
- Small enough to stick in the car, or in a backpack, when you want to take it somewhere with a real dark sky. (Vaonis also promises a special backpack is coming.)
- A relatively powerful compact network that can communicate with several people at once and extends a good distance. On one particularly cold evening, I found out I could actually connect to the Vespera from my home, allowing me to set goals in the warm comfort. That was nice.
Summary: It’s not the Hubble telescope, but a very precisely packed personal observatory that can image distant galaxies and nebulae in amazing quality.
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