Power and Simplicity...
In February 2021 I got asked to review a fully automated telescope for CH5's the gadget show. They gave me 20minutes to review Vaonis's Stellina before the cameras started rolling 😂. Not long but as I went through the specs it dawned on me that if she does what she claims to be able to do then she'd be the ultimate beginners travel scope. Weighing 11kg she fits in a rucksack , is powered by rechargable lithium batteries and can essentially be carried to the darkest sites on Earth. With Stellina's easy phone app even my mum (actually not my mum she's not good with phones but you know what I mean) could bag incredible shots of galaxies 30 million light years away. Does stellina deliver? Well the nice folks at the Gadget show let me borrow her to find out. Unfortunately the UK was in lockdown at the time so I had to test her out in light polluted London. Folks love the video I made about Stellina but its a shame I didn't manage to get her somewhere truly dark where she'd really be able to show off.
Below is a detailed review of Stellina. Love her or loath her, she' really opened my eyes as to what is achievable with a small telescope and small sensor camera. I have borrowed heavily from Stellina's design to create my own cheaper travel rig which I think is currently the ultimate travel scope rig. You can check it out here. The one flaw in my 'ulitamte' design is that its not that easy to get it working. If your time is precious and you've got the money Stellina is the one to get...
Stellina by Vaonis
Some people think Stellina is a rip off. I’m not one of them because although Stellina is more expensive than the equivalent unautomated set up, I totally get why many folk, like his geniusness Riktenstein would not want to freeze their danglies off trying and failing to get their newly bought telescope to GOTO the stars rather than oscillating randomly between the fence and more embarrassingly the neighbour’s bedroom window.
You are not just paying extra for mechanical automation you are paying for post processing automation too. That means while regular nerds are taking calibration frames and stacking images, Stellina owners are sipping martini’s by the pool and drooling over their automatically and live stacked and graded deep space pic as it resolves itself on their smart phone.
VERY VERY VERY easy to use
Automation is expensive
carbon fibre Gitzo tripod worth $500
light pollution filter and
electronic filter changer
automatic dew heater
wifi controlled through a phone/tablet app
If you buy through my links I will receive a commission 😊
Please note Stellina is not available through FLO🥺
Below are some examples of the shots Stellina is able to take from a dark site.
The flip side of full and easy to use automation is inflexibility. You can’t stick a barlow lens on Stellina and get a good shot of the planets… (although you can see Saturn’s rings and Jupiter’s moons) or video the international space station going behind your chimney. That said however her designers have cleverly managed to make her little scope shoot at comparatively high magnifications which has the advantage of bringing hundreds of deep space targets into view that are normally out of reach of a scope this size. The latest software will allow the more adventurous to type in any celestial co-ordinates you choose, I didn't bother with this as from London all the targets I wanted to grab we're one click away on her super easy to use app.
The extra hardware and software needed for full automation includes a computer (with plate solving software, stacking software, telescope driving software, a database of targets and preferred exposure times, a data base of flats and darks at various temperatures and bias frames) an electronic focuser, an electronic filter changer, a camera rotator, an automatic dew heater, a gps sensor and of course a goto mount. I expect there is more too. The amount of extra stuff needed to replace a nerd explains why in my estimation Stellina costs about two grand more than the equivalent nerd driven set up. The extra two grand would be a rip off if Stellina was a bit hit and miss but she’s works pretty much flawlessly. As long as the skies are clear, she is level and her power source is good (I powered her with too low a voltage when I used an overly long 5m usb lead and she became erratic) then she works. She actually works!
Interesting article about what is under stellina's hood here
Stellina's shot of the moon from my roof
STELLINA's clever design
At first glance you’d think Stellina was deeply flawed. Alt Az, up down mounts are not good for long exposure astrophotography because even if the mount tracks well which is not a given with Alt Az mounts after about 30 seconds the picture is going to run into problems with field rotation.
In addition her short 80mm refractor scope may be a perfect size for many of the bigger deep space objects like Andromeda and the Orion nebula but most of the targets on her app are quite small and normally call on a telescope twice her size to image successfully.
Further more us nerds know that unless your willing to spend thousands on very fancy glass and optical flatteners fast refractors suffer from aberrations towards the edge of frame leading to ugly edged astro pictures. So its not looking good for Stellina.
But I have to say the final piece of the jigsaw turns this unpromising design into a work of potential genius. I think – note the I think – Stellina’s camera is using a sony imx178mc sensor. These sensors are normally used for planetary imaging (see here) but they also work extremely well for deep space work.
ZWO asi178mc -contains the sony imx178 sensor
Bodes Nebula and the Cigar Galaxy shot with a sony imx178 sensor in a point grey camera back in 2016 through an old televue NP101
... about 5 years ago I tested an industrial camera with the imx178 sensor and a slighlty larger (100mm) scope on these two galaxies. The camera’s small pixels paired with a fast ED scope produced a tremendous amount of detail. And as the sensor was only ½ inch wide it was too small to have to worry about edge of frame aberrations. The small sensor also meant the small galaxies end up looking quite big. And best of all it was a very sensitive, very low read noise sensor which lends itself to short exposure astrophotography. And with short exposures you don't need to worry about field rotation.
So Stellina’s choice of camera beautifully and breathtakingly gets around all the flaws mentioned above. I am now looking into using this sensor with fast refractors for the ultimate – not too expensive – travel rig. (link here)
Stellina is no gimmick. She was designed by someone who knows what they’re doing. If you spend most of your time working hard and don’t have time to waste on learning how to polar align, stack images , take calibration frames, search for the correct windows 10 drivers for your astro camera, tweak your mounts backlash etc (tbh I could go on and on)… then she makes sense. If you want to learn the true art of the nerd through many mistakes and failures and sleepless nights and you're a bit skint then she doesn't. That's not to say Stellina won't be a stepping stone into nerdyness for some. For instance you can download stellina’s subs and stack and process the images youself to make the shots even better. And as post processing is 50% of what us nerds do then if you do this you are half way to becoming a nerd! It’s ironic to think that Stellina – my nemesis – might actually hook some folks on astro and turn them into nerds like me. Hee hee hee (evil laugh).