Vaonis Vespera Review: Easy To Use But with Underwhelming Results

The Vaonis Vespera Observation Station is a small robotic telescope designed to be smart and fully automated, taking the guesswork out of astronomy and making it easy for beginners to start their journey.

The new Vaonis Vespera, originally announced almost two years ago and is now becoming available for $2,499, is technically a camera and not a telescope as it has no eyepiece or viewfinder. Instead, it captures images and sends them to a connected mobile device which can be shared with up to five other connected smartphones using the Singularity app.

While the Vespera works well, it is not the best smart telescope or astrophotography tool for photographers.

Design and Build Quality

The unit itself looks much like an egg and is incredibly small and lightweight for what it does. Coming in at about 15 inches (40 centimeters) tall — not including the small tripod that adds about eight inches (20 centimeters) — and weighing just about 11 pounds, the device does seem to live up to the company’s claim of it being the “world’s lightest.”

The Vespera features a Sony IMX462 sensor and an Apochromatic (APO) quadrupled refractor with an aperture of 2”/50mm, a focal length of 8”/200mm, focal ration of f/4, magnification of x33, and a field of view of 1. 6 x0. 9 degrees. The company claims the device can operate for about four hours before needing to be recharged, but if you are near a power outlet (or even a USB-C battery/power supply), you can plug it in to allow for even longer operation.

The Vespera is capable of capturing 1920 by 1080 pixel images and is, for some reason, IP43 water resistant. The quadruplet 50mm lens consists of two lenses in two groups made with lanthanum glass that the company says results in zero distortion, zero chromatic aberrations, and zero astigmatism.

Out of the box, besides the sleek design, there’s not much to look at, as it really is quite small and unassuming. The company does offer a custom backpack that can store the observation station and all of its peripherals quite easily, continuing that promise of making it incredibly portable. But even without the provided backpack, the device is small enough that it can easily fit in most normal bags and backpacks on the market.

Setting up the device is rather straightforward. Attach the tripod base, legs and included “level bubble” to the magnetic charging port. Once you have adjusted the tripod mount’s legs to make sure the scope is level, it is ready for power-up.

The Vespera is very smooth and sleek, leaving you with no real “grip points” to hold on to when installing the tripod or other accessories. To avoid dust, smudges or scratches when connecting the tripod, I recommend that you keep the Vespera in the bag and the protective pouch. This will ensure that you don’t drop the Vespera accidentally.

Filters and Accessories

For our testing, Vaonis provided us with a Light Pollution Filter (which costs an extra $199) as well as a hygrometer sensor to measure and account for the humidity (another $99), all of which fit easily in the backpack provided. For those with a bit more in the budget, the company also offers a Solar Filter (for $99), a Dual-Band filter for better viewing of faint nebulae (for $399), and an extendable full-size tripod (for $149). The custom backpack from Vaonis is also available for $149.

If you decided to go all in on this device, which for the main unit already costs $2,499, you can see how expensive it could get.

Changing the filters is as simple as a push-and-click to remove and install whichever ones you want. Sadly, they aren’t able to be stacked as you would be able to with more traditional scopes, but for the most part, this shouldn’t ever be a major issue especially considering the skill level of the target audience.

To install the hygrometer you will need to first remove the lens filter by pushing/clicking. Next, place it in the designated slot and attach the toolset. The app should be able to detect which filter is attached once it initializes, allowing you for better viewing depending on the accessories used.

Mobile App and General Usage

Since the Vespera is not a traditional telescope, everything needs to happen inside of the mobile app. Singularity, as the company says, is effectively your control room where everything happens. You can access any of the stellar objects in the catalogs. The app will also give you personalized recommendations based on your location and the astronomical year.

The app provides information about “secrets to the Cosmos”, and even a trivia screen that can be used to find out more details on each celestial object.

Singularity-Screencaps

Once the app and device are connected, Vespera uses star-pattern recognition software to align with the night sky. It then presents a list with recommended times to create a high quality image.

The start-up initialization process will take about five to ten minutes and it does this automatically. After you select the object that you wish to see, Vespera moves to take it. Then the autofocus process starts. Once this is complete, you will start to see the images that continue to improve (brighter and clearer) the longer and more images you allow the device to capture and stack.

The Vespera will keep stacking the images and reducing the noise in them until you tell it to stop or the object is no longer viewable in the night sky. For most of the objects the observation station can capture, Varonis recommends at least 10 to 15 minutes of capture time, with some objects needing well over an hour or two to provide a decent image. You can also check in on the image stack and play a timelapse within the app to see how the clarity has improved over the time.

The Vespera will use its motor that is controlled by an onboard computer to automatically track the stellar object you’ve selected to observe and continue to do so until you tell it to stop (or it loses sight of it), compensating for Earth’s rotation.

When you do get a photo though, you can download them directly onto your phone and save them either as a JPEG, a “lossless RAW,” or even as at TIFF for manual editing later, too.

I found it hard to believe that there is a way for me to save the whole thing as a timelapse. Although it is possible to create a screen record on your phone, the process can be slow and the quality of the captured images is limited. Although I’m not sure if this is something that anyone would like, I think it’s an opportunity lost.

One frustrating issue I encountered was that the autofocus sometimes doesn’t achieve sharpness. If you happen to get some passing cloud cover during a capture time, if the device is shaken, bumped, or moved a little, or even if you happen to stand in front of it you could run into a problem. Once it does lock in on the celestial object, it can take between 10 and 30 minutes before you really notice the image isn’t actually focused properly. When that happens, you have to start the initialization process over again, then restart the photo-taking process which is a huge chunk of lost time.

Image Quality And File Access/Sharing

The images captured and created by this device are decent — not amazing, but decent. It is definitely something fun for beginners and families, but they are definitely not something a professional astrophotographer (or astronomer) would really go wild for.

The system can produce 1920 by 1080 pixel images. For example, below is a capture of the M13 nebula captured on two different nights and from different locations. The first image was captured with over 300 images stacked in an environment pretty far out of Los Angeles with next to no light pollution obscuring the view.

M13 (338 exp) captured with the regular/default lens, captured in a much more secluded and darker environment.

The second image (below) was captured in the heart of Los Angeles, just down the street from the Hollywood Bowl. For this one, I attached the Light Pollution filter to help but even then the nebular was very hard to see (by the device) and the captures were of far less quality. You can even see a bright streak of light across the top third of the image where one of the Hollywood Bowl Spotlights was pointed across the sky.

M13 Light Pollution Filter Attached
M13 (131 exp) with Light Pollution Filter attached, shot in VERY bright and bad conditions

The light pollution filter helped a little, but it still left the image stack with much less clarity and quality. It also wasn’t even really in focus. Keep in mind that if your area has significant light pollution, such as Los Angeles’, it may be worth venturing out to other areas before you use the Vespera.

Below are some additional images I captured around Los Angeles and a few supplied by the team at Varonis:

Another point worth mentioning is that actually getting files off the Vespera can be a little confusing at first. Through the Singularity app, you can save the JPEGS directly to your smartphone or tablet which makes those files easy to share, but getting the RAW files or exported TIFFS is not as simple.

To do this, connect to Vespera like an FTP server to download the files. The good news is Varonis has very detailed instructions on how to do this.

This process should be easier and more streamlined, and I hope Vaonis addresses that in the future.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Varonis has a “Adjust Frame” mode that lets you take multiple images of the night sky to stitch together later and according to the company, in a future update, the app will include an automated version of this called “Mosaic Mode” which should go live in early 2023.

While using the observation station is actually quite easy, for more serious photographers and budding astrophotographers, the images and image quality are rather underwhelming. Although the device looks great and it is very easy to use, you will not get the best photos unless you spend over an hour stacking enhancements and improving the image quality. Although it is fun to share with your friends, you shouldn’t use the device to focus your evening. Instead, you can set the camera up and enjoy the sky while also enjoying the company of others.

On the plus side, it can capture very faint objects that most normal optical telescopes couldn’t ever even hope to capture but closer celestial objects like other planets in our solar system — and even the moon — can leave you feeling quite underwhelmed with the results.

This smart telescope and others are fun and useful, but they should be used for deep and rich field observations. If you want to look at closer-up objects and/or take higher resolution images of them, it may be best to pair this device up with a normal optical telescope that you can scale out accessories and camera equipment with as your skills with photographing them advances.

One last thing: while a four-hour battery life sounds fine on paper, it took between 30 minutes and an hour to capture usable images where I am, which means that four hours go by quickly. Many will need to carry extra batteries to continue their observations.

Easy to Use and Carry.

The Vespera is best used in dark locations. Although it has many great features, and performs exactly as Vaonis claims, I don’t think the Vespera offers the kind of performance most photographers want. The biggest problem is the poor image quality.

Although the software and app that powers the Vespera are excellent, I was disappointed with the camera section. This is, to me, the most crucial detail. The results were disappointing even after running it for more than an hour in order to achieve the highest quality image.

Overall, the Vaonis Vespera Observation Station is fun to use and is honestly pretty impressive given its size and portability. I also should say it is much easier to use than some other “beginner” telescopes on the market. While you don’t have an eyepiece to look through or anything that will allow you to make manual adjustments, the Vespera’s live image stacking technology makes up for that — as long as you have the patience to wait around for it.

The system isn’t cheap at $2,499, but if you are a casual stargazer or budding astronomer, you might enjoy what it offers. Are There Other Options?

There are a few other smart telescopes on the market with some more advanced and additional features for budding astronomers and astrophotographers, including the previously reviewed Unistellar eVscope 2 for $5,199, or the $3,999 Stellina, and the “coming soon” Hyperia (both from Vaonis) for an astronomical $45,000.

Should You Buy It?

Maybe. I can see the appeal for beginner photographers, families, or just those interested in a cool digital telescope camera they can use to explore the cosmos. The Vaonis Vespera is not the right choice for serious photographers.

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