Stellina Telescope Camera
$3,999 | vaonis.com

Stellina is a self-contained, portable telescope designed to easily take photographs of celestial objects. All you need is the Stellina itself and a smartphone. It is not a traditional telescope that lets you explore the universe through an eyepiece. Instead, it captures images with its built-in camera which then you can view on your phone (or tablet). During my latest trip to Yellowknife, Canada I was able to put the Stellina to the test and capture some classic telescope targets.

When folded, the Stellina looks like a retrofuturistic home appliance and one could hardly guess that it holds a telescope and a camera inside. Its weight of 11 kg (25 lb) makes it portable but its bulky size of 49 x 39 x 13 cm (19 x 15 x 4.7 in) and the lack of handles makes it a little awkward to move around. The Stellina comes with a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod (1.3 kg, 2.2 lb) which provides leveling and stability to the telescope.

Stellina is a portable astronomical telescope and camera. Everything you need to take photographs of celestial objects is contained in this unit and on a smartphone/tablet app.

Setting up the Stellina

The Stellina requires 5.1V / 2.4A to operate. It can be powered by an external battery connected through a USB Type-C port and stored in a compartment, or by an AC external power adapter. The 10,000-mAh battery included with the Stellina should provide approximately 5 hours of use. Once powered up, the Stellina creates its own Wi-Fi network which you use to control it from the Stellina app (available for both iOS and Android devices) .

The Stellina reads the local time and GPS coordinates off your smartphone and then it automatically focus and aligns itself by looking around the sky and identifying stars. All this is done in a completely automated fashion and in just a mater of minutes. Pretty smart!

The Stellina comes with a 10,000-mAh battery that is easily stored in its own compartment and provides approximately 5 hours of use.

Imaging with the Stellina

The Stellina uses a 400mm F5 apochromatic lens and a 1/1.8" CMOS Sony sensor (3,096 x 2,080 pixels, 6.4 MP) to produce a series of exposures which are then combined into a final image with a Field-of-View (FOV) of 1° x 0.7°. But first you must pick a target.

Once the automated calibration is completed, the Stellina offers you a catalogue of astronomical objects that are visible from your location at that particular time. For each of these objects the Stellina app provides you basic information about the object, its current location in the sky (altitude and azimuth), as well as the recommended exposure time.

Stellina provides useful information of the potential targets up in the sky at the current time, including recommended exposure times.

According to Vaonis, the Stellina manufacturer, "The catalogue includes all Messier objects and the most interesting NGC targets in the Northern and Southern hemispheres." Some objects whose angular diameters exceed the Stellina's FOV are excluded from the catalogue, but Vaonis plans to extend that list when they add the ability for the Stellina to combine multiples images in a mosaic.

Vaonis is also planning to let users enter sky coordinates manually and point at any direction in the sky. That will be another welcome feature since the Stellina does not let you manually slew. Luckily, these features should easily become available through software updates.

I selected the Andromeda Galaxy, the Stellina slew to the correct location in the sky, and started imaging. To do this, the telescope relies on a technique called image stacking where a series of relatively short exposure are combined to produce an image with a higher signal-noise ratio. As more images are exposed and added, you can interactively review how the stacking and image processing improves the final image and decide when to stop exposing.

In the two screenshots below, you can see how the image improved from a combined exposure time of 2 min 40 sec (16 exposures of 10 seconds each) to a combined exposure time of 8 min (48 exposures of 10 second each). As expected, the spiral arms of the Andromeda Galaxy appear more prominent as the Stellina gathers more light.

Comparison of a 2 min 40 sec exposure with a longer 8 min exposure. Stellina has the impressive ability of showing you in real-time how the final exposure improves as more images are added and total integration time increases.

I could have exposed for a longer time but, unfortunately, clouds rolled in. Impressively, the Stellina software rejects cloud-covered images and does not add them to the stack, so when clouds cover the FOV you will notice how the total exposure time pauses until the clouds move out of the way. Evidently, automation is at the heart of Stellina and Vaonis has done a great job in the programming of this telescope.

On the other hand, what did not impress was the feedback given by the Stellina app when saving JPEG photos. You can either save images on the app itself or on your smartphone's photos app (and in the cloud if your phone is set up that way), but if you choose the latter, the photos are deleted from the app (with no warning) along with any observation information. That is, photos copied to your photos app are saved without any metadata. Furthermore, JPEG photos produced by the Stellina are downsampled from 6.4 MP to 1.4 MP.

There's definitely room for improvement in documenting Stellina's features

If you want to enjoy full-resolution images you need to retrieve FITS (Raw) files using the USB port. That's great! As long as you know that options exists. And therein lies a problem. The Stellina instruction manual does a good job of explaining how to set up the telescope up to the point of connecting it to the app, but nothing further. Once you start controlling the telescope via the Stellina app, documentation and feedback from the app is underdeveloped.

I learned about the ability to save Raw images on a Q&A page on the Vaonis support site. Unfortunately, by then I had returned the unit. There's definitely room for improvement in documenting Stellina's features. I look forward to someday using the Stellina again and processing its FITS files.

Resulting (JPEG) Images

Below is the resulting 8-minute exposure of the Andromeda Galaxy. The Stellina did a good job of automatically focusing, tracking, stacking, and processing the images. Nevertheless, a bright vignette is fairly noticeable. According to Vaonis, the vignette 'is produced by the luminescence of the sensor' and they are working on improving the image processing algorithm.

1.4 MP JPEG of the Andromeda Galaxy saved from the Stellina app. This is the result of 48 10-sec exposures stacked automatically by the Stellina for a total exposure time of 8 minutes.

Afterwards, I selected the open cluster The Pleiades from the catalogue and let Stellina combine 60 10-sec images. Judging by what the Stellina captured in a total exposure time of 10 minutes, it's a shame that the clouds rolled in again. The blue reflection nebula around the cluster stars was starting to nicely show up in the final image.

1.4 MP JPEG of The Pleiades cluster saved from the Stellina app. This is the result of 60 10-sec exposures stacked automatically by the Stellina for a total exposure time of 10 minutes.

Final Thoughts

The Stellina is a well-thought out smart telescope. It can easily be transported from one location to another and setting it up cannot be more simple. A carrying case to move the telescope around would be a welcome addition.

The fact that the Stellina finds its orientation with respect to the sky, focuses, exposes, stacks, and process images in a completely automated fashion is quite the feat for a prosumer device. Although the Stellina app needs further development, the whole experience of operating the Stellina is fun and the ability of seeing the final exposure improve as more images are stacked is quite gratifying.

The whole experience of operating
the Stellina is fun

Once you're happy with your final exposure you can easily share your astrophotographs with friends and the rest of the world in a matter of minutes. Stellina is definitely a telescope for the social media age. Then at home, you have the option of experimenting with the Raw files.

Unfortunately, all this comes with the high price tag of $3,999. For that price, some will consider instead the more versatile combination of camera, lens, tripod, and star tracker. But if you want a fun-to-use, click-and-shoot device that will work for you while you relax and enjoy the night sky then the Stellina is right for you!

What we like:

  • Extremely easy to set up
  • Smart and highly automated
  • Instant gratification of previewing images as they are stacked
  • Fun to use

What we'd like to see improved:

  • A carrying case included with the telescope
  • Ability to slew to any location in the sky
  • Further development of the Stellina app