The best smart telescopes are revolutionizing astronomy by changing the way that you observe the night sky. For generations, traditional telescopes have been very difficult for beginners to use and find the celestial object they want to see. Furthermore, with light pollution getting worse in many places, looking for faint galaxies and nebulae can be a fruitless task for many. Smart telescopes change all this by having a built-in camera and linking to your smartphone or tablet, so you see through the telescope on a screen, rather than through an eyepiece.
Not to be confused with the best computerized telescopes (opens in new tab), smart telescopes are motorized and come equipped with both artificial intelligence (AI) and camera sensors. They use AI to align themselves with the night sky, providing apps that make it easy to ‘go-to’ any object you want at the touch of a button. However, what makes the best smart telescopes so addictive is that they also take incredible images of all kinds of objects in the night sky.
Using cutting-edge astrophotography techniques, the best smart telescopes locate faint objects in the night sky and then take long exposure images of them, merging one on top of the other to remove noise, battle the problem of light pollution and improve the image quality.
You can literally watch on an app while the Andromeda Galaxy brightens, with more detail revealed the longer you leave a smart telescope to observe them. All this happens without an eyepiece – this is hands-free astronomy.
What these first-generation smart telescopes have in common are their astronomical prices. Far pricier than optical telescopes of similar quality, they nevertheless offer unrivaled convenience and many unique features.
Here's everything you need to know about all of the smart telescopes currently on sale…
The best smart telescopes in 2023
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The eVscope 2 is the most powerful smart telescope around. It may ship with an excellent quality backpack for taking to dark skies, but the eVscope 2 copes brilliantly with urban light pollution. Its Enhanced Vision (EV) images of faint galaxies, nebulae and star clusters can be viewed in the Unistellar app and shared as a PNG file complete with some basic information about the target. A 4.5-inch reflector telescope with a Sony IMX347 image sensor, eVscope 2 has 64MB storage and a 12 hour battery.
The eVscope 2 has a wider field of view than any other smart telescope, bringing the Moon into full view for the first time. Another unique feature is its electronic eyepiece. Made by Nikon, its micro OLED tech provides crisp, contrasty views of night sky objects with plenty of eye relief for glasses-wearers. It helps eVscope 2 bridge the gap between traditional observing and gives users a reason to be outside, but it also makes it easier to focus the optics. Since it’s a reflector telescope it will occasionally need collimating (opens in new tab). Read our full Unistellar eVscope 2 review (opens in new tab).
The smart telescope that started it all remains one of the best, but there are caveats. It ships with a small Gitzo tripod that’s really only good enough for wide-open spaces or tabletops. To get some height, a full-size photographic tripod (opens in new tab) is required. Another slightly odd exclusion is a built-in battery, with the Stellina instead depending on an external 10,000 mAh power bank (opens in new tab) that needs to be cabled-up. A backpack is also available as an add-on.
At 6.4 megapixels its detail isn’t quite up there with the Unistellar eVscope 2, but it’s very close. Where Stellina does beat all other smart telescopes is with its connectivity. Up to 20 smartphones or tablets with the Singularity app can hook-up to its WiFI and watch its incredible images come down. It’s also possible to export raw TIFF and FITS image files for post-processing to a computer just by attaching a USB-C cable. Unlike Unistellar’s products this telescope has autofocus and, as a refractor telescope, doesn’t need collimation. So it’s super-easy to use. Read our full Vaonis Stellina review (opens in new tab).
At its core it’s a 4.5-inch reflector telescope fitted with a Sony IMX224 CMOS image sensor to power its Enhanced Vision (EV) views of galaxies, nebulae, open clusters and globular clusters. It allows up to 10 smartphones and tablets to connect to its own WiFi network to see and download its images. It’s got 64MB storage.
That’s identical to the eVscope and eVscope 2, but eQuinox is different. The eQuinox has slightly less resolving power than the eVscope 2 (which makes it more difficult to split close double stars), a tighter field of view, less detailed images (its natively 1.2 megapixel images are up-rezzed to 4.8 megapixels using software interpolation) and no electronic eyepiece. Its lack of an eyepiece makes sense from a cost-saving perspective – and it adds two hours of battery life – but it does make it more difficult to focus the eQuinox. Instead it comes with a Bahtinov mask built into its lens cap that helps get stars really sharp, though it’s a manual process. Since it’s a reflector telescope it will occasionally need collimating (opens in new tab).
The Vaonis Vespera is the most basic smart telescope around. There’s no eyepiece, but everything else is an optional add-on. It’s possible to add an excellent backpack, a light pollution filter, a dual-band filter (for better capturing faint nebulae), a solar filter, and even a hygrometer sensor for humidity data. The first thing that needs upgrading is its tripod, which is a tiny tabletop affair, though it can be mounted on any photographic tripod. Its battery lasts just four hours, which is a shame, but can be topped-up using any portable smartphone battery. The Vespera is also relatively low resolution, with its two megapixel images among the softest of any smart telescope and it can’t be used for planets or the moon. And yet Vespera is hugely likeable. It gets wonderful images from cities – even without the light pollution filter – and it’s possible to export them as raw TIFF and FITS files for post-processing (though only via WiFi and a browser). It doesn’t need focusing nor collimation. As an introduction to the world of smart telescoping the Vespera is hard to beat. See our full Vaonis Vespera review (opens in new tab).
Smart telescopes move fast, with firmware updates frequently improving software and, crucially, resolution. That leaves the very first Unistellar eVscope now seeming a little dated. Its 1.2 megapixel image sensor is of most concern, though unless you plan to have a go at your own post-processing then that shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. What you get that most smart telescopes lack is an eyepiece, though it lacks both detail and contrast isn’t as good as on the Unistellar eVscope 2.
It may not be the finest smart telescope around, but if you can get a good second-hand price (Unistellar no longer sells this model) then it’s worth considering because it still offers incredible images of faint galaxies, nebulae and star clusters despite light pollution. Since it’s a reflector telescope it will occasionally need collimating (see below). Read our full Unistellar eVscope review (opens in new tab).
What is collimating?
Telescope mirrors and lenses need to be aligned to give a nice sharp image. The process of getting them aligned is known as collimation – which you can think of an essential step, like having to tune a guitar before you play it. Collimating is usually only essential with telescopes that have mirrors in them such as reflectors or catadioptric telescopes. A great way to see if collimation is the problem is to point the telescope at a bright star and adjust the focus so that the star is out of focus and showing as a big blob. Look closely and you will see a bright outer ring surrounding a dark central disc. If the dark disc is not in the center of the bright ring then the optics are not aligned and you need to collimate. The steps to achieve this depend on the telescope you have, so check out the manual or find the guide for your telescope online (we've provided the relevant links above for the smart telescopes in this guide) – and you should then be able to get nice sharp images.
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