The Celestron Nexstar 8 SE – The Lazy Astronomer’s Guide To The Skies
If the Celestron Nexstar 8 SE doesn’t give you the biggest aperture for the dollar, nor the best platform for astrophotography, why are people forking out over a grand for this scope and still raving about it?
Well being a Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope (SCT), the Nexstar 8 SE is incredibly small and light for an 8-inch scope.
It provides some excellent views and the computerized GoTo tracking system lets you see more than 40,000 celestial bodies at the press of a button.
So in short it’s an automated telescope that’s easy to use, easy to handle and portable. Perfect for the lazy astronomer.
What’s The Picture Quality Like?
Let’s face it. Picture quality is the most important feature of a telescope.
You can have the smallest, most portable rock-solid pen-sized telescope that hovers in front of your eye and listens to voice commands. But it’s useless if you look through it and you can’t tell the difference between the moon and a nimbus cloud.
With my Celestron Nexstar 8 SE, I can tease out dust lanes in nebulae and I haven’t yet had the chance to take this baby out into the starlit wilderness. I live in a moderately light polluted city and I’m impressed with what I’ve seen.
With a focal length of 2032mm you can get some huge magnifications on this scope for lunar and planetary viewing.
Despite hazy seeing conditions, extreme magnification reveals rich detail and subtle color variations, with jagged jet-black voids of shadows cast across countless crater floors.
Here’s one of my favorite mosaics created with the Nexstar 8 SE. I’ve actually got this one framed on my bedroom wall.
|A beautiful mosaic of the moon captured with my Celestron Nexstar 8 SE|
Here’s one of my earlier close-ups. Not perfectly focused as you can see, as I was having some backlash issues with the focuser at the time.
|The Clavius Crater on the moon. Minor focusing issues, but an excellent shot nonetheless|
I managed to get some very crisp clear views of Jupiter, with its red spot easy to see. On clearer nights Saturn’s rings were exquisitely detailed, with a pleasant view of the Cassini Division and the planet’s subtle atmospheric bands were made clear.
Below is a comparison I made between the Nexstar 130 SLT and the Celestron Nexstar 8 SE. As you can see the 8 SE gives you a much sharper view of Jupiter. Such is the advantage of having an 8 inch aperture scope.
|Jupiter with the Nexstar 130 SLT||Jupiter through the eyes of my Nexstar 8 SE|
Deep Space Objects – Galaxies, Nebulae and the lot
Deep space objects are my passion. If the Nexstar 8 SE couldn’t resolve globular clusters, start to tease out the structure of galaxies and reveal the fascinating colors of nebulae, I’d toss it or get a refund. To my satisfaction, it did all that and more.
The Nexstar 8 SE demonstrated an impressive light gathering capacity. I was able to see, buried within the clouds, the individual stars of the Trapezium Cluster, along with its delicate inner wisps and outer streaks. I also managed to get some breathtaking views of the M42 nebula. Here’s a pic…
|The M42 Nebula as seen through my Nexstar 8SE|
All in all despite the poor seeing conditions of a metropolitan city, I was impressed with the sharply detailed, high contrast, bright and stable images of the Nexstar 8 SE.
SkyAlign and the GoTo Tracking System – The Lazy Stargazer’s Dream
Some amateur astronomers enjoy the thrill of locating celestial bodies manually by hand. There’s added satisfaction in finally locating that elusive galaxy or star cluster all by yourself and peering down that eye piece to enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Unfortunately many of us just don’t have the patience and would prefer to enjoy the breathtaking views without the added effort. That’s where computerized GoTo tracking comes in.
With a GoTo system installed, you don’t need to know squat about astronomy to get started.
What is GoTo Tracking?
GoTo is a computerized locating and tracking system that makes locating celestial bodies as easy as selecting from several lists in a 40,000 object database. You simply pick up the hand controller and browse through the different lists, which include Messier objects, NGC objects and solar system objects.
Once you’ve selected what you want to see, the fork arm will point the telescope to it within a few seconds, and you simply peer down the eyepiece to take a look and enjoy.
If you don’t know what you want to see, or want to know more about your options, you can select the tour feature, on the hand controller, which will go through some of the more popular space objects you can look at. There’s also the added educational benefit of clicking the ‘information’ button, which gives you a bit of background on what you’re looking at.
How Accurate Is It?
Although the GoTo tracking in the Nexstar 8 SE has no problem locating your target object, it doesn’t always bring it smack bam in the centre, especially when you’re using lower magnifications.
It’s usually close enough to the centre of your field of view, and you only need to adjust it with the directional buttons on the controller.
As an avid astronomer I’m sure you know that objects in space are always moving around. Once the GoTo system locates the object, it then begins to track it. Tracking is moderately accurate, being able to accurately track solar system objects such as Jupiter for hours.
SkyAlign is what lets your telescope know exactly where it is so it can locate and track the over 40,000 space objects in its database.
You simply enter in your location and your current date and time. Then you manually locate up to 3 easy-to-find objects in the sky – you can even use the moon if you like. You don’t have to know what the objects are, just center them in your field of view one at a time and the GoTo system will tell you what they are. It then ‘thinks’ for a few seconds and you’re ready to go!
It only takes a few minutes for a beginner to perform SkyAlign. Plus there’s an option for a Two-Star Alignment and even a One-Star Alignment if you’re really lazy. But if you want to locate small, faint far away deep-sky objects I advise you stick to two or three star alignment.
Quality of Construction…
If you’re investing big bucks in something you don’t just want to know that it performs good – you also want to know that the parts are rock-solid and feel unbreakable in your hands.
Although I wouldn’t advise dropping the optical tube to see if it’s unbreakable, it definitely has a sturdy build. All of the components feel like they’re part of the same unit, mostly composed of solid metals with very little plastic to be found.
Is The Celestron Nexstar 8 SE Suitable For Astrophotography?
The Nexstar 8 SE is excellent when it comes to giving you crystal clear views, being portable and making it as easy as possible to locate those hidden beauties that only the experts were meant to find. Many astronomers love the fact that it performs so well AND is so portable. But the portability comes with a price!
There are two important features that make this telescope light and portable but at the same time make it unsuitable for the hard-core astrophotographer.
Portability Feature #1: Alt-Azimuth Mount
Alt-azimuth mounts are much lighter than the traditional equatorial mount. They’re also cheaper, easier to use and very well suited to the novice astronomer.
However with an alt-azimuth mount you can’t track deep space objects for long enough to get those long exposures you need for astrophotography.
Portability Feature #2: Single Fork-Arm
I’m sure you’ve noticed in the picture that there’s just one arm holding the optical tube in place. This not only makes it lighter and more portable, but it also makes the Celestron Nexstar 8 SE easier and quicker to set up.
However with just a single fork-arm you run into the problem of prolonged vibration. With the Nexstar 8SE the slightest touch can cause it to vibrate, giving you a blurry view for up to 10 seconds at higher magnifications. This poses a problem for prolonged exposure astrophotography, as a slight breeze or nearby movement can set it into vibration.
And yes, this does cause some frustrations with normal viewing, more-so at very high magnifications when you’re trying to focus the dam thing. So you may consider getting yourself a set of anti-vibration pads or motorfocuser later on.
So What’s The Verdict On Astrophotography?
You can get some excellent shots of the moon and planets, as I’ve shown you with my pictures above. This is because planetary astrophotography doesn’t require very long and accurate tracking.
Deep space astrophotography on the other hand, is a problem, and I can’t recommend this telescope for that purpose.
So you’re going to have to choose between the portability and ease of use of a single fork-arm alt-azimuth mount such as this, and a much heavier and complicated equatorial mount for deep space astrophotography.
How Long Does The Initial Set-Up Take? Is It Difficult?
Initial out-of-the-box set-up will take the rank newbie up to an hour at most. You don’t have to be a skilled mechanic, and all the equipment you need is provided.
Here’s a quick video where the guy puts the whole thing together and gets it working in just a couple of minutes.
It’s a high quality video, so you’ll also get a feel of how the telescope looks in real life. Go on, press the play button.
Portability: Is This A Grab’n Go Telescope?
For an 8 inch aperture telescope, the Nexstar 8SE is tiny, thanks to its Schmidt Cassegrain optics. In terms of moving around it’s the closest thing to a grab and go telescope of this high aperture and light-gathering range. But there’s one hitch.
If you want optimal viewing with any Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope, you aught to allow at least one hour for thermal equilibrium to occur. This is where your telescope ‘settles in’ with the environment you’ve taken it into for viewing.
Without achieving thermal equilibrium, you can get air currents inside the optical tube that can greatly affect your image quality.
So grab, acclimate and go rather than grab’n go.
Is There A Warranty?
Yes, there’s a 2-year limited manufacturer’s warranty, which covers defective parts.
How Much Should You Pay For This Telescope?
I’ve seen the price of the Celestron Nexstar 8 SE vary wildly from $1,199 all the way up to $1,599. It definitely pays to know where you can get the best deals. I consistently found that Amazon has the best prices, especially when combined with shipping costs. Click here to go take a look over at Amazon.
Now Let’s Dive Into Some Extra Features…
The specifications from the manufacturer’s website are listed in the table below. Some of the more important features we haven’t yet discussed in much detail are written in bold and I’ll be going through them with you below.
|Recommended Usage||Astrophotography , Viewing Galaxies/Star Clusters , Viewing Nebulae , Viewing the Moon , Viewing the Planets|
|Features||Alt-Az Mount , GoTo|
|Weight Complete||33 lbs|
|Lens Coating||StarBright XLT|
|Good for Astrophotography||Yes|
|Telescopes Series||Celestron NexStar SE Telescopes|
|Mount Design||Single Fork Arm-Altazimuth|
|Eyepiece 1||25mm E-Lux Plossl (1.25″) (81.28x magnification)|
|Highest Useful Magnification||480x|
|Resolution||.68 Arc Seconds|
|Resolving Power||.57 Arc Seconds|
|Star Diagonal||1.25 Inch|
|Power Supply||8-AA batteries|
203mm (8 inch) Aperture…
Aperture refers to the diameter of a telescope’s primary lens or mirror. This is the first lens or mirror that light comes into contact with when it enters your telescope.
A telescope’s aperture is one of the most important features to look for, as it decides the telescope’s ability to gather light. The bigger the aperture the more light it gathers. The more light it gathers, the clearer and sharper your image. And yes, aperture is more important than the magnification or power of the telescope.
Standard aperture sizes for amateur astronomy range from 4.5 to 8 inches (although you can go all the way up to 16 inches). The Celestron Nexstar 8 SE is at the higher aperture range at 8 inches, giving it an excellent light-gathering capacity, so you can get those crisp clear views of deep space objects.
2032mm Focal Length…
Focal length of a telescope is the length that light travels from the reflecting primary mirror to the point where it’s focused. The higher the focal length, the higher the magnification you can get on your telescope.
A typical focal length for an amateur telescope is around 1000mm, and most are below 2000mm. The Celestron Nexstar 8 SE boasts a whooping 2032mm focal length, giving it huge scope for magnification, so you’re only limited by your viewing conditions.
But 2032mm is longer than the telescope, how can this be? Well then let me tell you about the Nexstar 8 SE’s Schmidt-Cassegrain Optical System…
The Schmidt-Cassegrain Optical Design…
The Nexstar 8 SE is a Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, which means that it’s a type of telescope that uses both mirrors and lenses to modify the path of light, so you can fit a long focal length in a much smaller tube. You also get to have a huge aperture in a smaller scope.
A Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope achieves the best of both worlds by sporting the long focal length of a refractor telescope, which makes it better for astrophotography and gives it better scope for magnification. It also has the cost-effectiveness of a reflector and is the most compact type of telescope.
For the above reasons and more, this is the most popular type of telescope on the market today. The only disadvantage worth noting is that the Schmidt-Cassegrain design is more expensive than the standard newtonian reflector of equal aperture.
The StarPointer Finderscope
You don’t really need a finder scope much when you have a GoTo system to do all your finding for you. You only really need one for the SkyAlign process.
The StarPointer Finderscope is one of those red-dot finders that don’t magnify. It works by pointing a brightness adjustable red light at your target.
The good thing about having no extra magnification than the naked eye is that you get a bigger field of view. Unlike with the traditional finder scope, you also don’t get an upside-down image, which can make things that much easier.
A lot of amateur astronomers are actually ditching their old finder scopes to get a red dot finder. However some do complain that the red dot is a tad too bright for the further, smaller deep sky objects. So at the end of the day it’s down to personal preference. See how you like it.
In all its glory the Celestran Nexstar 8 SE takes a bit of a kick to the ribs when it comes to power supply. It takes 8-AA batteries. I put in 8 brand-new solid Duracell batteries and they lasted me little more than two hours. Even though I was maxing out on the GoTo system, who wouldn’t prefer to go on longer?
Unfortunately it doesn’t come with its own DC power adaptor. I suppose the good news is you can purchase one, or a portable power tank, which is something I did right away.
The Pros & Cons Laid Out For You Bare
- An all-round excellent telescope, definitely a winner in my eyes.
- Outstanding optical performance for both planetary AND deep space viewing, with high contrast, sharp optics, and better than expected light gathering capacity.
- Perfect platform for visual observing
- Very portable – both the optical tube and the mount are designed to be small and light-weight for easy transport.
- Easy to set up and tear down.
- Easy to use – you don’t need to know squat about astronomy to get started, you can learn as you go.
- Solid construction and build.
- Not the best telescope for deep space astrophotography, due to tracking problems associated with having such a light-weight and portable mount
- Having a single fork-arm is convenient when it comes to portability and a speedy set-up, but you then have to deal with the side-effect of prolonged vibrations. This can make viewing lunar and planetary surfaces at high magnifications a bit of a pain.
- As with all Schmidt Cassegrain Telescopes, a cool-down period of at least 1 hour is recommended for peak optical performance.
- A portable power supply is top of the list! Relying on AA batteries is too expensive on the long-run, not to mention frustrating.
- Anti-vibration pads. I find these very useful on my Celestron Nexstar 8 SE. By halving the vibration time, it makes high magnification viewing that much easier.
- Motor focus. Due to vibrations at high magnification, focusing can be a pain too. Hands-free focusing with a motor focus unit can be very convenient.
- Eye piece kit. Since you only get one eyepiece with the Nexstar 8 SE, it makes sense to get a set of different eyepeices so you can experiment at different magnifications.
If you’re looking for a telescope that is simple enough to operate, good in quality, easy to carry around and which you can use to view galaxies/star clusters, nebulae, planets and more with breathtaking detail, then the Celestron Nexstar 8 SE will suit your needs just fine.
A number of changes such as the single fork-arm and alt-azimuth mount make the Nexstar 8 SE the most portable 8 inch telescope around. But these changes come with a price.
Deep space tracking issues with an alt-azimuth mount make this telescope less than ideal for deep space astrophotography. Although you can take some excellent photos with this telescope, an equatorial mount would be more suitable. But this would make the 8 SE less portable and more expensive.
So you’re left with a choice between the Celestron Nexstar 8 SE’s elegant portability and deep space astrophotography. You choose.
Where’s The Best Place To Buy This From?
I’ve found that the best prices for the Nexstar 8 SE are always on Amazon. I guess they sell more units than any other dealer, so they can afford to lower the price. Click here to take a look at some customer reviews and see the best deals on Amazon.