Celestron NexStar Telescopes Review: Astrophotography at Its Best

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You’ve seen the awesome pictures of cool-looking, deep space objects. Wouldn’t you love to be able to capture some of your own using astrophotography (also called astroimaging)?

Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes along with a suitable camera are just the ticket for you. And that’s what I’ll be looking at with you in this article.


Photo source

Celestron produces a line of astrophotography telescopes called NexStar. There are several product lines within the NexStar framework – SLT, SE (Special Edition), and Evolution. You might also see some of the earlier models that are now discontinued.

Here I’ll concentrate on the SE line with brief mentions of related products as warranted. Mostly this will be a Celestron NexStar 5SE review. That said, there aren’t all that many differences from one SE to another, other than tube size.

You’ll get to see the advantages and disadvantages for the NexStar 5SE. By the end of the review, you’ll hopefully be able to tell whether or not this NexStar telescope is the best telescope for astrophotography – or at least for your initial venture into it.

If you’re in a hurry, you can click the links just below to check the pricing and availability of these telescopes at Amazon.

You can use the following table to jump to a section of particular interest. Otherwise just keep reading to get all the information in the review.

How Does a NexStar 5SE Telescope Compare to Other Astrophotography Telescopes?

Part of the answer to this question will be answered when we look at the individual features of this telescope below. You’ll see how the Celestron models compare to those of other makers especially when it comes to the ease of use and the light gathering capabilities on the NexStar.

Within the NexStar line, there are also some comparisons worth making. We’ll take a quick look at the NexStar SE vs the SLT and the SE vs the Evolution lines.

The four NexStar SLT models include a refractor, a reflector, and 2 Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes. They are generally less expensive than the SE models, but then they also have fewer features.

The four NexStar Evolution models are all Schmidt-Cassegrain scopes similar to the three larger SE models. The Evolution telescopes are more expensive than the SE’s and have more and better quality features.

This puts the four SE models smack in the middle of the pack. The NexStar 4SE is a Maksutov-Cassegrain with a 4-inch optical tube. The 5SE (the main subject of this review), the 6SE, and the 8SE are Schmidt-Cassegrains with all the features described below.

Which Features of the NexStar 5SE Are Especially Attractive?

While it may not be particularly useful, all the SE models are designed to be visually appealing. The signature orange tube is a carryover from earlier designs.

Personally, I think it does look quite attractive (even though green is really my favorite color). There is something about the shade of shiny, burnt orange that Celestron uses that makes it look quite professional.

Celestron NexStar 5 SE
Celestron NexStar 5 SE

Features that are more useful or helpful include these.

  • NexStar+ hand control
  • SkyAlign
  • All-Star Polar Alignment
  • NexRemote
  • StarBright XLT Optical Coatings

Let’s take a closer look at each of these. In the process, you’ll learn how to use the Celestron NexStar 5SE telescope. The other NexStar SE models also work on these same principles. Again, the main difference is in the size of their tubes.

How Do I Use the NexStar+ Hand Control?

The NexStar+ hand control is attached to the telescope with a coiled cord, much like that on an old landline telephone. You even “hang up” the control in much the same way when you place it into its cradle on the side of the single fork mount.

The “plus” in NexStar+ simply means that this mechanism is an upgrade from earlier models of this telescope.

The improvements involve both the firmware and the hardware of the device. For example, the LCD is now less sensitive to wintry temperatures. When you’re out there in the cold in the northern climes, you may be the one who decides to head indoors before your telescope tells you to.

NexStar hand control

The up, down, left, and right directional buttons have raised edges so you can find them more easily, even when you’re looking through the eyepiece instead of directly at the control.

You can update the firmware faster than ever before. The Help and Option buttons allow for future expansion of the functionality of the control. When it was first produced, you could use the Help button just to access the Messier catalog.

At the top of the control is an LCD display that is backlit in red, making it easy to read in the dark.

Underneath the display are the Align, Enter, and Back buttons. Align tells the telescope to start the default alignment procedure necessary for future viewing during a given star gazing session.

The Enter and Back buttons behave as you would expect. Respectively, you use them to select an action and to undo an action or back out of a menu area.

Below those three buttons you’ll see the four directional arrow buttons mentioned above.

Moving down the control, you then see an array of 12 buttons arranged much like those on the telephone. Most of these serve more than one purpose as 10 of them have both a number (0-9, with the zero at the bottom center) and a function spelled out on their faces.

Briefly, here are the main functions of the numbered buttons.

1 – Solar System – Access the larger objects in our solar system
2 – Stars – Access the stars & major objects in the star catalog
3 – Deep Sky – Access the NGC objects & the Messier catalog
4 – Identify – Finds the nearest matching objects
5 – Sky Tour – Shows you the best objects in the night sky
6 and 9 – Scroll – Move up (6) and down (9) through the menu
7 – Menu – Displays the menu
8 – Help – Gives troubleshooting tips (also Messier catalog)
0 – Object Info – Shows coordinates and other info about selected objects

In the bottom left corner of this array is the Celestron logo key that acts much like the Shift key on a computer keyboard. You use it to access additional functions in combination with some of the other keys. Exactly what it can do depends on the capabilities of the latest firmware release.

In the bottom right corner is the Motor Speed button. In combination with the number buttons (1-9), you can change the speed at which your telescopes slews from fast (about 3.5 degrees per second) to slow (half sidereal). The slowest speed is quite handy for centering an object in the eyepiece.

How Does SkyAlign Work?

If your NexStar doesn’t know what your particular night sky looks like, it can’t zoom around from one object to the next for you automatically. This means that you have to give it some idea of where you are as well as what day and time it is at the minimum.

There are several ways to accurately align your telescope with the current night sky:

  • AutoAlign
  • Two-Star
  • One-Star
  • Solar System alignment

If you have no clue (or just don’t care to provide the information) as to which stars are visible, you can use the AutoAlign feature of SkyAlign to give your NexStar a starting point for a session of viewing. You need to enter the date, time, and your location (many cities are included in the database). The brains of the telescope will take it from there.

I’m not sure why you wouldn’t simply always use AutoAlign, but if you know some of the stars in the sky, you can use them in the Two-Star or One-Star alignment methods. I suppose there must be circumstances for their use, but I can’t think of them just now.

If the Moon and some planets are visible, you can use them for the Solar System alignment option.

How Do I Align the NexStar If I Want to Take Pictures?

If you only use one of the above alignment methods to set up your telescope, any pictures you take will show the apparent movement of the stars as the Earth rotates during the night. If that’s the effect you’re going for, that’s fine.

Most likely, however, you want the final result to look like nothing moved during the time your camera’s shutter was open. To accomplish this, you need to align the fork arm of your NexStar with the celestial pole.

NexStar 5SE wedge

I won’t go into great detail about this setup, because it’s easier to understand when you have a telescope right in front of you. That said, it involves tilting the telescope tube using the built-in wedge in the scope’s mount.

Once that alignment is correct, you can then use any of the basic alignment methods mentioned above to achieve proper alignment and take excellent pictures with an SLR (or DSLR) camera.

What Is the NexRemote Software For?

One feature of the NexStar+ hand control that I purposely didn’t mention earlier is the RS-232 port at the bottom. Using the proper cable, you can connect this to a Windows PC and control your telescope from the computer, instead of using the device.

NexRemote comes on a disk that you pop into your computer. This setup also allows you to control the NexStar using several other astronomy software programs.

Connecting your PC to the hand control can be problematic though. Many modern computers no longer have an RS-232 port. You can add an RS-232 PC card to your machine if you can find one and if there is room for one.

An alternative to the card is using a USB (a port which your PC does have) to RS-232 adapter. As of this writing, the adapter is reportedly not reliable in many cases though.

Why Should I Care about the StarBright XLT Optical Coatings?

Celestron goes to great lengths to explain the benefits and creation of the glass coatings they apply to the optics in their NexStar 5SE telescopes. You can learn about StarBright XLT coatings in excruciating detail on the Celestron site.

You’ll see how they are better than Celestron’s previous coatings, the theory and the math behind the method, their testing procedures, and much, much more. (Honestly, more than you likely need or want to know.)

Obviously the point is that Celestron thinks the optics in their telescopes are second to none. I think you’ll find it hard to disagree.

What Are the Terms of the Warranty on the NexStar 5SE?

Quoting Celestron’s exact terms…

For two years, Celestron will cover repairs or replacement of this product in cases of defective components. This warranty shall be void and of no force of effect in the event a covered product has been modified in design or function, or subjected to abuse, misuse, mishandling or unauthorized repair. Further, product malfunction or deterioration due to normal wear is not covered by this warranty.

Is There a Case Made Especially for the NexStar 5SE?

There are cases that purport to be made for the NexStar 5SE. These cases also accommodate the 4SE and the 6SE. (The 8SE is large enough that it needs a different size case all its own.)

Some users believe these designer cases cost much more than they’re worth and opt for something else like a more generic Rubbermaid container. I tend to agree, especially since some specialty cases don’t even include space for the tripod.

If you get a generic container, you can get the size you need to tote the telescope and whatever else you need to pack along for a trip. (You obviously could also use this for other purposes besides toting your telescope.)

If you decide to go generic, I would suggest that you calculate space that includes packing materials – foam rubber or something similar. This will add just a little weight and may increase the overall dimensions of the container you need, but the protection of your telescope is worth those costs.

Does the Celestron NexStar 5SE Include a Mount and Tripod?

All the telescopes in the NexStar SE line include the tripod and mount. The mount is special in that it includes the wedge for polar alignment (see above).

The entire assembly – tube, mount, and tripod – is supposed to be very easy to put together and take apart. Combine that with your favorite storage/transport container and taking your NexStar 5SE just about anywhere should be a breeze.

What Do I Need to Attach My Camera to the NexStar 5SE?

I said that this was a good telescope for astrophotography. Here’s how to get it ready for that activity.

There is a Celestron NexStar 5SE T-adapter ring accessory that you can get separately from your 5SE. It attaches to the tube in place of the eyepiece.

Your DSLR camera (other cameras are workable, but not a point-and-shoot) will also need a brand-specific T-ring in place of the removable lens. You combine the T-ring and the T-adapter to make a complete astrophotography assembly.

Once you have all that put together, you’re ready to align, focus, and shoot.

As an aside, you can also use this setup for daytime, terrestrial photography. The NexStar 5SE has a close focus of 20 feet, according to Celestron. (I didn’t ask them about the distance for the 4, 6, or 8.)

Where Can I Buy a NexStar 5SE Telescope?

The price of the NexStar 5SE currently seems to be about the same everywhere. That being the case, I would suggest getting yours from Amazon, especially if you have some unspent bucks in your account and you are a Prime member.

Even if that’s not true for you, Amazon is still an excellent source for this telescope.

Celestron NexStar 5SE

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope at Amazon.

Celestron NexStar 5SE Telescope

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 5SE telescope at Ebay.

Celestron NexStar 5SE vs 4SE, 6SE, and 8SE

There are three main differences among all of these NexStar SE models.

NexStar 5SE

The first is the tube size which is shown in the model name. The 4, 5, 6, and 8 refer to the aperture in inches. The large tubes will allow more light in at the cost of being heavier and more expensive.

Another difference, mentioned earlier, is that the 4SE is a Maksutov-Cassegrain, whereas the other three are Schmidt-Cassegrain. Both of these types refer to the layout and composition of the inner pieces of your telescope. They are not something you’ll ever need to really be concerned about.

Celestron NexStar 4SE

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 4SE Telescope at Amazon.

Celestron NexStar 4SE Telescope

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 4SE telescope at Ebay.

If, for some reason, you really want a Schmidt-Cassegrain, then avoid the 4SE. For the money, it’s probably better to get the 5SE instead anyway.

The other main difference is that the 4SE and 5SE have the wedge for polar (equatorial) alignment. The 6SE and 8SE are probably too big and heavy to be supported by such a mechanism.

So, if you want more power and light-gathering capability, go with the NexStar 6SE.

Celestron NexStar 6SE

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 6SE Telescope at Amazon.

Celestron NexStar 6SE Telescope

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 6SE telescope at Ebay.

And if you want maximum capability in those areas – and you can afford it, you simply have to opt for the top-of-the-line NexStar 8SE.

Celestron NexStar 8SE

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope at Amazon.

Celestron NexStar 8SE Telescope

Check the pricing and availability of the Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope at Ebay.

Or click here to save up to $100 off on Telescopes!
Gary Sonnenberg

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