Celestron set the standard for Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes way back in the ‘70s, and they’ve been continuing to innovate for decades since then. The Celestron NexStar 6SE is one of their most popular SCT on the market as it provides quality optics and a GoTo computer with a 40,000 object database at an unbeatable price.
SCTs like this one are an excellent choice for the astronomer who needs a versatile telescope that can deliver incredible views of the objects in our solar system and DSOs that are far beyond it. The unique design of these telescopes makes them significantly more portable than larger telescopes, like Newtonians or Dobsonians, without compromising their performance.
The Celestron NexStar 6SE telescope is perhaps the most popular in the NexStar line, which also includes 4” (our review), 5”, and 8” (our review) telescopes. The 4” scope is the outlier of the bunch, as it’s a Maksutov-Cassegrain (MAK) design as opposed to a Schmidt-Cassegrain. MAKs feature a very similar design with some slight differences, which allow them to draw in plenty of light despite a smaller aperture size.
The 4” MAK NexStar offers incredible optical quality, and it makes the most of its small aperture. But at f/13, this scope provides a narrow field that isn’t best-suited to viewing objects outside of our solar system.
The 5” and 8” versions are practically identical to the NexStar 6SE, albeit with a slightly smaller or larger aperture. The 6SE can pull in significantly more light than the 5SE, making it ideal for more astronomy applications.
The largest model in the line, the NexStar 8SE, offers the largest aperture, and it’s capable of pulling in the most light of all the telescopes in the NexStar line. The larger aperture makes this scope more capable for DSOs, but it’s significantly more expensive than the 6SE, which exists in a sweet spot between aperture size and value.
When it comes to value, the NexStar 6SE delivers in spades. This telescope offers quality optics, a competent GoTo system, and a quality mount for just shy of $800 (check today’s price – opens in a new tab), which is a price that’s hard to beat.
Things to Consider Before Buying The NexStar 6SE
Whether you’re shopping for your first telescope or looking to add an SCT to a growing collection of astronomy equipment, there are some things you’ll want to consider about the NexStar 6E before deciding if it’s the best choice for you.
For people who are brand new to the hobby, the NexStar 6E is an ideal instrument. This scope has good optics, it’s easy to travel with, and it has a capable GoTo system that will allow you to find virtually every object you’d be interested in seeing in the night sky. This telescope eliminates a lot of the most challenging aspects of astronomy.
One of the most significant barriers to astronomy is learning how to navigate the night sky. While every astronomer should strive to become an astute navigator, it’s a skill that takes time to refine. When you’re just getting your start with astronomy, finding the planets and other objects you’re hoping to see can be difficult, and it can suck some of the fun out of the hobby.
With the NexStar 6E, the GoTo controller takes all of the navigational work out of the equation, so you can instead focus on enjoying the beautiful sights the sky has to offer. Instead of spending hours of frustration trying to find the objects you’re looking for, you’ll be able to enjoy them in all their glory with the help of the GoTo motor.
This telescope is a capable tool for various applications, including lunar, planetary, and brighter deep-sky observations. It also makes a capable instrument for lunar and planetary astrophotography. But, if you’re hoping to use this scope as a deep sky powerhouse, you may be disappointed. This scope simply doesn’t have a large enough aperture to provide enough light to deliver detailed views of fainter nebulae and galaxies.
If you’re looking for a dedicated astrophotography scope, especially if you’re interested in DSOs, this telescope isn’t your best option. For astrophotographers, you’ll want to select a non-compound telescope such as an apochromatic triplet refractor or a Newtonian reflector for such purposes.
Features & Benefits
Every telescope, regardless of its design or size, can be evaluated using the same criteria. When you’re searching for a new scope, you’ll want to consider each of the areas below, decide how important each is to you, and use them to guide you on your search for the perfect telescope for you.
Here’s what you’ll want to consider:
- Optical Performance
- Mount Performance
- Included Equipment
- Setup & Use
- What You Can See
Standard Magnification Table
The table below shows the magnification levels you’ll achieve with this scope using a 25mm, 18mm, and 10mm eyepiece. The bottom row shows what this would be with a 2x Barlow Lens.
|With 2x Barlow:
A telescope’s optics play the most considerable role in how well that telescope is going to perform. Without a quality optical system, a telescope isn’t going to provide the clarity, sharpness, and contrast, you need to enjoy beautiful views of celestial objects. Optical quality becomes all the more critical if you’re planning on using your telescope for astrophotography.
Considering that this kit includes a quality motorized mount with a GoTo system, it’s easy to assume that the optical tube assembly (OTA) optics are an afterthought. It’s challenging to deliver consumers much telescope for under $1000, especially when you begin including accessories like a GoTo.
Surprisingly enough, the NexStar 6SE delivers incredible optical performance that’s very impressive for a telescope in this price range. There are no visual aberrations, coma, or color fringing to note when using this telescope.
Compared to the market competition, the NexStar 6SE blows away virtually every other SCT in this price range. The blend of superior optics and a high-quality mount with GoTo make this telescope one of the best values available for less than $1,000.
Image contrast is great for a compound scope (the secondary mirror in a compound and other reflectors decreases contrast), and the internal baffling to prevent reflections in the tube is also very effective. You end up with a bright, clear, and sharp image at the eyepiece.
The 6SE is supplied with a single 25mm Plossl eyepiece, which provides 60x magnification. It’s a decent enough eyepiece, but this telescope can do so much more, especially when you push the magnification up. You’ll want to invest in some additional eyepieces to get the most out of it.
A 2x Barlow lens is an excellent place to start if you’re on a budget, as it will double the magnification of the supplied 25mm eyepiece. However, expect to add to your eyepiece collection as you’ll soon want to enjoy different views from higher magnifications – pushing 200x is fine for this scope in good seeing – and wider fields.
The field of view at low magnifications is nice and wide, making this scope perfect for observing brighter DSOs, galaxies, and nebulae. At higher magnifications, the narrower field of view is ideal for brighter lunar and planetary observation.
The mount that comes with the NexStar 6SE is a unique single fork alt-az mount that’s a perfect complement to the optical tube.
The tripod is made from heavy-duty steel, with a single arm extending from the base to hold the telescope. The hand controller integrates beautifully into the mount’s arm, which offers a sleek and compact look, although it can be fiddly to get it and its cable back in the holder in the dark.
Each component of the mount is well built, and the electrical connections are secure and should last for years of use. The single-arm extending from the mount is large and capable of supporting additional weight besides the optical tube, so you’ll be able to rely on this mount for astrophotography as well as visual observation.
(Note: you’ll need an additional wedge to use this scope for astrophotography, see details below)
This motorized mount offers nine different speeds, so it can quickly and accurately locate objects as it slews the OTA to your chosen object. It’s notably noisy when the motor is set to the two fastest speeds. Most users don’t find this to be an issue, as the noise stops as soon as the telescope has found its position.
If there’s one knock against this mount, it’s the power requirement. Users can power the mount with batteries or with an external power source like the Celestron Power Tank. The mount requires a good amount of power to do its thing, and it drains batteries very quickly. A rechargeable power pack is a smart investment, especially if you use your telescope often.
The mount starts to perform erratically if it’s running low on power, and if it dies entirely, you’ll be locked out of using the mount until you replace the batteries or plug in a power source. Then, once the mount powers back on, you’ll have to reconfigure the scope for viewing, which is a bit annoying to have to do.
Beyond the OTA and mount, Celestron throws in some useful accessories that will help you get started right out of the box. You’ll also receive a 90-degree star diagonal, NexStar+ hand controller, Starpointer red dot finder, and an accessory tray.
The diagonal is well-built and allows you to comfortably look through the telescope’s eyepiece at any point in the sky, including the Zenith. The red dot finder is equally well made, although it isn’t especially necessary with this telescope. It also needs to be said that doing star align with a red dot finder can be tricky, a laser pointer or magnifying finderscope is better.
The accessory tray allows you to store eyepieces and other regularly used accessories, so they’re ready for you whenever you need them.
The NexStar+ hand controller is intuitive and easy to use, and it allows you to take advantage of everything the 6SE can do.
Setup & Use
Whether you’re new to the hobby or you’re a more experienced astronomer, you’re sure to love how easy it is to set up, transport, and use this telescope.
Getting started is as simple as unpacking the telescope, attaching the optical tube to the arm of the mount, connecting the hand controller, and aligning the telescope. In just a few moments, you’re ready to begin exploring the skies.
The hand controller supports all of the most popular alignment processes, so you’ll be able to get your scope ready according to your most trusted alignment method. The most frustrating part is setting your time, date, and location whenever power is lost to the controller.
Both the OTA and tripod each weigh in at ten pounds, and fully assembled, the scope weighs in at a lean 31 pounds (14 kg). You’ll have no trouble transporting this scope to the backyard for an observation session, and the entire thing breaks down into manageable pieces for when you’re traveling.
A compound telescope works by sending light it gathers up and down the tube several times, meaning it has a lot shorter tube than its focal length suggests. The NexStar 6SE’s OTA is only 16” long, so you’ll even be able to stash your telescope in the overhead of an airplane if you’re heading off on vacation.
If you need to collimate your telescope, the process is relatively easy. Beginners are often apprehensive about collimating their telescopes, but collimating an SCT is much more simple than the process is with other reflectors.
All you’ll need to do to collimate your telescope is choose a bright star, center it in the field of view, and defocus it, so it produces a shape that looks like a donut. If the telescope is collimated correctly, the hole in the donut will appear dead center in the middle of the field. But, if the hole skews toward one side or the other, you’ll need to adjust one of the collimation screws to adjust the secondary mirror. Once you’ve centered the donut hole, your scope is ready to go. Thankfully, you should rarely need to do this if you’re careful.
The GoTo module provides a database of 40,000+ objects. It’s easy to navigate through the different catalogs, which include the Messiers, NGC, Caldwell, the planets in our solar system, and thousands more. Alignment procedures are programmed into the hand controller as well, and you can also adjust tracking rates and slew speeds with the touch of a button.
One of the best features of the controller is Sky Tour mode, which will take you on a guided tour of the most popular objects in the sky based on the current date and time. Best of all, the controller can be upgraded via USB, so any time there’s a software update, you’ll be able to ensure that your hand controller is running the latest software.
One thing to watch out for is dew. Many owners’ biggest complaint about this model is its ability to attract dew (in reality, this is a problem for all compound scopes). So, if you buy this model, go ahead and grab a dew shield or heater too.
What You Can See
SCTs have a reputation for being pretty darn good for virtually every observing application, and that’s true of the NexStar 6SE as well. This telescope performs admirably well when viewing objects inside of our solar system, and brighter deep space objects.
There is no getting away from the limitation of a 6″ aperture, which gathers less light than an 8″. However, brighter DSOs look clear and well-resolved in the eyepiece. This model will also tackle fainter objects well under dark skies.
The high optical quality allows you to split double stars with ease and, within our solar system, you’ll be able to enjoy breathtaking views of Jupiter’s bands, Saturn’s rings, and details on the moon’s surface.
If you’re interested in astrophotography, you’ll find an excellent tool for the job with the NexStar 6SE.
If your main focus is astrophotography, there are many better options on the market for this purpose. APO triplet reflectors, in particular, are much better suited to photography than this model. However, if you’re interested in both astrophotography and visual observation, this scope performs capably for both tasks.
However, you can only capture quick images of bright objects as the mount does not have equatorial tracking – so you’ll end up with star trails on long exposures.
If you’re serious about the astrophotography hobby, you’ll have to invest in a wedge (Amazon link), which effectively turns your alt-az mount into an equatorial. This is an expensive method of getting photos, so you should seriously consider a more appropriate model if photography is your aim.
This telescope will provide lovely photos of the brighter DSOs you’ll find, but it performs at it’s best for lunar and planetary photographs. With minimal false color and image aberrations, the NexStar 6SE is a very capable telescope for astrophotography, and it’s also one of the most affordable options on the market for this pursuit.