Welcome to our thorough, honest and comprehensive Celestron NexStar 8SE telescope review, showing you everything good and bad about this scope.
Happily, this is a great telescope to part with a significant chunk of cash for, which is why we declared it one of our best telescopes for seeing galaxies and DSOs.
While we think the Celestron NexStar 8SE is a great telescope, it’s also the case that, like all things in life, it is not perfect (sadly).
Read on to discover its small imperfections (and how to beat them) and find out how to get the most value from it. You’ll also discover what current owners have to say about the 8SE and why they think it was well worth the money spent!
The Celestron NexStar Range of Telescopes
The Celestron NexStar telescope range is a series of catadioptric telescopes in four sizes. Catadioptrics, which are also known as compound telescopes, combine mirrors and lenses to provide a long focal length in a relatively short body.
How compound telescopes work (opens a new tab)
Each model comes with an altazimuth mount and motorized go-to tracking. The tracking is easy to set up with 3-star alignment (we’ll look at that in more detail later) and the computer which controls it contains a database of 40,000 objects.
At 8 inches of aperture, the NexStar 8SE is the ‘daddy’ of the group. It’s a great choice if you’re a backyard astronomer who:
- Has a decent budget (plan on spending c.$1600)
- A thirst for big light-gathering power
- Wants to see the best objects in the night sky within an hour of getting your scope
- Prefers a computerized motor to do the object hunting – which is ideal if you have a light-polluted sky or your astronomy joy comes from seeing objects, rather than star-hopping for them
The 8″ NexStar is more popular than both the 4” and 5” models and collects 77% more light than the 6″ model. In this review, we’ll break down why it such a desirable scope and, more importantly, whether it’s the right one for you.
Features and Benefits
When deciding if the 8SE is the best telescope for you, there are several key factors you need to consider. With that in mind, the rest of this review is broken down into the following sections:
- Optical Performance
- Mount Performance
- Included Equipment
- Set-up & Use
- What You Can See
- Astrophotography Capability
Keep reading to see how the 8SE performs for each of these.
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:||136x||226x||406x|
An 8” primary mirror is a thing of beauty.
With that aperture, you’ll be able to see objects down to magnitude 14, which just brings Pluto within reach if you have dark enough skies.
The optics in the NexStar 8SE are incredibly well made and provide brilliant image clarity and detail. They have Celestron’s own Starbright XLT coating for better light transmission and, as should be the case with a well-constructed compound scope, there are almost no noticeable aberrations.
Its aperture and focal length mean the 8SE gives great viewing. The long focal length – over 2m – means that we get some big magnifications, as the table above shows.
However, lots of magnification is no use if there’s not enough light coming in, and that’s where the 8-inch aperture comes into play. Although it doesn’t sound very different from a 6-inch scope, this optical tube assembly actually gathers 77% more light.
The big aperture on the NexStar 8Se will show dimmer objects like galaxies and nebulae in detail and, with its ability to deliver high magnification, it’s ideal for seeing the Moon and observing the planets. You can comfortably push it beyond 200x for bright objects in good seeing.
With that power in your backyard, what can you see?
What You Can See with the NexStar 8SE Telescope?
At a dark site you should be able to see the following objects with this 8” aperture telescope:
- Cloud bands on Jupiter
- Jupiter’s moons (and their shadows) transiting the planet
- Neptune and her large moon Triton
- The Cassini Division in Saturn’s rings
- Many of Saturn’s moons
- Martian ice caps and little moons Phobos and Deimos
- Many, many galaxies and nebulae, including Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the rest of Messier catalog
This article gives you much more detail about what you should expect to see with 8″ of aperture, compared to just 6 inches. For example, looking at the second-last row, you’ll see that a telescope of NexStar 8SE’s size will do a much better job of resolving double stars separated by less than an arcsecond.
A similar discussion about what the 8SE can see was had in the Stargazers Lounge forum, and you can read the conversation here.
An altazimuth mount can simply be moved up/down and left/right. This means you can point your scope at any part of the sky but, unlike an equatorial mount, altazimuth mounts are not aligned to Earth’s angle of rotation.
The major benefit of an altazimuth mount is you don’t need to worry about polar alignment, so your scope is ready to go as soon as it’s mounted. The downside of an alt-az is that they struggle to track objects accurately enough for astrophotography. We’ve got more to say on that topic shortly.
When you open the box, you’ll see that this telescope is supplied with a robust metal tripod. Its legs are made of 1.5″ (38mm) stainless steel tubes which feel very robust and weigh in at 9 lbs (4 kg). As you’d expect, an eyepiece tray is included that sits in between the legs.
On top of the tripod is the motorized single fork arm. This adds another 11 lbs (5 kg) to the setup but is only just powerful enough to support the 12 lbs OTA. This is where the first issue creeps in with this telescope: the single support is great for the 4″, 5″, and 6″ models but it feels like it is placed under too much pressure by the eight inches of this NexStar.
A second arm attached at the other side would give a more robust mounting and, without it, you do see some minor vibration at the eyepiece when you touch the scope, such as when adjusting focus. It’s not a tragic level but, at this price point, it feels like an unnecessary frustration.
Thankfully, 8SE owners have come up with three ways you can manage this annoyance. From the cheapest to most expensive, they are:
- Pause in between each turn of the focusing wheel to let any vibration subside
- Get vibration dampening pads for the mount which will effectively remove most of the tremor
- Install a motorized focuser so you don’t need to touch the telescope by hand
Other than that, this is a dream to use. Aligning the tracking motor is straightforward and its performance once fully aligned is superb. It is a real treat to work your way through the database and dial up any object in there knowing that the 8″ aperture won’t let you down.
The OTA, mount arm and tripod, and hand control make up the bulk of what you’ll find in the box. However, there’s also a finderscope in there, a 25mm Plössl eyepiece, and a star diagonal.
Unfortunately, none of these is much to write home about. The 25mm eyepiece is fine, but you’ll want more and better quality eyepieces soon. The star diagonal is a requirement for observing with this type of telescope so you don’t crane your neck.
The Starpointer finderscope is a weak, red-dot affair that only passes muster because you’ll almost exclusively rely on the computer to locate objects once you’re set up. That said, we’d still recommend getting a magnifying finderscope or a Telrad.
Once you’ve got the box open and ready to go, let’s look at how easy the NexStar 8SE is to set up and get operational.
Setting Up and Using the NexStar 8SE
When you see a picture of Celestron’s 8-incher, you might not appreciate just how easy it is to set up and transport.
The instruction manual supplied with the telescope is fairly straightforward. While it may take as much as an hour to get going when you first put all the pieces together, many owners report taking as little as fifteen minutes once you get used to it.
Attaching the telescope to the mount is the most difficult part of setting up. Advice from owners is to attach the scope to the single-armed fork first (and on a soft surface like carpet to prevent scratches). Then, make sure it’s securely locked in place before finally attaching the fork to the stand.
You’re much less likely to damage the scope accidentally by doing it this way. Since you won’t be using the locking screws whilst holding a heavy telescope above waist height, there’s less chance you’ll slip and damage the scope.
One other piece of advice is to mount the telescope as far forward in its mounting housing as you can safely get it. This prevents the eyepiece from hitting the mount when you point the scope towards the zenith.
Takedown is just as quick and the whole scope packs away into rather small dimensions – certainly small enough for the average trunk.
Build quality is robust on the NexStar 8SE. That doesn’t mean it can be abused without consequence. But, it should suffer the odd knock in the field without you paying a heavy price for it.
Whether you knock it or not, all telescopes which use mirrors come out of alignment eventually. When that happens on your 8SE, you’ll have to collimate it (here’s our collimation guide, it opens in a new tab).
Collimation requires a screwdriver to adjust the three screws which hold the mirror in place (find them at the rear of the telescope). To make the process easier and less risky, replace the screws with a set of ‘Bob’s Knobs’.
There’s one final thing to think about when setting up your 8SE…
Like all catadioptric scopes, the optical tube is a sealed unit, so takes a long time for the air trapped inside to equalize its temperature with the outside world.
When there’s a difference in temperature between the scope and the air outside, you don’t get great performance.
For best viewing, get the scope set up outside 2-3 hours before using it. If the night is cold, use a dew shield to prevent the scope from misting up with condensation.
The Goto Motor and Space Object Database
So, you’ve got your wonderful NexStar 8SE mounted and ready to go.
It’s time to complete the setup by telling it where in the world you are so you can find objects to look at with ease.
The database and goto motor take away all the heartache of trying to locate an object by map reading and star-hopping. Instead, with these clever electronics, you’ll go straight to the object you want to see and use your precious viewing time studying it rather than trying to find it!
How to Use Celestron’s SkyAlign Technology
A galaxy or a nebula covers such a tiny piece of sky that your telescope needs incredibly accurate aiming to get them centered in your eyepiece and tracked as Earth rotates.
To be as accurate as possible, Celestron’s goto system needs to know exactly where on the planet your telescope is and the precise local time.
To achieve this, Celestron’s NexStar range uses a technology they call ‘SkyAlign’. For SkyAlign to work at its best, you need to:
- Tell it your exact location
- Program in the local time (including time zone and daylight savings info)
- Show it the location of three bright, night sky objects
Before starting, make sure the telescope is level (it comes with a spirit level) and the viewfinder is aligned with the scope, otherwise, you won’t be able to point it at the three bright objects when the time comes.
The easiest time to align the red dot viewfinder is during the day. Point the telescope at a distant, stationary object like a telegraph pole, chimney, or radio mast. Centre the top of the object in your eyepiece.
Now, without moving the main scope, adjust the viewfinder so that the same object’s top is in the very center of the viewfinder. When it is, your scope and viewfinder are aligned! See our full guide here, which opens in a new tab.
At night, when you’re ready to use the scope, enter your location. You can use the nearest town, but you’ll have a better experience if you put in the coordinates of where you’re observing from (link opens a new tab to work out your latitude and longitude).
Put the local time in the go-to controller. You also need to give your timezone and say whether daylight savings is in force or not.
With that done, it’s time to do the three-star align.
Find three bright stars in your sky. It’s best if they’re in different parts of the sky and there are no points of light nearby which could confuse the sensor, such as street lights.
Celestron’s video, below, shows you exactly how to do this.
That’s it, you can now start observing!
Pick a star, planet, or deep space object from the database and get looking.
Our advice is to do some daytime preparation for an evening’s viewing. Make sure you know what’s visible at the time and location you’ll be using the scope. That way, you won’t waste time trying to see stuff that’s not out.
To make your experience of using this telescope even better, you can use the free software Stellarium to control your goto motor, just see the video for how.
You can also use your iPhone or iPad to control where your telescope is pointing by using the SkyQ Link (opens Amazon in new tab) which is a wi-fi device your smart device can connect to.
Powering the Goto 8SE Motor
The biggest bugbear amongst users of the NexStar telescope range is…
In theory, the goto controller can be ‘powered’ by AA batteries. However, you can’t use rechargeables as they don’t have enough juice, and a decent set of AAs will get quickly drained by your setup.
In reality, the batteries only serve to retain programmed information from set up, i.e. date, time, and location when the unit is switched off.
However, despite many, many complaints, Celestron still doesn’t package the NexStar range with any power cable. You will need to get an external power supply for meaningful usage of the equipment!
However, Highpoint Scientific offer an 8SE bundle with all of that stuff, plus all the eyepieces and filters you need to get started. Check it out here (opens a new tab).
Your first night as an 8SE owner will be so much more rewarding if you’ve got your power source sorted!
The NexStar 8SE and Astrophotography
The 8SE comes with a computerized tracking motor and it will keep objects in your eyepiece as they slowly move across the night sky. For naked-eye viewing, that’s great.
However, if you do want to get into astrophotography, then the tracking motor coupled to an alt-az mount has limitations. In particular, there is some ‘drift’ of the scope over time. This means images with long exposure times will have trails on them.
Bright objects, such as the moon and planets, only need short exposures, so you can still produce great astropics of them with the 8SE.
If deep space galaxies and faint nebulae are your things, then that’s more of a challenge, although this guy seems to be doing just fine, judging from his pictures.
You can mount the 8SE on an equatorial mount and the Celestron C90 T-adapter and T-mount let you attach your DSLR camera to the 8SE. Alternatively, buy the expensive but dedicated wedge for the NexStar which effectively converts the mount into an equatorial one.
Overall, this is not a great model for astrophotography. Instead, we’ve recommended four other telescopes for astrophotography. The link opens the review in a new tab.
Storing Your Celestron 8SE
Your 8SE will arrive in boxes that are robust and adequate for storage and transporting, to begin with. Over time and use, they will get tired.
When they stop being useful, consider the storage/carrying case designed for the NexStar range.
This will make it easier to carry and provides your precious telescope with great protection during storage and transportation.