With a healthy helping of aperture, a versatile optical design, easy assembly, compact size and great customer support at your fingertips, there is a lot to like about the Celestron NexStar 4SE, our TopTenREVIEWS Silver Award winner. This is a beginner telescope that offers sophistication at a reasonable price.
With 102mm aperture, you can expect to see some gorgeous views of basically anything in our solar system. Expect to see impressive detail on Jupiter, Mars and other planets, and you are sure to enjoy all the detail you will get in your views of the moon. The 4SE’s nicely coated optics pass a lot of lovely light.
Deep-space targets also will look pretty good through this starter telescope – not as amazing as they would through a larger-aperture instrument, of course, but still pretty good. The library for this computerized scope is vast – 40,000 cataloged objects – but you are not likely to see every single one with an aperture this size, at least not in great detail. It is fun just to learn about where the objects are located, though.
No telescopes for beginners are going to be great for astrophotography, including this one, but we like having the option to explore it. You can easily get your feet wet with astrophotography because the scope comes with camera-control implementation; just hook on your DSLR, take your (shaky!) hands off the scope and capture the old photons of distant objects, one by one, with long time exposures. Or, you can literally grab celestial snapshots of bright objects straight through the scope. The impressive images on Celestronimages.com are powerful proof.
This telescope is both computerized and motorized, which means it will find and track objects in the sky for you. Celestron's SkyAlign system makes set up pretty simple, though you should not be surprised if the initial alignment process takes a little time, especially for true beginners. It helps to start this before the sun has set.
To use the SkyAlign system, you need to enter your specific date, time and location. Then, you point the telescope at three bright objects in succession, hitting the Align button after each. It sounds so easy – and it is easy – but you need to know something of celestial geography, if you will, or you’ll get off in the wrong direction. You have to really make sure the tripod is level before you begin, and your location and time data need to be correct for everything to function properly.
The NexStar 4SE has a reputation for being quite good at centering objects in your field of view and keeping them there as the earth rotates – good, but not perfect. None of the scopes at the starter level is perfect at that, though.
Internal battery placement means that you don't have to worry about cord wrap when you are tracking objects in the sky. Models with external packs have cords that can become tangled in the mount as the telescope rotates.
Celestron seems very dedicated to making set up on all their scopes a breeze. This model is no exception. You won't even need a single tool because you will just be fastening things together with thumbscrews. Also, the Maksutov-Cassegrain design means you will not need to collimate, which can be an intimidating process for beginners. It also means your eye will be in line with the optical tube, so aligning to an object in the sky is more intuitive; it's not quite point and shoot, but it's close.
This scope is excellent in terms of portability. The optical tube is so small and light, and the tripod collapses so easily that you can quickly drive it in any vehicle to an area with dark skies. Even if you grow into larger telescopes, you will likely want to keep this one in your collection for a grab-and-go option; it's great for chasing solar eclipses in faraway locations where you can’t bring lots of luggage!
Celestron's phone support can be a little hit and miss, but everything else the company offers to support customers is excellent. Its website is the best of the best among the companies that offer telescopes for beginners. It is packed with information about astronomy in general and this unit in particular. Everything is easy to find, including the digital version of the manual. Celestron stands by its customers with a two-year warranty.
This is not a telescope that will offer views like the Hubble, Keck or Gemini instruments, but what it does offer is enough aperture to get some really great views of the planets, the moon and a few other targets. Once you set up the 4SE up properly, it will do almost all of the work of finding them for you. Add in easy set up and quality customer service, and you have a great option for your first telescope. The Celestron NexStar 4SE offers a solid launching pad for your space explorations.
This highly portable telescope assembles in minutes and does not require collimation.
With a bit less aperture than our top pick, views will not be quite as spectacular.
Extra-easy assembly and set up means you can start stargazing sooner, and go-to technology means it will find your targets for you.