Celestron's premier 8-inch SCT, the CGE 800 (Plate 18), uses the same optical tube as the C8-SGT, a standard f/10 Schmidt Cassegrain OTA equipped with enhanced XLT coatings. The 800's CGE GEM is the product of an evolutionary process that started over 10 years ago. Initially, Celestron did not make heavy-duty GEMs, but instead sold scopes on mounts obtained from Losmandy, famous for their G11 German mount. Unfortunately, Losmandy could not produce GEMs in the numbers Celestron required, and that resulted in Celestron phasing out the Losmandy GEMs in favor of a similar mount produced in-house, the CI700. The 700 was not a bad mount, but it was one with a few rough edges, especially in the electronics department. And, it had one huge strike against it: no go-to at a time when computerized mounts were becoming the norm.
Plate 18. (CGE 800) The top-of-the-line Celestron 8-inch SCT, the German mount CGE 800. Credit: Image Courtesy of Celestron.
As soon as possible, Celestron brought forth the CGE, which was a near-complete redesign of the CI700. In addition to adding go-to via the NexStar computer HC, Celestron cleaned up the electronic/electrical issues that plagued the CI700. The CGE is a very clean-looking mount, with all cables being internal to the mount head and nothing to get tangled up. The CGE 800's price, about $3,600—almost two and a half times the price of the C8-SGT GEM SCT—takes some scope shoppers aback. What makes the CGE cost so much more?
It is not apparent in magazine ads, but set the SGT next to the CGE in person, and the reason becomes clear. The CGE is a far heavier-duty mount than the C8-SGT's CG5. Couple this mount with an 8-inch OTA, and the result is that elusive goal of astrophotographers, a scope that is truly steady as a rock.
The CGE mount is capable of supporting a payload of 65 pounds, according to Celestron, enabling an imager, for example, to load a C8 OTA down with all kinds of accessories and piggyback scopes and cameras and not even make this big dog flinch. And, it is not just in payload capacity that the CGE pulls ahead of less-expensive Meade and Celestron scopes. The gears are high quality, as are the motors, strong Pittman servos. Unlike its smaller sister, the CG5, the CGE uses a considerably heftier Losmandy-compatible dovetail to attach scope to mount, which further aids stability.
Is a CGE overkill for a C8? As any astroimager will say, there is no such thing as too much mount.
The NexStar hand control shipped with the CGE 800 is identical to the C8-SGT model and features the same tours, utilities, and library of objects (40,000 targets). Other CGE 800 accessories include, surprisingly, a way-too-small 6 X 30 finder scope, a DC power cord, an okay 1.25-inch, 25-mm Plossl eyepiece and star diagonal, and the NexRemote software CD.
Then, there are those inevitable downsides. The foremost of these for many of us is probably price. The CGE 800 costs over twice as much as the C8-SGT, but does it deliver twice the performance? For the visual observer, probably not. For the astrophotographer, most definitely yes. Do not get the idea that this is really a top-of-the-line GEM, though. Top of the line for truly serious astronomy picture takers means paying three times what the complete CGE 800 costs for just a mount. The CGE is a very capable GEM mount similar to the much-loved Losmandy G11, and all but the most experienced and demanding imagers will find the CGE 800 more than sufficient.
The steadiness and sturdiness of the CGE comes at a weight penalty. The CGE 800 package—mount, tripod, and OTA—weighs in at a frightening 100 plus pounds. That is not quite as bad as it sounds since the 800 can be broken into its components. The tripod, the biggest Celestron sells, weighs about 40 pounds when combined with the short pier on which the mount head is placed. The CGE equatorial head without counterweights is another 40 pounds, and that is 40 pounds that will have to be lifted fairly high to place it on the (extendable) tripod. That is well within the ability of most healthy adults but do not kid yourself: The CGE 800 is not a scope to grab in one piece and carry into the backyard for a quick look at the Moon.
The CGE 800 is heartily recommended for the experienced amateur, especially the experienced amateur devoted to imaging. For the beginner who might want to pursue astrophotography, it may be. But, the novice or the casual visual observer might be better served with an easier-to-use fork mount. Again, nothing is more comfortable and user friendly for the visual observer than a fork-mounted go-to scope set up in alt-azimuth fashion. Like the CG5 mount, the CGE requires a polar alignment each time it is used.
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