Post-1960s, the only Maksutov Cassegrain Celestron marketed for many years was the little C90. This often-maligned but actually rather nice telescope was phased out in the late 1990s in favor of a succession of imported MCTs. Some of these have been okay, some of them have been marginal, and none of them in my opinion display the mechanical or optical quality of the C90. Until recently,
Celestron offered two Maks, the C130 and the NS4 SE. The recent elimination of the 130 has left the company with, as in the C90 days, only a single Mak to sell. To be honest, the post-C90 MCTs have not inspired much excitement in amateur astronomers. The NexStar 4 SE seems more like a mere placeholder in the company's scope lineup than an important product. Not that the NS4 is a bad scope; it is not. It is just nothing new or special. There are dozens of amateur Web sites supporting the ETXs, but nary a one centered on the NexStar 4.
The NexStar 4 SE ($600; Plate 29) is a 102-mm aperture, f/13 Gregory-design Maksutov Cassegrain mounted on Celestron's SE single-arm fork mount. The Nex-Star computer is exactly the same as that shipped with the other SE telescopes and includes 40,000 objects for you to view (only a fraction of which will be visible in a 4-inch scope). The tube is ETX-like in that it uses a flip-mirror system similar to that on the Meade telescope. The usual use for the rear port is to mount a camera. However, this scope's small aperture and long focal length discourage imaging of any kind other than informal snapshots of the Moon and planets.
Plate 29. (NexStar 4SE) Celestron's MCT, the sometimes overlooked NexStar 4SE Maksutov Cassegrain. Credit: Image courtesy of Celestron.
The NexStar 4 SE is somewhat similar to the ETX-90 but without some of the "snap"—the sharpness—of the ETX images. Like many small MCTs sold to amateurs, this one has a sizable central obstruction—35% in this case—which may reduce some of the contrast advantage for which Maks are noted. In truth, the images in this scope look like what I used to see in 4-inch SCTs. Good, yes, but nothing to get excited about. One plus for the NS4 is that its build quality is a little more impressive than that of the ETX90; there is noticeably less plastic. Its tube, like that of the 8-inch and 5-inch SE SCTs, is a cool Celestron Orange and will not invoke chuckles from observing buddies like the astroimage emblazoned ETX tube will.
The accessories provided with the NS4 are about the same as those found with the other scopes in this series. There is a good, if not oversize, tripod, a zero-power red-dot SE finder, a 25-mm eyepiece, and the NexRemote and TheSky software CD. Yes, the scope can be powered with internal (eight AA) batteries; if you like buying batteries, go for it.
Overall, the NS4 SE is a nice enough telescope. What is the bottom line on it, though? If you want a great small MCT for a good price, do yourself a favor and think "ETX".
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