Celestron Nex Star 5 SE Omni XLT 127 and Nex Star 6 SE

The Celestron C5 Schmidt Cassegrain has had a checkered career ever since it was introduced way back in the early 1970s. Celestron has discontinued the C5 three times over the last 30 years. The 5-inch scope's problems have had nothing to do with its f/10 optics, however—they are almost always outstanding. The problem for the C5 has been that it is nearly as expensive to produce as the C8, and that many people considering the C5 eventually turn to an 8-incher since it is "only a little more." At this time, an 8-inch SE scope is about $200 more expensive than her 5-inch sister, and there is no denying that a lot more can be seen with a C8. That is not the whole C5 story, though, and never has been; if it were, Celestron would not keep bringing the little scope back for one last bow.

The secret to the C5's longevity is that, in addition to fine optics, it is genuinely portable. At 27.6 pounds, including tripod and mount, the NexStar 5 SE ($800, Plate 25) is only somewhat lighter but is considerably less bulky than a NexStar 8 SE and is more practical for the apartment dweller—or anybody with limited space—to store and transport. For amateur astronomers without a backyard to use for observing and who must, instead, view from urban/suburban balconies, apartment roofs, and semipublic places, a telescope like the C5 may mean the difference between observing regularly and not observing at all. The 5-inch is not just for beginners, either. Many long-time amateurs have smaller CATs like the C5 in their stables for use when a big gun is not practical.

The little guy does not skimp on features. The NexStar 5 SE uses the same NexStar computer as the 8-inch telescope, and almost all the accessories developed for SCTs over the last three decades will work on the 5 because of its standard SCT rear port.

Plate 25. (NexStar 5SE) Celestron's highly portable C5 OTA on an SE half-fork mount, the NexStar 5SE. Credit: Image courtesy of Celestron.

The fork/drive base combo is identical to the one furnished with the 8-inch model. It is easy to set up and comfortable to use, if not the best mount for serious imaging tasks. The lighter OTA of the 5-inch SE may make for a somewhat more stable setup, allowing some long-exposure experimentation. The 5-inch OTA is capable of decent visual performance on the deep sky and the solar system but obviously has less oomph than an 8-inch (which will deliver more than 2.5 times more light). In the city or heavily light-polluted suburban areas, the NexStar 5 SE is somewhat handicapped, if still quite acceptable. Travel to a dark site, though, and prepare to be surprised at what this "little" telescope can show.

The "fixins" that come with the scope are not bad either. The NexStar 5 SE, like the NexStar 8, comes standard with Celestron's advanced XLT coating, the same usable 25-mm Plossl eyepiece, a 1.25-inch star diagonal, a red-dot finder, and a CD with the NexRemote and TheSky software on it. The telescope can be powered by AA cells— eight of them—or an optional DC power cable.

Is even the NexStar 5 SE too much? Want something even cheaper and easier to carry around? Do not like or do not need go-to computers? Celestron may have just the thing. The company has recently begun selling a C5 OTA on a CG4 GEM mount, which is similar to but slightly smaller than the CG5, for a measly $600 (or $700 with a motor drive). The Omni XLT 127 (Plate 26) does not come with a go-to computer, but the optional dual-axis drives and HC will allow the scope to track the stars and maybe even do a little beginning deep sky imaging.

Surprisingly, the Omni comes with nearly the same accessories as the more expensive SE: XLT optics, a 25-mm eyepiece, a 30-mm finder, a 1.25-inch star diagonal, and a software CD containing TheSky. The motor drive system for the CG4 operates off four D cell batteries, and since there is no computer to suck them down, they last a long time. The Omni is also a pretty little thing, sporting a blue-and-white color scheme that harks back to the classic 1960s Celestron Pacific SCTs.

What the Omni offers is simplicity and portability. While at 40 pounds the total weight of the package is considerably heavier than that of the NexStar 5 SE, this GEM scope breaks down into light components, with the heaviest piece weighing in at 20 pounds. The Omni XLT 127 is aimed at beginners, but its noncomputerized simplicity is refreshing, and this scope should appeal to grizzled veterans as well.

Care to give up a little portability in return for a little more horsepower? Celestron's got that base covered as well. The NexStar 6 SE is exactly the same package as the NexStar 5 SE but with a 6-inch f/10 OTA instead of a 5-inch one. There is no doubt the C6 OTA brings a little more of the deep sky home. The larger primary mirror delivers 50% more of what we all want—light. That may not seem a huge advance, but this extra inch is a real help with many DSOs, particularly globular star clusters. Under good conditions, the NexStar 6 SE has the ability to resolve quite a few of the Messier globs.

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