First time astronomers

We let two novice stargazers loose on our telescopes to see how they got on.

Celestron NexStar 4SE

Tested by: Steven Litton

Cost: £479/$499


“The Celestron NexStar 4SE telescope is well packaged and quick and easy to assemble. It looks very modern and professional with its orange barrel and chrome tripod. The tripod is solid, sturdy and easy to adjust in height with the quick release screws. The instructions are clear and I had the telescope set up in less than 30 minutes. It needs eight AA batteries for the main motor and a CR2032 battery for the laser pointer. You will also need a screwdriver to fit the pointer to the dovetail bracket on the side of the telescope and to get into the battery compartment.

“The pointer is simple to use with a single power dial, although it is easy to forget to switch it off because you can’t see the red dot shining outside of the sight. The hand controller is a good size with a big backlit screen, and before starting you need to set up the basics like the time, date and your location. Once these are set you can move on to using some of the built-in features. The first thing to do is to up the motor speed to the top setting (9) so you can start moving the telescope around. You can lower the motor speed for more accurate positioning when you are lined up to stars or planets with the pointer. The focusing wheel is easily accessible while looking through the eyepiece.

“Once you have the hang of lining up the stars you can start to use the star align features. This feature is really useful, as it can take you to the position of a variety of stars and constellations. The accuracy of this feature is directly relative to the accuracy of your original positioning. We found it really useful to cross-reference what we were seeing with the Google Sky map app (free).

“For those looking to capture the sights there is a camera attachment that allows you to programme up to nine locations to position to and photograph them via the shutter release port on the camera. You will need the additional eyepiece adapters as they are not included.

“Overall the telescope was very good. I managed to view Jupiter as well as many different stars and constellations. My only small complaints would be that it is very noisy and not very portable so you may find yourself annoying neighbours. It also uses a very old-fashioned computer interface cable so you will more than likely need an adapter to make it work. Not an expensive fix but annoying if you want it working out of the box.”

Celestron 5SE

Tested by: James Sheppard

Cost: £679/$699


“Coming from the unique position of a complete amateur, I found the Celestron NexStar 5SE, at first, to be quite daunting to look at, but once out of the box and set up it was a different story.

“First of all, the construction and setup were smooth and non-complicated with easy-to-follow instructions. The body build is lightweight, yet stable. After screwing it all together and having the batteries in place we were ready to go. I have to state that I was using this ’scope on a slightly overcast night, possibly not the best start, however, the results were better than expected.

“With the standard optics included with the kit, I was surprised to have such clarity and range. In fact it was able to give me a clear view of Jupiter and its surrounding moons, so clear in fact that I could make out the faint markings of the planet, as well as a clear view into the nebula in Orion’s belt. Obviously it wasn’t as massively close and colourful a view as I would have liked, but I was intrigued and this got me dialling in the coordinates for other objects and planets.

“This was the death knell for my first venture into proper stargazing, however. As I was in the middle of planning a route for the Big Dipper, a huge waft of dappled clouds moved in to block my view, so, I repositioned the ’scope and decided to go back to viewing Jupiter. I sat back and just watched it, originally I was manually tracking and refocusing the unit, but on further inspection I realised I was able to set the ’scope to track the planet, allowing me to watch it more clearly and for longer.

“My favourite points about the NexStar 5SE, aside from its light weight and user-friendliness, were the simple things: the light-up display and buttons on the handset, which were a blessing in the pitch black, but also the focus pull, as it was large enough to use with gloves on and responsive enough that the fact I was wearing gloves didn’t impede my use of it at all.

“All in all, this telescope is a brilliant first step in astronomy. The only downsides are the lack of a USB attachment for a laptop, although these are available separately, and that I’m going to have to invest in some better optics for closer focusing, but for all-round, out-of-the-box goodness? This one was a hit for me.”

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