Celestron’s NexStar 5SE is popularly recommended and bought as a beginner telescope. However, its high price and low capabilities make it a questionable choice for the beginner. While Celestron’s advertising of the 5SE is nowhere near as questionable as their marketing choices for their lower-tier equipment like the PowerSeekers, the scope, while decent quality-wise, will still provide inferior views to a 6” Dobsonian which costs half as much. The computer features of the NexStar mount at smaller apertures prove to be more of a hindrance than a bonus due to the kind of objects typically suited for a small telescope, which usually don’t require much skill to locate in the sky.
Optical Tube Performance
The NexStar 5SE is based around the C5 optical tube, a telescope with 45 years of heritage which has flown on Space Shuttle missions.
The C5 is a Schmidt-Cassegrain. This means it does have a long focal ratio (f/10) and thus a narrow field of view with 1.25” eyepieces, but this can be alleviated with Celestron’s f/6.3 reducer/corrector.
A 2” diagonal can in fact be attached to the 5SE, but wide-field 2” eyepieces will vignette to the point that it’s not really worth the bother.
The 5SE improves on the original C5 with Celestron’s Starbright XLT multi-coatings, which significantly improve transmission and thus light gathering ability, particularly with smaller telescopes such as the 5SE.
The 5SE’s 5” aperture is enough to show a fair amount of detail on the Moon and planets.
However, its large secondary mirror, which obstructs 38% of the diameter, severely hampers resolution and contrast compared to a 5” Newtonian or Maksutov-Cassegrain, let alone a refractor. It also does reduce the light gathering ability (already fairly small) by a fair amount. The optics are still of high enough quality that you can use up to 250x, a fairly reasonable cap for a good 5”.
As with most decent telescopes the 5SE optical tube comes with a Vixen-style dovetail, which allows for easy, tool-free attachment and balancing on its mount as well as numerous Celestron and third-party alt-azimuth and equatorial mounts which use Vixen saddles.
The NexStar catalog contains 40,000 objects, a number which means almost nothing due to the 5SE’s small aperture being unable to show most of them. It is a number purely meant for advertising purposes. Most of these 40,000 objects are uninteresting stars, or objects simply invisible with this telescope.
The 5SE comes with a single 25mm 1.25” Plossl eyepiece which provides 50x magnification though you may want a 32mm Plossl and/or the aforementioned reducer-corrector for the widest field of view at low power. Additional medium and high magnification eyepieces of shorter focal length would be good to get the most out of your 5SE.
A quality 1.25” prism star diagonal is also provided for comfortable viewing, as well as Celestron’s StarPointer red dot sight which is used for star aligning the telescope during setup.
The NexStar SE mount is an upgraded version of the original NexStar 5’s mount, which was first released in the early 2000s.
While this whole design works, The hand controller’s small buttons make it all too easy to push the wrong one, especially with gloves or simply large fingers. It also consumes batteries very quickly – you’ll need a 12-volt power supply for this scope. Lastly, entering the time and date is required on every boot of the mount, unless you obtain Celestron’s SkySync GPS accessory or their SkyPortal WiFi adapter, either of which costs over $75 as of the time of this writing. The SkyPortal WiFi adapter also mitigates the annoyance and limitations of a traditional hand controller by allowing you to control the scope with your phone, at the expense of drawing significantly more electrical power from your scope/battery as well as eating up your phone’s battery charge.
The SE mount is steady, but it can still be bumped. If this happens, one must re-boot and re-align the mount. This is incredibly annoying given the complex boot and alignment problems I’ve already mentioned.
The 5SE comes with a built-in equatorial wedge, so in theory, one can polar align it and do long-exposure astrophotography. However, the wedge has no fine adjustments and cannot be adjusted in azimuth, so it is basically useless. Additionally, the mount’s low-precision gears and the 5SE’s long focal length make it ill-suited for long-exposure astrophotography anyways.
What's The Bottom Line?
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with the Celestron 5SE is simply price and lack of capability for the money. Yes, it’s portable and looks good, but for not much more money you could get the 6SE, or you could get the (admittedly less than perfect, but extremely capable for the price) Astro-Fi 130. Either will show you more and provide much better value.