Celestron NexStar 8SE vs Celestron NexStar Evolution 8

The Celestron NexStar 8SE and Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 stand as two prominent models in Celestron’s line of advanced catadioptric telescopes. Both based on the renowned C8 telescope optical tube, these computerized telescopes sit atop alt-azimuth mounts, inviting both budding astronomers and seasoned stargazers to explore the vastness of the universe. The C8 optical tube itself is, of course, Celestron’s flagship product, and as such, its various incarnations are among the most popular of Celestron’s offerings, despite their high retail cost.

However, when it comes to making a decision between the two, potential buyers often find themselves pondering the differences in value and functionality. It’s understandable, especially given the steeper price of the Evolution 8 and the fact that the actual telescope employed in both models is identical. After all, the smaller NexStar Evolution 6 usually costs more than the NexStar 8SE.

Celestron does offer an upgraded Evolution 8 model, which was introduced fairly recently, the Evolution 8 StarSense EdgeHD. In addition to comparing the stock Evolution 8 to the 8SE, we’ll go over the improvements of this model over both the 8SE and the standard NexStar Evolution 8.

Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 vs NexStar 8SE
ScopeApertureMount TypeMax FOVMaximum MagnificationStabilityQuality
Evo 8 HD203mmGoTo
Evo 8203mmGoTo

Bottom Line

While an 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain isn’t for everyone, if you’re in the market for such a telescope, we would highly recommend you consider the Celestron NexStar Evolution 8 over the 8SE. The Evolution 8 certainly isn’t the largest telescope you can get for the money, but it’s well-designed and features everything one could ask for in a compact fork-mounted Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope. The EdgeHD/StarSense upgraded NexStar Evolution 8 provides some slight conveniences over the base model, but arguably not anything game-changing enough to warrant the additional cost.

Optics Comparison

The Celestron NexStar 8SE and the standard NexStar Evolution 8 are both based on Celestron’s C8 XLT optical tube. This is based on the original C8 telescope Celestron debuted in the 1970s, albeit modernized and upgraded with HyperStar compatibility and Celestron’s “StarBright XLT” optical coatings.

The C8 has an 8-inch (203mm) spherical primary mirror and a secondary mirror with a convex aspherical curve that increases the focal ratio to f/10 and a focal length of 2032mm. There is a Schmidt corrector in front of the secondary mirror that holds it in place and fixes any spherical or other aberrations in the system. The EdgeHD optics upgrade of the StarSense Evolution 8 adds field flattening lenses inside the baffle tube and some improvements, such as HEPA-filtered vents to speed up cool-down time as well as mirror locks for astrophotography.

The C8 XLT optical tube employed in the NexStar 8SE and Evolution 8 cannot fully illuminate a 2” field such as that of a wide-angle 2” eyepiece thanks to the undersized interior baffling, which was originally designed to illuminate a field of view no bigger than 35mm (the size of common SLR camera film or today’s “full-frame” camera sensors). 2” eyepieces were hardly common back in the 1970s. As such, the C8 XLT vignettes with any 2” eyepiece with over a 35mm (1.4”) field stop, corresponding to almost exactly a 1° field of view, or about two full Moons across. A typical f/6.3 reducer provides the same 1° field, just shrunken into a 22mm diameter area instead. The C8 EdgeHD used with the NexStar Evolution 8 HD/StarSense does not share the standard C8’s vignetting problems and also has fewer issues with edge-of-field aberrations with cheaper eyepieces thanks to its flat-field design. However, it only achieves a field of view of about 1.3° with even the widest 2” eyepiece, which really isn’t much of an improvement.

Both the C8 XLT and EdgeHD telescopes are compatible with Starizona’s HyperStar lens/adapter system to turn either telescope into an f/2, 390mm focal length Schmidt Camera for wide-field astrophotography.

Unless you are doing deep-sky astrophotography, which requires a German equatorial mount, not the alt-azimuth mounts used in the NexStar SE and Evolution scopes, there is little practical difference between the C8 XLT and the EdgeHD. The views at the eyepiece are just as sharp, while the marginally wider field, cooldown time, and other performance improvements of the EdgeHD optics are of negligible overall difference to most users.

Accessories Comparison

The NexStar 8SE and Evolution 8 both include a red dot finder to aim the telescope and align the mount on the sky; the Evolution 8 EdgeHD/StarSense ditches having a finder altogether and uses the StarSense AutoAlign system to automatically align on the sky without any manual input. The 8SE and both Evolution 8 variants include a 1.25” threaded visual back and 1.25” prism star diagonal of pretty good quality.

For eyepieces, the NexStar Evolution kit offers you a little more than the 8SE, with 1.25” diameter 40mm (51x) and 13mm (156x) Plossl oculars provided. Neither of these eyepieces is particularly high-quality (on its own, a typical Plossl eyepiece retails for under $40 USD), and the 40mm has a cramped field of view thanks to the limitations of the 1.25” barrel format; a 32mm Plossl provides the same field at a higher magnification. However, you can get by with just these eyepieces. By contrast, the NexStar 8SE’s lone 25mm Plossl (81x) is hardly ideal for planetary viewing and doesn’t provide the widest possible field of view for deep-sky objects.

Complaining about provided accessories is really a bit pointless with telescopes that cost over $1000 USD, like the NexStar Evolution line and 8SE, since if you’re contemplating such a purchase, you presumably already either have the budget or experience to acquire additional eyepieces on your own.

Mounting Comparison

At first glance, the NexStar 8SE and Evolution mounts look very similar. Both are single-armed fork mounts that usually operate in an alt-azimuth configuration. Both are supplied with NexStar+ hand controllers. Additionally, both telescopes incorporate a Vixen-style dovetail saddle. This is a universal attachment system that allows for a wide range of optical tubes to be mounted, offering versatility for users who might want to explore different telescope tubes in the future. However, what’s under the hood is what counts.

The NexStar Evolution mount uses higher-quality gearing and no plastic parts in the mount head, leading to better accuracy when pointing at and tracking objects, as well as greater stability and a longer lifetime. The Evolution also has a built-in lithium battery for cord-free operation without wasting disposable batteries or having to acquire a rechargeable power supply at considerable extra expense. The NexStar Evolution’s tripod is also steadier than the 8SE’s, with thicker 1.75″-diameter steel legs versus the 1.5” ones used on the NexStar 8SE. And, of course, the Evolution features built-in WiFi, meaning you don’t have to use the rather antiquated hand controller and can instead operate the NexStar Evolution mount via your smartphone or tablet wirelessly. Upgrading the 8SE to include WiFi of its own doesn’t cost a ton but is nonetheless an additional inconvenience.

The NexStar 8SE, as explained in our review, is rather wobbly due to the top-heavy nature of its design and the undersized or low-quality components used in the NexStar SE mount. The NexStar Evolution suffers from no such flaws. While you could probably improve the NexStar 8SE’s stability with DIY or aftermarket upgrades for less than the price difference between the 8SE and Evolution, the NexStar Evolution mount is still likely to last longer and work with fewer hiccups than even a well-maintained NexStar 8SE.