If you’ve never considered getting a Dobsonian telescope, it’s probably because they largely fell out of favor a few years ago. Superseded by smaller computer-controlled and motorized “Go To” telescopes that allow beginners to select targets from a handheld controller, the large and cumbersome – and manual – Dobsonian design just couldn’t keep up. That ends here with the arrival of a Donson telescope that’s as easy to point and move as any telescope we’ve tried.
Add premium optics and robust build quality, and the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8-inch Dobsonian impresses on almost every count – although it’s mostly down to Celestron’s incredible StarSense app.
Celestron StarSense Explorer 8 inch Dobsonian Specifications
Optical design: Newtonian reflector
Opening: 8 inches/203mm
focal length: 47.24 inches / 1200mm
aperture ratio: Aperture 5.9
Optical tube length: 1117.6mm
mount weight: 10.3kg
Total kit weight: 19.68kg
Contains: 0.98″/25mm Celestron Omni Plossl eyepiece (48x)
The Celestron StarSense Explorer 8-inch Dobsonian is a Newtonian Reflector Dobsonian telescope with an 8-inch aperture and a side-mounted smartphone holder and consists of two parts – telescope tube and base. Both weigh about 10 kg and have carrying handles to easily transport them individually. Once attached to each other, the entire unit isn’t particularly easy to move, but it’s very easy to manipulate to aim at celestial targets.
Along with a code to use the StarSense app and a free download of Celestron’s Starry Night Basic Edition software, the box includes a 0.98″/25mm Celestron Omni Plossl eyepiece. It is of excellent quality and offers up to 48x magnification.
Also included is a red dot finder so you can aim the telescope at targets (or during the day or for quick targeting of a planet or the moon) without the app, and a smartphone holder. Both attach to the top of the telescope near the eyepiece.
The StarSense app also includes spoken-word audio commentary for most objects, so it’s worth pairing some wireless headphones with your smartphone while observing. This, of course, raises a small issue in terms of battery performance. Use a smartphone for a few hours of star hopping and you’ll soon be looking for a portable battery. Our advice is to put a 5,000mAh portable battery in the base of this telescope and run a long 2m cable to the smartphone holder, whose universal smartphone clamp has a cut-out for just that.
Setup and alignment is all about Celestron’s awesome StarSense app. Bypassing the hand controls used by Go To telescopes, StarSense lives on your smartphone and your smartphone lives on the telescope.
While I’ve had no issues using the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8-inch Dobsonian, there are a few things to consider that aren’t obvious from the start. The first is that while this is as automatic as can be, the user of this telescope still needs to align to a bright star. This is just to tell the software that what it sees in the center of the mirror behind the smartphone matches what’s in the center of the eyepiece. All you need is a clear sky in a deep twilight, an obviously bright star – any will do – and the confidence to use the red dot finder to get a rough alignment. Then you need to bring it to the center of the eyepiece’s field of view. It’s not difficult, but beginners can struggle with the first step at first.
Once that’s done, it’s so easy to use. First you choose from a list of objects in the StarSense app (divided into “City Viewable” or “Dark Sky Viewable”, with many more faint targets added specifically for the advanced optics of the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8″ Dobsonian ). Directional arrows appear in the app and guide you to the approximate area of your destination. Yes, you have to manually move the telescope. Luckily, this is very easy to do and the control you get is surprisingly precise. If you close, the app will zoom in and give you a porthole that you can pan to manually.
Using the supplied 25mm eyepiece we got some really excellent views of objects ranging from the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) to the Ring Nebula (M57), the latter of which is usually very difficult to see from our location in a light-polluted city . But the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8-inch Dobsonian pulled through, delivering colourful, high-contrast views.
Due to its manual alt-azimuth mount, the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8″ Dobsonian is not a good choice for astrophotography. It doesn’t track the movements of the night sky, so your only option is simple afocal astrophotography, which you can do by holding your smartphone’s camera over the eyepiece. Afocal attempts only work really well with the moon (however, since your smartphone is busy with StarSense, you will definitely need a second smartphone for this).
The Celestron StarSense Explorer 8-inch Dobsonian offers excellent value for money, great optics and an ease of use that some telescopes would die for. It has very few downsides. Not everyone will want to hang their smartphone on a telescope for hours, but most importantly, almost everyone will be able to use and enjoy the Celestron StarSense Explorer 8-inch Dobsonian. Just don’t buy it for astrophotography.
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