Back-folding starlight to shrink the size of the telescope: that’s the secret sauce that flavors hybrid telescopes. If you like to "live small" (tiny apartment, mini-car… ) or prefer to travel light, these are your beginner telescopes. I own a small hybrid; it’s totally my "grab & go" at a moment's notice scope!
Hybrids are comfortable to use. Because your eye is in line with the telescope, they’re very easy to aim. Its point and shoot, like a camera or spotting scope.
We call scopes like this one "hybrids" because they employ both mirrors and lenses. Starlight first refracts through a "corrector plate" then reflects off a curved primary mirror (magnifying your image); next bounces off a secondary mirror – cleverly mounted on the corrector plate – and finally pops out through a hole in the primary to your eyepiece.
Beyond astronomy, hybrids are quite happy to be put to work in daylight as spotting scopes and super telephoto lenses. Astronomers formally term these hybrids: "Catadioptric Cassegrains." The Hubble Space Telescope is a cousin, called a Ritchey–Chrétien Cassegrain. It’s especially suited to taking pictures of wide “flat” fields of starlight with very little distortion. What you see with Hubble is what we got in the Universe.
In 1941, Russian optician Dmitri Maksutov patented a particularly clever type of Cassegrain hybrid. He realized that a simple corrector lens cast in the “meniscus” shape (that the surface of a liquid held in a vessel takes) could be coated in the center to make a convex spot-mirror.
Not only was it elegant, it corrected the basic bugaboos of reflectors (spherical distortion) and refractors (color-splitting). Celestron’s NexStar 4SE exploits post-modern manufacturing tech to eloquently execute Dmitri’s "Mak-Cas" design.
The 4SE’s 102mm aperture isn’t huge, but the portability of this rig far outweighs any size limitation. And Celestron’s nicely coated optics make the most of every photon fetched.
Those optics won’t demand much from you in the way of maintenance, either. Mak-Cas designs don’t require collimation of the primary mirror the way Newtonian Reflectors do, and the sealed optical tube is immune to dust – at least internally.
"Go-To" computer finds & tracks targets
Celestron has equipped the 4SE with its SkyAlign system for pointing and tracking the 40,000 objects in its database. Frankly, a good many of those objects are beyond the practical range of this telescope except under absolutely perfect conditions. And do the math: You’d have to observe more than ten objects every night of the year for more than ten years in order to see each one only once!
SkyAlign is not totally automatic; very few such systems are at this price point. It’s not difficult to set up but it’ll take time and you’ll need to know your precise location and time. As with all telescopes, it’s best to set them up before sunset.
If you want to get your feet wet with astrophotography, the 4SE has a camera control option. It helps you take series of long duration exposures with your DSLR camera. Just don’t try to hang a very heavy camera body on this little telescope; an oddly weighted mount won’t track well enough for sharp images.
Easy to use
The 4SE is so small and light, and the tripod folds so easily, you can quickly jump into almost any vehicle and drive to find dark skies. And someday, if you grow into a larger telescope, you’ll probably want to keep this one as a "grab-and-go" scope. It’s great for chasing solar eclipses in faraway locations where you can’t lug a lot of luggage.
Help and support
Celestron's website is the best of the best for beginners. They really get you. It is packed with information; everything is easy to find including the digital version of the manual. We found Celestron's telephone support a little iffy. But since you’re here at Space.com, I’m guessing you might prefer web-based info anyway?
Whether you venture far across your home-planet to observe, or just quickly set-up in your own backyard on a whim, Dmitri Maksutov’s marvelously compact optical engine will loft you out there. Happy starlight hunting!
More telescope types:
- Reflector: Newton Astride A Tripod
- Refractor: Galileo's Elegant Simplicity
- Dobsonian: A Universe for Every Person
For more choices, check out Space.com's telescope reviews and buying guides.