Celestron NexStar Evolution 6 Review: More Tech, Less Optics

Celestron NexStar Evolution 6 is packed with the latest tech but comes with rather modest optical power.

8.8

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Review

NexStar Evolution 6 is an interesting member of the Evolution Series because it is more of a high-tech mount than a telescope. You can get the same amount of optical power from a 300$ SkyWatcher 6″, which is quite explanatory about what you are paying for. 

Portability is the reward for lower power.

Optics

Celestron NexStar Evolution 6 is a Schmidt-Cassegrain. It performs the best with brighter objects, and with a few additional accessories, it performs decently with faint objects. 

6″ aperture provides below-average power for its price.

The limiting factor is the 6″ aperture. As I’ve mentioned before, the aperture is on par with 300$ reflectors. An 8″ telescope will be %77 more powerful, and a 10″ telescope will be %177 more powerful. As the saying goes, “aperture is king”, and although the optics are perfectly built, it won’t match an 8″ telescope.

The images are color accurate and precise.

But there is an advantage to the narrow Schmidt-Cassegrain design. Color accuracy is on-point, and there are no optical defects such as diffraction spikes and chromatic aberration. These are significant problems with reflectors and refractors.

Frankly, there is some chromatic aberration, but the amount is not comparable with refractors.

Planetary Performance

The optical design is a “Solar System Performer” at its core. The light travels the optical tube two times instead of one. As a result, the optical path is exceptionally narrow. This makes it easier to gather detail from Solar System objects such as Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Venus, and the Moon.

Jupiter shows its stripes with their unique beige-red-brown colors. It’s Galilean Moon’s are easily observable, and The Great Red Spot is clear with its unique color as well. The color accuracy advantage of the optics shows itself with colorful objects such as Jupiter.

Saturn shows its yellow-green colors. Its rings are clear with The Cassini Division between them. Its many moons show themselves, but Titan, the largest one, is the one easiest to observe.

Mars shows some surface detail as black and white stains. The white stains are the Polar Ice Caps, and the black is due to the Iron nature of the surface.

Venus’ surface is impossible to observe due to its thick atmosphere. But, its yellow color and Phases are easily observable.

Neptune and Uranus appear as blueish dots. Neptune’s largest moon Triton is observable in ideal conditions.

Mercury and Pluto are incredibly challenging to observe with any telescope and look like dots most of the time with NexStar Evolution 6.

It is safe to say the Lunar observations are the strongest suit of NexStar Evo 6. There are two things needed for observing the Moon; getting as close as possible and great color accuracy. The Schmidt-Cassegrain design does both incredibly well. Countless craters and mountain ranges reveal themselves. It is a beautiful experience.

Overall planetary performance is delightful. Color accuracy is on point, the optics are powerful enough for most details in the Solar System, and the Auto-Tracking is the cherry on top. 

Photos Taken with HyperStar 6

Deep Space Performance

Deep space performance is disappointing out of the box. The optical design can’t fit large objects such as the Andromeda Galaxy inside the view, and the object looks ghostly.

There are two solutions for deep space performance. The first and most important one is a focal reducer. The focal ratio is f/10, and you need around f/5-6 for decent deep space performance. A focal reducer can achieve that. 

The deep space performance needs expensive upgrades.

The second solution is a 2″ star diagonal and a 2″, wide-field eyepiece. These are present with most astronomers’ accessory portfolio. They will change the way the optics interact with deep space.

If both of the upgrades are done simultaneously, deep space performance will be slightly worse than a 6″ reflector, which is pretty good.

Is Astrophotography possible with Celestron NexStar Evolution 6?

NexStar Evolution 6 is capable of some serious astrophotography, but again, with expensive upgrades.

Equatorial motion is necessary for serious astrophotography.

The most significant obstacle of NexStar Evolution 6 is its altazimuth mount. You need an “equatorial” motion to counter Earth’s rotation to keep the object in view while imaging. With the altazimuth mount, 1-2min exposure times are possible, which limits you to Jupiter, Mars, Saturn, Venus, The Moon, bright star clusters, and bright objects in general. 

There are, again, two solutions for the equatorial motion problem. One is cheaper, sensible, and boring. The other is expensive, irrational, and awesome. 

The cheaper and smarter solution is Celestron’s Equatorial Wedge. They cost around 300$. They are not cheap, but they are precise enough to solve the problem completely and will let you get on with serious deep space astrophotography.

The more expensive and irrational solution is HyperStar. HyperStar is one of the most innovative products in the astronomy field in recent years from a company called Starizona. HyperStar replaces the secondary mirror with a camera and reduces the focal ratio to f/2. Therefore you need 30x less exposure time for equally bright images. A 1min exposure image will be equal to a 30min exposure image. 

Both solutions are adequate for entering into serious astrophotography. But I have to mention, the complete way of entering into astrophotography is getting a motorized, equatorial mount. Those cost around 1000$. 

In the end, the choice is yours. You may keep to planetary imaging or just stay with visual astronomy. But it is always nice to have the option. 

NexStar Evolution Mount 

Let me start off by saying this; the NexStar Evolution Mount is better than any other computerized mount in the industry by a huge margin. At least at the “affordable” price range.

The motors are metal. They have less backlash and are more precise. They are reliable as well. If you take care of them, they will last for 8-9 years, maybe more.

The clutches are more than enough for carrying the 6″ optical tube. They are strong, sturdy, and impressively, manually usable. You can detach the optical tube, use it however you want, and return to the object. But the alignment settings stay the same, so you have to return to the same object.

The tripod is a 1.25″-steel model. Its sturdiness is not at the ideal level, and this would have been a huge problem if the telescope was manual. But NexStar Evolution 6 is used on Auto-Tracking mode almost all the time, so the tripod is OK. If you want to improve its stability, vibration suppression pads are a smart and cheap solution.

Built-in WiFi and Battery

These are the features that really make a difference. 

In 2016, when the Evolution Series just came out, the built-in WiFİ was frustratingly bad. But Celestron kept at the problem, and now the connection is reliable all the time. You can connect to the telescope anywhere you want, the field, backyard, your home…anywhere, and it works as you want it to work. 

The built-in battery is a Lithium-Ion model. It lasts for 10 hours, which is around a long, sleepless observation session. The battery could have been larger, but as long as you keep it charged, it won’t bring out any problems.

SkyPortal App

Digital System 

There are two ways of controlling the optical tube. The hand controller, or the SkyPortal App.

Using the hand controller feels like time travelling to the 90s. The software is almost antique, but it works well, so I don’t have any complaints.

The SkyPortal App is a passionate attempt at creating a real-time simulation of the night sky and the optical tube. You tap on a space object, and the optical tube starts following it. When the app works perfectly, the experience is phenomenal.

But, Celestron is not a computer company, and it is apparent with the SkyPortal App. The app is prone to crashing, the buttons get stuck at times, and occasionally the optical tube keeps moving even if you don’t want it to.

Celestron will probably solve most of these problems with software updates. But the first rule when it comes to buying tech: never buy a product depending on future software updates.

Accessories

All of the accessories need upgrades. It is clear that they are merely included to get you started.

Celestron sends s 13mm and a 40mm Plössl eyepiece with the telescope. These are below-average choices at this price range, but enough to get started with some decent viewing.

The red dot finder is not comparable to any part of this telescope. It is a plastic toy, almost. It should be one of the first parts that is upgraded.

The 1.25″ star diagonal is disappointing. I understand the “budget” eyepiece and finder choices, but it is clear that anyone who gets this telescope will upgrade to a 2″ star diagonal eventually. Celestron should have sent a 2″ star diagonal with NexStar Evolution 6.

Drawbacks

The 6″ aperture is the limiting factor of NexStar Evolution 6. The light-gathering ability is the most important factor for astronomy, and it is a part that is not upgradable.

There are expensive upgrades needed for deep space observations and even more expensive upgrades needed for deep space astrophotography.

The SkyPortal App is buggy.

Conclusion

Celestron NexStar Evolution 6’s price tag is ridiculously high, and almost all of it goes to its well-built mount technology. As I’ve said before, it is a weird member of the Evolution Series.

I don’t understand why any astronomer would settle for low powered optics, but if you are OK with 6″ of aperture, Celestron NexStar Evolution 6 is one of the most advanced and well-built telescopes there is.

8.8

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