Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ Review: The Ways of the Old and New

written by TTB
TTB score

8

The Good

  • STARSENSE EXPLORER APP
  • AFFORDABLE AUTOMATION
  • DELIGHTFUL BEGINNER EXPERIENCE
  • 2", WIDE-FIELD FOCUSER
  • COLOR ACCURACY
  • PORTABLE

The Bad

  • VULNERABLE TO LIGHT POLLUTION
  • PLASTIC MOUNT
  • FOCUSER IS NOT BUTTER-SMOOTH
  • CHEAP ACCESSORIES
  • REQUIRES COLLIMATION
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StarSense Explorer App is revolutionary, the rest is not.

Review

Before the review, I have to mention that this is a beginner telescope designed for ease of use. Not for experienced or even practiced astronomers.

With that in mind, let’s start with the review.

The optical design of StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ is common and can be found anywhere from any astronomy brand. Polaris 130NexStar 130SLTSpaceProbe 130EQ; I could go on and on. This type of optical design is average in quality. 

You are paying for technology, not optical power.

What you are paying for is the StarSense Explorer App experience more than the optics. Is the app experience worth the extra cost? Yes, absolutely, without a doubt, and yes. The software is one of the most impressive astro-tech I’ve ever seen. 

Optics

9

130mm Aperture

650mm Optical Tube

f/5

Impressive Color Accuracy

As I’ve mentioned at the beginning, this optical design is pretty common. It is a 130mm reflector with a 650mm optical tube. Such design provides an f/5 focal ratio, which slightly leans towards deep space performance but is pretty good for planetary performance as well. 

The optical tube is steel instead of aluminum, which doesn’t make much difference in observation quality, but the build quality feels better.

The focal ratio is ideal for deep-space and planetary detail.

There are two main things you should know about the optical design: It needs regular collimation and is better than a refractor in terms of color accuracy.

If you don’t know what collimation is, it is an optical alignment procedure. Some get used to it, some like it, and some don’t like it. The DX 102AZ model doesn’t require collimation, but its color accuracy is slightly worse.

What am I going to see?

This is the part where most beginners are misled. You will be able to get a glimpse of some amount of distinguishable detail on large planets and their moons, a great amount of detail on our Moon, and bright deep space objects with tons of stars surrounding them. Here is a list of what you can see and what you can’t see with Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ.

Jupiter will show its stripes and its Galilean Moons. The Great Red Spot is visible in ideal condition. You can easily get the unique brown-beige-red colors of the planet.

Saturn shows it Rings and its largest moon Titan. The yellow-green color of the planet is clear.

Mars will appear as a bright red disk. You can get some surface detail as black and white stains in ideal conditions and with a premium eyepiece.

Venus appears as a bright yellow disk. Its phases are observable.

Neptune and Uranus appear as tiny blue dots. 

Mercury is barely observable. It appears as a tiny dot.

The Moon looks detailed with countless craters and mountain ranges. The Moon is great for close-ups with any telescope or binocular. 

Deep space performance is admirable. You are limited to the brighter spectrum of the Messier Catalog but combined with the 2″ focuser and 130mm aperture; the field view is delightfully wide and detailed. 

Some of the ideal targets to observe are the Pleiades, Hercules, Orion, and Andromeda.

Is Astrophotography possible with Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ?

Only short-exposure planetary astrophotography is possible. You can use a DSLR camera or a smartphone camera. Both will get the job done, but obviously, the DSLR camera will perform vastly better.

Long exposure deep space or planetary astrophotography is not possible. You need a motorized equatorial mount for serious astrophotography(to counter Earth’s rotation), and they cost around 500$ or more.

Mount

6

Plastic

Slow-Mo Knobs

The mount is almost all hard-plastic, and that includes the connection and clutches. It feels cheap and stiff. Overall it is not a pleasant experience using it. 

Plastic, everywhere.

The slow-mo knobs are some compensation for the stiffness. The allow for fine-tuning, which is particularly helpful when using the app.

The mount is strong, can carry the 130mm optical tube. But it doesn’t negate the fact that there are vibrations that last 2-3 seconds, and the slightest breeze affects the observation experience.

Tripod

7

Aluminum

The tripod is aluminum and around 2″ in width. It is slightly better than the worst models, but it is sufficient for such a lightweight telescope.

Vibration Suppression Pads are a cheap and life changer solution for the shaky tripod. It doesn’t solve the problem completely, but it is a huge improvement.

The Smartphone Slot

Celestron tried to create something nice here. The fiber avoids scratches and holds the phone firmly, and the clutches on the sides are adjustable for size. The slot feels safe for holding the phone and overall has a beautiful build quality.

App

9

Real-Time Simulation

Great Accuracy

Works Without WiFi

The app is different than any other astro-tech that has come out in years for a few significant reasons. And these are the reasons why it will change the industry.

Everyone has a smartphone now, and the app is free. Although it works with StarSense Explorer telescopes only, it drives the cost of automation down dramatically.

The app provides semi-automation. The user has to push the optical tube in the right direction and do the alignment. The interaction feels better than complete automation and makes you learn the night sky.

StarSense Explorer is free, fun to use, and overall, different.

StarSense Explorer App works better than 90% of the astro-tech out there, including equipment worth thousands of dollars.

The Unlock Code

Celestron sends a code with every telescope, you enter the code to your smartphone, and the app unlocks for use, which is probably to prevent the app from being used with every other telescope on Earth.

Alignment

The alignment procedure requires some effort, but once you get the hang of it is pretty fun. 

You need to pick a bright object in the night sky and focus the eyepiece on it. You have to find the object in the real-time simulation on the app, align the red cross with the object, and hit done. 

Now you are aligned.

How does the app keep the simulation accurate?

The app knows exactly where the optical tube is looking at in the night sky. The app will always keep a real-time simulation of the telescope and the night-sky with the gyroscopescompassaccelerometers, and image recognition technology called plate-solving

It works like magic. You have to see it with your own eyes.

Celestron’s software engineering team achieved something impressive.

The App Struggles With Light Pollution

Occasionally the app can’t determine the location due to light pollution or the night sky’s overall clarity. It may take 2-3 seconds, 9-10 seconds, or never resolve the location at all.

The app is pretty good, but it is not perfect. It needs software updates.

Accessories

5

Kellner Eyepieces

Red Dot Finder

Plastic 1.25″ Diagonal

2″ Focuser

The accessories are useless. There is no other explanation. 

The eyepieces are Kellner models. The 10mm is for close-ups, and the 25mm is for wide-field views. Both are as cheap as they can be, and they should be upgraded as soon as possible.

All of the accessories should be upgraded.

The finder is a red dot model. With an automized telescope, you won’t need it that much. It is mostly plastic and cheap, but usable. 

The 1.25″ diagonal is dreadful. Not only it doesn’t take advantage of the 2″ focuser, it lowers the image quality. It should be upgraded to a 2″ star diagonal.

There around 100$150$ to be spent on accessories if you want to get full advantage of the optics.

Focuser

The focuser is a rack-and-pinion model and is mostly plastic. The motion slightly sticky, it doesn’t have fine-tuning, but it does the job. It is a 2″ focuser instead of 1.25″, so it is hard to complain. 

SkyWatcher 6″ comes with a 2″ Crayford focuser, which is vastly better in terms of quality. If a decent focuser is a necessity for you, that is a good option.

Drawbacks

Unstable Base

Moderate Power

Prone to Light Pollution

Cheap Accessories

The stability of the tripod and the mount is below-average.

There are Dobsonian’s available at the same price range, which are much better in terms of build quality and optical power.

StarSense Explorer App doesn’t work well in light-polluted areas.

The accessories are all cheap and plastic.

Conclusion

Celestron gambled by selling a cheap optical tube at this price range. StarSense Explorer App is key for this model. It has to be good to justify the price tag. Did Celestron’s gamble pay off?

It did. 

I have to say this again, the way this app works will change the industry. Now every telescope will be able to be semi-automized with a single app and a mirror. 

Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ is not the best optics nor the best build quality for the price. However, it is a fun and exciting starting point in astronomy.