When it comes to the telescopes we review, our editorial board (which is comprised entirely of astronomers) make unbiased judgments. Please keep in mind that our performance rating system on this page is completely unrelated to any kind of monetary gain.
Celestron has marketed a fork-mounted 8” Schmidt-Cassegrain Telescope, or a C8, since the 1970s. Since then, they have gone through many changes, and the CPC800 is one of the more recent variants. The CPC 800 is a high-resolution 8” telescope with a computerized “Go-To” mount. It can be used in altitude-azimuth (up, down, and all around) mode, or in polar-aligned equatorial mode, and it will track the rotation of the sky in both configurations. The CPC 800 is a very good planetary telescope, capable of easily reaching high magnifications, and it has enough aperture to be useful for deep-sky-object observing as well. The computerized functionality allows it to easily slew to any position in the sky, and it has a built-in catalogue of many objects, both deep-sky-objects and solar system objects. It can probably point at more things than it can usefully show. Because of its long focal length, it struggles to fit in especially large Deep-Sky-Objects--you won’t be able to even view the entire Pleiades unless you use very wide-field eyepieces and an upgraded 2” Star Diagonal.
The CPC 800 unit I have evaluated is used for public outreach at GTCC’s Cline Observatory in Jamestown, North Carolina, where the ability to find arbitrary objects very quickly comes in handy. However, whether a Go-To telescope really makes sense for you depends upon your observing style. In my opinion, finding objects manually using a Dobsonian reflector is more fun and engaging, especially when it comes to dim objects. There is a certain ‘thrill of the hunt’ that Go-To telescopes lack, and though it can be frustrating on occasion when you just can’t figure out a manual star-hop, the CPC800 replaces that with the occasional frustration of computer misalignment and other electronics issues. Reading star charts, or a book on star-hopping, is generally more fun and engaging than staring at a hand controller, or reading a manual or troubleshooting guides.
8/10: Very good, but not the best
Score Breakdown (out of 5)
Moon & Planets: 5
Rich Field: 2
Ease of use: 3
Read our scoring methodology here.
The CPC800 has a few notable competitors in the field of 8 inch Schmidt-Cassegrains, even from Celestron itself. Celestron’s NexStar 8SE is considerably cheaper, however its mount is grossly undersized and shaky. Celestron’s Evolution 8 is a cheaper telescope on a lighter but still plenty stable single-fork-arm mount.
Meade’s 8” LX200 and LX90 lines are the equivalent series of fork-mounted Schmidt-Cassegrains and have always been direct competitors. They generally have feature parity--high quality optics and go-to electronics.
If you’re not sure if you’d really want Go-To computerization and you are looking for a visual-only telescope, seriously consider an 8” Dobsonian. Or even a 10”, 12”, or 14”--Dobsonians are so much cheaper than SCTs that for the same or similar price you can get some pretty enormous telescopes, and the CPC800 is bulky enough that the weight of a Big Dob shouldn’t be any more intimidating. And consider--the optical tube of the CPC800 might be very small, but the actual floor space it takes up is larger than a big dob, due to the tripod.
The CPC800 is a usable telescope. Excellent optics, and the occasional frustrations of computer glitches are rarely mission critical. It’s not especially easy to learn how to use--you can be star-hopping with a Dobsonian in minutes, but most of my fellow Observatory volunteers seem to be too intimidated or frustrated by the CPC800 to use it. I prefer to use a Dobsonian, but in a public outreach context, the instant go-to is very useful.
An 8” SCT can be a very powerful planetary imaging tool, and it’s technically possible to do deep-sky-imaging too (though it’s far more technical due to the long exposures necessary).
It’s not the best at what it does, but it is good at what it does. I can’t quite wholeheartedly recommend it, I like Dobsonians too much, but I can’t condemn it either. The computer glitches seem to be something which accumulates with age, and apparently there are ways of resetting the controllers to fix some of the glitches. But having the chance of dealing with bugs in the observing field is always a frustrating prospect. That’s more of a condemnation of go-to telescopes in general than the CPC800 in particular.
Celestron CPC 800