Astronomy's summary may be correct when viewing in typical, suburban, moderately light-polluted sites. But they are wrong when viewing at a truly dark site. All of them are visible as smudges in a 6" refractor, and at least 4 are visible in 8" (the close pair is unresolvable). In my 12.5", at 203X, 6 discrete galaxies are visible, and so are their orientations on the sky.
I think Astronomy Magazine, 2006 Collector's Edition, entitled "Explore the Universe" summed it up quite nicely:
Simply seeing Stephan's Quintet (NGC 7317, NGC 7318A, NGC 7318B, NGC 7319, and NGC 7320) is not a challenge. You can glimpse the brightest, NGC 7320 in an 8-inch telescope. Differentiating the galazies' sizes, shapes (3 are spirals, 2 are ellipticals), and brightness, however, requires at least a 16 inch telescope.
Just another reason to get that 20" Obsession I have been obsessing over for the last year or two...
A 16" begins to show details in all of them.
Many observing books slant their observations toward a less-experienced viewer who views under poor skies. There's value in that, but one should not take such "observations" as gospel.
The key? Have a look. Decide what you can see. Look long and hard. Use averted vision. Use multiple magnifications. Push the limits of your scope. Describe what you see in a log.
Ask these questions:
Actual Catalog Size______________________
Magnitude (Total Integrated)_______________
Apparent Sz (visual impression): V.Large / Large / Medium / Small / V.Small/ Stellar / Other_______________________
Apparent Overall Brightness: Bright / EZ / Moderate / Faint / Very Faint / At Limit
Apparent Shape: Round / Round-Oval / Oval / Elong. / Very Elong. / Lenticular / Other______________________________
Nature/shape of core and nucleus____________________________
Core % of visible galaxy___________________________________
Don't be surprised if you have something to write in on every line.