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Home / Meade Series 4000 12.4mm "Super" Plössl Eyepieces: A primer to Confusion
by Tristan Schwartz 12/17/09 | Email Author

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In the interest of full disclosure, I have no financial stake in any of the companies mentioned in the following article. Additionally, special thanks to CN forum poster JayKSC for providing the exact year Meade discontinued the Japanese series 4000, as well as moderator BCB for providing the link to the archived Masuyama thread which provided me with some of the history I incorporated into this article.

For many years, the Meade series 4000 eyepiece line stood on the teetering point between the mass market and the high end for intermediate observers. They offered a number of “standard” “wide field” and “ultra wide field” oculars clearly targeted as being a less expensive alternative to TeleVue’s venerable eyepieces. Among the eyepieces in the Series 4000 line were what they referred to as “Super Plössls.” What made them super as opposed to standard garden-variety Plössls? For one thing, they weren’t really Plössls. Meade’s original SP configuration was a 5-element design much more akin to the somewhat obscure (but highly revered in some circles) Masuyama eyepieces manufactured in the 80s. This configuration integrated a singlet lens between the two achromats and provided better edge sharpness as well as a slightly wider field of view than a standard Plössl. The price point was typically about halfway between standard Plössls sold by companies like Orion and Celestron and “premium” Plössls sold by TeleVue. For a lower cost, Meade also sold standard Plössls under the “Series 3000” line. Both lines of oculars were manufactured in Japan. Orion and Celestron sold similar “pseudo-Masuyama” eyepieces under their Ultrascopic and Ultima lines, respectively.

All of this changed gradually over the last 11 years. In 1998, with little to no fanfare, the Series 3000 Standard Plössls were phased out, leaving behind only the Super Plössls. Additionally, all Japanese manufacturing of Meade-branded eyepieces ceased that year as well. One fact that Meade drew as little attention to as possible was that the new Super Plössls were no longer the pseudo-Masuyama configuration they previously had; they had very quietly been replaced with standard symmetrical Plössls. These were NOT the same eyepieces that had built up a legion of happy customers, although they still kept the identical moniker of “Series 4000 Super Plössls,” as well as the same range of focal lengths and similar external styling. These eyepieces were manufactured in Taiwan.

With lots of fanfare over the period from 2002 to 2005, Meade began debuting their snazzy new “Series 5000” eyepieces. The introduction of these premium eyepieces, clearly intended to be competition to TeleVue (but with outer barrels that were more aesthetically distinctive from TeleVue’s, unlike the Series 4000 predecessors) coincided with the transfer of all of Meade’s eyepiece manufacturing from Taiwan to China. The Series 4000 eyepieces were kept in Meade’s product line (at a lower price point than before, and also now of Chinese manufacture), but were shoved further into the background. During this time Meade introduced a new, Chinese-manufactured pseudo-Masuyama line. The Series 5000 “5 element Plössl” (some with 6 elements in an unknown-to-this-author configuration) picked up the long-dropped baton as the higher-end hybrid Plössl in Meade’s lineup.

So how do all of these eyepieces compare with one another? To find out, I recently tested a current (China-stamped) 12.4mm Series 4000 symmetrical Plössl against the following borrowed eyepieces:

  • Late model (pre-1998) 12.4 mm 5 element Series 4000 Super Plössl

  • Late model 9.5mm Series 3000 Plössl

  • Current model 14mm Series 5000 5 element Plössl

While I would have preferred that all eyepieces tested were to be of the same focal length, neither the series 3000 nor the current series 5000 were available in the 12.4mm focal length. In each case, the nearest available focal length was tested. The following table is a rundown of how the eyepieces stacked up against one-another:


5000

3000

4000 (late)

4000 (current)

Apparent FOV

60 degrees

50 degrees

55 degrees

52 degrees

Edge Sharpness

Very good

Good

Very Good

Good

Center Sharpness

Very Good

Very Good

Very Good

Very Good

Color Correction

Very Good

Good

Very Good

Good

AR Coatings

Very Good

Good

Good

Very Good

All eyepieces showed very good images in the center of the field of view, although the 5 element models showed a slightly better edge sharpness. In both configurations, the older Japanese eyepieces were very slightly (but noticeably) sharper than their newer versions, and the older eyepieces had slightly better color correction than their newer counterparts as well. As stated in the graph, however, the differences were greater between each configurations rather than between manufacturing date and origin. The 5 element models had a slight edge in terms of apparent FOV, but not a huge difference; if you want a wider FOV, go for a dedicated wide-field eyepiece. The newer models have darker, fuller multi-coatings on the lenses than the discontinued models, but this did not translate to a noticeable edge in performance.

In terms of overall fit and finish, the older models had a much more substantial (not to mention noticeably heavier) feel. The newer ones felt slightly cheaper, but the current series 4000 eyepiece still felt heavier and more substantial than comparable Celestron “budget” Plössls supplied with the Celestron 1.25” eyepiece and accessory kit. In a strange twist, the series 5000 5-element Plössl seemed somewhat ill suited for screwing in filters. For reasons I was unable to determine, the series 5000 barrels friction with filter threads and was more prone to the filter getting stuck. This can be maddening, especially in the dark. I also find it rather curious that all problems with filters came from filters manufactured by Orion and Celestron; a Meade Series 4000 80A blue filter screwed on with no problems. I have heard anecdotal reports that Meade is using a non-standard eyepiece barrel thread to encourage their customers to stick with only Meade accessories. If so, that is a marketing tactic I would have great difficulty respecting. If this were true, however, why was there no difficulty presented by the current series 4000’s filter threading? As it is, I’m willing to chalk this up to the random result of a bad sample. Nevertheless I find these initial problems peculiar.

All of this may sound as if I am coming down hard on the new Meade eyepieces, but this isn’t the case at all. The current Series 4000 Plössls are very good eyepieces as long as you know what you’re buying, and are excellent as “budget” Plössls for beginning amateurs wanting to build up a wide range of focal lengths on the cheap. Meade’s series 4000 accessory kit (typically selling for approximately $250) is an attractive option for those observers. For those buying one or two eyepieces to fill in gaps in their collection, Meade’s Plössls typically sell at a lower price point than comparable eyepieces from Celestron or Orion, and they provide excellent views for that price point. If, however, you want the absolute best performance from a Plössl or hybrid Plössl, seek out the discontinued 5 element oculars on the used market, as well as the (currently in the process of being phased out) Orion Ultrascopic and (now discontinued) Celestron Ultima eyepieces. While all of the eyepieces tested were of high quality, the discontinued 5 element model was clearly the cream of the crop. The pseudo-Masuyama design is highly regarded for a reason, and the older Japanese optics certainly have the edge over their newer Chinese analogues.

Post script: Digging through the archived Masuyama discussion thread provided by BCB (http://www.cloudynights.com/ubbarchive/showflat.php/Cat/0/Number/748617/page/0/view/collapsed/sb/5/o/all/fpart/1 ), it has become apparent that Celestron’s Ultima and Orion’s Ultrascopics are actually sourced from the Masuyama optical company in Japan, which is apparently still producing eyepieces (just not under their own brand). This information came from a representative of Baader planetarium, a company that still sells Masuyama sourced eyepieces. There is a possibility that Masuyama was the original source of the Japanese Meade Super Plössls, but this has yet to be verified.





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