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Meade 16" Lightbridge
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Over the years, I have sold many things on CN. Oddly, I have never bought anything! Isn't that strange? But that's another story! For the many years I have been an amateur astronomer, I have read other people's reviews and have taken each one very seriously. Every time I have purchased an eyepiece, I would spend a few hours surfing the net and averaging all of the opinions of folks who already own said eyepiece. My last one was the Televue 41mm Panoptic. It was the single most expensive ocular I have ever purchased, at $500. Having mentioned the seriousness of reviews for all of us, I take writing this assessment of my new f/4.5 Meade 16-inch Deluxe Lightbridge with the same gravity, as I know that many good people will use it (with many others) to weigh whether or not they are going to buy the telescope. I myself have used this method on everything from a $30 flexible dew shield to a $4200 12-inch LX200 Classic. In fact, I have owned a 10-inch LX200, the 12-inch, and the 10-inch GPS model which I just sold to purchase the Lightbridge. An odd stroke of weird luck with a less-than-perfect FEDEX delivery would have my last LX200 returned to me for repair of the shipping box that they damaged. Hence, I was able to take the opportunity to compare the 10-inch with the 16-inch Lightbridge side by side. From my New York City balcony, I will say that the LX200 had sharper images of Jupiter, but the Lightbridge had a much brighter and more pleasant, open image. By open, I mean there was a vast area around the planet, where you just got lost in the view. The LX had this nice image of Jupiter and its moons, period. (And in fairness to the LB, it was not cooled down like the LX was. I forgot about the cooling fan on the bottom of the LB!) In filmmaking, it would be analogous to comparing a master shot with other actors making the scene interesting, to a medium shot of a single (good looking) player. Both large and clear, but one better. And this is coming from a die-hard LX200 lover. To close off this paragraph, the reason I am writing this is because when I was contemplating the purchase of the LB, there were no reviews of the scope yet, and still aren't. I sincerely hope that I can give something back to the many reviews that have assisted me over the years.
First of all, I would like to make it clear that I am by no means an expert on astronomical equipment. However, I am a full-fledged techie, and I do know when I have not made a wise purchase and when I have. I know it's suspenseful, but I'll get to that answer later! Since I didn't have any idea that I would be writing this review, I did not take any pictures of the boxes when they arrived, but I will say that the shipping cartons seemed to be very well thought out, considering the weight of the separate pieces. According to the manual, the 16-inch has a 74 lb OTA (top, bottom, and trusses which all break down for transport) and a 54 lb base. It will be about 6'1" tall, and yes, one will have to stand at the zenith. The most important box -containing the primary mirror, was very well designed as far as keeping the cell stable while surrounded by its packing foam. In short, you can trust the shipping method for the large Lightbridge. In addition, the instructions were simple and easy to follow. Oh, before I forget to mention, the QX eyepiece that came with it? I immediately sold it.
I must tell you that this is quite a heavy telescope, even disassembled. The base is the most difficult to maneuver, because of its bulk and weight combined. I was used to carrying the 12-inch LX, but that is kept close to the body, which makes things much easier. This base unit of the LB is wide and cumbersome, especially for someone (me) who has to get it out of his apartment, to the elevator, down the elevator, out of the elevator, through two sets of service entrance doors, and up into the rear of his truck which eagerly waits close to the building. To make a long story short, it is quite a pain in the neck to accomplish. My logic is that I only go out once a month with everything (support equipment is the mass of my headache), so to kill myself for a half an hour before and after a 6 to 8-hour session is worth it. We all know that there is no price for the absolute joy this equipment can bring us in those hours. Did I mention that I also have to travel 50 miles out to Long Island-and back?
I prepared my wife for the size of this thing, so it was not really so bad when I set it up and moved it over into its new home in the corner of my large living room. Between you and me, I have never felt the pride of ownership more than when I completed the assembly of the LB, which is quite simple. The sheer size of this instrument will impress you-and everyone else!
FIRST LIGHT: June 2007.
I must do something about the base unit. It is bumping everything in sight, as careful as I am trying to be. It needs heavy-duty handles installed below the Meade logo on the outside of the rear panel. It has to be done carefully, as the particle board may shatter with the weight. My back already hurts from the strain of the lift without handles. (I am 6 feet tall and 190 lbs.) The bucket with the primary mirror is heavy, but doable with no problems, as you can just rest it on your thigh as you walk-pulling up on either side of the rim of the bucket itself. Do not bump it, as it is a rigid assembly. The shock just might resonate into the excellent support system and crack the mirror, although I am not certain of this. BTW, the primary comes with a light plastic cover, light enough not to do any damage should it accidentally fall into the glass. Cheap, yes. However, it serves its purpose perfectly.
I have never used a Dobsonian before, so this non-computerized stuff was anything but a thrill. Autostar is something I have come to love over the years. Just sitting in that red glow and reading the scrolling information in the guided tour and slewing to anything at a moment's notice is great. I would not know at this moment that I would fall in love with my new big white pain in the neck-really fancying tugging it around like a nice and lovable, but big and clumsy dog. The first thing I noticed after the assembly at the field was that it was awkward moving the front OTA-with nowhere to grab and steer. I would need to install a simple handle at the left side of the focuser, just below and to the left of the Meade label. The focuser, by the way, is much nicer than I expected. The 16-inch models come with a 2-inch, two-speed Crayford TYPE unit, which IMHO, couldn't logically be improved by an aftermarket purchase. I say this after having used it a full night. Back to the assembly: If you are alone, I found the LB to be easy to put together. Just take your time and make sure you balance the OTA (with the diagonal) on one arm while you fasten the nicely designed attachment bolts on the trusses. Once you get one, you are in like Flynn! Collimation was next: Simple with the optional Meade laser collimator, even for this Òamateur,Ó who has never touched a Dob before. I press buttons on the Autostar. That is what I do.
The optical performance of the 16-inch LB is like nothing this LX user has ever seen before. The moon, as it was setting that night, was full of detail that my previous scopes had never been able to accomplish. But don't forget that the maximum magnification (not practical) for this size mirror is around 800X! The advantage of that extra mirror size is very apparent in resolution. I climbed the clear Apennines in my mind this night, and raced on foot across the plains of the Mare Serenitatis. Venus was unusually detailed also, as was Jupiter and its moons. But the detail is only half the fun. The fact that you have so much space around the object you are observing is magical. It gives you a sense of reference. For example, when I viewed Jupiter as I have hundreds of times, the space around the moons and the surrounding stars never before visible (to me) was breathtaking. All night, I would be taken aback by the wide fields of the LB, especially with the Televue 41mm Panoptic purchased specifically for this scope. BUT, my $150 Meade 32mm Series 5000 Plossl did a fantastic job as well. In fact, I preferred it over the Panoptic because the weight of the Pan just kept annoyingly forcing the OTA toward the ground. A balance weight system is critical for giant eyepieces, but, for all the rest, I found tightening the brake sufficient. With my 8mm Radian, M13 was crisply resolved like never before. The core was crystal clear and bright, again, with many stars around the border. Open clusters such as M11 were magnificent, and close doubles were cleanly split. The spiral structure of NGC 7479 was finally distinguishable from Long Island! But where this scope excels is sweeping views of the Milky Way, such as this night, through the summer triangle.
I have taken the scope out again with the handles and the balance weight system installed and things were much better. I added the Astrozap light shroud and a Stellervue finder with a 19mm Panoptic to supplement the red dot finder which comes with the LB. Despite the Intelliscope rumblings, I bought an ETX-125 so that I could have Autostar and not take forever finding things with the Dob. (Although sometimes the LB is more accurate than the ETX! Figure that one out!) However, the most fun comes with draping a black photo curtain over your head and just sitting and watching things go by in the night. Indeed, aperture rules.
PROS: I really can't say enough about the looks and functionality of the 16-inch Deluxe Lightbridge. It moves like butter in altitude and azimuth, and both times I was out, there was a strong breeze, but it didn't seem to bother the scope much, even under high magnification. Admittedly, this surprised me, as the instrument is tall and wide, supposedly susceptible to wind loading. To you guys who would like to try the LB over an LX200, I would have to say that once the LB cools down, it blows the LX away, probably due to the large central obstruction-the secondary mirror on the LX200s. (Personally, I never did think that CATS reach thermal equilibrium anyway.) But then the LX scopes are extremely comfortable and great for astrophotography with their precise tracking capabilities. Also on the plus side for the LB is the price, the (broken down) portability, the fun of using it, and the wide fields.
CONS: The only negatives I can see are the coma not only around the edge of the field, but in farther than I have ever seen aberrations. Bright stars and planets also have diffraction spikes caused by the vanes, but both of these anomalies come with the territory of an f/4.5 scope. And remember that I am not used to optical errors, so they may be exaggerated in my eyes right now, until I get used to them.
Here are my upgrades: