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My Older 11" SCT (C11 Ultima)
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Operative words in this title: “(Older)” and “SCT.” Why? Let’s face it…budgetary concerns and portability. If it were affordable and portable, I’d want the Large Binocular Telescope! SCT’s are short and compact for their light gathering ability. Most of us would love to own a fluorite refractor, but again, reality is:
Money, Money, and Money!
Ah, yes – those three most important things when considering a hobby purchase while maintaining other payments and in many cases domestic harmony… I purchased my Celestron Ultima 11” for $1100. “That thing isn’t a go-to scope, is it?” you ask. Answer: “11-inch for $1100.” Yes, the great deals are out there if you don’t insist on “bleeding edge” technology!
Knowing everything technical about a telescope, while important, has never been my reason for owning one. I love to go to “big-sky” places, gaze for hours at the heavens, and take deep space prime-focus pictures. If you can identify with these motives, you should consider the bang-for-your-buck and portability of a larger (8” to 12” – but not 20”, not portable) SCT, like my Celestron Ultima 11”.
Working Within the Features of the C11 Ultima SCT
Manufactured about the mid ‘90s, this scope has reasonable “Astrobright” lens coatings, and the light-gathering capability of 1,593 human eyes. It has a decent worm gear clock drive on a wedge mount. The tripod is massive and sturdy. The tripod-top pivot RA adjustment for polar aligning is clunky and has too much play, which makes it easy to bump out of polar alignment. The rear cell easily adapts to both 1.25” and 2” visual backs (I often switch several times a night between the two, depending on what I am doing). T-ring adapters are available and affordable for most cameras. Various filters are readily available. Drive motors and the like are getting harder to find, but, of course, the OTA could be put on a modern mount for a price.
While I have heard others complain about the cumbersome older C11’s, I personally have toted mine to the south-facing precipice of Mt. Graham at 9000 feet, (southern AZ, higher than the LBT location) and all over the deserts of the southwest. I try to arrive a little before sunset, and take my time setting up, so polar alignment goes easily as soon as the North Star and a few other major stars are visible. This scope weighs about 140 lbs with all the gear, and I weigh about 150 lbs. I am neither big nor young. You needn’t be as ambitious as I am to enjoy great observing. Packed creatively (sometimes in two trips) it’s a case of “mind over matter” – if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter!
Miscellaneous Challenges and How I Deal With Them:
Everybody’s first question is always “Aren’t those old fork-mounted scope too shaky to take pictures?” True, it ain’t a Losmandy mount, which necessitates a few precautions:
So, Can a fork-mounted SCT Perform?
That really depends on you, the user. With the above setup, it is possible to take some great images if you are patient and tenacious! This older scope has taken respectable images of quite a few celestial objects. Some (Photoshop levels enhanced) examples are:
Despite numerous limitations and challenges, my experience with this scope has been a delightful experience and very rewarding. In general, the C11 Ultima SCT can be a terrific value for the amateur astronomer who creatively works with his/her instrument.