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CNers have asked about a donation box for Cloudy Nights over the years, so here you go. Donation is not required by any means, so please enjoy your stay.
Meade 6” LXD 55 EMC Achromatic Refractor OTA
Meade 6" and Borg 100 on Giro Mount
For upwards of 40 years now I’ve enjoyed viewing celestial objects with many different telescopes. I don’t call myself an amateur astronomer since that implies to me some sort of scientific purpose. I just enjoy stargazing and the beauty of the universe. I enjoy it a lot as may be gathered from the fact that as I write this I am surrounded by 8 telescopes (not counting the two 80mm ST’s), three binoculars and eight tripods. I have always wanted a 6” refractor (also a 4” refractor and an 8” refractor, etc.) but mounting and the high cost were deterrents. However, when I saw a brand new Meade 6” LXD OTA advertised for sale for $425, I realized – “now or never” and jumped. I’d worry about mounting later.
I received the Meade 6” LXD OTA on August 22, 2002. I’ve put about 25-30 hours on it now and compared it to a Borg 100mm f/6 (non-ED model) and a 150mm f/12 Intes MK-66. Bottom line (for those too impatient to read this rather lengthy review) is, the Meade has exceeded my expectations and is, in my opinion, a surprisingly good scope for a very modest price. Yes, it does have a purple/yellow fringe around the brightest objects, e.g. Venus, Jupiter, Sirius and Vega, and a slight yellow tinge on the Moon, otherwise no noticeable (to my eyes) color around “lesser lights”. The collimation was (and is) right on and the 6” objective delivers the goods. I mounted the Meade side-by-side with the two other scopes on a Giro 2 Deluxe to make direct comparisons.
I do my observing from Kailua, Oahu, Hawaii, so I am impeded by the glow of the Honolulu city lights. The mountain in between helps somewhat but the city lights brighten the southern and western horizons considerably. And, of course, the nearby streetlights are a constant source of irritation – even paradise isn’t perfect. On the other hand to the east and northeast I look out over the ocean and have relatively dark skies – and a temperate climate so that no cooling down period is required for the optics. First Light – Meade & Borg:
The first night out (August 23, 2002) I paired the Meade and the Borg 100mm. I used the Meade with a Televue Panoptic 27mm (44x @ 1.54-degs True Field), a 17mm Nagler IV (70x @ 1.17-degs TF) and 8mm Radian (150x @ .40-degs TF) all gave very pleasing views. Using the Nagler I easily picked up the Ring Nebula and drifting through the Cygnus, Sagittarius and Scorpius star clouds was wonderful. Although seeing was average, the globular and open clusters were real gems in the 6". The Meade's extra 2 inches are a major difference when compared with the 4” Borg. Also, is apparent in the photograph, the Meade is huge compared to the Borg. Using the Borg with the 17mm Nagler (37x @ 2.21-degs TF) and the Meade with the 27mm Panoptic at 44x gave comparable magnifications. I used William Optics 2" diagonals on both scopes. The Borg is a beautiful scope (at twice the price) but the Meade’s extra 2" means that many more faint background stars litter the field, so the views are richer. In addition, of course, the detail is also greater. Also, while the Borg (at f/6.4) is nearly color free, at these low magnifications color is not apparent in the Meade except on the very brightest objects. Despite the Meade’s superior performance, it will not replace the Borg because the Borg’s combination of respectable aperture, small size and lightweight but quality construction cannot be beat. It is a delightful grab-and-go scope and I won’t be taking the Meade along on an airplane trip any time soon.
As the above implies, mounting the Meade is the trick. A CG-5 is marginal, but the Giro 2 Deluxe (with one scope on each arm – and extra weight on the Borg side) handled the Meade with no problem. The Meade dovetail has mounting holes that match directly with the Giro arms so I was able to bolt the Meade to the Giro without using a dovetail adaptor (more about the Meade dovetail below). I should point out that while the Giro is a great mount it needs a solid tripod to support it. I’m using a large Hercules QuickSet. I can’t begin to tell you what a joy this tripod is. Steady, smooth and solid. The luxury of being able to crank the scopes up and down to place the eyepiece at a convenient height can not be overstated. Until I got the Hercules it never occurred to me that you could change the elevation and not lose the object in the field – vertical movement has no effect, the object stays centered – Eureka!! What a discovery! The Hercules holds the Giro 5 to 5 ½ feet off the ground (depending on how far the legs are spread) and I can crank up the center column another 18” so with this tripod I can point the Meade straight up and I can stand up straight and look directly into the eyepiece. No contortions, no more aching back.
Second Light – Meade & Intes MK-66:
I next compared the Meade with the Intes MK-66. Visually, I couldn’t see a bean's worth of difference between the two scopes. I started off using a batch of Plossols in a Celestron rotary eyepiece holder on the MK-66 and the 17mm Nagler on the Meade, but the views were so much nicer with the Nagler that I realized it was an unfair comparison, so I switched to the 27mm Panoptic on the MK. The magnifications and fields were similar (MK-66 w/27mm = 66x @ 1.0-degs True Field and Meade w/17mm = 70x @ 1.17-degs TF). Again, I used William Optics 2" diagonals on both scopes. With these combinations the two scopes were running neck and neck. The MK gave slightly darker skies due (perhaps) to a very light neutral density filter used to seal the back of the tube. Without the benefit of this artifact, the Meade’s views, although dark and contrasty, were slightly lighter than the MK-66. However, the Meade gave the impression of picking up more stars. I use the word "impression" because it was very difficult to verify that this was really the case. However, I noticed that I saw very faint stars first in the Meade. They were there in the MK-66 but I would see them more readily in the Meade first and then see them in the MK – I hope that makes some sense.
Using the Meade and MK-66 on the evening of August 24, 2002, I gave very close scrutiny to M-20 (the Lagoon Nebula) and to M22 (Globular Cluster), both in Sagittarius, and can't say that I could see more in either scope. Again, however, I found the view in the Meade prettier even though the MK-66’s background was very slightly darker. The contrast in the Meade is excellent due, no doubt, to its three baffles as well as a good job with the lens coating and, of course, having no central obstruction. Perhaps, however, the attractiveness of the Meade’s view may have been contributed to by the 17mm Nagler, which is by far my favorite eyepiece. Switching eyepieces would have resulted in lopsided magnifications and true fields, so I did my initial comparisons with the 17mm Nagler in the Meade and 27mm Panoptic in the MK-66. The Panoptic is a very fine eyepiece so no apologies are necessary for the eyepiece. And, the bottom line is that the Meade at 1/2 the price of the MK is no slouch. Looking at it from the other direction, it’s equally true that the MK-66 with its central obstruction performs as well as a refractor of equal aperture – at twice the price, but 1/2 the size (the Meade is 48” from dew shield to diagonal, the MK-66 is 24”).
As will be apparent throughout this review, the Meade had the benefit of some very nice eyepieces. But so did the comparison scopes so I believe that the comparisons are valid. However, it may be that my subjective comments regarding “stunning” or “glorious” views” and “gemlike” appearance owe something to the quality of the eyepieces. (How’s that for understatement?) And, I admit that it may seem odd to spend nearly as much on an eyepiece as on a telescope but in my case the eyepieces were purchased for use in my Celestron C-11 and I may as well use them in other scopes when the C-11 isn’t hogging them. So, moving right along –
Third Light – the Giant Planets, Magnification & Some Sundry Thoughts:
No review of a 6” refractor is complete without a session observing the giant planets, so I got up in the early morning for many nights only to be thwarted by nearly two weeks of cloudy weather, but finally on September 7, 2002, from 3:30 a.m. until dawn I got clear skies. For this comparison, I first used a 8mm Radian in the Meade (150x @ .40-degs true field) and gave the MK-66 a crack at the 17mm Nagler (105x @ .78-degs TF). Then I pushed the Meade up to 250x with a 4.8mm Nagler. I compared the MK-66 with a 7mm Nagler (257x @ .31-degs TF) directly against the Meade with the 4.8 Nagler (250x @ .32-degs TF).
This is where the rubber meets the road. I fully expected that the Meade would begin to suffer from image breakdown at this power (41x per inch) but I was wrong. The Cassini division, which I think is a good a test as any of sharpness, was clear and crisp at 250x in the Meade. Ditto, of course, in the MK-66. I also checked out Jupiter, which was rather low in the sky and affected more by atmospherics. The Meade gave beautiful views with multiple bands during moments of clear seeing with hints of festoons. A non-motorized altazimuth mount is, obviously, not optimal for observations at 250x and I generally stay below 150x with this mount, but I wanted to test the Meade at the maximum my eyepieces would allow without a Barlow to see whether the objective could take relatively high power. It can. The Meade 6” LXD 55 can take high powers (I would expect at least to 45x and, perhaps even 50x per inch) and, at equivalent magnification, performs on par with the Intes MK-66 across the board.
Next I backed down the power and popped the 17mm Nagler back in the Meade and the 27mm Panoptic in the MK-66 to check out the Andromeda Galaxy (M-31) and the Great Nebula in Orion (M-42). Glorious is a good word. In a 6” aperture scope these objects and the giant planets take on a whole new level of detail and beauty. I enjoy my 4” Borg and 5” Celestron and Orion catadioptrics for their ease of use, quality and convenience, but 6 inches starts to get into a new realm of detail. The Celestron C-11 is in another category altogether but one wonders whether the price/performance ratio peaks at around 6-8 inches. In other words, no matter how large a scope you have you’ll never see stars in the Andromeda Galaxy. You can spend a lot of extra bucks and not get that much more bang than you will get from this 6” Meade refractor. This is not to say that the expensive APO’s aren’t worth the money. They certainly are – if you can afford them. If (at the present) you can’t, the Meade will do very nicely until that day comes when you have an extra $5,000 - $10,000 that you don’t know what to do with.
As should be apparent, there is no point in keeping the Intes Mk-66 and the Meade on the same mount and I never intended to do so. There are some who will say there is also no point in having both scopes to begin with and I won’t argue that point. Those of us with too many telescopes are nuts – but not so nuts as to try to explain our nuttiness. Suffice it to say, the MK-66 is going back on the CG-5 while the Meade will stay on the Giro 2 paired with the Orion 120mm ST or Borg 100mm to provide a wide field, low power accompaniment to the Meade. On the other hand, maybe an 8” or 9 ¼” SCT would make a nice complement for the Meade. Yeah, that’s the ticket – I need another scope!
My conclusion – the Meade 6” LXD 55 is clearly a quality scope at a very modest price. You can stop here, but for those wanting more, read on.
Of course, it is important to be realistic in your expectations. If you expect APO performance in an achromat, if you expect the quality of an Astro-Physics or Takahashi, in other words, if you expect color free, tack sharp, 700x views, in a $425.00 OTA, your expectations will not be met. I do, however, think that it’s fair to expect that any product on the market will deliver quality at least commensurate with the price. I am happy to say that the Meade exceeded my expectations by a long ways. And, you will note that I am not a Meade fanatic. This is my only Meade scope. I had intended to buy a Celestron or other Synta 6” refractor (despite some negative comments) when this OTA came on the market in a condition and price that I could not ignore.
Objective cell of Meade with Borg 100mm and Orion 120ST
Fourth Light – Cruising:
My next excursion with the Meade was at 3:30 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2002. I had just received a (lightly used) 13mm Nagler Type 1 the day before and couldn’t wait to try it out. The morning was absolutely still and the humidity was very, very high. The stars were like diamonds with nary a twinkle. This time the Meade was paired with an Orion ST 120mm f/5. The Orion wasn’t there for comparison purposes since I only use it for low power, wide field views. In my opinion there is no point in trying to push a Rich-Field scope into high powers, so the Orion got the 17mm Nagler (35x @ 2.3-degs TF) and the Meade got the 13mm Nagler (92x @ .89-degs TF). My first target was M-42 and the view in the Meade with the 13mm Nagler was even better than it had been a few weeks earlier using the 17mm Nagler – no doubt due to better seeing. The dark clouds of the Great Nebula were three dimensional, clearly in front of the glowing background. The stars of the trapezium stood out crisply. Although the Orion’s field of view is so much greater and encompassed nearly the entire nebula, the Meade’s views were much better – “stunning” is an apt word. Again, no doubt the Nagler contributed to this perception. The Nagler combination of reasonably high powers with decent true fields of view is a real plus, especially on an alt-az mount. I briefly replaced the Nagler with a Televue 55mm Plossol for 22x @ 2.27-degs TF but much preferred the view through the Nagler. Saturn was my next target and again the Meade-Nagler combination delivered exceptional views. So clean, crisp and contrasty that I wasn’t even tempted to again change eyepieces. I might have done so eventually if the clouds hadn’t started rolling in, but for the hour and a half that I had, I was content to roam the skies with the Meade and Nagler 13mm.
The Moon & False Color:
In the early evening of September 12, 2002, we had clear skies and an almost 1st quarter moon, so that was the target until the rain showers blew in. I will confess to not being much of a Moon buff. When I bring out the C-11” I’m hunting galaxies and elusive nebula (love that GoTo) and spend the rest of my time observing the planets. But a 6” refractor on an alt-az mount is a great combination for semi-serious Moon observing. The 13mm Nagler’s .89-degs true field puts the Moon’s entire disk in the field of view at a power high enough (92x) to see real detail. My favorite moon objects Plato and Mons Pico (I wonder why?) are not visible in the 1st quarter so I got acquainted with Montes Caucasus and the craters and Serpentine Ridge in the Sea of Serenity. The contrast and sharpness of those features was a real delight in the Meade. I had both the Orion ST 120mm f/5 and Borg 100mm f/6.4 on the opposite arm of the Giro 2 for some false color comparisons. The Meade showed a light yellow fringe not objectionable to my 58-year-old eyes, but noticed immediately by my 9 year old son. He usually uses a 127mm Orion Apex Mak and is not used to seeing color around the Moon, so perhaps his reaction was affected by that experience. Or perhaps I’m just more tolerant and less bothered by the false color. In any event, by comparison, the Orion ST with the 17mm Nagler showed both a yellow and purple fringe that no amount of focusing could remove. The Borg and a 15mm Panoptic (42x @ 1.6-degsTF) showed the least color, a barely detectible faint yellow edge to the moon’s bright rim. Again the Meade met and exceeded my expectations, I’m happy with the Meade’s color correction but your eyes may see things differently.
Of course, there are some negatives to mention. Keeping in mind that with a refractor a good objective and a smooth focuser are really the only important things – everything else is minor, I’ll point out the minor negatives that I noticed. They are: 1) the very small dewcap (8" diameter but only 6 ½" long) which may be no big deal, but esthetically bugs me no end; 2) the 8x50 finder; and, 3) the dovetail.
Although the Meade’s dew shield is 6 ½” long from the outside, since the objective cell is set forward in the tube, the dew shield, when measured from the objective lens, only provides 4” of shielding! Years ago I read that, to be effective, a dew shield’s length should be at least 2 times the aperture, i.e., a 6” refractor should have an 12” dew shield. That seems excessive (especially if applied to a 10” or 11” catadioptric!) and no one seems to offer dew shields of that length nowadays even for refractors, but certainly the miniscule dew shield adds nothing to the Meade’s performance – and equally certainly, it detracts from the Meade’s looks. An 8" wide and 6 ½" long dew shield just looks ridiculous. Not that the MK-66 has a significantly longer dew shield – 4 ½” compared to the Meade’s 4”. And the Borg’s dew shield is 6” measured from the outside and 4 ½” measured from the objective. But the Borg’s dew shield is better proportioned to its smaller 4” objective and short tube and the MK’s is better proportioned to its short tube, so at least they are not esthetically irritating.
The second minor negative was the finder. At first I wasn't able get the finder to focus at infinity – I screwed the finder objective all the way out and all the way in and could almost focus, but not quite. Turned out the holding ring behind the objective was jammed and not allowing adequate movement. After I freed that I was able to sort of focus, but the finder is not a “stellar” performer – excuse the pun. In addition to poor (perhaps pinched) optics, the cross hairs are not distinct. They are very fine and not quite in the focal plane of the eyepiece and, consequently, are invisible against a dark sky. The Borg finder looks the same from the outside but focuses beautifully with sharp star images and, although not illuminated, the cross hairs are nearly always visible. The quality difference between the two finders is amazing, especially since Meade sells this finder for $70.00 and the Borg finder goes for $116.00. Hopefully, I just got a finder that slipped by QC and others won’t have this problem.
The final, very minor, negative is that the Meade's dovetail is slightly narrower than the Celestron/Vixen standard. I first mounted the Meade on a CG-5 mount but the secondary holding screw doesn't reach the dovetail so the scope was only held by one screw – perhaps safe but, with a scope this size, scary. Of course, this should not be a problem at all if you buy the Meade mount. For those with an eye on the numbers, my Celestron & Vixen dovetails mike out at their widest at 43.5mm while the Meade is 41.2mm. I know that 2.3mm doesn’t look like much on paper. All I can say is that it seems like a big difference on the mount.
Again, these negatives are very minor points and otherwise the Meade’s construction is good. It has an adjustable lens cell, a good paint job, a very solid, attractive, tube saddle and the focuser is smooth and easy to use – much better than the focuser on the Orion ST 120mm. I also am pleased with the handle at the focus end of the tube. It’s a necessity for a scope this size but easily left out to save a buck. I did immediately replace the standard plastic focus knobs with Focus Knobs 2" brass knobs; the extra weight on the back and the ease of use (and the beautiful workmanship of the knobs) is a big improvement over the standard plastic knobs. Of course, the biggest positive is, as noted above, the Meade’s price/performance ratio. This much quality for such a low price is truly amazing. I keeping thinking back to 30 years ago and the Sky & Telescope ads for reasonably priced refractors costing several times more than the Meade costs today and wondering what was $425 worth then – $150?
More Sundry Thoughts:
By the way, as noted above, I have a number of scopes so when I conclude that the Meade's construction and performance are good; I think I have a reasonable base to compare. And again, I didn’t expect APO performance or the construction quality of Astro-Physics. Again, the Celestron C-11 is in a class of its own aperture-wise and I really can't compare any of my other scopes with it. But, in addition to costing a bundle, it takes a lot of time and muscle to set up and I don't bring it out unless I plan on an all-nighter. My other scopes are more or less grab-and-go for the nights that are marginal or when I can only stay out for a couple of hours. The Meade is a little large for grab-and-go, but with the Giro-Hercules combo, I can be out and observing with the Meade in 5 minutes – so, I guess I can call this a semi-grab-and-go 6” refractor!
Meade with Celestron 9 ¼”
The above reference to needing another scope was intended as a joke and then a Celestron C- 9¼ was advertised for sale here on Oahu and the rest, as the photographs show, is history. I picked up the scope on September 18th and the clouds began rolling in – as usually happens when I get a new scope.
Of course the clouds cleared on September 21, 2002 – the cloud gods know when the Moon is full. The Meade was again loaded with the 13mm Nagler (92x @ .89-degs TF) while the C- 9¼ got the 27mm Panoptic (87x @ .78-degs TF) – reasonably close to the true field of view and magnification of the Meade. A full moon isn’t the greatest time to compare scopes, but you take what you can get. Seeing was average.
The two scopes on the same mount are a wonderful combination; since there is very little in the sky that one or the other doesn’t show to good advantage. But you really don’t expect me to tell you that the 6” Meade stomped the Celestron 9¼”, do you? Good, because it didn’t. The C- 9¼ lived up to its reputation for exquisite images and provided a level of detail and resolution that the Meade’s 6” optics may in some respects rival but simply cannot beat. And, of course, the images in the 9¼” are significantly brighter. This is not to say that the Meade is toast. The Ring Nebula is brighter and slightly more distinct in the C-9¼ but, with either scope, M-57 is still an illusion. The globular cluster M-22 provided the most significant difference. M-22 has many 11th magnitude stars and most of its stars are under 13th magnitude, since the C- 9¼’s aperture resolves to about 14.4 magnitude, nearly a two magnitude gain over the 6” Meade (about 12.6 visual magnitude), the fainter stars were just resolved in the Meade and readily apparent in the C-9¼. The full moon is overpowering in both scopes, even with a neutral density filter, and the detail difference of Moon features between the two scopes was negligible. A hint of craters in Plato in the C- 9¼, but at 87x, nothing to write home about.
Interestingly, false color in the Meade seemed less with the full moon than with the 1st quarter moon. The yellow fringe was very faint, hardly noticeable in fact. Perhaps because of the Moon’s overwhelming brightness. On double stars, faint or bright, the Meade comes closest to matching the Celestron. I’m not a double-star observer and those who are no doubt already know how well a 6” refractor performs on close doubles – I was a little surprised. In the early evening of September 23, 2002, before moonrise, I compared the two scopes on M-13 and the Andromeda Galaxy. Seeing was average and again the C-9¼ was unequalled. The Great Globular Cluster in Hercules contains relatively few stars under 14th magnitude and presents a more nebular like view in the 6”, while the 9¼” clearly reveals its starry structure. The Andromeda Galaxy is a more equal playing field for the Meade and while the C-9¼ provides brighter views and more resolution, the Meade isn’t blown away and provides very nice views also.
At 3:30 a.m. on September 29, 2002, the Moon was half-full (or half-empty, depending on your personality); the trade winds were brisk, humidity fairly high, temperature in the mid 70’s and the seeing below average. In the Celestron I powered up the 13mm Nagler (180x @ .45-degs TF). In the Meade I used the 17mm Nagler (70x @ 1.17-degs TF), the 15mm Panoptic (80x @ .85-degs TF), the 8mm Radian (150x @ .40-degs TF) and the 7mm Nagler (171x @ .47-degs TF). The Pleiades were at the zenith while Orion’s Great Nebula rose above the thicker atmosphere into cleaner, less turbulent air. Saturn and Jupiter were well placed, as was the Andromeda Galaxy in the northwestern sky. As noted above, 150x-180x is cruising altitude for an alt-az mount – especially on a windy night! And again, the C- 9¼ proved the benefit of aperture on all these objects, although there is still something about a 6” refractor’s images that delights the eye and thrills the soul. In trying to put the difference into words, I would describe the C- 9¼ images as diamond-like, that is to say, crisp, high contrast and sharp-edged. The 6” Meade images are like rubies – lush and softer, yet richer for the softness.
Very Last Thought:
Yes, the Giro 2 Deluxe can handle the weight. It’s an amazing mount at a reasonable price. Congratulations Markus Ludes! For those wanting the details – the 6” Meade and the C- 9¼ both with Naglers and William Optics 2” diagonals weigh in at about 30 lbs. each (including saddles, dovetails and finders). Together a hefty 60 lb. package. The Giro handles this with no problem; however, I don’t suggest that you try this at home unless you have a very sturdy tripod comparable to the Hercules QuickSet. I have a much-maligned CG-5 on a smaller Hercules QuickSet and it performs very nicely (I wouldn’t hesitate to throw the C- 9¼ on it). Most of the criticism of the CG-5 is, I believe, due to the tripod supporting it. Again, the numbers for those who care are: the “smaller” Hercules Quickset has 1½” OD legs, 24”- 48” length; the larger has 1¾” OD legs, 30”-60” length; both have 2¼” OD center columns that extend 18”. These Hercules tripods are, however, surprisingly light for their size, they are truly works of art in themselves.