The Meade 16” Lightbridge: Big Scope, Good Price
Submitted: Tuesday, 26th June 2007 by Richard Brown
As is proper with reviewing products I declare that I have no interests in any of the products or suppliers mentioned in this review.
April 18 was “L” – Day and I drove very carefully home to Newcastle after picking up my shiny new Meade 16” Lightbridge from Bintel. First and foremost, the Lightbridge must be seen for what it is - a good alternative to the sometimes vastly more expensive high – end cousins such as Obsession. $2995 got me the scope plus an eyepiece drive away no more to pay. That plus a gift voucher was very reasonable in my view of things. To give good value in the mirror department, Meade has used chipboard for its box assembly and this level of design must be accepted if one wants large aperture for a low price. GSO in Taiwan builds the Lightbridge for Meade. I am not sure if they actually do the mirrors though.
Assembly from the boxes (there were 2) was routine with all bits present and fitting pretty well where they should. Indeed the scope is a very simple device and looks quite minimalist with its austere trusses and white finish.
Assembling from flat pack one soon realizes the frailty of chipboard. The screws into the chipboard holding the various parts of the base together fairly ate the board and I would hesitate in removing them too many times if at all. Once assembled, the box was fairly sturdy though and able to do the job.
Given that I, like most people, will buy this instrument for both aperture AND portability, Meade would have done better by making the base assembly demountable rather than permanent. Assembled, it certainly will not fit into your average car boot nor, I would imagine, most wagons . But then again increased options means increased cost.
The scope itself assembled well with a few points to remember. The trusses must be fitted as snuggly as possible or you will get movement. One person CAN mount the top end BUT that person must be tall and have fairly long arms. It really is a two person job if not for your scope’s safety for yours.
Collimation to a reasonable level was straightforward with a Bintel laser collimator. The eyepiece provided was a 26mm 2”. First light was, as with tradition, Alpha Centauri. The view was very poor with lots of distortion towards the edge of the field and general discomfort to the eye. I soon changed to a Vixen 17mm LWV and I was looking through a different telescope! The view was clear and vibrant. Eight truly wicked - looking diffraction spikes from the secondary spider made the Alpha pair look angry! I like that when I look at bright stars – it makes them dramatic. Moving away from the glare and flare the background stars were clear and distinct. More about viewing deep sky objects below.
Planetary viewing has been a bit mixed. Jupiter and Saturn do not show as much clarity as my previous Meade, an F10 LX200R. However Venus just the other night with a cheap 9mm in was stunning – crisp and slightly ashen and even a bit mottled – at least to my eye. Such a difference in planetary viewing could well be due to session variations in collimation, seeing, mirror temperature etc etc. If Venus is anything to go by then the Lightbridge is doing a good job in this area of observation.
Lunar viewing provides very sharp, high contrast images. I used a 9mm eyepiece with a GSO Neutral density filter. Looking at the Alpine Valley near Plato I thought I saw the rille running down the middle of this structure – at a mere few kilometers in diameter, this is a great effort for the telescope to even give me a hint of it.
Deep sky objects are what I bought the scope for and what better place to test the scope than the Kulnura New Moon viewing session last May. For comparison there was a fabulous array of scopes to look through. I was at times hopping from one scope to another and then back to the Lightbridge to look at the object I had just viewed and make the comparison. Through the Lightbridge, Eta Carinae was stunning. Depth, clarity and brightness. M83 showed faint spirality. Omega Centauri was aglow and BIG! I had the privilege of looking through Rodstar’s 20” SDM behemoth at several objects which I compared with the Lightbridge. My conclusion is that the 16” Lightbridge was not that far behind the 20” SDM in overall optical performance. Where the Lightbridge was left in the dust was in movement. The assembly, being cheap, has humps and bumps that are worrisome. After the buttery – smooth movement of the SDM, the Lightbridge was like pushing a box over rocks – big ones! Also the metal rollers that give the scope its Azimuth movement are very “slippery” and a slight breeze will move the scope. Removing them and relying in the Teflon pads provided was not a good move. The sheer weight of the scope now made it too stubborn to move smoothly and I was jerking the instrument from object to object – so don’t do this!
In the ensuing weeks I have learned how better to drive the scope and to find what its strengths and weaknesses are and what to do about them. Movement is the main issue and I have fiddled with the central bolt – essentially tightening - to reduce the slippery feel which has worked. I have fitted an Argo Navis and so finer movements are an obvious advantage. Balance is an issue at 45 degrees or below and the little clutch on the altitude wheel struggles to hold back the gravity of such a large instrument. Weight is needed at the back of the scope if you are working at lower altitudes with anything but the smallest of eyepieces. Transporting the scope in and out of the house is a fair effort. I use a trolley to move the scope assembly which resembles a big hot water unit in bulk. The scope sits on a wooden platform which the bottom of the trolley slips under similar to the way a palette is lifted by a forklift. I tilt it slightly and it transports well. The scope base is a lift and heave job and I have developed a method of carrying it against my thighs in a downward position – you will need to develop your own method for this.
The top end and mirror “bucket” are solidly made and give confidence that they will tolerate moving and assembly – disassembly many times. The mirror cell, I am told, could have been better – it relies on a basic support system and is not truly “floating”. Also, as well as three metal clamps, the mirror is held in the cell by a series of black tarry daubs of some type of gummy glue. I don’t know how one would or could get the mirror out of the cell.
Overall I am very pleased indeed with the 16” Lightbridge. It provides very impressive views of deep sky at a very reasonable price. I am happy to live with its idiosyncrasies. Twenty years ago or even less, a scope this size was a very rare occurrence among amateurs. Now GSO is releasing a 16” tube assembly at an even cheaper price. Soon, big Dobs will be very common indeed! I wonder when “budget” 24+” scopes will be available?