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Meade LX600 10" SCT
Submitted: Tuesday, 11th March 2014 by Dr John Wilkinson
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The Meade LX600 scope and tripod. This picture shows the supplied diagonal and eyepiece.

During the year 2012/13, Meade released the new LX800/850 SCT (Schmidt Cassegrain Telescope), followed soon after by the LX600 SCT. I previously owned an 8” LX90 and decided to upgrade to the newer model which was purchased through Astro Optical Supplies in Sydney (their service was terrific).

The LX600 has been released in three sizes, 10”, 12” and 14”, all with a fast focal ratio of f/8 and an autoguiding system called Starlock. This review is about the LX600 and is based on the 10 inch version. This new scope is the next technological advance to Meade’s successful LX90 and LX200 series that many amateur astronomers have used successfully for many years.

The Meade LX600 series telescope features “StarLock” for automatic alignment, ultra-precision pointing and assisted drift alignment. It is available with or without the new X-Wedge for equatorial mounting the telescope. It is perfectly able to operate in altazimuth mode and you would only require the wedge if you wanted equatorial mode to do long time exposures/imaging. There is also a new optical system, featuring an oversized Low-Expansion Borsilicate primary mirror, Schott Borofloat glass corrector plate, diffraction limited optics and an f/8 focal ratio.  With an optional Meade LX600/850 focal reducer, you can bring that down to f/5 for even faster imaging.

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Closer view of the Optical Tube Assembly, with Starlock device on top. Camera is not supplied.

Delivery Package

The LX600 came in two very large cardboard boxes that were triple lined. The boxes are too heavy for one person to lift and require a trolley to move about. Inside the packaging consisted of moulded foam. The tripod came in one box and the optics/forks/starlock in another box. See Photo 3.

Meade claim that the scope is a portable package that makes set up and transportation a breeze. The new split fork design allows the optical tube to be removed from the forks. And the forks can also be removed from the wedge and tripod. Thus the scope is supposed to be ideal for moving about from home to a dark site. However, in my opinion, the heavy weight of the tripod, fork and optical assembly make transportation risky for ones back. The tripod (23 kg) is very robust with 3” steel legs and comes with anti-vibration pads. I keep my LX600 permanently mounted in an observatory and this is the best place for it. This scope is anything but portable!

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Boxes as delivered and tripod.

Setting up and Use

The scope is easy to set up if you have already been used to a Meade SCT. I found that Starlock had to be positioned as far forward on top of the scope as possible in order to avoid one’s head hitting it when observing through the eyepiece. I also replaced the standard 1.25” diagonal  and eyepiece with a 2” dielectric diagonal and 2” eyepiece. To move the diagonal further out from the back of the scope I attached a 2” SCT adaptor ring to the rear of the OTA. See Photo 4.

The scope has full GOTO and GPS with Level North technology (LNT). The first time I used the scope it could not find north and level itself properly. Meade (via the dealer) were quick to supply a replacement sensor and connector cables. I found it important to make sure the jumper cables between the upper and lower parts of the forks are secure and firm. After this I had no problems with the scope aligning and levelling itself.

Instructions for the use of the scope are clear but are often written for the Northern Hemisphere – little information is given for us Southern observers.

Once the scope levels itself, finds north and takes a GPS fix, it knows precisely where it is on Earth. A simple two star alignment is carried out to complete the auto alignment. Then you are ready to go looking at objects using the Autostar II hand controller. Enter the object you want and the scope slews to the target (there are range of slew speeds). The Autostar data base has details of 145,000 objects stored in it.

The LX600 has a new mirror mounting and internal Crayford-style focusing system that achieves true zero image-shift and includes a two-speed focuser that works extremely well.
Another new feature is the use of counterweights on the lower side of the optical tube, to help achieve balance (especially when adding a camera to the eyepiece).

The LX600 does require power. You can insert 8 C cells or connect up an external 12 V DC battery. I use a 12 V motorcycle battery with 7Ah and it lasts weeks before recharging is required. I just made up a connector cable with inline fuse.

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LX600 inside observatory. The 2 dielectric diagonal and eyepiece were added. The silver mechanism on right rear of the scope is the Crayford dual speed focuser.

LX600  10” Specifications

  • Clear aperture:   10”  (254 mm)
  • Optical design:   SCT with Advanced Coma Free (ACF)
  • Focal length and ratio:  2,034 mm  and  f/8
  • Telescope mounting:  Double heavy duty fork type
  • Optical coatings:  Ultra-High Transmission Coatings  (UHTC)
  • Resolving power:  0.46 arcseconds
  • Autostar controller/object database:  Autostar II  /  145,000 objects
  • Viewfinder:  8 x 50 mm  with cross hair reticle
  • Diagonal supplied:  1.25” diagonal prism
  • Eyepiece supplied:  26 mm  Series 4000 Super Plossl
  • Focus system:  Dual internal crayford style (7:1), zero image shift primary mirror focus.
  • Tripod:  Giant field tripod with 3” steel legs
  • Net telescope weight:  30 kg (tripod = 23 kg)
  • Power:  12 V DC
  • GOTO system:  GPS, True Level & North sensors (LNT).
  • Periodic error correction:  Both axes.
  • Alignment:  Altazimuth or equatorial with optional wedge.

Starlock

This is the main feature of the new scope. The Starlock system incorporates a narrow field 80 mm f/5 optic and a 25 mm f/1.04 super wide-angle optic (both with 1/2 inch CMOS sensors). It is a full-time completely automatic guiding system providing ultra high precision pointing and guiding. It finds and centres targets and then automatically locks onto a field star as faint as 11th magnitude for down to one arcsecond guiding. No separate computer is needed (but you can connect one if you wish to monitor guiding).

I found that Starlock is not 100% perfect. When high precision pointing (HPP) mode is used (selected by default) then Starlock finds and locks onto the correct target 80% of the time. If HPP mode is ON when a GOTO command is issued, the telescope first slews to a bright star near the target object. Starlock then measures the error from centre and applies the correction to the slew to the target object to provide ultra-precise accuracy. The problem is that Starlock sometimes selects the wrong bright star and therefore goes to the wrong target.  There is a way around this problem – that is to turn HPP mode off, but leave Starlock ON. When this happens the scope slews directly to the target – I found when this occurs the target is always in the eyepiece’s field of view (this method is so accurate that I now often leave HPP mode off).

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Starlock mounted on top of the main optical tube. The counterweights are seen on the underside.

Starlock specifications:

  • Wide field camera:  25 mm x 26 mm  f/1.04 optic with 1/2 inch CMOS sensor
  • Narrow field camera:  80 mm x 400 mm  f/5 optic with 1/2 inch CMOS sensor.
  • High precision pointing:  +/- 1 arcminute
  • High precision guiding:  Down to 1 arcsecond

Using the Scope

1. The Moon

The Moon option of the Object menu allows you to use GOTO to locate not only the Moon but actual features on the lunar surface, including named craters, mare, valleys, and mountains. One special feature allows you to view all six Apollo landing sites. When Autostar II syncs to a lunar feature, the telescope switches to Selenographic coordinates, ie. lunar latitude and longitude. I found this feature very accurate and useful. Once the feature is found, auto guiding keeps the feature centred.

Lunar features are particularly sharp and photos I have taken through the scope using a DSLR camera  have turned out well. There is very little evidence of chromatic abberation when viewing the Moon.

2.  Star fields and Deep Sky Objects

Star fields (such as open and closed clusters) and Deep Sky Objects (nebulas and galaxies) when viewed through the eyepiece are nice and sharp to the edge of field. A big plus in using a scope with such accurate GOTO is that you can easily find faint deep sky objects and objects that can’t be seen through the finder. I found very little evidence of chromatic aberration because of the ACF optics. I use 2 inch wide angle eyepieces (Baader Hyperion or Meade UWA). The supplied eyepiece is a Meade 26 mm Super Plossl that is fine for visual use but I feel the scope deserves better.

Pros

  1. Excellent ACF optics with fast f/8 ratio.
  2. Extremely solid tripod/mount with 3” diameter legs.
  3. Autoguider built in (Starlock). 
  4. Very accurate tracking. GOTO with GPS. 
  5. Can be used in altazimuth or equatorial mode (with optional wedge). 
  6. Excellent dual Crayford focusing system with zero image shift. 
  7. Ideal set up for astrophotography.
  8. Can operate with 1.25” or 2” eyepieces/diagonal.

Cons

  1. High cost in region $6000-$7000.
  2. Starlock in HPP mode does not always find target. 
  3. Tripod legs are far apart in an observatory (watch out you don’t trip). 
  4. Heavy scope to shift about – definitely not portable even though it pulls apart. 
  5. Instructions in manual for southern hemisphere are poor. 
  6. Your head can hit the Starlock device when viewing. 
  7. Large central obstruction (secondary mirror) reduces light/contrast.

Overall I can highly recommend this SCT telescope as an excellent one. If you have been using an older Meade LX90 or LX200 and want an improved scope this may be for you. The improved focusing mechanism is a big plus. It is not a beginners scope - it is suitable more for the advanced amateur and astrophotographer. It is best used in a permanent, observatory set up. I prepared this review to help others in their decision-making as I found it difficult to find review information on this scope when I was deciding to purchase one. Thanks for reading this review. I hope it helps you.

Notes:

  1. In closing, the reviewer wishes to point out that he has no affiliation with the dealer - Astro Optical Supplies, Sydney, Australia, other than as a paying customer. The scope can be purchased through any Meade Dealer. 

  2. The author of this review is Dr John Wilkinson – science educator and author of science/astronomy books. He operates an observatory from Central Victoria in Australia. His website is http://astroscimac.com.

Review by Dr John Wilkinson (John W). Discuss this Review on the IceInSpace Forum.

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