Meade 7" f/15 LX200 Maksutov-Cassegrain
Meade #390/ #395 90 mm Refractor
Meade 6" Starfinder Dobsonian
Intes MN61 Maksutov-Newtonian
Telescope Reviews, Page 6
By Ed Ting
Click on a scope below:
1) Meade 7" f/15 LX200 Maksutov-Cassegrain Updated, 8/04/04, 12/28/04
(7" f/15 Maksutov-Cassegrain, Drives, 8X50 finder, tripod, 26 mm Plossl, $2795
+ $125 shipping)
(Update, 8/04: The scope is now the LX200GPS-SMT, at $2695)
Meade's Big Mak: The 7" f/15 Maksutov-Cassegrain
Marvelous telescope. This unit was loaned to me by a club member who was
out of town for a week, and asked me to "baby sit." I became very familiar
with it during that time. This is Meade's answer to the Questar 7. Although
the scope is expensive, it is downright cheap compared with the Questar, which
sells for $5,200-$10,000+.
The Mak looks like an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain at first glance. However, the tube
is a few inches longer, there are two tiny cooling fans in the visual back, and the
meniscus corrector in front has push-pull cells, a nice touch. Also, Schmidt-
Cassegrain users are going to get a surprise when they attempt to lift this thing.
The OTA and fork arm assembly weighs 52 lbs (the similar section of the 8" S-C
weighs 38 lbs.) In other words, this 7" assembly weighs almost as much as
Meade's own 10" Meade LX200 S-C. This is not a travel scope.
This somewhat heavy weight, coupled with the fact that the scope is mount-
ed alt-az, means the scope is really, really solid and steady on its feet. I
had to bump the scope pretty hard to make the images waver.
I confess, I was a bit apprehensive about aligning and initializing this telescope.
I needn't have worried. The controller walks you through the process. OK, so I
had to do it three times to get it perfectly right, but each 2-star alignment only
takes a few minutes, and by the third day it had become second-nature.
Once set up, the scope is a breeze to use. The precision of the computer
is very good. I had to train myself to use the hand controller, instead of the
manual slo-mo controls, to make fine adjustments. You CANNOT use the
manual controls once the telescope is aligned (damage to the scope may
I'd had a number of brief glances through these scopes in the past. The initial
results were very encouraging, but I wanted to hold off writing about one until
I could do a long-term test.
The optics are wonderful. I noticed almost no spherical aberration, and the
scope's collimation was dead-on. On Saturn, the views were razor sharp,
and got a few "Oh Wows!" from the others present. One advantage of the ultra-
long 2,670 mm focal length is that your comfortable 15 mm-25 mm eyepieces
produce some pretty high powers.
The other scopes present the first night included the G5, my non-sdf Renai-
ssance, and Meade's 102ACHR/500. The Mak turned in an impressive perform-
ance. I could see detail on both planets with the Mak that eluded the others.
On the third night, I had good skies and a lot of time on my hands. I dragged
out all of my telescopes and compared images on Saturn, Jupiter, and several
well-known deep sky objects.
On the planets, the Meade easily disposed of the C102, Ranger, and the non-
sdf Renaissance. Note that none of these telescopes are slouches. Against
the mighty Takahashi FS102, things got a little tougher. In times of good
seeing, the Maksutov's images were just a tad sharper, with more slightly more
detail visible on the ball of Saturn. Cassini's was also a little crisper, and
easier to hold with direct vision. Due to the larger aperture, Saturn was whiter
as well. The 6", 8", and 10" Newtonians were OK on the planets, but were out-
classed in this company and didn't really put up much of a fight.
On deep sky, the Mak turned in a surprising performance. No, you can't
see all of the Pleiades, or the Double Cluster. However, on objects like the
half-dozen or so open clusters in Auriga, the Mak's images were so sharp
and contrasty, you could have fooled me into thinking it was a refractor. On
M33, I could start to see the shape of the galaxy, with its two spiral arms,
very exciting. The 10" Dob threw up a brighter image, but the image lacked
detail, and remained a smudge in the eyepiece.
On the fourth evening, the sky was unusually clear and transparent. I did
another comparison, this time between the Mak and the Takahashi on Jupiter.
There was a double transit happening, a rare and special event. Low-level
planetary detail is a very stringent test for any optical system, and I was
anxious to see how the two scopes compared and differed.
The results were very close. In times of good seeing, the Mak slightly
edged out the Takahashi. However, during times of average or slightly
un-steady seeing, the refractor won out, and in fact the FS102 gave the
more consistently excellent images.
When Europa exited the limb of the planet, the Takahashi showed the thin
black space between the moon and the planet more sharply, and more consis-
tently. However, during those rare moments of ultra-steady seeing, the Mak
would throw up a wonderous view that took my breath away. I kept thinking
of that scene in the Wizard of Oz where the film suddenly turns into color.
How does one interpret these results? If you live in an area with unusually
steady and consistent seeing, you might consider the Mak over a smaller
aperture apochromatic refractor. However, if you live in an area with un-
steady or unpredictable seeing, as I do, you might be better off with a
scope like the Takahashi, or an Astro-Physics Traveler.
On the fifth night, I set up the Mak next to my 10" Meade Starfinder Dob,
to see how the scopes compared on deep sky. The Dob, by the way, con-
tinues to impress me as an excellent value at $599, and I recommend it to
anyone seeking a mid-to-large size Dobsonian (Note from Ed: now discontinued.)
I viewed several early winter objects, mostly NGC clusters in Auriga and
Gemini. The Dob did better than you might expect, but fell short in two key
areas. First, despite the fact that I had just painstakingly collimated it, there
was noticeable coma and some contrast loss near the edges. Also, although
the Dob is impressive at powers less than 100X, it does not take high mag-
The Mak's stellar images were beautiful tiny pinpoints, and there was no
image degradation near the edges of the FOV. Both scopes showed F in
the Trapezium, but E eluded them this evening. The three Messier clusters
in Auriga were remarkably similar in both scopes, as long as I didn't look
too near the edges on the Dob. So while the Mak wins on image quality, the
Dob wins on aperture, the width of its field of view, and bang for the buck.
A Busy Place: The LX200 Control Panel
Drawbacks? If you like low power, wide-field, deep sky observing, this scope
may not be for you. The heavy weight may bother some. Also, those purists
who are not fond of fancy electronics may be turned off by all those sophisti-
cated features. Those stories you've heard about Maksutovs needing a long
cool-down time are true. Figure at least an hour, even with the fan running.
Finally, there is the issue of the electronics. If the computer ever breaks
down, you are in big trouble. Tracking objects by hand with a 2670 mm scope
is not my idea of fun (especially alt-az mounted!) The motors make a racket.
Also, the ten-cent power cord plug looks as if it's just waiting to break off
- there isn't even a strain relief on it. Owners should replace it immediately
upon receipt of the scope.
The price is steep, but if you can do without the computers and drives, the
LX50 model is only $2090 with the tripod. I have mixed feelings about
hoisting such a heavy tube on a tilted wedge in the dark, but it is a less-
So, it's not for everyone. However, I think anyone in the market for an 8"
LX200 or an Ultima 8 would be crazy not to check out these Maks. An ob-
serving friend who looked through this one got all nostalgic about it and said
it brought back good memories of the 7" Mak he once had. He wished he
had never sold it.
This is the best catadioptric in Meade's line up, and one of their best scopes,
period. This was summed up by an observing friend, who, after watching me
slew the scope to one impressive view after another, leaned back in the obser-
ving chair and said, "A guy could waste a lot of time with a telescope like this."
Meade 7" LX200 Maksutov Hots:
Cool computer with excellent pointing accuracy
So good on planets, it might embarrass some of your APO-loving friends
Meade 7" LX200 Maksutov Nots:
Long cool-down time, Narrow field of view
Some low-rent hardware
Motors make a racket
Update, 12/28/04: Through some marvel, this scope sells for pretty much the
same in late 2004 as it did several years ago, and now Meade has included the GPS
for quicker initialization. I've seen several of these 7" Maks over the years and
all have been excellent. Supplement this with a wide field refractor and you're
set for equipment for a while. Meade doesn't seem to push this model very hard;
it's buried in the ads with the Schmidt-Cassegrains and you have to look for it.
It seems to be in the same class as Celestron's C 9.25 - a scope that's overlooked
by many, but its reputation travels by word of mouth.
Rereading my review after several years, I'm amused at my comments about the "low
rent hardware" and the motors that "make a racket." This was written just as the
Chinese scope revolution was starting, and looking back, the hardware is actually
pretty good by today's standards. Also, newer units seem to have slightly quieter
motors as well.
I am often asked to name my favorite Meade telescope. This is it.
2) Meade Model #390/ #395 90 mm Refractors
(90 mm f/11 air-spaced achromats, 6X30 finder, 25 mm MA eyepiece)
(#390 Alt-Az, $499, #395 Equatorial, $599)
These are good starter scopes. The samples I've seen have good optics,
with some false color noted on bright objects like Jupiter or the limb of the
moon. The Equatorial model is more convenient, the Alt-Az version is a
little more stable. Your choice. I have recommended these a number of
times to beginners looking for a good starter refractor.
BUT...Celestron's C102HD offers more aperture, a sturdier mount, and bet-
ter multi-coatings at the same price as the #395. Also, Meade has just
reduced the price of its ACHR 4" refractors to $595 if you buy the LXD300
mount. They aren't going to sell many of these #395 units if the extra
aperture is free.
3) Takahashi FC76
(76 mm f/8 air-spaced doublet refractor with fluorite element, OTA only, NLA)
(Replaced by FS78, $1495 list)
Although this scope has a mere 6 mm more aperture than the Ranger/Pronto
duo, its performance is in another league altogether. In both optical quality
and size, it thinks it's a 4" APO. Images were tack sharp and its optics had
virtually perfect spherical correction. False color is almost non-existant,
though you have to remember that at only 76 mm, it doesn't really gather
enough light to throw up a huge secondary spectrum.
The 3" refractor that thinks it's a 4" -- Takahashi's FC76
Views of Jupiter and Saturn rivalled those of my FS102. The views are slightly
dimmer, but the scope throws up an amazingly detailed image on the Jovian
planet. Six to eight belts and a shadow transit were easily visible despite
moderate seeing conditions.
As hinted above, however, this is not a small scope (nor a cheap one!) Its
dew shield is huge, and the buttery-smooth focuser appears to be the same
unit as on my FS102. You could easily fool someone into thinking it was a
4". Also, the tube comes without a finder -- this is important to note, since
Takahashi's finders are pricey and use a weird metric mounting plate; plan
accordingly. Also, depending on the version you get, you might have diff-
iculty coupling the Tak tube ring to your mount.
Wonderful scope. Replaced by the FS78, which adds 2 mm of aperture and
has the fluorite element in front. The FC76/FS78 may be the ideal second
scope for someone who already owns a high-quality SCT or big Dob.
(50 mm f/8 fluorite air-spaced doublet refractor, OTA only, NLA)
Takahashi's Miniature Wonder: The FC-50
Incredible performance for a scope of this size. Although it could serve
as a "luxury" finder, the FC50 is a great little scope in its own right.
Looking at the scope, it is clear that Takahashi lavished just as much
attention to the "little guy" in their line up as on their larger models.
Same beautiful construction, same awesome focuser.
The FC50 showed a trace of undercorrection, and I couldn't see any false
color (but, it doesn't gather a lot of light to begin with.)
Three of us went observing in a nearby field. Although the Renaissance,
10" Dob, and a Schmidt-Newtonian were also present, we all wound up
huddled next to the camera tripod-mounted FC50, playing a game which
might have been called "I Wonder If The FC50 Can See 'XXX'?"
The scope will split Castor. It will also find M81/M82, and easily show
their orientation. Jupiter and Saturn were far better than you have any
reasonable right to expect. Jupiter's moons were tiny, tiny, perfect little
pinpoints. The only problem we had, is that with only 400 mm of focal
length to work with, we "ran out" of magnification. The superb 5 mm Pentax
.965" ortho was the shortest eyepiece on hand (no one had a .965" barlow
handy.) At this magnification - 80X - it was clear that the scope could handle
higher power, possibly a lot of it.
Speaking of those Pentax orthos, the eyepieces and the superb Takahashi
.965" mirror diagonal had all of us rethinking what was possible in the .965"
format. The Pentaxes had world-class sharpness (and price!) and the FOV
The FC50 with .965" Pentax Orthos
Check out the size of that focus lock knob!
In short, the FC50 is an exquisitely made, optically superb, expensive
(about $500 street, used) specialty item. I don't blame you if you
5) Meade 6" Starfinder Dobsonian
(6" f/8 Dob-Newt, 5X24 finder, 26 mm Plossl, $349 + $39 shipping)
(Deluxe accessory package, 6X30 finder, 2" focuser, 9.7 mm, 26 mm Plossl,
(No Longer Available)
"A 6 inch Dobsonian is a great beginner's scope - it's cheap, useful, and
will teach you a lot."
I have written these words to newcomers asking for advice more times than
I can count. However, it had been a while since I'd spent time with one. This,
coupled with the fact that I had just donated my 20 year old 6" Meade #591 to
the club, and was thus temporarily without a 6" telescope, made it seem like
the right time to order a new one for myself.
A good beginner's scope: The Meade 6" Starfinder Dobsonian
Meade offers a nice Accessory Package. For $50 you get the 9.7 mm
Series 4000 Plossl, a real finder (the standard 5X24 unit has the optical
quality of something you'd find in a cereal box) and the 2" focuser. You can
always sell off the extra eyepiece and make the money back. Unfortunately,
while the all-plastic 2" focuser usually works well for a few nights, it quickly
breaks or starts "skipping".
"The best telescope," someone once said to me, "is one that generates the
fewest comments." In the case of this 6" Meade, the news is good, because
I have very little to say. The assembly was uneventful. Images are clear
and crisp, the secondary obstruction is benign, and the optics on mine are
just slightly undercorrected.
Complaints? A few minor ones. The 2" focuser's knobs sit almost right on top
of the tube, making it impossible to wrap your hands around them for a good
grip. Also, the drawtube protrudes into the optical path. The back of the OTA
contains a large metal counterweight, necessary to balance the tube at such
a low center of gravity. Without the weight, the fulcrum of the tube would be
moved forward, requiring a much higher, heavier, rocker box. Orion's 6" Dob
takes the latter path. So take your pick - heavy tube/light-low rocker box
(Meade) or light tube/high-heavy rocker box (Orion.)
Finally, the skinny, high profile of the scope is a little unsteady in the wind.
There's competition. Celestron's 6" Starhopper offers better construction,
and some neat features not found in the Meade. However, it costs more. The
Orion is also a little better-built, but it doesn't have a pyrex mirror and also
costs a little more once you add a finder. All three offer good value; buy the
one you think suits you best.
I'm impressed you can get so much for $350-$400. A cheap dob doesn't have
the portability of a catadioptric, or the performance of a modern APO, but for the
money, it's darned hard to beat.
Update, 7/99: I have been getting complaints from readers about the plastic
#77 2" focuser. Unfortunately, when you get the upgrade package with the
better eyepieces and finder, Meade insists upon giving you this focuser.
While I haven't tried this myself, readers tell me the focuser from Antares
($80) is a good replacement for the #77 unit.
Update, 4/00: Meade recently dropped the price of this telescope to $249,
+ $39 shipping
6) Intes MN61 Mak-Newt
(6" f/6 Maksutov-Newtonian, 2" focuser, OTA only, $1149 from Orion
w/ 1/6 wave optics 93%, or $1450 from Intes w/ 1/8 wave optics, 98%)
(Note: see related article)
This is, with minor cosmetic variations, the same scope sold by Orion
under the "Argonaut" name. Orion's version is black, as opposed to
these off-white Intes units.
I'd heard a lot about these Russian scopes, but I'd never had a chance
to look through one myself. After reports of some questionable units
from Intes in the early 1990's, these scopes are now garnering almost
The Intes MN61, aboard a Losmandy G11
The scope certainly gives you the impression it's from a different coun-
try. There is a serious, no-nonsense, functional look to it (one owner
calls his "humorless.") The tube assembly is actually two tubes joined
in the middle; see the seam? (You can also see the seam in the Orion
unit, if you look real close at the photo in their catalog. The seam is just
in front of the rear ring.)
The primary has the standard push-pull cells, although the "push" bolts
and the "pull" bolts take differently-sized allen keys, which could prove
infuriating out in the field if you have to collimate it. This unit (pictured)
has a hole drilled in the back. The hole is threaded and takes a small
DC fan for cooling. This one also has the enhanced 98% coatings. Un-
like the larger Intes Mak-Newts, however, this one has no internal baffles.
The focuser is a gearless 2" unit with limited travel and two confusing
tension bolts on the drawtube. There's a metal dew shield that attaches
using tiny, inconvenient allen keys. Fully assembled, the OTA is on the
heavy side at 21 lbs.
This scope was shipped directly from Europe, and arrived with no literature;
included was a badly translated set of instructions describing (I think)
how to collimate the optics.
The G11 mount pictured represents a bit of overkill for this scope (a GM8
would have sufficed), but I wound up being grateful for its stability in the
wind the night I tested the MN61. It takes a bona fide 60 lb load to over-
power a G11; in fact, the G11 nearly overpowered me while lugging it out-
side after shooting the photo.
I tested the scope under conditions which can safely be described as
"bitter cold." The wind chill hovered around -30 F. I found I could
only observe for ten minutes or so before having to retreat back inside.
Thus, readers should be aware that my eyes probably never acheived
The optics are almost perfect on this unit. This is a great planetary
scope that delivers knock-your-socks-off views of Saturn and Jupiter. The
impressively high contrast, small central obstruction (18%) and lack of
secondary diffraction spikes do a good job of convincing you that it's
a high-quality refractor. The fast f/6 optics are somewhat prone to edge
distortion when using cheap eyepieces.
I set up the MN61/G11 combo next to my new Meade 6" Starfinder dob,
which has the same aperture as the Intes but costs about $3000 less.
I love doing comparos like this, and usually root for the cheap scope!
However, despite a respectable showing by the Meade dob, the Intes
was simply in another league.
On Saturn, for example, the Meade does well at 174X, but the MN61's
images were quite a bit sharper. One hallmark of a quality scope is its
ability to laugh off high magnifications; the Intes certainly qualifies. The
Meade seemed to top out around 200X; with the Intes, I could keep push-
ing the power. Cassini's division was visible at lower powers in the Intes
than in the Meade, and was quite sharper to boot. Low-level detail on
Jupiter was also more easily resolved.
Jupiter, by the way, was stunning in the Intes during moments of steady
On the Auriga Messier clusters, the scopes were closer, although the
Intes did have more contrast and tighter airy discs. The f/8 Meade was
slightly more tolerant of cheap eyepieces, though. The Pleiades were
nicely framed in the Intes with a 32 mm TeleVue Plossl. I think the
Intes would make a great wide-field deep sky scope.
This MN61 is an impressive telescope, with superb optics and solid (if
slightly quirky) mechanical construction. Since spare parts are likely
to be rare, service becomes an issue. I am not sure what you would do
if your Intes needed major service -- do you talk to your dealer, or is
a call to Mother Russia in order? You might want to have this issue
worked out in your mind before buying one.
In short, the Intes is recommended to discriminating, affluent observers
looking for something a little different.
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