Entry Level 8Inch SCTs

Traditionally, the entry-level 8-inch SCT was the realm of the "manual" fork-mount telescope. Turn on a switch, and the telescope tracked the stars. Turn it off, it stopped. "High tech" was powering the scope drive with an internal battery rather than plugging it into an alternating current outlet.

Bargain scopes have changed a lot. The biggest change is that non-go-to SCTs have almost vanished. Meade and Celestron believe CAT buyers want computer drives, and that is almost all they offer at all price levels. One other recent development is that Meade and Celestron (remember, they are the only mass-production SCT makers) have had to abandon traditional double-tine fork mountings for their loss-leader scopes. Old-style forks are now too expensive to produce to be sold at the critical $1,000 to $1,500 price point amateur astronomers have come to expect to pay for an introductory SCT.

Continuing to (profitably) market 8-inch SCTs at beginner-friendly prices has meant switching to German mounts or "half forks." Meade offers a GEM-equipped introductory scope, while Celestron offers both single-fork arm and GEM-equipped models for cost-conscious buyers. The medium-weight German mounts used by both companies are imported from China, and the tubes can either be imported or made in the company's California factories. As mentioned, Meade has recently moved all production to Mexico and China, and Celestron is heading in the same direction. Both the mountings and optical tube assemblies (OTAs) for Celestron's single fork-arm models are imported.

Bargain-basement SCTs are just right for some observers, but prospective CAT owners whose main interest is astronomical imaging, or astrophotography, should think long and hard before buying an entry-level telescope. The cheap scopes can take pleasing pictures of deep sky objects (DSOs), but the difficult art of astronomical picture taking is made even harder by an inexpensive telescope.

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