Meade LX200ACF 10 12 and 14Inch

Could a CAT user be happy with a 10-inch LX200? It is very likely. Everything that is good about the 8-inch is also good about the 10, and the larger-aperture tube, while increasing the scope's visual reach substantially (about 50% more light-gathering power), does not stress the hefty LX200 fork much. Yes, the longer focal lengths mean narrower fields of view than what is possible with the 8-inch, focal reducers or not, but the loss is not huge. The optics, like those on the 8-inch, are very sharp, with the optimized aplantic design making the edge of the field look noticeably better. Unlike the most comparable Celestron scope, the CPC 1100, the LX200-ACFs come standard with enhanced coatings (UHTC).

What are the bring downs? There are not many. Meade could have improved the action of the main focus control (as on the other Meade SCTs, it uses thrust bearings rather than ball bearings) instead of adding the motorized microfocuser. The hard stops the LX200 uses to keep the cables running from base to fork from tangling are irritating, and it would have been nice had they used all stainless steel hardware to prevent rusting for those of us whose scopes are often bathed in dew. The 10-inch is not overly heavy at 64 pounds for the tube/fork, but the poorly thought-out handles Meade puts on LX200s (and its other fork-mount scopes) make it an awkward and unpleasant—if not dangerous—task to get the scope on the tripod even in alt-azimuth mode. There are a couple of entrepreneurs selling much-improved replacement handles for the LX200 that make lifting the scope onto the tripod easier and safer.

All in all, the 10-inch LX200 is a good compromise weight- and performance-wise. Where it falls behind the power curve is price. At $3,700, it is nearly a thousand bucks more expensive than the larger-aperture Celestron CPC 1100. Why does Meade think they can charge such a premium for the scope? Its advanced optics perhaps may be the reason. Again, the performance increase, especially for visual observers, does not seem worth that much extra money.

The 12-inch LX200-ACF, like its predecessor the LX200GPS 12-inch, has thus far proven to be a somewhat problematical scope. That is not surprising since it is exactly the same as the earlier model except for the switch to the aplantic optics. Both scopes have had some problems with tracking, vibration, and reliability. Why? Maybe this is because Meade chose to take the easy way out with these scopes. How do you make a 12-inch LX200-ACF? The same way as a 12-inch LX90. Take the fork and drive base from the 8-inch and make the arms a little longer and more widely separated. That works after a fashion, but as with the larger LX90-ACFs, only after a fashion. At 12-inches of aperture, the OTA is getting long, wide, and heavy. What works for an 8-inch or 10-inch will not necessarily work well with a 12-inch. The added weight puts more stress on the motors (which are exactly the same as those used on the smaller scopes), gears, and drive electronics, and that may lead to reliability problems. This is not to say all Meade 12-inch LX200 scopes have problems. Most 12-inchers are reliable if somewhat shaky.

Before considering the 12-inch, remember that to see anything it will have to be mounted on its tripod. This is nearly 75 pounds of telescope at the 12-inch aperture level, which is more than many of us want to lift regularly, especially given the less-than-useful Meade handles. Heck, even this scope's Giant Field Tripod is difficult to move around. There is also no concealing the fact that this is where the price begins to climb away from the usually very reasonable SCT fare. At 12-inches of LX200, that fare is $4,700. Of course that is still very reasonable for a scope with all the myriad features of this one. This CAT has its attractions: the computerized Autostar II niceties and lovely ACF UHTC-coated optics in a really generous aperture.

Like the C14, the LX200-ACF 14-inch is not just a huge scope; it is a specialized one. This is not the SCT for slewing aimlessly through the Milky Way or imaging the North America Nebula. Its long focal length lends it to more esoteric and specialized pursuits, such as detailed studies of smaller objects: galaxies, planetary nebulae, and planets. A CAT this big can actually open up the world of serious astronomy since, with this much aperture horsepower, it is more than capable of undertaking honest-to-god research, including supernova hunting, asteroid discovery and photometry, systematic study of the planets, and other even more advanced activities.

The really good news about the 14-inch LX200 is that Meade did some thinking before they did the designing. Unlike the 12-inch LX200-ACF, steps were taken to make the fork/drive base more capable of supporting an instrument in this class. Meade also made some small but welcome improvements in the scope's gearing. The LX200 14's go-to accuracy is superb, its tracking is acceptable, and it is stable enough to stop you from saying bad words when a breeze is blowing—although it is still not built like a tank and is not much more stable than the Celestron CGE 1400.

There are really only a few strikes against the LX200-ACF 14. Other than price ($6,500), the big stop sign for many of us is the scope's size and weight. A C14 OTA can be a little scary, but an 82 pound LX200 in its enormous fork is downright terrifying. Some folks can lift the 14-inch onto its tripod by themselves, usually with the aid of a portable hoist of some kind, but that is not something anybody should consider lightly. Instead, be prepared to provide an observatory for this telescope and have a buddy handy to help heft the scope onto a good, solid pier, where it will remain. Who wants to haul a scope of this size around regularly to weekend star parties? There is maybe one exception to the "observatory rule." If there is a clean, dry area like a garage where the 14-inch can be stored that is adjacent to a paved viewing area/pad, the telescope could conceivably be put on "wheelie bars" (sold by JMI and other accessory vendors; see Appendix 1) and wheeled in and out for observing.

The accessories included with the 14-inch and other large LX200 scopes are nearly identical to those in the 8-incher's box and include the Autostar-control-led Crayford style microfocuser, a 26-mm Plossl, a star diagonal (a 2-inch model for the 12-inch and 14-inch), a 50-mm finder, the Autostar Suite software, and Meade's standard field tripod for the 10-inch and the Giant Field Tripod for the 12- and 14-inch telescopes. While it is possible to run the 10-, 12-, and 14-inch LX200s with a passel of C batteries, do not. As always, a 12-volt DC cable and good battery are much better.

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