For many years, ever since Celestron discontinued its C16 in the early 1970s, the LX200 16-inch has been the king of the CATs. That has changed recently with the introduction of Meade's Max Mount 20-inch SCT, but the fork-mounted 16-inch LX200-ACF (Plate 23) is still a huge and impressive telescope. Think a C14 or Meade 14 is enormous? You ain't seen nothin yet. Do I need to say this one belongs in an observatory? Everything concerning the 14 is doubly true here when it comes to this telescope's portability or the lack thereof. The 16-inch fork/OTA weighs in at 125 pounds, and the tripod is even heavier, at nearly 200. This CAT is, frankly, fairly painful for even two people to erect. Not that this is not done— I've seen one person setting up a 16-inch at the Texas Star Party using an engine hoist with only a little help from passersby. But, as with the 14-inch, one man setup is not something most of us will be willing to attempt.
The accessories included with this big, expensive telescope are, surprisingly, modest and similar to what is included with the smaller LX200s: a 26-mm Plossl, a 2-inch diagonal (UHTC coated), a 50-mm finder, a copy of the Autostar Suite program, and a (huge) Super Giant Field Tripod (Meade also sells the scope with alt-azimuth and equatorial piers rather than a tripod as an option). Do not even think about running this one off C batteries. The scope understandably has no
Plate 23. (LX200-ACF 16-inch) Meade's largest aperture LX200, the fork mount 16-inch model. Credit: Image courtesy of Meade Instruments Corporation.
provision for internal cells and is powered either by the included AC adapter or an optional 12-volt DC cord.
This scope looks awe inspiring and promises great things given its sterling ACF-type optics and all the countless computer frills provided by the Autostar II. The 16 might even deliver these good things—or not. Unfortunately, the 16-inch in its previous LX200GPS incarnation and in its initial configuration as the "classic" LX200 has been a problematical CAT. There have been problems with electronics, problems with optics, design problems regarding the support of the primary mirror, and other gremlins that have kept the scope in all its mutations from ever achieving "most wanted" status among amateur astronomers. Will the ACF version be different? Maybe it will.
Why the troubles? After all, even though it is very modestly priced compared to other scopes of similar aperture and capability, the LX200-ACF 16-inch is not exactly cheap at $13,000 (plus the cost of an equatorial pier instead of a tripod). Maybe it is that Meade does not make/sell enough of these to really get in a production groove with the 16-inch and get all the bugs worked out. Or maybe $13,000 just is not quite enough to produce a consistently good fork-mounted SCT in this aperture.
Despite these issues, it is also true that when the 16-inch is right, it is flat-out amazing. At least one of these scopes (which I saw at a professional observatory's visitors' center) seemed entirely problem free and produced truly mind-boggling views. Despite the long focal length (4,064 mm), the 16 was truly excellent visually. Wide-angle views were not missed at all. Small NGC globulars began to look like M13, and galaxies ... oh my ... it felt as if you were falling into M51. All in all, the experience of using the 16-inch LX200 was more similar to using a professional observatory instrument than to looking through an amateur's CAT. It is massive, and it is powerful. If you can get a good one or are willing to tinker and work with Meade until it is right (and Meade will help you get it right, eventually), there is no doubt the 16-inch LX200-ACF could be the scope of a lifetime.
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