The Meade LX600 is, in the manufacturer’s words, a giant leap forward in telescope design, creating a portable, highly transportable and easy to set up platform for observation and astrophotography. We put that to the test in this review of the 12-inch variant.
In this style of telescope, the tube is incorporated within a heavy-duty fork mounting assembly. A Go-To computer is fitted in the base of the mount. Lifting this arrangement onto a tripod or equatorial wedge is not for the fainthearted, although the design of the LX600 does include a means to split the fork arms, so reducing the component lifting weight. There are two arm stubs fixed to the optical tube – these connect to the main forks via two bolted plates. A locating pin is provided for each plate. One arm stub can’t be locked and swings freely, making locating it that bit harder to fit. Once in place we found it fiddly and time-consuming to fit all eight of the locking hex bolts and washers in place, and far too easy to drop them. In the dark this was frustrating.
A bridge connection, via a pair of nine-pin D-plug leads, is required to allow the Go-To computer at the base of the forks to communicate with the declination drives across the fork breaks. Another eight fiddly thumb screws need to be tightened to ensure a good connection. Our test setup included a sturdy field tripod, which is included, and an optional Meade X-Wedge. This is a satisfyingly solid, angled platform used to convert the LX600’s altaz fork mount to equatorial mode for long-exposure imaging.
The LX600 includes a feature known as StarLock, which enables high-precision pointing accuracy and autoguiding functionality. For StarLock to work correctly, the telescope tube must be well balanced. Rail-mounted counterweights are provided to achieve this, but they require a hex key to adjust their position – thumb screws would have been better. We also found that we had to adjust our guide rate to fairly low to stop the StarLock from overcompensating.
The Advanced Coma-Free (ACF) optics are a delight to use. A view of the Orion Nebula gave lots of beautiful detail in the swirling gas cloud, while the tight trapezium star cluster took the guise of diamonds scattered in ‘cotton wool’. Dark mottles and edges of the nebula stood out superbly in the high-contrast view and it was easy to get lost in the sumptuous detail. Planetary imaging with the LX600 is really good, as StarLock helps to keep your target centred in the field of view. This would be a dream system for taking planetary timelapse sequences.
A major criticism of previous LX models was the image shift caused by the focuser. This has been fixed for the LX600 – the focuser has been revamped completely – and we didn’t experience any image shift whatsoever. The focus knob is a little stiff though, so for accurate high-magnification focusing we’d recommend investing in an in-line electric focuser.
The mount drives use large, 5.75-inch gears to help maintain accuracy and provide smooth movements without serious periodic error. Another great feature of this setup is the way that it has been designed to work from horizon-to-horizon without the need for a meridian flip as the scope passes through the north-south plane, something that some much more expensive setups continue to experience.
Unlike previous LX folded-optic designs, the LX600 is f/8 rather than f/10. This gives a bigger, brighter image and a wider natural field of view. It also reduces the tolerance required to maintain good pointing accuracy for long exposures. If you’re a planetary or lunar imager, the generous 2.4m focal length will still offer good image scale without an optical amplifier.
The Meade LX600 is a formidable astro-imaging platform despite its set-up process being awkward and a little fiddly. Counterweight thumb screws instead of hex bolts and a better split-fork coupling would really help the system achieve its goal as a portable system.
The most innovative aspect of the LX600 system is StarLock. This comprises a wide-field, 14.7º by 11.8º camera for general pointing and a 3-inch f/5 telescope, giving a 57.2 arcminute by 45.8 arcminute autoguiding setup. The StarLock assembly unobtrusively locks onto the main telescope tube and is connected to the main computer via a supplied cable.
Upon activating the Go-To, the wide-field camera automatically locates a nearby bright star, which is initially centred. The scope then slews to the selected object, at which point the autoguider locks on. The whole process takes a bit longer than a direct Go-To, but the accuracy is better as a result. StarLock is described as producing arcsecond guiding accuracy, although conditions and set-up precision may affect this.
The system’s activity is indicated by a rather comforting red LED. Once we’d balanced the optical tube and set the guide rate, the system did the rest. Thanks to StarLock, the LX600 range offers large aperture telescopes with camera-enhanced Go-To capability and autoguiding for long-exposure astrophotography. That’s a pretty exciting prospect.
Zero-shift focuser - Meade has redesigned its old LX-range focuser to produce a new mechanism that keeps the target firmly in view while focus is adjusted. This overcomes a shortcoming of previous designs where the image could shift out of view as the focus was adjusted. The new design offers coarse and fine (7:1) focus options.
Split-fork design - Like the LX200 range before it, LX600 telescopes are heavy. Meade has engineered a clever way to separate the optical tube from the main forks, allowing the 12-inch LX600 to be just about assembled by one person. However, certain design aspects make the process of putting the scope back together a bit fiddly.
X-Wedge - Meade’s newest equatorial wedge, this heavy-duty platform tilts the base of the LX600 forks so that the RA axis points at the north celestial pole. Fine adjustment is made through altitude and azimuth knobs.
Autostar II computerised Go-To - As with earlier models, the LX600 is equipped with the Meade Autostar II computerised controller. This system gives you telescope set-up and configuration options, as well as a database of 145,000 objects, which can be centred on at the touch of a few buttons.
F/8 optics - Another departure from earlier LX200 models is the use of f/8 rather than f/10 optics. This delivers a wider and brighter field of view, allowing the scope to produce decent images of deep-sky objects as well as still keeping a good image scale for Solar System imaging and viewing.