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Meade and Celestron Comparison Advertisements

For a couple of years Meade has been running ads comparing their products to Celestron's.  In late 2001, Meade announced their GPS line of scopes to compete with Celestron's NexStar GPS models.  For several months prior to actually shipping their GPS scopes, Meade really stepped up the stakes with a series of two-page ads comparing their upcoming GPS scopes to the "competition's" GPS models.  Towards the end of 2002, Celestron fired back with their own two-page comparison ad.  Meade replied with a new two-page ad that started running in national magazines at the end of 2002.  Here is my take on these 2002/2003 comparison ads, point by point.  It is easier to follow this discussion if you have the two ads at your disposal, but nonetheless you should still find this a useful comparison of the two model lines without.

The Meade Ad

  • Primary Mirror Lock - Meade's design apparently needs it as their focusing mechanism has more slop. The only reason a Celestron OTA needs mirror lock is if you happen to run a long exposure across the meridian - or are careless about touching the focus knob during an exposure. Additionally, with the thermal expansion of Meade's aluminum tube, focus is likely to shift during a long exposure anyway, partially negating the advantage of a mirror lock.
  • Zero Image-Shift Microfocuser - Definitely a nice addition, but I would rather pick the model I use. Additionally, many Celestron owners elect not to use a microfocuser on the rear of the scope since Celestron's superior focuser design does not need one nearly as much as Meade's scopes. The only real advantage to Meade's stock microfocuser, and it is minor, is the fact that their microfocuser is compatible with the Autostar hand control eliminating the need for an additional control box. And, you aren't getting it free - where did they cut costs to allow them to include it as stock equipment?
  • Download of Software Revisions - Advantage to Meade - but since my scope works fine as is, it hasn't been a real issue for me yet. Celestron now offers download to upgrade the firmware (software) in the mount itself, but they have yet to offer this for the hand control. Update - hand control version 4 or higher is now user upgradeable.  The last of the NexStar GPS scopes that were sold came with this hand control and it is available directly from Celestron for owners with older scopes.
  • Satellite Tracking - Advantage to Meade, though personally I don't consider this important. I see manmade objects every moment of my waking life. It is also notable that this can be accomplished on both scopes with Brent Boshart's Satellite Tracker software and a laptop.
  • True-Level Tripod Sensor - Yes, a mis-leveled tripod will cause the GPS alignment routine to miss the alignment stars by a measurable amount - but this has no affect on alignment accuracy, providing the user can identify and center the correct stars. With the NexStar GPS it is actually quite difficult to center the wrong star since GPS alignment selects only the very brightest stars.
  • Maximum Slew Speed, Time Required to Slew 120 degrees - Advantage to Meade, although most of us are not really in that much of a hurry. I would hardly miss the 25 seconds they note. Additionally, it encourages you to spend a little time planning so that you work your way methodically across the sky resulting in less time wasted overall. Also, in many cases the NexStar beats the Meade GPS to the object as the Meade switches to a slower final approach much sooner than the NexStar, resulting is a longer 'creep' to the final position and the NexStar has no hard stops allowing it to turn continuously in azimuth rather than taking the long way around to some targets.
  • Drive Speeds, each Axis - How often do you find yourself changing the slew rates and how much granularity do you need during manual slewing?
  • Tracking Rates - What would you use the custom rates for? The only practical reasons would seem to require a PC connected to the hand control and the NexStar GPS has more than 43,000 tracking rates selectable via PC (RS232) command, compared to 2,000 for the LX200GPS.
  • Celestial Object Database - Advantage to Meade, though most amateur astronomers will never be actually affected by this issue. More advanced amateurs use a PC to control their telescope, which opens both scopes to millions of objects.
  • High-Precision Pointing Mode - NexStar's Re-Align provides nearly the same capability. A Re-Align on a known object in the area of your prospective targets provides enhanced pointing accuracy.  Update - hand control version 4 now includes Precise GoTo which is the equivalent of Meade's HPP.
  • Flash Memory - Advantage to Meade - most of this memory is of course to hold the larger object database previously discussed.
  • Permanent Periodic Error Correction (PPEC) - Not needed on the Dec axis unless a field de-rotator is used.  Most Meade users (except owners or the huge and impractical on a wedge 16" Meade) shy away from that piece of gear - which by the way would seem to need it's own PPEC (which it doesn't have to my knowledge).
  • Encoder Resolution - The NexStar GPS encoder resolution is 0.112 arcsecs.
  • Internal Battery - Would be a nice option, but even on my NexStar 80 I stopped using alkaline batteries the second time I had to shell out all that money.  And an external power cable isn't an issue with the superior design of the NexStar GPS - no problems with cord wrap as the power cable connects to the stationary part of the base.
  • Multi-Coated Correcting Plate - I guess Meade better visit the Celestron web site and Celestron better add the word "multi-coated" to the specs in the manual - Celestron has been using multi-coated corrector plates for years.
  • Enhanced Optical Coatings - Technically true. For visual use, Celestron's standard Starbright coatings match or better Meade's.  For imaging, Meade's coatings give an advantage to the LX200GPS.  But, for imaging you can compensate with a slightly longer exposure, while for visual use (which can't be compensated for with slightly more sensitive eyes :-) it's a draw, even according to Meade's ad. Update - Celestron is now offering new coatings, "Starbright XLT", as an option on all their SCT models.  These coatings outperform Meade's UHTC by a sizeable margin for both visual and imaging applications.  Click here for details.
  • Hand-Matched Optics - Well, actually, what Meade does is mix and match the primary mirror, secondary mirror and corrector plate until they have a set that meets their quality checks.  Celestron first mixes and matches the three components for a good match, then they improve the overall optical figure further by touching-up the secondary mirror by hand.  Ask around and you will find people that say "Meade optics are as good as Celestron's", and you will find people that say "Celestron optics are as good as Meade's", and you will find people that say "Celestron optics are better than Meade's", but you won't find anyone that says "Meade optics are better than Celestron's".
  • Primary Mirrors - I'm really don't have the expertise to comment much regarding the supposed advantage (reportedly an advantage for imaging, I do not think it would be noticeable during visual use) of an over-sized primary mirror. But I would say that I've never noticed this to be a problem with the hundreds of deep-sky images I have seen that were taken with Celestron's 8, 11 and 14 inch optical tubes.
  • GPS Antenna - NexStar users never complain about a lack of GPS link unless they are fenced in by buildings and trees (which would cause problems for LX200GPS users as well). LX200GPS users curse the location of the finderscope since it has been determined to block the GPS antenna from a large section of the sky. Frankly, I'm surprised Meade would want to talk about this after the disgruntled users venting on the Internet.
  • Tripods - Yep, gotta like the tripod on the 12" and 14" LX200GPS. The NexStar GPS tripod is sufficient for the 8" model for both alt-az and wedge use, but the 11" model is too much weight for wedge use on the stock tripod. Similarly speaking some 10" LX200 users also upgrade their tripod when they start using a wedge. And, yes, Celestron would do well to replace the synthetic spreader arms with a metal spreader that includes eyepiece holes - which they did on the models sold during the last year of NexStar GPS production.
  • Polar Axis Bearings - Another area I'm surprised Meade would want to bring up. The NexStar GPS is built like a tank. Without a doubt it is the most stable fork-mount telescope ever produced by Celestron or Meade. The NexStar GPS is a clear step (or two) above the LX200GPS in stability, particularly when mounted on a wedge (the issue this point is trying to address).
  • Swing-through - The main point Celestron was making was that the 12" scope can't swing through or store with the corrector (front) pointed down.  This leads to a very large storage size for the 12" Meade.  Also, there is the issue of clearance for the back (eyepiece end) when pointed straight up.  This means an even larger section of the sky that cannot be imaged with the 12" Meade when you mount a camera on the scope.
  • FCC and CE certification - Now that Meade has brought it up, we might see Celestron address this, but in practical use the question is whether the electronics in the NexStar GPS interfere with imaging equipment. None of the images I have seen produced by the NexStar GPS in any way hint that this is an issue.

The Celestron Ad

  • Mirror Coatings - discussed above.
  • Fork Arm - Swing-through discussed above. Many would probably prefer the LX200GPS hand control mounting position, although not the fact that the cord for the hand control wraps around the base as the scope slews.
  • Leveling Technique - Advantage to Celestron. The downstop switch of the NexStar GPS does operate during alignment when mounted on a wedge.
  • Cord Management - Advantage to Celestron. During visual use, there are NO problems with cord wrap and the scope is free to always take the shortest route to an object. (It should be noted that in some cases this allows the slower moving NexStar GPS to beat the LX200GPS when slewing a long distance to the next object.) During imaging, cords from the camera (and other equipment) might be connected to a stationary power source and/or laptop computer and during those times you can activate cord wrap prevention on the NexStar GPS if you desire.
  • Carrying Handles - Big advantage to Celestron. Most people find that the 12" (and even the 10") LX200GPS requires two people for setup. Almost anyone can move and setup the 11" NexStar GPS, mainly due to the much better handle placement. A scope that can't be setup can't be used.
  • Motors - Perhaps the most notable point to make here is that Meade didn't even try to address this comparison. There have been reports of faulty motors with LX200GPS scopes; time will tell if this was just a quality control spike. The motors on the NexStar GPS are definitely of the highest quality and built to last.  Click here for more on these motors.
  • Gears - Again, Meade did not address this point either. The quality of the NexStar GPS gear design is obvious.
  • Bearings - Addressed above.
  • Focusing Mechanism - Addressed in the microfocuser section above.
  • Optical Tube - Advantage to Celestron.  Less need to refocus when imaging as the evening continues due to the carbon fiber tube material and its lower thermal expansion.
  • Fastar Compatible - Advantage to Celestron.  For more details on Fastar, visit www.celestron.com. Update - Fastar is now only offered as standard equipment on the NexStar 8 GPS.  It will be available as an option on NexStar 11 GPS scopes sold through Starizona (www.starizona.com).
  • Weight of Telescope - Consider this when thinking about the placement of carrying handles.
  • GoTo Precision - The NexStar GPS beats the LX200GPS in raw precision, the LX200GPS's "High-Precision Pointing Mode" and the NexStar GPS's "Re-Alignment" and "Precise GoTo" features are discussed above.
  • Boot-up Time - Advantage to Celestron, but since this only occurs once when you power up the scope, it really isn't much to worry about.
  • GPS Alignment Time - Again, advantage to Celestron, but since this only occurs once per session, it really isn't much to worry about.
  • Quick Align - Advantage to Celestron, but mostly only useful during indoor testing and daytime observations. And Meade's one-star align only takes a few seconds longer and achieves the same results.
  • Database Filter Limits - Nice touch in the NexStar hand control, but the Autostar hand control has other nice features that are at least as useful, if not more. For example, the ability to sort objects by constellation is a great Autostar feature - one which Celestron added in the version 4 hand control.

Obviously I'm a little biased :-), but I do feel most of the points above are fairly objective.  If nothing else, these comparison ads provide additional information that each manufacturer may not have clearly stated in the past. And since no scope meets everyone's needs perfectly, these ads, when taken with a grain of salt, should allow an individual to make the best choice for their own needs.


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