Meade 14" LX-200 ACF OTA Review
By: Vlad Fedosov
A 14” SCT has always been a dream scope of mine. I’m not quite sure why… Perhaps it goes back to my early days of astronomy when I used to observe with a good friend of mine who owned a c14, or perhaps it's just the sheer presence that a 14” SCT has on the field. Over the years I came close to picking up a c14 a few times but never did end up with one. I finally found a Meade LX-200 ACT 14”(M14) somewhat locally to me and could not pass up on the opportunity to finally own the big 14" cat! The M14 optical tube assembly(OTA) weighs in at 60lb, operates at f/10, and a focal length of 3556mm. Let's take a look at what this big cat is made of.
The particular sample of the M14 that I got was a de-forked OTA that was outfitted with a top and bottom Losmandy dovetail plates. For this review, I had the scope setup in my mag 4 backyard for two back to back moonless nights. I will start with what's involved in setting up the 60lb OTA… A CGE/g11 class mount is a bare minimum for this scope for visual use. Mounting the OTA with one healthy and strong person is possible, but even for a 35-year-old healthy guy like me its right at the limit of what I can lift without any help. You need to keep in mind that carrying something that is 60lb and lifting it seven feet off the ground onto a few inches wide platform and securing some knobs are two different things. Let's just say that I really would not want to set this guy up on a consistent basis.
Having mounted the OTA on my CGE mount I proceeded to check the collimation of the scope. Seeing was not too great the first night out so after confirming that it's not too far off I was eager to start some observing with the big cat. Pointing the scope at m31 I was greeted with a nice bright core of the galaxy. Panning around revealed some of the extended arms of the galaxy. A nice view! The focuser on my particular unit is very nice with little mirror flop/backlash but a bit “dry” feeling. It was quickly apparent that while the mount supported the big OTA well, it was definitely producing a bit of a sweat as it would take a few seconds for it to settle down after focusing or after a fast mount slew. The settle times where not excessive(2-3sec) and still very usable but definitely not as rock solid as I'm used to the mount being with 30lb or lighter OTA’s. As I have mentioned in previous reviews, visually the Advanced Coma Free(ACF) optics that the newer Meade scopes have are better with a very wide field of view(FOV). Basically you get stars towards the edge that are rounder looking instead of like little comets. This is definitely a nice feature but for me at least, visually its not a huge improvement.
After taking a look at a few more objects I decided to try some electronically assisted astronomy(EAA) with the big Meade. I attached an f/6.3 Meade focal reducer and my ASI 294MC Pro Cam. The FOV with this setup is naturally a bit narrow, but this is great for smaller objects such as planetary nebula and smaller galaxies. Even though the CGE mount was at its weight capacity with the big M14 riding on top the setup worked quite well for EAA. I spend a good part of 3 hours checking out several objects on my Surface Pro screen. Attached are the images of two extremes of objects. M42 is of course about the easiest deep sky object to image, and then we also a little known small planetary nebula called Able 4(as well as at least 6 dim and small galaxies(~mad 17) that you can pick out in the image). These images where saved in SharpCap in veiew view with no post processing besides cropping and resizing. Abell 4(mag 16.7) was a 384 second total stack and m42 was a 149s stack.
In conclusion, I’m really happy to have been able to own this scope that I have admired for so long. This class instrument definitely makes you start to feel that you can see just about anything in the night sky, especially when employing EAA. Unless you are half gorilla genetically I do really feel that this scope is a two-person job to setup safely or should be permanently mounted. I would also suggest that you make sure you have a mount that is up to the task of carrying such a beast of an OTA. Had I had a large enough roll-off-roof observatory under a dark sky and a mount capable of carrying the m14 with an 80mm APO piggybacked I would be set for a lifetime of observing!