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Meade Mak 7" LX-50

Posted by George Mavromates   08/10/2004 07:00AM

My Astronomy Experience

The first telescope I owned back in the late 60s was a cheap department store 50mm refractor with a tiny metal tripod. I used to put it on the roof on my father’s car and look at the moon. But it wasn’t until about 7 years ago that I really started observing. Since then I have owned a 80mm refractor, an 8” DOB, an ETX 90, a couple of 8” SC, an LX-200 10” and a Meade 127 ED Refractor. Since my main interest is planetary observation I always wanted to acquire a high quality planetary scope. So for the July 2004 Mars opposition, I looked at buying, the Meade MAK 7” (178mm) F15 platform. From what I have read and heard these scopes can be real performers.

The Telescope

Today’s newer Meade GOTO LX 200 Mak 7 GPS sells well in excess of $2700. During my search for a Mak 7, I was able to find an older (no longer made) LX-50 version (no goto) used on astromart for around $1400. The Meade OTA is the same on all models (Non UHTC coating). This scope tends to hold its value and during its hay day it cost more then the larger 8” SCT. The Mak 7 was also built by Meade in a LX200 goto version. After contacting the seller, I sent a check and, good to the seller’s word, the scope arrived VIA UPS in good shape about a week later. The complete scope included the tripod, Tube, finder, hand control paddle and equatorial wedge. The tube itself is larger than an 8” SCT. You can not flip the tube fully around it’s fork mount. The total weight assembled is close to 90lbs., which is barely manageable for me, a person with a bad back, to carry outside. I did eventually acquire a JMI wheelie bar to put the scope on. Now it’s so much easier to roll in and out of the garage. A definite back saver. After putting the scope together I turned it on and lo and behold nothing. I contacted the previous owner and he told me it had been stored for a while in a garage. He offered to take it back but I decided to wait and try cleaning the contacts just in case they had become dirty while in storage. I went to ACE and bought some contact spray. Once home I unscrewed the 4 screws holding the face plate and sprayed the contacts and on/off switch. I put everything back together, turned it on and it worked. The scope can be run via batteries or a 12 car lighter plug. Unfortunately the sky was cloudy for the remainder of the week making it impossible to test the optics.

On the first good night for observations, I set up the scope and roughly aligned the mount to Polaris and turned the drive on. I did leave the scope out for several hours to cool. Cool down for this scope is always an issue. Two to three hours is the norm. The fork mounted Meade Mak 7 has a 15lb weight in the tube for balancing, therefore all that metal requires additional time for it to cool down. Viewing conditions were very good. The scopes baffling is very good. Stars even in a moon lit sky are pin points an a very dark back ground. A quick star test showed that the scope was collimated. Another point for a prospective buyer is that the Meade Mak 7 is not easily collimated by the average user. Meade recommends that it be sent back to the factory for collimation and cleaning. If the scope has been properly collimated by the factory it will hold its collimation for a very long time if not handled roughly. My main target of the night was of course Mars which was a glowing amber red jewel in the night sky. With a 2670mm FL (F15 Focal Ratio) longer eye relief eps on this scope give decent medium range power views. Using a Meade 26mm ep I could barely make out the poles and surface markings. Bumping up the power by using a Televue 10.5mm ep I could clearly make out the planet’s poles and Sirtis Major. What I found most effective was using various color filters to enhance the planet’s features. I thought yellow was the best. I did try more power and some of my best views of Mars were using an ordinary Orion 17mm super Plossel and a Celestron Ultima Barlow. Only at 400X plus did Mars begin to break down. As for tracking the old LX-50 drive proved to be very reliable. With a rough alignment Mars would stay in the FOV for 30-40 minutes. I did use the scope to extensively view Mars throughout the summer. During my observations of Mars, the Mak 7 provided excellent high quality views during good seeing conditions and with proper cool down time of at least 2 hours or more. If the scope fails to cool down then it performs poorly. I found this out on numerous occasions.

During the Dec 2004 Saturn opposition I also used the scope extensively to observe and study the planet. Again the quality of the views through the FOV depended on the seeing conditions over North Florida. Out of 5 observations only one night proved to be outstanding with sky condition being 7-8. Saturn just soaked up the power. Using an Orion 17mm plossl eyepiece and a Celestron Ultima Barlow, I could clearly make out the C band and thought I saw the Encke Minima. Could have been my imagination. Numerous belts and striations could also be observed around the pole area. I would rate the view comparable if not better then the Meade 127 ED Semi APO refractor that I once owned, this mainly due to the larger aperture and light gathering ability of the MAK. How does the planet perform on DSO? I would say decently. This scope was not designed for DSOs. The F15 focal length provides for a very narrow FOV. I have observed M42 with and without an Orion sky glow filter. I would dare say that the view was better without the filter. The gas cloud was clearly evident on a very dark back ground sky. Now if you are interested in observing the moon the Mak 7 also excels in this area. The scopes provides clear and contrasty lunar images. I can say that they are some of the best I have ever seen through a telescope. You can pump up the power to 70X per inch with no breakdown, again depending on the seeing conditions.

Summary

My only real negative about this scope, is its weight and long cool down time. The tube does have a fan that works off the battery, which helps with cooling. I always turn the fan off to avoid vibrations at higher powers. Focusing could be better. There is some mirror slop evident at higher powers. If you are looking for portability and then this is not the scope for you. This is not a grab and go scope. It’s heavy and assembling and disassembling in a dark area normally requires 2 individuals, though one person can do it, if necessary. Price wise, for what it can be picked up used on the market (astromart), this telescope is a bargain. I would love to try some of the newer and larger Russian made Maksutovs presently on the market. If you are looking for a good quality medium aperture planetary scope that offers semi APO refractor like views at an affordable price then the Meade LX-50 Mak 7 is the way to go. If you have the money to spend go for the newer LX-200 GPS UHTC version.


Click here for more about the Meade 7"LX200GPS-Smart Mount Technology (SMT) with UHTC Coatings
. -Ed.