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The Formidable Celestron C14

Posted by Paul Atkinson   06/02/2004 07:00AM

The Formidable Celestron C14
I am a Meade man. Or so I thought. For years I had used only Meade products when it came to SCT‘s and really didn‘t consider any other brands. In my mind if it wasn’t blue it wasn’t worth talking about and that is how I approached Schmidt-Cassegrain scopes. But somewhere that all changed.

My last scope was a Meade 12" LX200 with a Tak FSQ-106 on top that I loved dearly. The scope worked flawlessly and had great optics and I not just talking about the Tak. The goto was dead on and I never had a single mechanical problem accept for an easily fixed focuser issue. Then why switch scopes I kept asking myself the day I went to pick up my new C14? Like so many in our hobby, my biggest problem is that I find myself consumed by the desire for more aperture. Big, bigger, biggest. Large, larger, largest. If 8" is good then 10" must be better. If 12" won’t work then maybe 14" is what I need. Long gone are the days when my simple 8" SCT was enough to make me happy. 15 years ago it was but now I always need more. Compulsive? Possibly. Obsessed? Of course! As such, I decided that I must take the next logical step and go to a 14" SCT only because I wanted to save getting a 16" for later and didn’t want to skip any 2" increments already having had an 8", 10", and 12" in succession. Thus, the Celestron C14 was the next step in my quest for higher light grasp. In my review I am only going to focus on the OTA itself in the order of general specifications, fit & finish, optics, value and my overall impression. Mounting this scope is a whole other issue in itself and there are a whole myriad of German Equatorial combinations available. That is for another time and another review. Having used SCT’s almost exclusively all these years I feel very qualified to do a review on this type of telescope.

I got my brand new C14 with Fastar in January of 2002 and have used it extensively since it’s purchase at home, and at Star Parties such as Chiefland and the 2002-2004 Winter Star Parties. First thing to note is that it is BIG but not overly heavy. Until you see it up close you don’t realize how big a 14" SCT really is. The OTA is 39" long and weighs in at around 45lbs according to direct correspondence with Celestron. Some reviews list it at 49 lbs but this is not correct and includes all the accessories attached. Being physically fit and a fairly large person I can manage moving it rather easily by myself. However, for others it may be a bit cumbersome and awkward and that should be taken into consideration when buying it especially if you are going to be moving it on and off a mount on a regular basis. The OTA is only offered in aluminum and not carbon fiber as some reviews and sites have stated. According to Celestron the limiting visual magnitude is 15.3 and photo magnitude is somewhere near 18. Not bad for a scope this size. The resolution is listed at .39 arc seconds for those who like all the details. The secondary mirror is 4.5 inches. The C14 comes standard with Celestron Starbrite coatings on the corrector plate. You can also buy an upgraded coating called Starbrite XLT at an additional cost. Celestron claims that their coatings are equal to, or better than, the UHTC that Meade is touting, although I have no way of confirming the validity of either manufacturers claims. Current Celestron magazine advertisements do show near equal or slightly higher transmission rates using data against that taken from Meade in comparisons they provide. The cost of a C14 OTA is $4599 and comes with a Celestron 25mm Plossl EP, 2" visual back, 2" Diagonal, and 50mm finder scope and mounting bracket. Celestron is also now offering the CGE14 which is a computerized scope on a new Celestron computerized mount. This scope presently runs in the $6,000 plus range. However, I have not used or seen one to date so I can’t speak to that model.

The fit and finish are very good but not excellent which was a little disappointing to me. The actual aluminum tube is painted in a color called Anthracite Gray although it has more of a dark copper/gold look to it then anything resembling gray. According to Celestron the color black is no longer offered although pictures tend to make Anthracite Gray look very dark and thus some confusion on its actual color. This part of the scope was done perfectly and the Celestron decals applied with due care on both sides of the OTA. However, the rear assembly and corrector cover of my scope were less than perfect. I found several small scuffs or indentations in the metal that appear to have been simply painted over. In essence, they are painted over dings. Celestron uses a flat black crinkle paint on the rear assembly and corrector plate cover. In a couple of areas this appears to be too heavy and not evenly applied, or shows signs of overspray giving it a uneven appearance when viewed at certain angles. The area around the focus knob looks a little sloppy with some sort of glue or silicone (not sure which) visible around the area where the knob mounting ring connects to the OTA. In other words it looks a little like jelly seeping out from under a thin slice of bread. Most would probably not notice these small flaws on my scope unless I pointed them out. Others have said that the optics are truly what should count and that I am overly critical. True, optics are obviously important. However, would you buy a new car that had dent’s or over sprayed paint just because the engine ran perfect? Nope. Would you knowingly pay full price for a $4000 Plasma TV with a ding just because the picture was perfect? Nope. Then why should anyone accept an expensive telescope that is not up to standards? You shouldn’t. The downside is that most of us don’t get to test drive our telescopes. Many times telescopes come right out of the box with problems. In addition, it isn’t like most of us can run right down to dealership and trade it back in. Due to shipping and other factors we are typically forced to accept what we get unless there is a major problem, or you live close to the dealer you bought it from and want all the hassle of trying to get a new one. Obviously, under Tasco’s reign Celestron suffered greatly. It appears that under new management things may be once again improving. Let’s hope this translates back into their scopes. In any event, for $4600 the C14 is not quite up to the standards I would expect for just an OTA with no mount.

Now onto the Optics. Simply put the optics are best on any SCT that I have used, or looked through. This includes all my Meade‘s, smaller Celestron’s, Orion Telescopes or any other brand you can think of including some classical cassegrain designs. Here is where I believe the C14 really shines compared to other SCT’s. Out of the box it needed a slight collimation, but once I dial it in it was nearly perfect. In star tests the diffraction patterns inside and outside of focus are nearly text book in quality. The plus side of the scope is that it has a lot of aperture. The downside is with a focal length of 3910mm at f/11 you get relatively narrow FOV. The best FOV I can get is using either the Nagler 31 mm (.65 fov) or the Televue 55mm plossl (.70) respectively. The new Panoptic 41mm gives a little more than the 55mm with a slightly higher magnification. I find that using the Celestron 6.3 reducer helps tremendously . It changes the focal length to around 2485mm (f/7) and increases the FOV proportionately. In addition, I find that the reducer also flattens the field and makes the images appear more "crisp" in the eyepiece. Don’t ask me why, but it just does. You can also buy an optional kit that allows you to swap out the secondary mirror assembly changing the scope to f/2.1 for fast CCD work. This is the "Fastar" feature in the name. That is whole topic in itself and left to the CCD experts which I am not. However, I have read many positive things on this feature in other reviews. Cool down of the telescope typically takes around 45 to 55 minutes for everything to thermal out and depending on conditions this may very greatly. Here is where an incorporated fan would be great. In addition, you will seriously want to consider a heated dew system such as the Kendrick, Dew Buster, or other similar system. You will also want a dew shield for moisture protection and stray light. AstroZap is the only manufacturer I am aware of that makes a stand alone aluminum model for the C14. There are flexible versions made by others like Scopetronix and Orion. The giant corrector plate will fog up in no time flat without any aid of this type especially pointed at, or around, the zenith. I personally use two 14” straps on my scope to keep it free of dew.

Having had an opportunity to look at many different objects with this scope in the last couple of years (1210 according to my logs) I will give you a small sampling of what you can expect. I live in a fairly light polluted area with skies from magnitude 4.0 to 5.5 depending on which direction you look and how close to the horizon you get. My observations are based on these conditions and you can expect much better from truly dark sky sites such as Chiefland or WSP. Viewing M42 with steady skies I can easily get all 6 stars of the Trapezium to show. Under a ¾ waxing gibbous moon and poor and hazy conditions I have seen all six. In addition, several of the outlying stars in the surrounding gas are easily seen. The nebula takes on a life of it’s own becoming almost 3D in quality with knots and filamentary structure filling the entire FOV in the 31 Nagler. It is breathtaking. On any of the well known globular clusters like M13, M3, M5, M15 or Omega Centauri you won’t believe it. The stars appear resolved down to the core using various magnifications and EP combo’s. I have even found Pease-1, the small 15+ magnitude planetary nebula located inside of M15 at high power! For the un-initiated that is quite a feat. Add a good binoviewer and you will be blown away by the 3-D appearance that brighter objects provide!

My personal favorites are galaxies. On M51 you can see the bridge between the interacting galaxies as well as the spiral structure of the arms fairly easily. M33 is an easy target seen with good structure and spiral arms but is still best seen from a dark sky site. With 14" you can go deep if you need. I have seen all the members or Stephens Quintet from my home and at a good dark sky location like Chiefland have found many of the outlying galaxies around it. For those who search for the little faint fuzziest you will love this scope. Planetaries and Nebula are also outstanding. I have had great views of all your standard fare in the Messier catalog. However, I like finding out of the way things. Thor’s Helmet looks phenomenal. The whispy structure of the Veil is also easily evident and you can use the slewing buttons to trace a giant arc all the way around the main body of the supernova remnant. Contrast is excellent throughout the various objects observed with inky black backgrounds especially at moderate to higher powers.

The planets are equally impressive. I have visually seen few images in other scopes that compare with Saturn or Jupiter. Of course you may get better color correction and a sharper image in a top end 5"or 6" refractor, however, those instruments cannot overcome the sheer light grasp and image size the C14 provides you. The 4 Galilean moons of Jupiter appear as tiny disk and not starlight points. Cloud belts, festoons, and other features such as the red spot are easily picked out and finer detail becomes more evident. Same can be said for Saturn. I have seen Pluto with no problem, as well as Neptune and Uranus showing actual color and a disk rather than simply blue or blue/green points of light. Again, contrast is exceptional. The moon I could talk about for hours, if that’s your cup of tea, but I think you get the picture.

What could Celestron do to improve this scope? I believe that the inside of the OTA should be flocked vs. just painting it flat black. On a scope this size stray light becomes and issue even using a dew shield. This flocking would add as much as a 15% improvement to the contrast reaching the eyepiece based on a test result I was presented from a C14 that had been modified in this manner. Although contrast is exceptional already, the view through this modified C14 showed a dramatic improvement. Of course this would add to the cost but I think most would absorb a minimal increase for a performance enhancement of this type. I also think more care should be taken on the fit and finish. I think Celestron is moving in the right direction. You can only overcome so much on "optical" reputation before the buying public will begin to look elsewhere. Lastly, I think that serious consideration should be given to some sort of cooling fan such as the Meade 16" model comes equipped with. This would improve thermal cool down time as well as general viewing throughout the night.

My final thoughts. I have looked through many scopes and am truly impressed by this scope. I can no longer say I'm just a Meade man when it comes to SCT’s. For years the C14 has really been alone in this size class so it is hard to have a true gauge against other 14" models. My overall impression is that is simply the best large SCT you can buy on the market presently. Is $4600 cheap? No way, not considering the fact that it doesn’t include a goto mount. Could some things be better? Yep. However, if you are looking for a serious instrument that is still compact enough for easy transport, or big enough for permanent setup, you will be hard pressed to beat the C14.

Updated 6-1-2004:

I recently finished a large scale modification the above reviewed C14. The primary thing that I did was flock the interior of the OTA using Proto-Star flocking paper. The increase in contrast is dramatic, greatly improving the views this scope gives. I also cleaned the mirror using collodian USP. The mirror was cleaned flawlessly using this product. A word to the wise, if you have never taken a scope apart, this is a major undertaking and recommended only to those with experience.

In addition, I figured that since I had the scope apart, I would go ahead and repaint it to a color that I liked. I chose a metallic red paint called “wildfire” which gives it the custom look. The scope was featured in an article the Miami Herald did on the 2004 Winter Star Party. I currently use the scope on a Losmandy G11 and Particle Wave Technologies Monolith pier. The dewshield and cap are by AstroZap and I also repainted them. I am awaiting a Losmandy Titan to replace the G11. You can also see one of my GEM Tables that I have custom painted to match the scope as well as a completely rebuilt and repainted Orion ST120 on top.

All in all, I love the scope!

Click here for more about the Celestron 14" Schmidt Cassegrain OTA with XLT Coatings. -Ed.

Click here for more about the Particle Wave Piers. -Ed.

Click here for more about the Losmandy G-11 Equatorial Mount. -Ed.