|First, the good stuff: The Meade LXD55 line of scopes are an attractive package, and the fact that you can get a complete scope with an
electronicly controlled mount (which can later be upgradade to a Go-To system by purchasing the #497 Autostar separately) and an OTA with
good optics and decent aperture for $579 plus shipping and tax ($695 for the Go-To versions) has made quality computerized scopes more
affordable than ever before. The mount and optical tube are made of sturdy aluminum, and when properly aligned and calibrated, the Go-To's
are consistant and fairly accurate - coming close to Meade's claimed 15 arcmin. accuracy. The Autostar interface is easy to learn, and in my
opinion has a more intuitive setup, better customization, and a display that's much easier on the eyes than Celestron's Nexstar computer.
The addition of a clear corrector plate on the front of the Scmidt-Newtonians results in very fast (short focal ratio) optical systems with very
low coma (optical distortion). With Meade's 4000 series Plossl Eyepieces, only the outer 10-15% or so of the field of view is distorted enough
to be bothersome on the SN6, and with high quality EP's like Tele Vue's Nagler line, that number is decreased to 5% or less. The short focal
lengths of the Schmidt-Newtonians give beautiful wide-field views (1.78 degrees with the supplied 26mm Plossl on the SN6) and the fairly long
focal ratios of the 5 and 6" achromatic refractors reduce false color around bright objects. There is even an 8" Schmidt-Cassegrain available
for those who like the optical system but can't affort an LX90 or LX200.
If carefully Polar aligned, the LXD55's tracking is accurate enough for 35mm film exposures of up to about 7 minutes in length with slight
trailing, and sometimes 3-4 minutes with almost zero trailing. An object can stay in the FOV of an eyepiece for more than an hour - believe
me, I've tried it! The equatorial nature of the mount means that field rotation is eliminated, and there is less motor wear as only one moter is
required for tracking instead of the two required by an alt-azimuth mount. Also, nearly any other optical tube under 30 lbs can be made to
work on the mount as long as mounting rings and a properly sized dovetail mount are also used.
Now the bad news: Buyers of a new LXD55 scope need to know that it will not perform as well as a higher-priced mount. To make a line of
complete computerized equatorial scopes as affordable as they are required that some shortcuts be taken. The LXD55 is not a poor man's
Losmandy, and was never meant to be. The lightweight aluminum tripod is a definite weak point on the heavier models (SN10, SC8, and AR6),
and is often the first thing that is replaced with those scopes. I have not had any trouble with it on the SN6, and the AR5 and SN8 are reported
to be stable enough, but it would have been nicer if Meade had used tubular steel legs on their tripod as in Celestron's Advanced Series line.
The 10" Schmidt-Newtonian (SN10) is pushing the limits of the mount's motor and lifting capacities, and although many people have been
happy with their SN10's many, many more have had mount failures due to the strain this 33 lb. tube and 30 lbs. of counterweights put on the
mount. The LXD55 also has a steep learning curve - especially for those that have never used a GEM scope before - and unless you get the
OTA aligned, the drives very carefully trained, and know how to do an accurate polar alignment, your Go-To's will be consistantly worse than
you want them to be, and you will be using the "Spiral Search" function often to find what you are looking for.
There is also some significant backlash in the gears on many mounts, and while you can somewhat compensate by adjusting the backlash
setting on the Autostar, the only way to fully get rid of it is to open up the insides and adjust the position of the gears for a tighter fit. I haven't
altered my scope as of yet as the backlast isn't annoyingly bad, although I do have the backlash setting on 99% on both drives and I have to
use very slow speeds (8x sidereal or less) to center objects precisely at high power without them moving to one side as the tracking engages
again (which is only critical when I'm Polar aligning and plan to do photography that night). High speed slews are noisy and, at least in my
case, are far less accurate then the "Quiet Slew" setting, which limits my scope to 1.5 degrees /second when moving between objects, making
long slews take almost a minute to complete.
There is also a bit more plastic than I would like in the focuser and the tripod spacer, and the corrector plates are magnets for condensation
without a good dew shield.
Would I recommend an LXD55 scope to someone else?: If that person has educated themselves about setting up an equatorial scope, and knows
what to expect, quality-wise, from the LXD55 scopes, then I would definitely recommend one of these scopes to him or her. Because of its
complexity and - shall we say - "quirkiness", I would hesitate in recommending an LXD55 as a first scope for someone, or to anyone who does
not have the patience or time to maintain the scope or troubleshoot problems when they come up (which, if all is well, will be user related and
not a mechanical or software issue). If someone wants to do deep sky photography, I would recommend the SN6, which is the most stable and
has the shortest focal length of the bunch. For planetary viewing, the AR5, SC8, and possibly the AR6 with a better tripod, would be great
scopes, and the SN8 makes a great deep sky visual scope. I would not recommend the SN10 to anyone that did not have a permanent
observation place with a pier mount and was mechanically knowledgeable enough to fix gear and motor problems when they arise, and they are
almost guaranteed to, eventually.
I am very happy with my LXD55 SN6, and I believe I got an excellent scope for the amount I paid. If you choose to purchase one of these
scopes, I hope that you will be as satisfied with your purchase as I am with mine.