As a perpetually skint Astronomer you can imagine my joy when hearing the news that my local Astronomy group had just bought the much acclaimed Meade ETX-LS. One of the more expensive telescopes I've ever used (my club spent just over £1200). What sets the LS apart from any other telescope is the abundance of neat technological twists you'll find that compliment what is at heart a good quality 6 inch schmidt cassegrain telescope.
After following the LS through months of hype I was expecting alot from this little SCT but could it ever live up to it's massive build up? In short yes and no, there were some aspects I really like about the scope but it would seem that in the pursuit of creating a cyborg telescope Meade have overlooked some fundamentals which is pretty unforgivable for such a prolific manufacturer of telescopes.
Let's start off with the things that I liked about the LS. Perhaps the most exciting feature is the scopes ability to perform polar alignment automatically. Just point your telescope North and make sure it's level then flip a switch on the mount, the LS then springs into life. It attempts to connect to 4 GPS satellites (a process that worked fine for us but I have heard that occasionally a connection cannot be established, in which case you have to enter your co-ordinates manually). Then the LS uses it's built in CCD camera (oh yeah that's right!) to photograph constellations, using the data it collects to align the scope.
All very clever stuff and for me it worked like a charm although again I have heard of some people having a bit of a nightmare with this process.
Another neat feature is the ability to take a tour of the heavens. This consists of an audio commentary explaining a little about whichever object you've selected before the scope automatically slews over to it. This is a nice feature and ideal for a beginner who doesn't yet know their way around the night sky, the scope doesn't move until the sometimes lengthy presentation is over but there's the ability to skip through which comes in handy when you've heard the same description of Andromeda 20,000 times over.
Finally the built in ccd eclips camera is definitely a nice touch. If you've splashed out on the optional video monitor (only a further £90 on top of your £1200 for the scope) you can display images you've taken on the 3.5 inch monitor without the need for a laptop, although if you own a laptop you can put the images on that for processing with Registax via a simple USB connection.
While all this technology is great fun it should only come second to the optical quality and effectiveness of the telescope itself, that's what I wish Meade had focused on more.
The 1524mm focal lengthed F10 schmidt cassegrain is certainly not an inferior performer but for £1200+ I was expecting a little more. While the views I've had have been crisp and sharp they are somewhat dimmer than other similarly sized SCTs, this is due to the slightly over sized secondary that's 35% bigger than you'd expect. When you're struggling to pluck elusive detail out of a faint deep space object the last word you want to hear is "dimmer".
The tripod legs could and should have been a lot sturdier to. Vibrations are a bit of a problem which is unforgivable especially if you plan to make use of the eclips ccd camera. Not the worst tripod I've used but again you're spending over £1200 you don't expect this level of vibration.
To conclude the Meade LS is certainly a fun toy with a decent ccd and is capable of some crisp contrasty (although disappointingly dim) views. But once the novelty has faded (and believe me it does) you are left with a good but not great telescope for over a grand. I'm glad I have the opportunity to use the LS but I wouldn't consider buying one myself.
I would reccomend this scope to anyone with a large disposable income who's either a newcomer to astronomy or just loves their technology, as for me I'm more than happy to do all the tedious little manual processes myself if it means I can afford a telescope priced purely on quality and not on how many bells and whistles it's got.