Make your own free website on Tripod.com

Meade DS-114AT Alt-Az. Reflector

 


 

Price:  $250.00 (?)

Design:  114mm Reflector with 910mm focal length at f/8

Description:  Reflecting telescope on Alt-Az mount equipped with motor drives and goto computer system.  Comes with three eyepieces (Huygien .969) at 4mm, 12.5mm, and 25mm.  It also includes a 3x Barlow and charting software.

 

Circumstances Behind this Review

About a half a year ago my Uncle came up to me and announced that he had just purchased a new telescope.  He found it at Wal-Mart on some clearance shelf in the corner of the store for around $200.00.  When asked him what it was he explained to me as best he could that it was a 114mm Meade reflector with a computer drive.  I then looked into Meade’s catalog and thought that I had found it.  A few weeks later he asked me up to his place (which by the way has some of the darkest skies in the entire region) to help him with the scope.  I was excited not only to help him but to get my scope out into some real dark skies. 

As I reached his place fully expecting to see a decent quality DS-114 reflecting telescope I saw the black tube of the DS-114AT.  What was this?  I had never seen this model and for some reason Meade does not even have it on their website.  Just what I had feared, this was a true department store telescope.  The eyepieces have little H’s imprinted on them indicating Huygien (about the worst possible eyepiece you could use) and worse yet they were the tiny .969 models.  The Barlow was a laughable piece of plastic that quickly found its way back into the box.

The Telescope and Accessories

This scope, although cheap actually looked pretty good.  It has a sharp black tube and a decent looking tripod setup.  Like I have already mentioned the eyepieces were going to be a problem as well as the finder.  It was the small 5x24mm that as expected was nowhere near in focus.  It is not adjustable either.  Another notable problem was the focuser.  It is an incredibly flimsy piece of plastic. I was amazed to even see that it worked. 

On the other hand there were some positive features.  The mirror looked quite good and well as the secondary.  The instruction booklet was actually well written and geared towards the beginning amateur, and the software was useful for the beginner too. 

The DS Computer System

Although a good idea this system could use a little help.  Forgive me but I personally feel that the beginner should not start with a goto telescope.  Half of the fun of learning astronomy is actually finding what you are looking for.  These new goto systems do very little to aid in the education of new amateurs.

Onto the 114.  The computer system works well but not great.  Granted it was extremely hard to do an alignment because the finder was so difficult to use.  The controller is somewhat intuitive and likewise useable by a wide range of skill levels.  In most cases the computer got us to within ¼ degree or so. 

Collamination 

This is where the instruction booklet was very helpful.  I am a refractor owner and as such have never had to deal with the collamination issue.  The instructions easily guided us through this process with simple explanations and graphics.  I think I did a decent job but I am sure I could do better next time.  We tested the collaminated telescope on a bird about 100 yards away and got fairly good views.  The main problem was that the view seemed very dim when compared with my refractor aimed at the same bird.  I figured that this was probably the fault of the eyepieces and not the collamination.

Observations

As night fell the glorious dark skies began to surround us.  He was not lying these are some of the darkest skies I have ever seen.  It was absolutely incredible.  Well we were set up and ready to go.  Our first target was the fine normally easily split triple star system of Mizar in the handle of the “Dipper”.  After dealing with the computer for a while I decided to manually control the scope to the destination.  The views were an extreme disappointment.  Mizar was very dim and Alcor was hardly visible.  Forget about the third component it was invisible.  I then decided to hit the Double Cluster to see just what we could do with it.  Once again the computer forced me to manually guide the scope to the location.  Without a guide scope this was becoming a tedious project and I was quickly growing weary.  Needless to say we never found the cluster.

A bit later the moon began to rise and spoiled the fine dark skies we had just hours before.  But the moon presented me with a good test subject.  This is where I feel collamination must have been an issue.  The views of the moon were so muddy that detail was difficult even with the 25mm eyepiece.  The view was so dim that the glare was hardly annoying or noticible.  Normally the glare in my 120mm refractor is too much to bear without a filter.  In any case there were some serious problems.

Conclusion

While perhaps this scope is not as bad as I have made it sound the impression I left with was one of disappointment.  I now know why Meade does not advertise this scope online, widespread use of this scope would quite possibly ruin their name.  I will not rate this scope at this time because I feel that it is inherently unfair to rate a scope after just one use.  I will however be journeying back up there in the near future for another night of observing.  This time collamination will be a priority as well as finding some better eyepieces for it.  I feel that if these issues are corrected there may be some hope left for this telescope. 

Submitted by Curt Irwin - irwincur@excite.com - Grand Rapids, Michigan

 


 

The Review

This telescope was purchased from a second-hand store, and came with three .965" eyepieces, and a 3x Barlow. The lenses were a 25mm Huygenian, a 4mm Ramsden, and a 2.5mm Huygenian. The Barlow lense was a .965" molded plastic, two-lens, long-body type. The telescope came with the #492 Meade dual-motor electronic control (EC) system, and a X/Y paddle controller that had a focus, speed, and mode button. I added the #495 Meade AutoStar paddle controller. The telescope had the stock 6x30mm finderscope, a Altitude/Azimuth mount with setting circles, an aluminum tripod and tool-holder, a plastic and metal manual focuser with a .965" and 2" eyepiece adapter, and a cap for the open end of the tube.

The first night out was rememberable because of the planet Venus on the western horizon. In my haste to get the telescope up and running before Venus descended, I remember the ability to set this apparatus up quickly and without a lot of fuss. I was not familiar with astronomy enough to understand the intricacies of proper alignment for tracking and such, and the telescope really didn't require much of that because of the simple Alt/Az design. I do remember the frustrated attempts at moving the telescope around without it spindling the electronic cables around the mount, and hitting the tripod legs with the open tube assembly. It seemed as if it took forever to slew to an object, so I learned quickly to uncouple the drive and swing it around wherever I wanted to go, then recouple and use the motors to adjust the view. I noticed the motor drive gears would pop or slip if I didn't have the coupler knob really tight. The telescope would drop over at a certain balance point in the up down motion (altitude), and would jerk during a side-to-side motion (azimuth). The setting circles were nearly impossible to read even with a red flashlight, especially the Altitude circle. The drive screw of the screw/pinion drive has a take-up nut on the outside of the drive unit. The adjustment is made at the factory for the drive and is held in place with a nylon crown to prevent the nut from backing out. I noticed this nut was susceptible to the cold temperatures in the winter months, and would loosen off, thereby causing the screw to walk back and forth along the worm gear when in motion, adding considerable backlash to the drive unit. As a consequence, the telescope would fail to move promptly after a while out in an observing session. I kept a wrench handy to adjust the nut as needed. Another bugger concerned the HBX hand controller plug socket on the mount. The telephone cable pin plug was loose and required a piece of tape wrapped around it to wedge it into the socket tightly enough to keep it alive. This might have been due to the previous owner of the telescope, so I wouldn't consider this a normal anomaly of the telescope design.

Using the 25mm eyepiece, I became familiar with the larger nebulae and open clusters of the winter night sky. The telescope was in need of collimation, but I wasn't aware of that at the time, yet I saw breathtaking views of Saturn, Jupiter, and the Moon. The clarity was very good with this eyepiece on these larger objects, and I don't remember suffering from any eyestrain while observing. The obvious task was to try to gain some more power with the 4mm and 2.5mm eyepieces. As I stepped up to the 4mm, I noticed a rapid drop in the brightness and ability to focus easily. The gas giant planets became wobbly and diffuse with less time to discern the features because of the motion through the field of view. I was not swayed though, I switched to the 2.5mm eyepiece, and was lost in space quickly. I could hardly find Saturn, much less make out anything other than a hazy blob bubbling and floating, balloon-like with its rings flapping, through the eyepiece.

In my unbridled enthusiasm as a newborn novice astronomer, I decided the large, long tube-like Barlow would be the answer to why I wasn't enjoying the views I so desperately assumed could be found within this apparatus. I anxiously slipped the 2.5mm eyepiece into the 3x Barlow, and inserted the loaded shell into my aimed star-gun. As I looked through the eyepiece I noticed . . . black. I focused frantically. The starry sky was empty. Replaced by a fabric of mushy ink, and a hint of lighter patches as if I were looking through a fresnel lens at a pool of bubbling tar. The image stuck in my mind. The universe was full of stars and planets and such. I knew it was, yet this equipment was robbing me of the view because of my instance of using too much power. This lesson learned I moved the other direction. I placed the 4mm eyepiece in the Barlow, and noticed a slight improvement. There were fuzzy halos of gray globs. I refocused to no avail. I slipped the Barlow out a bit in the focuser, and noticed I could almost focus on a star. There was no way to bring the planets into view successfully, and the Moon was washed away in smeared shades of half-grays. The 25mm in the Barlow was much more promising. The planets came back into my universe and the Moon became a field trip. I could really make out a crater or two and the terminator was a three dimensional experience. As I built up my enthusiasm for this combination, I moved the eyepiece target to the great galaxy in Andromeda. I searched the sky back and forth, nearly expiring the voltage in the battery pack before I decided to switch to the 25mm alone. Without the Barlow I found M31 easily. The gargantua spread from one end to the other in the field of view. I was used to the 15x50 binocular views of this deep-sky object, and this was a real treat to be able to see the entire core up close. The dark dust lane was barely discernable with prolonged viewing using averted glances. I was very fortunate to be able to make this out even with the excellent seeing conditions on that crisp cold night. After trying for the Great Nebula in Orion, and M41 in Canis Major, I called it an evening.

After a few months of upgrading the eyepiece selection to a Meade 4000 26mm super Plossel, a Celestron 40mm NexStar plossl, and a Celestron 6mm NexStar Plossl, and learning how to collimate the mirrors in this Newtonian reflector, I found the views to be much more tangible. The rings of Saturn were countable through the 6mm, even though the ability to focus sharply was futile. The wide field tapestry was stunning in the Celestron 40mm, although I had to become accustomed to the longer eye relief in order to avoid the swirling blackouts when my eye was off centerline. The finderscope was easy enough to learn to align. The reversed image movement was unintuitive because my only experience previous was with a red-dot finder on my refractor. With this combination of optics, I learned the night sky well and found many Messier objects with only a star chart and planisphere.

Later, I decided to use the telescope for a piggy back mount for my 35mm SLR cameras. I wanted to take wide-field shots of the constellations and the Milky Way. I added the #495 Meade AutoStar unit to help me track the celestial sphere. I found out after a roll of film or two that the stars at the corners of my pictures were trailing, but the stars in the middle were nice and point-like. No matter how well I tracked with the AutoStar, the same effect occurred. I consulted some amateur astro-imagers about this and found the Alt/Az mount was the culprit. I was not able to track in a sidereal manner across the sky. The effect was labeled 'field rotation'. I chalked that one up to a learning experience and decided to use the gear as a good way to watch the planets without having to continuously move the telescope by hand. The AutoStar has never given me the accurate GOTO capabilities that are advertised, but the ability to track something in a low power view is very good. The star alignment procedure is very important and the telescope training calibration is a must. The annoyance with the date and time never remaining from session to session is understandable due to the constraints of the battery supply. The original drive motor take-up nut slippage is still a big stumbling block in the performance parameter. The telescope will loose its alignment if an operator doesn't pay careful attention to the torque on this part.

Final Opinion

I believe the optics on this telescope are excellent from the standpoint of the primary and secondary mirrors of the optical tube assembly. The provided eyepiece selection at the time this telescope was issued was poor. The newer packages have upgraded this set with larger barrel sizes, but still have lower quality Huygenian and Modified Achromatic designed lenses. The sizes are better though. Meade sends a more reasonable 25mm and 9mm focal length eyepiece set with the new package. The AutoStar computer control is a helpful tool to track objects, but does not warrant the expense at around $100.00 US. A German equatorial mount with slow motion hand controls would be a much more economical and better mount as well as providing the same accurate tracking solution, albeit no motor. If I were looking for a first time telescope to learn the night sky, I would be grateful for someone steering me away from this style mount and drive gear. I think a newbie would find much more satisfaction using a non-motorized version of this telescope. The Alt/Az mount is okay for easy viewing, but is seriously restricted to that only. At the price these telescopes go for, I would recommend a Dobsonian in order to acquire a larger primary for the same cost.

Submitted by David - davidr@wf.net - USA