USER OPINIONS PAGE
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From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Richard B. Emerson) Thoughts on Why to Buy an ETX Telescope By Richard B. Emerson When I decided to buy an ETX scope, I did my homework by reading reviews in Sky and Telescope magazine (S&T) and started browsing this web site for owner comments. While the S&T reviews were favorable, I quickly found a surprising number of comments that were, frankly, rather disparaging about ETX's and Meade. It was almost as if S&T and the other commentators were talking about two different telescopes. After living with an ETX-90EC for two months, I want to attempt to resolve the seeming contradiction and help prospective ETX buyers. I would be dishonest to say there are no problems with the ETX. The finder shipped with the ETX-90's, for example, is difficult to use once the telescope is elevated much past the horizontal. Hand focusing the scope will make images dance around just when they should be standing still. The gear trains for azimuth motion (think of that as shaking your head left to right) and elevation (think of that as nodding your head up and down) are noisy and have a lot of free play in them. The Autostar controller with its Go-To ability is not included in the base price of the telescope. Even a tripod is an extra item. And finally, most of the pictures on the boxes and in the advertising are not what you'll see in the eyepiece. So why would anyone buy one of these things? Because this telescope works well and the optics are excellent. I can pick up my telescope and tripod, walk outdoors, and look at the sky in five minutes. Better still, with the Autostar controller, I don't have to do any conversions of position information into aiming instructions. Once the telescope knows where it's pointed initially, I can point it anywhere in the sky and be confident that I'll see my target in at least the finder scope and usually in the main eyepiece. If this telescope is so good, why the list of complaints? First and foremost, remember that all telescopes are sold in a limited market space. Compared to the number of VCR's or even personal computers sold, only a handful of telescopes are sold in the same period. Optics are unforgiving when it comes to cost cutting. Either a mirror or lens is ground properly or it's not. Manufacturers can produce quality lenses and mirrors efficiently but sooner or later basic optics and cost butt heads. There is no way to build quality telescope optics of a given size for less than a certain amount of money. Many of the complaints about the ETX center around the issue of cost cutting. Since telescopes are sold in a tight market and optics are basically a fixed cost, the savings have to come from somewhere else in the instrument. While cast metal supports for the telescope would be nice, plastic forks, properly designed, are as effective and cost far less to manufacture. The 8 x 25 right angle scope supplied with the ETX-125 will fit in the ETX-90 finder scope mount. This finder is easier to look into but it adds a small amount to the cost of the overall telescope. Nearly silent, metal gear trains between the motors that move the telescope and the telescope are easy enough to design and manufacture - at a price. Once installed, a few hours of fiddling, adjusting, and more fiddling will take out the slack and backlash in the gears Meade uses in the ETX. But the hand labor needed for removing the last few percentage points of play in the system would raise the cost of the telescope out of the target price range. The ETX comes with noisy gears that respond well to a bit of careful tinkering. With the issues of cost versus final selling price somewhat clarified, what about making the Autostar controller and tripod extras? Which is initially more attractive, a $595 telescope or one offered with controller and tripod for $945? Mentally, it's a big step from "under six hundred bucks" to "almost a thousand bucks" and Meade decided to break the cost up. Will the telescope work without Autostar? Yes. It will track across the sky well enough for casual observing. Can you do it with the telescope just sitting on a table (the older, small legs seen in some pictures are no longer sold with the ETX)? Yes, but the telescope will wobble more than is desirable. The truth is, however, buying an ETX means buying the tripod and Autostar controller. If this is too expensive, think about buying a good Dobsonian scope (check S&T's web site http://www.skypub.com for some very helpful reviews) instead. Having put marketing issues out of the way, there's still the issue of "what you see in the pictures isn't what you see in the telescope." No telescope will ever show the flaming colors of the Great Orion Nebula or the Horsehead Nebula in an eyepiece. Few terrestrial telescopes will ever show Mars, Jupiter or Saturn in the detail seen in many recent pictures including those on ETX shipping boxes. There is a reason why giant telescopes sit on top of mountains in Hawaii, the Andes, the Canary Islands, and the Australian Outback. There is a reason why the Hubble Space Telescope is in Earth orbit and not on the ground. Sadly, much of the "eye candy" in print leads people to unreasonable expectations from their telescopes. The human eye looking through a telescope simply can't deliver what's seen in exposures taken over many minutes, if not hours, or even days. Once again, it seems as if there's little reason to buy a telescope if there's "nothing to be seen". Peer through an ETX using the standard eyepiece aimed at Saturn and there is no question that it's Saturn and it has a ring system. Jupiter's disk is marked by at least five major cloud bands and the four Galilean moons (the moons that were first seen by Galileo almost 400 years ago) are unmistakable. Observe Jupiter for a few minutes, look elsewhere for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes, and return to Jupiter; the moons will definitely have moved from where they were before. In the space of less than an hour, their motion about Jupiter is unescapable. You'll see exactly what Galileo saw and what convinced him that the Earth was not the center of the Solar System. The Moon, with its craters and mountains, is a landscape to be explored over and over. Venus becomes not just a glowing point in the sky but a disk showing phases just as the Moon does. While the ETX can be guided by hand to all of these sights, the Autostar controller makes the task far easier. What about the stars, nebulae, and galaxies? Even from my suburban frontyard, with a sky much too bright with street lights and store signs, star clusters are indeed many stars often filling the eyepiece. Stars that, without a telescope, look to be just one star turn out to be binary stars. The Great Orion Nebula shows in the eyepiece as a glowing patch dotted with several stars. While the Andromeda Galaxy (the one closest to our home Milky Way Galaxy) doesn't look as impressive as the photos, it's possible to spot the glow of the central portion of the galaxy from my suburban front yard. Spend a little time in reading the "what's in the sky" articles in S&T and Astronomy magazines and even urban observers, to say nothing of those lucky enough to have darker skies, will find more than enough to see with an ETX telescope. The ETX It's not intended to be a research grade telescope and it's not intended to be a platform for astrophotography. It is intended to be a telescope for looking and browsing through the sky. And this task it does and does extremely well. I wouldn't own an ETX if I thought otherwise. (c) Copyright, Richard B. Emerson, 2001, All rights reserved
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