Telescope Review: Meade 10 inch Starfinder Dob

Telescope: Meade 10 inch Starfinder Dob
Type: Reflector
Description: 200mm f/4.8 Newtonian reflector, 6x30mm finderscope, 26mm Plossl eyepiece, $995 CAD.
Setup: I traded in my ETX for this big Dob in the fall of 2001. The 10 inch Dob was my only scope at the time, and served very well as a general purpose scope. I transported the scope to a dark sky location in my Grand Am. The scope took up all the available space except for the driver's seat! I used the scope for about 1 year before trading it in for something more portable (an Orion Starmax 127).
Appearance: The Meade looks nice with it's glossy white sonotube and sturdy particle board base. It's a wide squat telescope that looks like the serious instrument that it is. However, upon closer inspection, one quickly realizes that the money spent on this scope went mostly into the optics, and very little into anything else. The bushings for both Alt and Az are nylon, and the main Alt bearing is only about 5 inches in diameter - about 1/2 what it should be for a 10 inch Dob! The 2 inch rack an pinion focuser is simply a joke - made entirely out of plastic with way too much play in the draw tube. The dinky 6x30 finder is also useless. I replaced the focuser immediately with a 2 inch all metal Skywatcher unit, and the finder was replaced at purchase time with a Telrad. An iron counter weight was attached to the primary mirror cell (there's luckly a socket for it!) that was provided to me by one of my club members (thanks, Dave!). The counterweight made using the scope much easier. One nice touch is that the Dob base has three pointy rubber pads on the bottom, making it easy to get a solid placement on just about any ground surface.
Performance: When properly collimated, this scope provides images that were just stunning! Tack sharp stars across almost the whole field (some coma was evident) and the planetary views were reasonably bright and crisp. The orignal focuser made it almost impossible to enjoy these views, since getting proper focus was a frustrating hit or miss proposition. But with the metal focuser in place, the skies opened up. This thing is a deep sky workhorse, regularly pulling in mag 12 and 13 galaxies with ease. Surfing through a populous area like the Virgo Cluster can be confusing because so many galaxies are plainly evident.
 
This scope easily pulled Eps Lyra apart at a lesurely 135x, and other easier doubles like Alberio showed excellent colour contrast. I did feel the planetary views could be better, though, as on at least one night, the Starfinder was outperformed on Jupiter by an 8 inch f/6 Dob (thanks Ula!). This could probably be fixed by flocking the tube some what and putting some flat black paint on the 4 vein spider, instead of the glossy black that Meade used. Still, much detail can be seen on Juipter - much more than the basic 2 belts and GRS. I saw white spots as well as festooning and many of the smaller belts. Overall, this scope would do well on planets, but it's the deep sky performance that really stands out.
 
Although the scope isn't any taller than an 8" f/6 scope, it's much wider in girth, and thus the base is also much larger. The whole rig weighs in at over 70lbs, so moving it as one piece can be a little tough. Set up and tear down are a breeze, as it is with most Dobs, and can be done in just minutes (while some of your SCT toting friends are spending 45+ minutes setting up, you've already bagged 10 Messier objects!).
 
The perfomance of the bearings, however, is no where near up to the level of the optics. The small Alt bearing sticks frequently and often isn't enough to hold the scope's balance while using larger eyepieces and / or Barlow lenses. The Az bearing also sticks horribly, making find adjustments in positioning very difficult. I used some Turtle Car Wax on all the nylon bushings, and things improved greatly, however that had to be done before just about every use. Not very user friendly!
 
Collimation is fairly easy on the primary, done by tweaking three push/pull allen screws. The secondary I found hard to adjust - the small Philips head bolts didn't seem to do much. Luckily, overall this scope holds it's collimation very well, so it only needs to be done once every few months (I found, anyway).
Pros:
  • Very good aperture in a reasonably portable package
  • Excellent optics
  • Very easy to use - just point and look!
  • Fantastic deep sky views - especially with a wide field 2 inch eyepiece
  • Holds collimation well even after being transported
Cons:
  • Awful plastic focuser is a throw away item - must be replaced if the scope is to be at all usable
  • Dinky 6x30mm finder is pretty useless
  • Terrible nylon bushings should be replaced with Teflon pads immediately
  • Sonotube showed signs of peeling after only 1 year of use
  • Particle board base chips fairly easily
  • Bulky scope is not as easy to move or transport as an 8 inch f/6 scope
  • Fairly pricey, considering competing 10 inch Dobs are about $100 less with a better finder, metal focuser and better bearings/bushings already included in the package
  • Collimation can be a bit tricky
Conclusions: Although a very good optical performer, I don't recommend this scope to those in the market for a new 10 inch Dob. Examples from Orion, Skywatcher, NewStar and Sky Mentor are much better built and better equipped right out of the box for a lower price. However, these Meades can be a good deal on the used market, if many of the problems have been fixed already by the previous owner. 
 
The bottom line? Recommended with reservations (Excellent optics, but very poor focuser/finder/balance requires much scope modification before it's really useful).
Reviewer: Rick Towns
Review Date: 11/14/2001