Friday, December 09, 2005

Mini-Hands On: Meade LightBridge



I had an opportunity last night to get my hands on Meade's new truss-tube dobsonian, the LightBridge. Cloudy skies prevented actually observing with the telescope, so I'll just describe the mechanics.

The scope comes packaged in two large cardboard boxes, one for the base and another containing the optical tube assembly (OTA) and truss tubes. The base is typical for a commercial dob, being constructed of particle board covered with a white melamine veneer. Assembly is straightforward with the supplied allen wrench.

Meade offers the LightBridge in two variations--"standard" and "deluxe." The primary difference between the two involves the azimuth bearings in the base. The standard version consists of hard plastic pads, similar to the bearings found in other imported dobs. The deluxe version I used had a 10-inch or so roller bearing assembly sandwiched between two metal plates. The bolt holding the swivel base together has a hand knob for easy assembly, and uses a thrust washer to allow adjusting the tension of the azimuth motion. I found the motion to be smooth and precise, without the stiction I have with my smaller Hardin Deep Space Hunter. By tightening the tension, I didn't experience the loose feeling that other roller-bearing designs sometimes have.

The OTA is in two pieces, obviously. The primary mirror has a removable cover, but the secondary remains exposed. The six truss tubes are permanently attached in three sets of two. Attaching the poles to the primary tube involves fitting the flattened end of the tube into a slot and over a pin, an arrangement that worked well and felt secure. Three knobs held the tubes in place. The upper cage then attached easily with three more knobs. It wasn't immediately obvious which way to turn the upper tube, but it's correct when the seams on the two tubes align. The finished assembly felt rigid and secure. The truss assembly is open, with a shroud planned for future release. The white finish is attractive, but the flat black interior wasn't particularly black. Further, some parts of the white trim are visible through the focuser drawtube. Serious observers may want to flock the interior of the upper tube. The altitude bearings are aluminum, and rode on a felt-like material on the base. The motion was smooth, but not balanced at low elevations. Meade apparently is holding up the final release of the LightBridge so that a friction brake can be installed.

The supplied 2-inch crayford focuser felt smooth throughout its range, with only light effort required to turn the aluminum knobs. There's no finder scope, but Meade is including either a red dot finder on the standard model, or an advanced reflex finder (actually a modified rifle sight) on the deluxe model.

The optics are made in Taiwan by Guan Sheng, which enjoys a reputation for "surprisingly good" quality. The primary is center spotted--a good thing since this telescope will require collimation every time it is set up. Meade isn't including any type of collimation aid in the package, nor do they sell one themselves. The representative I spoke with uses an Orion LaserMate.

The LightBridge is certainly attractive to look at, and I suspect it's nice to look through. I don't know how useful a truss is at the small sizes the scope is currently offered at. The lack of a finder scope or object locator makes the scope a bit more challenging to use. Still, it's a nice package and I expect it to sell well.

<edit> Read another review on the LightBridge here.</edit>

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

I just saw this scope in my latest issue of Astronomy and recognized it when the page first loaded. So, did you buy this or were you with someone who did?

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff,

Sorry, I forgot to sign the post. That was me, Robert.

robert

imjeffp said...

The visiting Meade rep brought one with him to the store.

For me, even a 12" wouldn't be a big enough jump from the 10" to be worth it. I'd really like to see this truss design in a 15"–18" though. That'd really catch my attention.

The Infidel Army said...

More toys... errr tools. Yea, that's it, tools. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Everyone, Jeff you mentioned wanting or needing something bigger than 12". Here in Australia G.S.O. will be releasing a 16" version of the Meade clones under the G.S. name in March. I'm sure they will find their way to the U.S.A.in due time. Cheers, John

Patrick said...

Hi Jeff,
I just ordered a 10" Lightbridge the other day from OPT, it was before I read you review. This will be my families first scope and we are very excited about it.
My question to you is about the difference between the base level and the deluxe, do you feel the extra 100.00 is worth the differences in the bearings and the spotting scope?
Thank you,
Patrick
Kaua’i, HI

imjeffp said...

The comment the rep made was that the difference was between a nice scope and an unusable one. I'd go for the deluxe one.

A 10" for your first scope? Nice! Make sure to set some money aside for accessories like a red flashlight, a map and/or planisphere and/or planetarium software, and some sort of chair. Let me know if you want suggestions.

Patrick said...

We already have a red flashlight, atlas, binoculars and Starry Night, plus a half dozen books. But we will definitely email OPT and change our order to the 'deluxe' scope.
Thank you,
Patrick
Kaua'i

bearkite said...

Nice review Jeff...

I'm still scratching my head a bit, though.

Unless you observe at a VERY dark site, you always need a shroud to block ambient light (this from the owner of a 12.5" Telekit). I applaud Meade for coming out with this product. I suspect it'll be a winner. But, I really wonder about that oversight.

Patrick... I don't know where you'll be using your scope. If you're ordering from OPT, probably somewhere on the West Coast. Don't get too discouraged with your scope. Just make sure you get the shroud when (and if) it becomes available. You may even consider giving the folks over at Astrosystems a shout. They make a great lycra shroud.

Just my 2 cents...


LouB

imjeffp said...

The Meade rep assured me a shroud was coming. In the meantime, it looks like one could be fabricated pretty easily.

Patrick said...

At our last monthly Starwatch we looked through an open truss 20" Dob and a shrouded 16" Dob, both were very good images. We do have pretty dark skies here though.
I will indeed order a shroud when they come available.
Thank you,
Patrick
Kaua'i

ash said...

Sorry to jump in -- I'm a newbie at aided stargazing. Made my first leap with 7X50 binoculars which really opened up the sky. I am considering the 12' Lightbridge (delux), but I'd like to know what it is that I should be able to see? Is this just like any other 12'? Opening up some of the clusters and nebula? or does it clarify planetary views? Greatly appreciate all the comments!
(from a very dark farmstead in the U.K.)

John Rombi said...

Hi Jeff, Are Meade going to put the altitude brake on the lightbridges and when?.Cheers, John

imjeffp said...

John--All I know is that Meade apparently is holding up the final release of the LightBridge so that a friction brake can be installed. I don't have any more info than that--sorry.

imjeffp said...

Hi Ash!

There's nothing special optically about the new Meade dob--just the truss configuration.

I don't know that I'd recommend a LightBridge as a first scope. A couple things to consider: if you've never collimated a Newtonian telescope before, it can be a little nerve-wracking. (It gets easier with practice, but the first few times may take a bit of doing.) The LightBridge MUST be collimated every time it is assembled due to the truss assembly.

If you're not already familiar with the night sky, the LightBridge will need a finder scope of some type. Meade's including the red dot finder, but an optical finder will be needed to find some of the fainter objects. If you're willing to spend some time with a sky atlas, you'll be fine. Otherwise you might consider a telescope with some type of electronic object locator.

Still, a 12" scope will give you knock-your-socks-off views. Globular clusters like M13 resolve to thousands of individual points. The Orion Nebula is big and bright. And the extra resolution means even more detail on planetary and lunar views.

astrogeek said...

Hi guys,
I'm looking around for a upgrade from my 8" dob and want a larger truss tube design. Thus the lightbridge looks very appealing. I was wondering, however, if anyone can recommend any other 12" or larger scopes that are no more than $1500.

astrogeek

imjeffp said...

More LightBridge info and pics from a Cloudy Nights member are here.

Anonymous said...

Hi all, just would like to know does the scope track and does it have a hand controller to move the scope around in the sky to view?

imjeffp said...

No, there are no motors or electronics on this telescope. There are some dobsonians that feature tracking, but they're relatively rare.