I had first seen the new series DS2130 at a local Wal-Mart a couple of months ago. What caught my eye was the single arm mount typical of what Celestron has used for some time now. When I returned home I searched the internet for hours looking for any information on this new Telescope but found none. Two months later I searched again and only found some blurbs in the news groups from others also seeking info on this new scope. Knowing my curiosity on this, and Wal-Mart's generous return policy, I decided to buy this $350 Department Store grade telescope and see what it was all about.
My comparisons would be against the older DS series and, of mechanics and design, against the ETX series.
When unpacking the scope I had expected to see a lot of plastic and other poorly fitting pieces as is typical of scopes in this low price class. What I had found was a different story.
The metal scope tube itself housed a 5.1" mirror on a 3 point adjustable and vented mirror mount. The 3 main mirror adjustment screws were Philips head types as are those on the secondary mirror mount making for very easy collimation with no special tools. Three additional thumb type locking screws were also used to help keep the main mirror locked in place after collimation. Although the focuser draw tube is chrome plated plastic, it is placed in a rather robust mounting. Metal rack and pinion gearing and a very well placed tensioning/lock screw made for very precise and wobble free focusing, much better than I had seen on most low end scopes. Unfortunately, the focuser only had adapters to support .96 and 2" eyepieces. Meade will mail you a 1 1/4" adapter free of charge for the asking. The 5 X 24 finder scope is mounted in a plastic but very ridged stalk having adjustment screws at both ends. The finders optics were very clear and distortion free as compared to the older DS series. A rubber eyecup and tall position makes for very comfortable viewing and adjustment. Dust covers for both the main tube and focuser are included. I expected that the 3 included eyepieces would be total of junk as in other low end scopes but again were surprised to see they were of very good quality. The barrels were of chrome plated metal with rubber eyecups included. They provided excellent, distortion free imaging, not quite that of the Meade 3000 series but excellent for beginners and public viewing. They are the .96 dia type.
Of great interest to me (and others) was the single arm mounting so untypical of Meade. I was mostly interested in how it would handle tracking and goto accuracy provided by the #494 Autostar, better than the older DS series hopefully. Again I expected a flimsy plastic mount not nearly capable of supporting a 6" X 38" long Newtonian tube assembly. When removing it from the packaging I first noticed the weight and solid feel. This thing is not plastic, but an aluminum casting from top to base. The only plastic found were the covers protecting the electronics and battery cover. It had the look and feel of a very well made, well designed system. No visible screws or holes seen anywhere, proving that someone had put some thought into this design. The mount somewhat resembled an ETX mount with one arm, including setting circles ETX style found at both axis. Simple assembly required only that the aluminum telescope tube clamp (inside half) be screwed to an aluminum counter piece in the arm with 4 Philips type screws, and the finder scope be attached to the optical tube. The outer half of the tube clamp is made of a ridged plastic material and hinged at the bottom for easy tube removal.
The older DS series showed considerable slop on it's Altitude axis and is one thing that contributed to poor goto accuracy. The older system also used very small (about 1" dia) ring gears on the Alt. and Az. main shafts which further decreases accuracy (compare this with the 4.9" ring gears on the LX90). This new mount, although not utilizing axis shaft ball bearings, uses a very precise bushed system which seems self tensioning to reduce any play to a minimum. The ring gears are nearly 3 inches in diameter and made of a very strong phenolic type material being over 1/4" thick at the gear end and widening at the center hub with embossed ribs added for strength. The mating worm gear is of the same material. The rest of the drive system is more robust and stronger then it's predecessor and ETX. The drive motors seem larger and the encoders are better sealed from dust and dirt. The ring-worm gear mesh is self loading and requires no adjustment. The 8 AA battery pack is hidden inside of the mounting at the top of the base and the only exposed wiring is the cord to the Autostar. No cord wrap problems as in the older DS scopes. The motors are somewhat noisier then the previous DS or ETX.
The all metal mount base (which contains the azimuth drive assembly) sits neatly in a mating all metal cup type holder which also serves as the tripods head. The tripod legs are attached directly to this cup holder. The azimuth axis is rotated by moving the entire telescope and mount within the mating tripod head by loosening the lock screw at the bottom of the tripod head. The mount has 3 Teflon pads at it's bottom and the cup has 3 small flanges at the sides to allow a wobble free and smooth rotating motion. The altitude axis can be unlocked from the drive by turning a large knob on the side of the mount arm as with the ETX. The aluminum tripod itself utilizes a 3 point spider halfway down the legs to stiffen up and help support the legs. A plastic tray which holds the eyepieces and Autostar is mounted to one of the spiders arms. The spider is locked into position by turning a center knob a quarter turn. With this, the whole system breaks down into 3 main parts within seconds. Turn one knob to open the clamp and remove the tube assembly, unscrew the large knob under the tripod head to remove the arm mount and last, turn the spider lock knob 1/4 turn and lift to close the legs. The tray does not need to be removed.
The included #494 Autostar utilizes the later version 11ec firmware and so has most of the capabilities of it's bigger brothers with only a smaller database. I am use to using the larger #497 model but found this smaller unit to be easier to handle and almost simpler in operation. This proven device undoubtedly adds value to the system.
The Wal-Mart Package comes with a bonus Meade #7165 CCD eyepiece. Powered by an internal 9V battery it is very compact and fits into the eyepiece focuser. There is a single knob to turn it off and on and adjust the contrast (sensitivity). This Black & white CMOS based CCD is a very elementary type of imager utilizing a video output only. It is to be used with a portable TV or camcorder with video input. It does not connect to your computer (unless you have a video capture card) and provides real time video imaging as a TV camera would (no still images). Advertising claims imaging is possible of the moon, planets and stars. I don't believe this unit to be sensitive enough to capture the light of dim planets and stars but will still be of interest to those wishing to get their feet wet in CCD astronomy. I will report on it's capabilities after testing in the near future.
Also bundled is a version of Starry Night Basic and is a very useful and entertaining planetarium program.
The Meade DS2130 was much more than I expected. It is not a toy but a well designed and fully functional imaging system. It's components, although not stellar, are well made and very functional. The optics are on par with any good to high quality scope as far as my preliminary testing has shown.
Due to weather conditions, I have not yet been able to test the scope fully under the stars. Goto accuracy is yet to be proven and is of my most concern. However, if this well built system works as well as it is designed then it's $350 price tag including the Autostar will be a bargain and may also end the bad reputation of the department store telescope.
I would place this scope in the intermediate category and above the beginner class due to the Autostar and it's extensive menu driven commands which can be somewhat intimidating to use until fully learned and understood. It is designed to be used primarily with the Autostar since slewing by hand is both shaky and rough. A large part of the manual is directed toward the Autostar and it's operation, however, some important details are omitted or not clearly explained such as drive training which is important for accurate goto results. I can see this scope being a great conversation piece at star parties due to it's unusual design (for Meade that is) and good for those looking for something a little different to peer through other than the trusty Dobs that we have all become so accustomed. Bottom line, it works, it's cheap and it's fun to use.
Clear weather gave me an opportunity to test the scopes optics and automation. The infamous star test showed an airy disk with seven or eight evenly spaced defraction rings on both side of focus, a better pattern than my ETX 90. No spikes or rough surface indicated and images seem to pop into focus when racking the draw tube in and out. The supplied 25mm eyepiece gave a slight distortion at the extreme edges but was overall acceptable. The supplied eyepieces (25mm, 12.5mm & 4mm) are threaded for filters and have rubber cups attached. The double cluster gave tight pin points of light and was in complete view using the supplied 25mm eyepiece. Images had good contrast for a Newtonian even in my light polluted sky. When the 1 1/4" focuser adapter comes in I will report on optic performance using the higher quality Super Plossel 4000 series eyepieces. Since outdoor and indoor temps were nearly identical I had know way of testing the damp out time. Being a metal tube with a vented primary mirror would suggest quick acclimation to it's surroundings.
The one (and only) problem I had with the scope was with the altitude percentage (backlash) adjustment which had no effect no mater what it was set at. Slow speed slews moving up and down would take several seconds before the scope would actually move. The azimuth adjustment worked fine and seemed best set at 35%. Trying my #497 Autostar fixed the problem indicating a possible programming error in the supplied #494 Autostar. Since the 494 requires a different computer interface cable (#506 vs #505) I could not reload or upgrade the firmware to attempt a fix.
After initial set up and alignment, as required by Meade's Autostar, all objects selected fell within the area of view of the 25mm eyepiece. Goto precision was on par or better for a scope of this class being about equal to the ETX series and much better than the previous DS series. Goto's were much improved when enabling the high precision mode offered by the Autostar. Objects were nearly centered every time in this mode and accuracy remained consistent for the several hours of use. No re-alignments were needed. However, as with most of the Alt/Az mounts I have tested, objects near the zenith gave the Autostar the hardest time in centering, even in high precision mode. As expected, focusing with high powered eyepieces proved difficult because of the less than solid support offered by the light weight tripod. Most other vibrations damped out in less than 1.5 seconds and things remained steady even in a breeze. The optional electronic focuser would be a welcomed first add-on for this scope.
Taking the telescope from indoors to out was an easy operation. I would first loosen the axis locks and rotate the tube so I could point it straight up. I would then unlock the tripod spider and close the legs. The assembly was then long and narrow making it easy to carry. It seems that the 38" long optical tube is pushing the mechanical limits of this single arm mount. A model 2130s is mentioned in the manual as a short version of this scope (18" long tube vs 38") having the same 5", F7.9 optics. This may be a better choice over the long tube version but there may be a compromise in the optics if a barlow is built into the focuser to achieve the same F ratio. I have found no other information on the availability of the 2130s.
I cannot find any mention of this particular telescope anywhere on the internet. It seems to be a Wal-Mart only product and is different than the DS Series telescopes pictured on their web site. (It is not on the Wal-Mart web site either). It has some quirks but for the money, it's amazing. For $350 bucks I got a nice tripod (I work in video and this tripod is sturdier than any consumer camcorder tripod I've ever seen.) There are no bubble levels on it (which you can add for less than 2 bucks) which is a shame because it works great on a level tripod. Once aligned it really does an amazing job tracking objects. The movement as slow speeds is very smooth and you can fine tune the tracking well. I was able to move through eye-piece magnifications easily. The telescope has a 5' mirror and a 1020mm focal length. It came with 3 eye-pieces and a 3x barlow lense. It came with Starry Night software and software to enable direct computer control of the Autostar system. It also came with a b/w ccd camera. This eyepiece shaped camera can be used to send video from the telescope to a TV or VCR. The camera works great on the moon. You can't change it's magnification but a small battery operated TV lets everyone see at the same time. I had hoped to be able to see dimmer objects but, the moon is what it's good for. I tried plugging it into a Sony Digital Handycam, hoping to be able to snap digital pictures but the output from the eyepiece is rejected by the camcorder. The CCD camera output may be sized incorrectly... I am not sure but all things considered It makes a great free gift. (as billed on the package). The tripod is sturdy and the mounting system sound except the screw knob on the base is too short. When loosened (to allow manual movement of the scope) it only hangs on by a couple threads. Unscrew a little too far and the whole thing can fall off the tripod or you may accidentally strip the bottom threads. I fixed this problem with a new bolt from Lowe's. (make sure to bring it with you and match the very fine threads) Now the scope can't fall off and can be loosened without fear. There is a trick to aiming it. The degree rings on the scope are worthless. The ring around the base is glued very weakly and unless you reinforce it first thing out of the box you won't have it for long.
[Editors note: The Az. ring should be snug on the base but loose enough to rotate. Since the base rotates on the tripod (instead of having an Az cluth that you can disengage) once you have the tube pointed north you would rotate the Az ring until the 0 is under the arrow that is located on the top, rotating part of the mount, just under the power switch. You can then use the scale. I prefer to just use the Autostar.]
Likewise the ring on the side has play in it. Long story short, to aim the scope, you have to move it to the 0' position with it pointing north. With no way to tell where this was I was frustrated for a while. However, there is an option in the Utilities Menu called Park Scope. This seems to move the motors to the 0' position. Next you loosen the knobs, point the scope north with the tube level and you are ready to start alignment.
[Editors Note: The Park utility is meant for scope in a permanent installation, such as on a pier in your backyard observatory (I don't have one). After a night of observing with a properly aligned scope you would Park it then the next night you would just have to power on and goto, the scope remembers its alignment. At the end of your session you would Park again and power down. In theory you would never have to align again. Don't bother Parking before an alignment as the motors do not have a home position or any way to zero themselves. Just point north, level and align.]
I pick my stars before setup and choose them manually from the controller. This is the best way because the Autostar does not know which stars are obstructed by trees ect. It goes to where it thinks the star is automatically (which it usually overshoots) but once you line them up you are ready to go. I have found that once I am through the alignment the rest is gravy. If you are carefully tracking an object for a few minutes at a high power the autostar really gets into the groove and you can move around the sky with confidence. Even with it's quirks, this scope is infinitely easier to work than a manual mount. I can see more in 10min than I have been able to see with a standard mount in a year. I love the identify feature, you point the scope at something and it tells you what it is. This is my second DS-2130 ATE. The first one came out of the box defective. It wouldn't turn left. In all fairness I should note that this may not have been a factory defect. When they exchanged the scope (no questions asked) it was obvious that the first scope had been opened and repackaged. I believe that if you assembled this scope without reading the directions carefully you could accidentally break it. I would blame the problem on moving the scope with the base knob tightened, thereby stripping the gear. (The degree rings on this scope where loose as well). The focus adjustment knob is not smooth at high power, but, I understand that this can be fixed with an optional electric focuser. I should point out that this shaking does not change the scopes position, which it returns to quickly. I like the Starry Night Software a lot, I don't have the optional cable for direct computer control. Make sure you put fresh batteries in at the beginning of the night and keep extras on hand if it's really cold or you plan a long night. It takes 8 AA so the car or AC adapter may be a good idea if you plan on using it a lot.
Though I can't find this exact scope, the DS series mirrors have gotten high marks in reviews I have read. I think with an autofocuser and some nicer eyepieces there is little this scope won't do. Rings of Saturn, clouds on Jupiter, the Orion nebula, galaxies and more--a thousand times easier to see than with a manual mount. I'm having a great time with this scope, I have studied the sky for years and this product has really been educational. You can be sure that you are really looking at the right thing.
No matter what scope you get, there is always a nicer more expensive model but I would say the next scope up from this will cost at least a couple hundred more dollars. Four and a half stars.