Meade ETX-90RA

The ETX forms the core of my system. It's my first serious scope, though I've been interested in astronomy and have been looking through other people's scopes for 30 years. Choosing an ETX flew in the face of the conventional wisdom for buying a first/primary scope. So why'd I do it?

Part of it was a decades-old lust for a Questar. Ever since I saw one of those gems in a Sky and Telescope ad back in the '70s, I've lusted after one, but have never come close to having that sort of disposable income available!

Another part of it was the extremely limited space I have at my house. There's simply no room for an 8" Dob here!

Finally, it was a lot of research, and deciding where the conventional wisdom fit and where it didn't. I bought the ETX at about the same time I was becoming involved with the Frosty Drew Observatory. This gave me a weekly opportunity to look through larger aperture scopes, and to spend some serious time on objects. What I was looking for in my own scope was a quick setup and takedown period so I could spend a few hours in the backyard looking at the sky without a major engineering effort! As the old saying goes, the best scope for you is the one that will get used. I use my ETX one or twice a week on average, not counting the times I set up at Frosty Drew on Friday nights.

The final item that tipped the scales in favor of the ETX was a sale at Learningsmith, a Boston-based educational chain that got me 20% off the ETX, which I rarely saw discounted. $500 on my AmEx, and I had it in my hands. Even though it was rainy the day I bought the scope (and it didn't clear for over a week!) I left it set up on the table just to look at it. There's no denying it scores a "10" on its appearance!

Just because it looks great doesn't mean that it's a capable scope. So how does it perform? Optically, it's wonderful. Star tests are just about perfect, and there's no distortion or coloration that I can detect. Other scope owners at the observatory have commented on how nice the optics are, and looking through some other scopes with lesser optics, I can really see the difference.

The other thing I like about the ETX is the drive. While others have had problems with their units, my ETX, if aligned properly, tracks pretty darn well. Back towards the beginning of May, I tracked M13 for well over an hour, with not a single adjustment required.

So what don't I like about the ETX? The stock finder, for one. I've replaced it with an Apogee right angle finder, and added a couple of zero-power finders - the Daisy red-dot finder, and a Rigel QuikFinder.

I also found the manual slow-motion controls awkward, so I added the ScopeTronix MicroStarII+ system, which gives me slewing capability on both axes as well as motorized focusing.

I now have what I consider a first-class portable scope that gives me excellent images, extreme portability and is easy to use.

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