Meade ETX 125 Observer Telescope Review (205005)

Type Maksutov-Cassegrain / Catadioptric  
Aperture 127mm (5 inches)
Focal Length 1900mm
Mount Computerized GOTO Mount
Accessories Steel Tripod with EQ Tilt, Astronomy Software DVD, Two 1.25 inch Plossl Eyepieces ( 9.7mm and 26mm), Red-dot Viewfinder, Backpack for Telescope and Accessories

Focal Ratio f/15

Overview

The Meade ETX-125 Observer is the last addition to the ETX series of telescope by Meade. It offers the largest aperture of the range, giving it the size-edge over the other ETX telescopes, but does this make it the right telescope for you?

Meade has always produced telescopes with good optics, and the ETX-125 stands up to this. It performs quite well optically, though you should take note that with its slow focal ratio (f/15), the telescope is primarily for made for viewing within the Solar System. That being said, its aperture is substantial enough to show some real deep-sky gems.

The ETX-125 Observer offers a GoTo mount with an AudioStar controller. The telescope uses a built-in speaker to offer nifty and informative little recordings which educate you on the objects you are viewing. The GoTo’s database is filled with over 30,000 objects you can find and track at the drop of a hat.

The telescope also has a pretty basic setup and is portable and stable. The only niggle might be aligning the telescope to use the GoTo function. It may be tricky if this sort of thing very foreign to you. Even then, following the manual will eliminate most of the stress, and you should be set up and comfortable with using your scope in no time.

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Review

Like the other telescopes in the ETX range, the 125 is a Maksutov-Cassegrain catadioptric design. All that means is that the telescope is technically a hybrid of a reflector and a refractor telescope. Maksutovs use both a mirror and a lens.

The advantage of this type of telescope is that they have all the benefits of a reflector but require much less maintenance. Additionally, the chromatic aberrations you would encounter with a lens-only telescope are eliminated or greatly reduced. The use of a mirror in the design means that the telescope will need to be collimated from time to time (the mirrors will need to be realigned) but far less than often than the standard Newtonian.

The telescope’s flip mirror unit will certainly draw you if you are keen on astrophotography. A flip mirror unit holds both a mirror and an eyepiece and allows you to switch your view between the eyepiece and your DSLR or CCD camera. This makes it so much easier to center and focus the object you are viewing in your camera.

The ETX-125’s flip mirror is functional, but not practical. Firstly, you will need an adaptor for your camera. This immediately poses a problem since whatever you attach might knock the base of the fork. This could end up in a costly disaster if you hit your camera into the telescope’s mount while adjusting your view. The only way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to set a limit on the altitude. Unfortunately, that means that the telescope is really only good for ‘terrestrial-astrophotography’ or snapping the milky way over the landscape on the horizon.

Another negative aspect of this flip mirror is that it tends to shift the image out of focus when you switch between the eyepiece and the camera. All in all, the flip mirror just adds clunkiness to the scope’s design and complicates matters for you. While the telescope is perfectly sound for all your viewing needs, I would not suggest purchasing it on the grounds of astrophotography alone.

A lot of first time telescope owners and beginner stargazes are put of the idea of choosing a catadioptric scope; preferring the straightforward designs of Newtonians and refractors. However, the ETX-125 is easy to familiarize yourself with and has a few extra features that might appeal to beginners. It has a GoTo function with an AudioStar controller which describes each object in the database. This is a nice feature for learning while you are observing! The downside is that it does use up more of your battery, and is not really appropriate if you are viewing late at night in close quarters to your neighbors.

Though the Meade ETX-125 may seem small, a 5 inch telescope is actually a great starting size for beginners and a great size for any observers who move around a lot for viewing. It is basically all the aperture you need for pristine views of the Moon, planets and brightest deep-sky objects. The downfall here is that you have quite a small telescope paired with a very long focal length. This narrows your field of view, so even though you could get relatively sharp views of popular clusters and nebulae; the overall clarity, contrast and “bigger picture” is lost on many of deep-sky targets.

It is not to say it is a complete bust. You can enjoy nice views of planetary nebulae including the Ring Nebula, and spend endless hours exploring all the Messier Objects. But if your priority is viewing the many galaxies not listed in the M-catalog, then you may be quite disappointed.

There is a plus side, thankfully! The ETX-125 offers an extensive database of binary stars and makes it conveniently simple to find any one of these double stars in a matter of a minute. This is also where the telescope’s focal length works as an advantage, as the telescope is well-suited to splitting binary stars.

The Solar System is where the Meade ETX-125 Observer truly shines. The long local focal length, modest aperture, and high magnification (and do not forget the quality of the optics) all gives you a telescope perfectly made for enjoying the Moon and planets.

You can spend hours observing the Moon’s many craters, mountains, valleys, ridges, and other surface details.  Using a Moon filter to cut some the glare is essential, but other than that, the Moon might just become your favorite celestial object to view thanks to the ETX-125.

Of course, you will also want to enjoy the other standout features of the Solar System. Swing by Jupiter to take steal a breath-taking view of the Great Red Spot, the Jovian planet’s gas bands, and a handful of its largest moons. Saturn will never disappoint, and the ETX-125 reveals all of the planet’s popular features including its rings and clouds.

You can also opt for something just as beautiful, but often overlooked, by viewing Venus as it moves through its phases from a lovely crescent to a full globe; and Mars, which will reveal a few surface details if you observe at the right time.

This telescope comes with two Plossl eyepieces (26mm and 9.7mm). They aren’t terrible, but if you truly want to get the best out of the telescope, and one or two more high quality eyepieces and a Barlow lens to your collection.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Quality optics which do not require much maintenance (or a much as Newtonians).
  • Good aperture for viewing all the most popular targets.
  • A small and compact telescope which is simple to pack and transport.
  • Sturdy build with a nice, stable tripod.
  • GoTo features with a 30,000 object database and AudioStar controller for learning about each object as you explore.

Cons

  • Alignment is relatively straightforward, though some users have had a few issues with this. If you are having any troubles aligning your telescope, try resetting the computer first and then start again to align the telescope.
  • The telescope is on the pricier side considering its modest aperture.
  • The focusing knob can be a hassle to adjust – it is quite easy to bump the tube while focusing.
  • The technology is a little outdated if you look at what is on the market. Plus, other telescopes allow you to connect a USB cable to hook up to your laptop.
  • This telescope offers some of the features you would expect for astrophotography but falls totally short in that regard.

Verdict

In essence, the Meade ETX-125 Observer Telescope has no fundamental flaws that make it a no-go. It offers high quality optics, a somewhat compact design for easy portability, does not require too much high maintenance, and has all the basic features you would expect of a telescope these days (such as the GoTo mount and large database).

However, on almost nearly all accounts, there are better telescopes you can get. You can get a more affordable telescope of the same aperture, you can get a slightly bigger telescope with the same quality for the same price; one which will reveal far more deep-sky objects, and you can definitely find better telescopes for astrophotography if that is your main point of interest.

I would recommend this telescope in general. Meade is a top brand and fans of Meade and of catadioptrics might really treasure the ETX-125. I just would not recommend it to a first time telescope owner, or anyone who wants very specific qualities out of their scope, including a wide range of deep-sky and astrophotography needs.

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