The Meade LX85, despite its distinct square-shaped design, is a standard German equatorial mount based on the Vixen Super/Great Polaris with an approximately 30 lb weight capacity, using the same general hardware and design principles as the Celestron Advanced VX and its antecedents, as well as Meade’s own prior entries like the LXD75, on which the LX85 is largely based.
The LX85 is equipped with a pair of DC-powered servo motors, which are externally attached to the mount, much like those on the Celestron Advanced VX and other similar Great Polaris clones. Typically, external motor boxes can be an indicator that the mount might not be the best option for astrophotography, and this holds true in the case of the LX85. The servo motors employed by the LX85 are similar to those used in the Advanced VX, a mount that has not earned a reputation for consistent performance in astrophotography.
The LX85 features a standard Vixen-style dovetail saddle. Unfortunately, this simple saddle does not utilize a clamp to secure your dovetail bar; instead, it relies on a single set screw with a safety catch to clamp your telescope in place. This method is not only less secure than a clamp but will also inevitably leave marks on your dovetail bars over time. This aspect of the design exudes an impression of cost-cutting, and there are no aftermarket dovetail saddles currently available for the LX85.
While the LX85 is competent for visual observation, when it comes to finer work such as astrophotography, it shares similar issues with the Advanced VX, such as backlash, slop, and binding issues, particularly on the declination axis. The mount is equipped with a Vixen-style dovetail saddle to secure telescopes. Meade claims a payload capacity of 33 pounds for visual observation, which seems fairly accurate. However, we wouldn’t recommend pushing this limit. For astrophotography, it is advisable to limit the LX85’s maximum payload to approximately 10 to 15 pounds to ensure better performance and stability.
The LX85 has a 3/4-inch diameter counterweight shaft, which is consistent with the diameter used with most popular German equatorial mounts. This makes it compatible with counterweights from other similar mounts, and vice versa. A single 9 lb counterweight is supplied with the mount, which is probably insufficient for most payloads you’re likely to use with it.
As one may notice, the Meade LX85 has a rather peculiar amount of square-shaped elements integrated into its design, including the tripod castings and counterweight. The reason for this choice in design remains unclear, and, quite frankly, it does not add aesthetic appeal. Moreover, this design approach has inadvertently resulted in an accessory tray that is almost unusable. The tray is slanted downward and barely manages to hold any eyepieces securely. Thankfully, the tripod is just a standard 2” steel-legged affair and supports the LX85 just fine with most payloads atop it.
For polar alignment, the LX85 has a polar axis to sight through, but disappointingly, Meade does not include a polar scope with the mount as a standard feature. Additionally, unlike competitors such as Celestron, Sky-Watcher, and Orion, Meade does not offer built-in polar alignment assistance through its software. However, one can opt for third-party polar alignment tools like the PoleMaster, or acquire a polar scope separately to achieve accurate polar alignment for astrophotography.
For actually operating the mount, the LX85 employs the Meade AudioStar controller. The design of this hand controller has remained largely unchanged since the 1990s, with the exception of an integrated speaker that provides audible information about celestial objects (thus the AudioStar name, superseding the old AutoStar). However, in the era of smartphones and readily accessible information via the Internet, this feature feels more gimmicky than useful. The AudioStar has a red-text display, which starts with a cautionary message about not looking directly at the sun—a warning that the user must scroll past each time the device is powered on. While the controller boasts a database of over 30,000 celestial objects, its user interface is not the most intuitive or user-friendly. In practice, most LX85 owners prefer direct PC control or using a Wi-Fi adapter, which tends to be more efficient and versatile.
Speaking of PC control, the LX85 can only be connected to a computer via the AudioStar controller using a serial port adapter cable. The absence of a USB port on the controller or mount is a notable drawback, as is the inability to add one. While the LX85 is incompatible with some common astronomy software platforms, it does support ASCOM. However, users might still encounter issues when attempting to operate the mount with specific software configurations. The LX85 does come with a standard ST4 guide port for autoguiding, but if you’re able to figure out how to guide through the PC directly, that’s usually the more reliable method.
Powering the LX85’s pointing and tracking operations are relatively inexpensive servo motors. These motors are not only suboptimal for astrophotography but are also quite noisy. The LX85’s noise levels are notably louder compared to the Celestron Advanced VX, and in some instances, they’re comparable to older, much noisier mounts such as the LX75. The servo motors, combined with the mechanical properties of the mount, impose limitations on tracking and guiding accuracy. Even after employing modifications such as hyper-tuning, the inherent limitations of the motors and mount cannot be completely overcome.
The Meade LX85 comes equipped with an oddly frequently advertised feature called PPEC, or Permanent Periodic Error Correction, which, despite its promising name, is somewhat dated and not practically useful for most contemporary astronomers. Periodic error correction is helpful for long-exposure astrophotography, but the feature is not favored today since it can interfere with computer-controlled autoguiding and other software-driven capabilities. The mount’s high periodic error and limited software compatibility seem to have driven Meade to highlight this feature as a selling point, despite it being a mainstay among most mounts (we don’t bother mentioning it usually, as it is of little relevance besides marketing).
Using the Meade LX85 for Visual Observation
Setting up the Meade LX85 for a night of observing or planetary imaging is relatively straightforward in theory. The process entails leveling the tripod, assembling the mount and telescope, and ensuring proper balance on both the Right Ascension and Declination axes. Once this is done, you will need to polar align and position the telescope/mount in the home position. The AudioStar controller will then guide you through pointing at at least two stars to align the mount with the night sky. After this, you can select any object from its database. However, the process can seem daunting, especially when interfacing with the LX85’s AudioStar controller. The controller features scrolling red text, which is not the most user-friendly. Additionally, the AudioStar does not have an internal GPS or clock, requiring you to manually enter this information every time you set up the mount. As an alternative, you can use an aftermarket Wi-Fi adapter and an app like SkySafari to control the mount, though you will still need to go through the necessary polar alignment and balancing steps.
Meade rates the LX85’s weight capacity at 33 pounds for visual use. This estimation is somewhat generous, but largely accurate. However, it is important to recognize that a 10 or 11-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope would be noticeably unstable on this mount. It is advisable to stick with a 9.25-inch or smaller Schmidt-Cassegrain, an 8-inch or smaller Newtonian, or a 6-inch or smaller refractor for visual use. For astrophotography, a smaller and lighter telescope is recommended.
Furthermore, the length of the telescope tube is a critical factor. Longer tubes, such as those on refractors and Newtonians, are more problematic for stability and tracking accuracy compared to compact tubes like those on Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (SCT). For instance, an 8-inch Newtonian with a longer tube would be significantly less stable on the LX85 compared to an 8-inch SCT with its more compact design.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that over time, the LX85’s gearing and motors, which are not of the highest quality, are likely to wear, especially if one attaches a large telescope to it, such as an 11-inch SCT. This further underscores the importance of being judicious with the size of the telescope used on this mount and considering an upgrade to a more robust mount if you plan to use larger telescopes.
In astrophotography, it is critical to take into consideration the weight capacity of the telescope mount you are using. A common guideline is to use between one-third and two-thirds of the mount’s rated weight capacity for astrophotography, with the two-thirds rule being applicable for high-quality mounts and the one-third rule for mounts that are not as well-made.
Given that the Meade LX85 is driven by servo motors and is constructed with cost-saving materials, it falls into the latter category. The LX85 has a rated weight capacity of 33 pounds for visual observation, but for astrophotography purposes, it is advisable not to exceed around 15 pounds. The mount exhibits issues such as periodic error, backlash, and is susceptible to disturbances such as gusts of wind. These factors significantly affect its ability to accurately track celestial objects, which is crucial for capturing clear and sharp images.
Considering these limitations, it is recommended to use smaller and lighter telescopes for astrophotography with the LX85. A 6-inch Newtonian or a 4-inch refractor would be ideal. Fast imaging telescopes like the RASA or Hyperstar are also viable options, but we would not recommend using a 6” or 8” SCT on this mount at f/6.3 or above for long-exposure deep-sky astrophotography, nor an 8” Newtonian reflector.
Polar alignment is an essential aspect to consider when using the LX85 for astrophotography. As the exposure time increases, any issues resulting from poor polar alignment become more prominent. Meade does not offer a software polar alignment tool through the AudioStar controller, which sets it apart from some competitors who offer such features in their hand controllers. You’ll need either Meade’s polar scope or a QHY PoleMaster, neither of which is exactly cheap.
Connecting the Meade LX85 to an autoguider – essential for sharp images free of trailing or other tracking issues – can be accomplished in two ways. One option is to use the ST-4 port, connecting the autoguider to the mount and then to your PC. The other option is to guide directly through the hand controller, which acts as an intermediary between the mount and your PC. The hand controller has a port compatible with a serial connection, and since most modern computers do not have a serial port, a serial-to-USB adapter is typically needed for the connection.
Once the mount is successfully connected, and if you’re using ASCOM-compatible software, it is possible to automate the imaging process. Software such as N.I.N.A or Sequence Generator Pro (SGP) can control the sequencing, slewing, tracking, pointing, and auto-guiding of the LX85. These programs have the capability to plate solve and automatically align the telescope to the desired target, as well as control auto guiding. This essentially automates most of the process once the polar alignment has been performed and the mount is powered on.
Alternatively, you can use the LX85’s AudioStar controller to manually point at each object and then use the PC only for autoguiding control. However, this approach is more time-consuming and cumbersome. Utilizing automated imaging software significantly streamlines the process and allows for a more efficient and trouble-free astrophotography session.
Should I buy a Used Meade LX85?
The LX85 has not been on the market for an extended period. Consequently, the likelihood of finding a used model is relatively low. Nonetheless, given the cheap construction of the LX85, which includes its electronics and mechanical components, it is advisable to thoroughly inspect the mount for any damages, especially to the gears or motors, before purchasing. Servicing the LX85 can be challenging and, in certain cases, nearly impossible due to the limited availability of online official or community support, documentation, and guides. Although its internal structure and electronics might be akin to those of the Celestron Advanced VX, it is still not advisable to attempt servicing the LX85 on your own unless you are highly experienced.
If you’re shopping used, the Celestron ASGT CG-5 and its newer ilk, the Advanced VX, are probably a better deal for your money than the LX85, as are mounts from Orion, Sky-Watcher, Losmandy, etc., at surprisingly low prices.
Being part of a saturated market with various models based on often-outdated designs, the Meade LX85 faces fierce competition. Most competitors surpass the LX85 in one aspect or another, be it payload capacity, mechanical construction, or electronics.
Under $1500 USD
- The Celestron Advanced VX is strikingly similar to the Meade LX85, to the extent that they may share identical electronics. However, the Advanced VX boasts superior construction and offers an array of software and hardware features not available in the LX85. With some adjustments, the Advanced VX can perform relatively well for astrophotography, even though it is not top-tier.
- The Sky-Watcher HEQ5i Pro, also known as the Orion Sirius EQ-G, is somewhat lighter and more compact compared to the Advanced VX and LX85, though with a slightly lower payload capacity for visual use (only about 20 lbs). The former is attributed to features like a retractable counterweight shaft and a compact mount head with internally housed gears, the latter is mostly due to the smaller 1.75” diameter tripod legs used with this mount. Furthermore, it utilizes higher-quality stepper motors and offers extensive hardware and software compatibility. Notably, it is compatible with EQMOD software, which is not supported by any Meade or Celestron mounts.
- The iOptron CEM26 is an upscale choice for astrophotographers, albeit with a lower payload capacity compared to many competitors at this price point. However, it compensates with an abundance of hardware and software features for those keen on delving deeper into astrophotography. The GEM28 is markedly similar and retails for the same price.
- The Sky-Watcher EQ6Ri Pro significantly outperforms the Advanced VX or LX85 in payload capacity and incorporates belt drives along with stepper motors, making it a robust and precise option.
- The Orion Atlas EQ-G (also sold as the Sky-Watcher NEQ6) is similar to the EQ6Ri Pro though it lacks belt drives and some of the EQ6Ri’s mechanical features, but for less critical applications it’s a cost-effective and well-built piece of machinery.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ5i, while smaller than some competitors at this price point, features belt-driven stepper motors, a beefier tripod than the HEQ5i, and the ability to convert to alt-azimuth mode, while it also can be aimed manually thanks to Sky-Watcher’s FreedomFind encoders.
- The Celestron CGEM II is somewhat mediocre for a German equatorial mount, essentially being an upscaled Advanced VX with a larger mount head and the same tripod. Despite sharing many of the Advanced VX’s limitations, it occasionally has a slightly lower price than competing mounts from Sky-Watcher which could make it worth buying.
- The Sky-Watcher AZ-EQ6i features several unique mechanical attributes, such as the ability to switch between alt-azimuth and equatorial modes, belt drives, built-in Wi-Fi, and more, making it versatile and feature-rich.
- The Celestron CGX is a heavy-duty mount with a higher payload capacity compared to the EQ6-R and similar mounts. It boasts enhancements over other Celestron mounts, such as an actual USB port and stepper motors instead of servo motors. Nonetheless, the CGX is not as compatible with as many software programs as mounts from Sky-Watcher, iOptron, and others.
- The Losmandy G11 is an excellent, robust, and premium-tier German equatorial mount similar in size to the CGX and EQ6R, with various GoTo and “hybrid” mount options available for you to choose from.
Aftermarket Accessory Recommendations
As a computer-controlled and electronically driven mount, the Meade LX85 necessitates a reliable power supply for its operations. We recommend opting for the Celestron PowerTank Lithium or a generic equivalent with sufficient amp-hours to sustain the mount’s functionality for at least one or two nights. Ensuring an adequate power supply is essential for uninterrupted observations and astrophotography sessions.
In addition to the power supply, it is imperative to have a tool for polar alignment. Meade offers an illuminated polar scope designed explicitly for the LX85. However, an alternative worth considering is the QHY PoleMaster. The PoleMaster, while not as convenient for visual observations, is exceptionally accurate and an invaluable asset for astrophotography. It assists in achieving precise polar alignment, which is critical for capturing sharp and well-tracked images of celestial objects. Additionally, the PoleMaster’s price is only marginally higher than the illuminated polar scope from Meade, making it a worthwhile investment for those primarily focused on astrophotography.
Another consideration for enhancing the ease of use and capabilities of the Meade LX85 is the incorporation of a Wi-Fi adapter. Meade offers the Stella Wi-Fi adapter, which facilitates wireless control of the mount. Alternatively, there are third-party equivalents that can serve the same purpose. Integrating a Wi-Fi adapter can free you from the necessity of using the AudioStar hand controller on a regular basis. With wireless control, you can operate the mount from your smartphone or computer, providing a more flexible and convenient user experience.