Meade are well established within the astronomical world, making all sorts of equipment from telescopes to filters and even eyepieces. But how would their 26mm QX perform in a category that’s already full of decent offerings, the budget wide field eyepiece.
It’s not so long ago that even the cheapest wide field views would set you back a couple of hundred quid but thanks to recent advances in glass quality and manufacture that figure has fallen dramatically, the QX is only £70. My favourite budget wide fielders are the UWAN series from Williams Optics but they come in at around £150. So could Meade do the seemingly impossible and make a great wide field eyepiece for under £100? The answer sadly is almost but not quite.
Before using the QX I had been impressed that Meade managed to get a 70 degree apparent field of view from using only 5 lens elements, generally the less glass used the clearer and sharper the images but wide field eyepieces can often have up to 8 or 9 elements. That’s what initially attracted me to the QX (that and the minuscule price tag).
When I bought the QX and took it out for it’s first light I thought the 70 degree field would do very nicely on NGC884/869 or to use it’s more common name the double cluster. A fine pair of open clusters that not only appear very close to each other in the sky but physically are, think two little mountains of diamonds resting on a black velvet cloth. When I pointed my scope at the double cluster my heart sank a little as I observed a significant smearing of stars towards the outer third of the field. You only need to move an object a small amount from absolute dead center before it starts to degrade. Things didn’t get much better after that, observing the moon and planets only compounded the problem, a very noticeable dip in optical quality in the outer portions of the fov.
I started off observing in my f5 Dobsonian, in theory things should have got somewhat better when I switched to my f10 refractor and while the views did improve slightly image quality still degraded to an unacceptable degree.
To conclude I might have expected the QX to under perform on my fast Dobsonian but on the f10 refractor views were still disappointing, smeary and anything but sharp. While the QX is comfortable enough to look through with an eye relief of around 20mm, comfort means nothing without quality, Meade could have made this eyepiece so much better if they’d managed to keep a higher portion of the field pin sharp. I would be perhaps more forgiving of Meade, reasoning “What do you expect for £70” if I’d never used the SWAN series from Williams Optics, a selection of eyepieces that prove you can make a great wide fielder that doesn’t cost the earth.
If you want wide fields on a budget I would personally check out the SWAN series and if you can afford to push the boat out a bit further the UWAN series also from William Optics.