Meade Telescopes: The Granddaddy of Them All
Meade Instruments (often shortened to Meade) is an American manufacturer that manufactures, imports, and distributes telescopes, binoculars, spotting scopes, microscopes, cameras, and telescope accessories. They are known for their Schmidt-Cassegrain, Newtonian, and solar telescopes.
History of Meade Instruments
Meade was founded in 1972 by John Diebel as a seller of small refractors and telescope accessories manufactured by Towa Optical Manufacturing Company. This deal with Towa continued until 1977, when Meade obtained the means to manufacture its own optical products, introducing a pair of 6” and 8” Newtonian Reflector telescopes to their line, the Model 628 and Model 826. Meade also launched the 8”, 10”, and 12.5” Research Series Models 880, 1060, and 1266 telescopes in 1979.
As the business grew and demand for consumer-grade telescopes increased, Meade manufactured the first commercially available 8″ Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope with a worm drive, the Meade Model 2080, in September of 1980. After seeing the popularity of Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, Meade continued manufacturing them, including the company’s first 10” SCT, the Model 2120.
Through the decades, Meade Instruments continued to dominate the market for Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes, manufacturing and selling the LX3, LX6, LX200, and many others. The company also came out with large Dobsonians, a few refractors, and entry-level Maksutov-Cassegrain telescopes.
Currently, Meade still primarily sticks to manufacturing computerized Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. Still, a few entry-level refractor, solar, and Newtonian telescopes are available on the website as well.
Who Owns Meade?
As of 2019, Orion Telescopes and Binoculars has acquired Meade Instruments and now owns the company. Previously, the company was owned by Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co Ltd, a Chinese manufacturer, after its acquisition in 2013.
Did Meade Go Out of Business?
Meade has had a tumultuous few decades of financial trouble and lawsuits. Most of the financial trouble was mitigated by the original founder, John Diebel, purchasing the company back. However, Meade has run into multiple financial issues in the past few years after John Diebel sold the company again.
In April 2008, Meade sold two of its three non-telescope product brands (Weaver & Redfield) to two companies for $8 million. Following this, In June 2008, Meade sold its last non-telescope brand Simmons to Bushnell for $7.25 million. Also, in 2008, Meade’s stock value fell below one dollar, bringing up the possibility of Meade being delisted from the stock exchange, a major issue for the company.
In January 2009, Meade announced that it had sold off Meade Europe to pull itself out of debt, thus leaving the company with debts wiped but a multitude of assets gone. By 2013, Meade Instruments was deciding whether to sell the company to a Chinese company or a San Jose venture capital firm, continue on their own, or seek protection from bankruptcy. In September 2013, Sunny Optics Inc, a Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co Ltd company, acquired Meade’s entire share capital.
In November 2019, however, Orion Telescopes & Binoculars won a lawsuit against Meade’s parent company for price fixing and anti-competitive practices, costing them an estimated 20 million dollars in settlement. Shortly after the lawsuit, Meade declared bankruptcy. On June 1, 2021, Orion Telescopes & Binoculars announced the acquisition of Meade Instruments as a rescue from bankruptcy.
Currently, Meade is not out of business, but we’ve seen a massive share of their products discontinued, which may be an indicator of an eventual shutdown of the company for good.
Best Meade Telescopes
Meade has manufactured and sold dozens of popular, well-reviewed telescopes over the decades, but these are some of the offerings that we like best here at Optical Mechanics.
Best Budget Telescope
Meade Lightbridge Mini (82, 114, 130)
The Meade Lightbridge Mini is a small-aperture, tabletop version of the original Meade Lightbridge. This telescope has great optics and is aimed at beginners and individuals looking for a good, budget-friendly, grab-and-go telescope. The included accessories are also an excellent value for the price and are of good construction quality.
Unfortunately, Meade recently discontinued this line of telescopes, but there are many places where it can be used.
Best Computerized Telescope
The Meade LX-200 is a line of Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes introduced by Meade Instruments in 1992. Since then, it’s developed much more sophisticated electronics and optics, as well as options for an 8”, 10”, or 12” version. While it comes at a steep price point and is rather bulky, it’s one of the best consumer-grade computerized telescopes on the market today.
Best Large Telescope
Meade Lightbridge 16”
The Meade Lightbridge 16” is a massive light bucket best suited for deep-sky observers. Coming in at a total assembled weight of 128 pounds, it is not light by any means, but still beats any of Meade’s Schmidt-Cassegrains in weight-to-aperture ratio.
Unfortunately, Meade also discontinued this one, but it still reigns as one of the best commercially available large-aperture Dobsonians ever manufactured. Used ones are available and can be found on multiple resale websites.
Best Solar Telescope
Coronado SolarMax III 70
If there is one major thing that Meade Instruments does right, it’s solar telescopes. The company offers multiple versions of H-alpha solar scopes, enabling its users to view the sun’s chromosphere, which cannot be seen in a regular telescope with a white-light solar filter.
Meade’s line of solar telescopes ranges from price points starting at $899, running all the way up to $8,999, but we find the SolarMax III 70 to be the best midpoint between features and price. For those looking for a more budget-conscious solar telescope, the 40mm Coronado PST is also a great option.
Best Refractor Telescope
Meade Polaris 90mm EQ
The Meade Polaris 90mm is one of the two Meade refractor telescopes still being sold. While it is achromatic and aimed at beginners, the optics are surprisingly good and show great views of the planets and the Moon. Because of its small size, it’s not really aimed at deep sky observing but is adequate for beginners looking for a budget planetary telescope.
The included German equatorial mount poses a bit of a learning curve for beginners and contains many cheap plastic parts. Still, the Meade Polaris 90mm optical tube and optics are excellent for the price.
Despite many financial struggles, lawsuits, bankruptcy, and changes in ownership, Meade continues to successfully manufacture and distribute to both the research-grade and consumer-grade telescope markets. Regardless of what happens with Meade Instruments, it will still continue to be a top manufacturer in the realm of Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes.