Since the early 1970s, Meade has been one of the most innovative telescope manufacturers around. Today, the company manufactures something for everyone, including their popular and affordable Infinity 102mm refractor.
This scope provides a 4” aperture, which captures a decent amount of light to illuminate various celestial objects. This scope’s short focal length puts the focal ratio at f/5.9, which gives a beautifully wide field of view for capturing bigger objects, such as galaxies, star fields, and nebulae.
This scope is the top-end model in the Infinity line, including several other telescopes ranging from 50-90mm. These scopes are also incredibly affordable, but the 102mm offers the most significant value for the money (today’s price) because its larger aperture allows you to enjoy the night sky’s many different features.
Things to Consider Before Buying
The Infinity 102mm is one of the best options for beginner and novice astronomers thanks to affordable and high-quality components. While it’s an excellent option, it isn’t necessarily perfect for everybody. There are a few essential factors you’ll want to consider before deciding on the best telescope for you.
Novice astronomers will have a hard time finding a scope that delivers in the optics department like the Meade Infinity 102mm AZ can. In this price range, you’ll find telescopes with smaller apertures, and most options that offer a comparable aperture do so by cutting several corners when building out the optics of the scope.
Most images are incredibly sharp and clear with this scope, especially the brighter objects in the solar system, including the moon, planets, and stars. It also handles star clusters and brighter nebulae very well with its wide field of view and good levels of contrast.
For travelers, this scope is ideal. The optical tube and mount weigh in at under 20 pounds, and it’s compact enough to bring practically anywhere with you. Its compact size also offers the benefit of cooling rapidly to the ambient temperature, which is essential for the best views.
While deep space viewing is possible with this scope, the broad field of view coupled with the relatively small aperture means you won’t achieve the type of brightness and clarity you’d want to see. Images will be dark, and the objects you have in your sights are likely to be fuzzy and lack definition. Deep space observers will likely need to look into a more expensive option offering a larger aperture, like these models.
Features & Benefits
Whether you’re evaluating a budget-friendly scope like this Meade option, or a top-quality telescope that costs thousands of dollars, you’ll still want to consider the same features when evaluating which telescope is best for you. Here are the five critical areas you’ll want to assess:
- Optical Performance
- Mount Performance
- Included Equipment
- Set-up & Use
- What You Can See
Let’s consider each of these for this Infinity 102.
Standard Magnification Table
The table below shows the magnification levels you’ll achieve with this scope using a 25mm, 18mm, and 10mm eyepiece. The bottom row shows what this would be with a 2x Barlow Lens.
|With 2x Barlow:||48x||67x||120x|
This scope features the classic beginner configuration of a 4” aperture with a 600mm focal length, for a focal ratio of f/5.9, which translates to a wide field of view and lower magnification than a longer scope. The combination is ideal for viewing brighter objects, such as stars, the moon, and the planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.
Unfortunately, refractor telescopes that are this affordable can suffer from optical issues that compromise how clearly you can see celestial objects. Much of this is to do with the physics behind the lenses and can’t be corrected without making the model much more expensive.
The flip side of this is refractors like this Meade deliver clarity of detail that can’t be achieved by reflector models. The lens in a refractor is not obscured the way the primary mirror is in a refractor, they are always perfectly collimated, and lenses tend to be easier to make ‘perfect’ than mirrors.
What results are views with better contrast and higher levels of detail than can be achieved in a telescope which relies on mirrors to deliver its images to your eye.
The trick with buying a cheaper refractor like this Meade is to make sure the improved clarity, contrast, and ease of use outweigh the inherent problems of chromatic aberration and a loss of detail at the edge of the viewing field.
Since we’re dealing with a relatively inexpensive doublet refractor, chromatic aberration is of concern. When looking at exceptionally bright objects, you’ll see some color leakage around the edges of them. Happily, the Meade handles this very well and it’s much less of a problem than you might expect, even on the bright moon.
The other known challenge of entry-level refractors is a field that isn’t flat at its edges. The ‘field’ is the name given to the circle of sky you see through the eyepiece, and the Infinity 102 does display slight star coma and a loss of contrast at the edges of the field.
This is not generally a problem unless you are a dedicated double star splitter. In that case, you’d be better advised to find a model with a longer focal length in any event.
Included with the telescope is a generous selection of three eyepieces; most models we review come with only one or two eyepieces. All told, you’ll receive 26mm, 9mm, and 6.3mm lenses that provide 23x, 67x, and 95x magnification, respectively. There’s also a 2x Barlow lens that doubles the magnification of each eyepiece.
While these lenses are plenty capable of getting you started, they aren’t anything special, either. Once you’re hooked on astronomy, you’ll want to consider upgrading the lenses to Plössls or something offering a wider field of view.
Overall, the lens on the Meade comes out as a winner. Its clarity and contrast, especially at the center of the field, make this a great, versatile lens for a beginner. It’s more than capable of delivering good detail on the Moon and Planets, as well as enjoyable precision with star clusters and easier double stars.
The Meade Infinity 102mm AZ refractor includes a basic altazimuth mount that arrives fully assembled and ready to use. The mount is made from aluminum with stainless steel legs, and it can be adjusted between 33″ and 51”.
The mount has a panhandle to make large adjustments across either axis (i.e. up/down, and left/right), and it features slow-motion controls for tracking objects in the sky. Slow-motion controls are a notable feature here since they’re usually absent from the most inexpensive telescope mounts. There is also an accessory tray that can hold all of the included eyepieces when they aren’t in use.
The build quality is impressive for a cheap mount, and it’s relatively sturdy, even though it can’t accommodate much weight beyond the OTA. Don’t, for example, go investing in expensive 2″ eyepieces because they will be too heavy for this setup.
Like most inexpensive telescope mounts, the model included with the Meade vibrates considerably, which can be a pain when you’re tracking objects. In reality, the vibration settles rapidly when you stop moving the scope or adjusting the focuser and is something most owners get used to managing.
The truth is that most mounts at this price point suffer from the same problem, so this isn’t an indictment on Meade; it’s more of a general issue. Thankfully, if you find the wobbles a real distraction, there are some steps you can take to address the vibration issue without spending much (or any) money.
The other small issue with this mount is that when you’re viewing objects at or around the zenith (overhead), the optical tube butts up against the slow-motion control. It’s a silly design flaw, but a minor one and not especially restrictive.
Beyond the telescope itself, also known as the optical tube assembly (OTA), mount, and selection of eyepieces, Meade manages to tack on a few extras.
Also included with this telescope is a red dot reflex sight to help you find celestial objects and get them centered in the eyepiece for optimal viewing. While the red dot sight provides no magnification, it’s a useful accessory, and it can help you make the most of your stargazing sessions.
This scope also includes a 90° Erect Prism diagonal to help you comfortably view the sky without contorting your head to look through the eyepiece. A 1.25” moon filter is also included to help you maximize the view of our moon.
Setup & Use
Getting this telescope set up and ready to view the sky couldn’t be much easier. Assembling the scope is as simple as attaching the OTA to the mount with the thumbscrew, selecting an eyepiece, and finding something exciting in the sky.
The scope and mount are both exceptionally lightweight, so this is an ideal scope for traveling. The telescope and mount weigh in at just under twenty pounds combined, so whether you’re transporting it by vehicle or by foot, you can get your scope to where you’re going with ease.
Since this scope is a refractor, you’ll never have to worry about collimating it or making any adjustments for optimal viewing. This is great news for beginners who are nervous about collimating a scope and travelers who are tired of having to collimate their scope after every knock or bump their telescope takes.
Since this scope includes such a basic mount, there’s no GoTo software to worry about. As we just saw, the package does include a copy of the educational AutoStar Suite software, but that’s an educational tool more than anything else, and it can’t be used to control your telescope.
What You Can See
With any telescope, the most critical question on the user’s mind is, “what will I be able to see through it?” The Meade Infinity 102mm doesn’t disappoint in this regard.
With this scope, you’ll be able to enjoy incredibly detailed images of our moon, as well as views of planets and double stars. You’ll enjoy the craters of the moon, the rings of Saturn, and Jupiter’s cloud bands. On exceptionally clear nights, you’ll be able to make out more distant planets as well.
Like any other 4″ telescope, this Meade doesn’t take in the amount of light necessary for great views of fainter deep-sky objects, but it does provide some lovely views of brighter DSOs, especially under favorable conditions. Its wide field of view lends itself to showing off star clusters like the Pleiades.
If you’re looking to get into astrophotography, you’ll find that the Meade Infinity 102mm isn’t up to the task. Unfortunately, several things are holding this scope back from the task.
The first issue is the mount, and we discussed it’s shortcomings at length above. The vibration issue, coupled with the fact that you can’t motorize the mount, means it sorely lacks for astrophotography. It also can’t support the additional weight of cameras and other accessories.
If your main drive is imaging the night sky, take a look at these models instead.