(USED) Celestron Ultima 8 pec
Do I ever think of replacing Celeste with a modern C8? Maybe with one of them newfangled Edge HD tubes? Sometimes, but mostly not. I’ll never say never, but I will say Miss C. is still doing everything I need her to do and doing it with aplomb. Equipped with my Mallincam Xtreme, she is going deeper than ever, penetrating the backdrop of the NGC to the next layer, to the multitudinous LEDA and MCG and PGC galaxies that lie beyond. In other words, the love affair continues. Celeste is still beautiful and it looks like she easily has another twenty years left in her. I just hope I do, muchachos.
The Ultima 8
For about a year and a half, all was quiet on the CAT front. Oh, Celestron did
bring its Compustar series of telescopes to market, but these high-priced CATs (which
will be discussed later) were of very little interest to the vast majority of amateurs. Except
for the Compustar introduction, Celestron confined its SCT advancements to tinkering
with the configuration of the Powerstar. But then, in late 1988, new telescope ads, new
Celestron SCT, telescope ads hit the astronomy magazines. The new CAT from Celestron
was dubbed the Ultima 8. “Ultima” is very reminiscent of the word “ultimate,” and that’s
a fair description of this classic SCT. Even today, many SCT users consider the Ultima 8
to be the best 8 inch Schmidt Cassegrain every produced by anybody.
What makes the Ultima 8 so special? That the telescope was optimized for
photography, and included just about every luxury feature that a CAT purchaser of the
time could want. The OTA was a stock black Celestron tube, but its optics came standard
with the desired Starbright coatings. The corrector was a deluxe version that was made of
Crown glass, which many amateurs consider superior to the “float” glass normally found
in SCTs. There have also been rumors over the years that the optics in the Ultima 8 were
hand picked for excellence at the factory. I have no evidence that this was the case, but
the optical performance of every Ultima 8 I’ve seen has been simply outstanding. The
rest of the Ultima’s appointments were similarly fancy. The 50mm finder was not only
large enough for easy object location, but it also included an adapter which allowed you
to use it in a right angle configuration or straight-through if you didn’t like mirror
reversed images. There was an illuminator and a special crosshair reticle rigged to the
finder eyepiece which, when used with an included slide-rule caluclator, made accurate
polar alignment a breeze.
But the Ultima’s pluses don’t stop there. It’s real attraction is its superb, steady
mount. The fork is huge and massive, completely redesigned from the much lighter
model used on the Powerstar and the Super C8+. The drive base this big fork is mounted
on is likewise completely new and much heftier than what was found on other Celestron
and Meade telescopes of the time. The large polar shaft of the Ultima mount rides on a
big 4” ball bearing assembly, adding greatly to the basic steadiness of this fork. The drive
on the scope is similar to what was used on the Powerstar PEC and features the same
multiple speeds (Solar, Sidereal, King, Lunar, and one slewing speed) seen on today’s
There are still more luxuries to be found on this very special scope. The Ultima,
in its initial production run, was equipped with a rechargeable lead acid battery within the
drive base to provide power. This is a very convenient feature, and one that still hasn’t
been duplicated in the new SCTs. The hand controller isn’t quite as elaborate as the
Meade LX models, but it is well made and includes switches for an electric focuser, and
for the built-in red LED map light. Of course you wouldn’t mount your beautiful Ultima
on just any wedge and tripod. This telescope was provided with a heavy duty and fullfeatured
wedge which rode on a strong, rubber-covered tripod. Need to transport your
Ultima? Forget those cheap looking footlockers. In a real tour-de-force, Celestron threw
in a molded airline-shippable carrying case for this Ultimate 8 inch SCT!
Was there anything bad about the Ultima? Well there was the amount of money
you had to pay to get one. At around $2300.00, this was the highest price we’d seen for a
mass produced 8 inch CAT. And that heavy fork mount and base are wonderful for
celestial picture takers, but result in a very heavy 8 inch telescope. This is probably the
heaviest 8 inch SCT ever produced, exceeding even today’s computer loaded models.
Other than that, there’s not much you can say against this telescope. They just don’t make
‘em like this anymore.
Should you look for an Ultima 8? If you’re an astrophotographer interested in an
SCT, the answer is a most definite yes! The drive is uncommonly accurate, and the mount
is solid and steady. I’ve even been able to get good photos with my personal Ultima 8 on
evenings when the wind was blowing big Dobsonian reflectors around like wind vanes. It
would be fair to say that the U8 makes celestial photography just about as easy as that
naturally difficult art can ever be. I’ve often embarrassedly commented to friends that this
scope almost takes pictures by itself!
The Ultima 8 was produced for about 6 years, and you will find some slight
variations in the different production runs. The nice rechargeable battery was eliminated
toward the end of the Ultima 8’s lifetime and was replaced with a 9 volt transistor battery
powered unit. The features of this later drive were identical to those of the rechargeable
unit otherwise. This may have been done to cut costs, or it may have been done because
having to charge the drive battery was a little more inconvenient than it seemed at first.
The excellent 50mm finder was left in place on the last Ultimas, but the right angle
viewing attachment was scrapped. But not all of the changes were cost-cutting measures.
Toward the end of the Ultima 8’s life, in a move that really improved performance, the
“heavy duty Ultima wedge” (which wasn’t really heavy duty enough for such a heavy
scope) was replaced with a modified C11 wedge.
Are there any bad Ultimas? A very few, very early Ultimas were produced with
drives which do not have the PEC feature. I’d avoid this version if you happen to run
across one (not likely). The Ultima 8 was eventually joined by two sisters, an Ultima 9 ¼
and an Ultima 11. These two bigger versions use the same drive base and fork as the 8
inch telescope, and are therefore less steady.
The U8 continued in production until the mid 1990s, and the 9 ¼ and the 11 were
around until late 1999. I may be a little prejudiced since I own an Ultima 8, and have
used it more than any other CAT over the last 5 years, but I just love the U8. I, like many
other Ultima owners, wouldn’t dream of trading it for even the latest and greatest