The Truth About the Celestron-Synta Relationship circa 2010
By Chuck Hawks
There has been a great deal of misinformation and confusion about the acquisition of Celestron by Synta. In April 2005, Synta Technology Corporation of Red China, through their U.S. affiliate SW Technology Corporation, purchased Celestron International of Torrance, California (a privately held company). Synta had been Celestron's primary supplier for 15 years, producing the refracting and Newtonian telescopes, as well as the eyepieces, binoculars and spotting scopes sold under the Celestron banner. (These had previously been made by Vixen Optical of Japan.) At the time of the acquisition, the Celestron senior management team of Joseph A. Lupica and Richard L. Hedrick remained in place, with Chairman Alan Hale and Celestron founder Tom Johnson serving as consultants. Celestron's head office remains in Torrance and Celestron leads the product engineering, development and manufacturing processes.
David Shen, founder of Synta, stated at the time of the acquisition:
"I have always had great admiration and respect for Celestron's products and have had a very close and warm relationship with the company and its management team for the past 15 years. I am committed to maintaining Celestron's reputation of quality and innovation and will support their continued efforts to create and engineer products that give value to the consumer. I want to assure everyone that Celestron's operations will remain in Torrance, the management team will stay intact, and Celestron will continue to develop innovative products of the highest quality for amateur astronomers."
At the same time, Celestron's CEO Joseph Lupica said:
"Synta has deep understanding of the telescope industry and appreciation for the value of Celestron's products. They are investing in Celestron to grow Celestron's business and that is a very positive development. This acquisition is in the best interest of Celestron dealers, employees, consumers and the telescope industry as a whole. Synta and Celestron will form a strong team to provide competitive products of the highest quality for consumers. I am very excited to be in a position whereby our entire workforce will be able to focus 100% of our energies on the development, production and distribution of high quality optical products. I am just as excited when I consider the innovative products we will be able to develop with the assistance of one of the leading telescope suppliers in the world, Synta Technology."
As usual with such ownership changes, the new owner (Synta) implied that things would essentially remain the same at their newly acquired subsidiary (Celestron). Also as usual, this proved not to be true. Prior to their acquisition by Synta, Celestron's catadioptric telescopes, from the C90 to the C14, had been made entirely in Celestron's Torrance factory. I toured this facility in the late 1980's and saw with my own eyes the metal fabrication, as well as lenses and mirrors being ground, matched, hand figured to a plus or minus 1/10 light wave standard, silvered and coated. After final assembly, I observed telescopes being individually laser tested by the head optician before going into their shipping boxes.
Much has changed since those days. On 10 September 2010, I talked to a Celestron technical representative about the manufacture of Celestron telescopes. I learned that after acquiring Celestron, Synta moved the manufacture and assembly of Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes (SCT) smaller than 11" to China. They actually removed the production machinery and equipment from Celestron's Torrance, California factory and shipped it to China, where it is now used to build the telescopes formerly made in the USA. Celestron technicians and opticians traveled to China to teach the Synta technicians how to use this equipment and they still serve as consultants, frequently visiting China to ensure that the Synta built telescopes are being made to Celestron's specifications.
Celestron SCT components, including optical tubes, front cells, rear cells, mirrors and correctors are now manufactured by Synta. Synta assembles all Celestron telescopes (optical tubes) in China, except the C11, C14 and the aplanatic EdgeHD series. Synta made Celestron SCT's are still built with matched optics and the secondary mirrors are still hand figured, but the work is done in China. Celestron telescopes are no longer advertised as meeting a +/- 1/10th light wave standard, but they are advertised as having diffraction limited optics. After shipment to Celestron in Torrance, the scopes are checked and quality controlled by Celestron QC personnel before being shipped to dealers.
In the case of the few Celestron telescopes that are still assembled in the USA, my understanding is that the Synta made components are shipped to Torrance, where they are hand figured, assembled and individually quality controlled by Celestron. These USA assembled telescopes are limited to the C11 and C14 SCT's and the EdgeHD 8", 9-1/4", 11" and 14" models. All other Celestron telescopes are now produced entirely overseas. How long the C11, C14 and EdgeHD scopes will continue to be assembled in the U.S. is anybody's guess. California labor costs are simply too high to be competitive in the world optics market, where profit margins are very low.
Celestron remains a highly respected name in optics around the world and it is to Synta's advantage to keep it that way. Celestron astronomical telescopes of all types, whether assembled in China or the USA, remain among the best in their price class. We recently reviewed new C6 and C8 telescopes and found them to be better than ever. Synta ownership does not appear to have lowered Celestron's product quality or performance. Indeed, the recently introduced EdgeHD series telescopes have already earned a reputation as being the best, or at least among the best, Schmidt-Cassegrain type telescopes ever produced.
Copyright 2010 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.