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Refractor vs. Reflector Telescopes

You're looking for a new telescope, maybe a beginner telescope, but not sure if a refractor or reflector is better? Read on to help make your decision process smoother. 🔭

When trying to decide whether a refractor or reflector telescope is better, it's important to determine what you want to see. Refractor telescopes use specialized lenses that make them a favorite for deep space objects like galaxies and nebulae. Reflector telescopes are more popular with larger and brighter objects like the Moon and planets because they use mirrors that provide more sensitivity to all wavelengths.

Let's get to know them more below!

REFRACTOR TELESCOPES

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Refractors utilize specially designed lenses to focus the light into an image. The larger the lens is in a refracting telescope, the longer the optical tube has to be to bring the image into focus. The length and size of the lens of a refractor, combined with the fact that large lenses can be difficult and expensive for glassmakers to manufacture at high quality, means that larger refractors can get rather expensive.

Most refractors tend to be smaller than other types, making refracting telescopes one of the most portable telescopes on the market. A good beginner refractor is the Meade S102mm telescope that is great for both celestial and terrestrial viewing.

REFRACTOR TELESCOPES AND CHROMATIC ABERRATION

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Depending on the type of lenses used for the optics, you may encounter visible color fringing at high magnifications. Also known as chromatic aberration, color fringing is when the various colored wavelengths of light get split from each other and arrive at slightly different angles, showing up as an image with distinct coloration at the edges. Most low-cost refractors are "doublets," which may have color fringing, whereas "triplet" refractors are designed to eliminate this issue.

Still, whether a doublet or triplet, refractors are solidly built scopes. Their non-movable lenses make for a sturdy design that doesn't need much maintenance beyond the occasional cleaning.

REFRACTOR TELESCOPES BEST FEATURES

  • Low image distortion.
  • Right-side up images.
  • Don't need collimation.
  • Closed system.
  • Beginner friendly. 

REFLECTOR TELESCOPES 

refractor vs reflector telescopes

Reflectors use mirrors, which causes light to reflect at various angles within the optical tube, extending the overall light path. It's relatively common for reflectors to be less expensive than refractors because manufacturing large mirrors is usually more affordable than manufacturing large lenses.

Additionally, reflector telescopes are not susceptible to color fringing in the same way that doublet refractors are. If you're looking for more bang for your buck in terms of aperture, reflectors are a great way to go. This is especially true for Dobsonians, which come with their own easy-to-use rocker-box mount.

Reflector telescopes can be a great value with many conveniences. They can also come in a variety of sizes and can get quite large. With this in mind, purchasing the largest reflector you can afford is a great low-cost way to get a high-aperture scope. Just make sure you can store and transport it safely. 

THINGS TO CONSIDER ABOUT REFLECTOR TELESCOPES

There are some things you should consider about the reflector design. By default, the image you see through a reflector's eyepiece will be upside down. For this reason, you'll want to use your scope's finder to line it up with the objects you want to see before looking through the eyepiece. Most modern reflecting telescopes come with a finderscope or a red dot finder, so you most likely won't have to make an additional purchase to acquire this.

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Additionally, reflector telescopes will sometimes require a process called collimation, which consists of adjusting the reflector's mirrors to ensure they stay in proper alignment with each other.

When properly maintained, a large reflector is a great way to view smaller or far away objects with great clarity, and it is of excellent value for achieving high-aperture viewing.

REFLECTOR BEST FEATURES

  • Good entry-level telescope for beginners.
  • Big aperture for observing deep-sky objects.
  • No chromatic aberration problem because it's using mirrors.
  • Captures A LOT of light!

REFLECTOR VS. REFRACTOR, WHICH IS BETTER?

If you are interested in astrophotography, purchasing a refractor is a better option because of it's specialized optic design that captures deep space objects like galaxies and nebulae. If you are interested in brighter celestial objects like the Moon or planets or a beginner, a reflector telescope is ideal.

Contact us if you have any questions!

Is this your first telescope? Check out our telescope buying guidefor some step by step help. For beginners in astrophotography, check out our video on how to build an astrophotography setup to get started!


11 Responses

Chuck Walling

April 27, 2021

I am looking to buy my grandson his first telescope for his birthday in May. He is 5 yrs old and super interested with everything in space. Obviously he wants to look at the planets but also some stars and the space station. I would also like something that would connect with a smartphone/laptop to enable us to find different objects in space. Something portable enough to put in the car and take out into the fields away from lights. I read through your guide for beginners and still not sure what to get. Any and all suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thanks, Chuck

Steven C Foster

March 16, 2021

You have your refractor reflector best for objects reversed. Proof read your web page and stop confusing people. Reflector deep sky, refractor planets is correct. Wow….

OPT

February 05, 2021

Hey Cheryl, please contact us so we can help you find the best telescope for you. In the meantime an 8" or 10" Dobsonian will provide amazing views of the night sky. You’ll also want to get a couple of good eyepieces and a laser collimator to help with aligning to the object you want to see. Clear skies!

Cheryl Malicoat

January 31, 2021

to clarify my first post – I do not plan to take pictures, I just want to SEE everything. I do not want blurry or coma imperfections.
I want to see stars, planets, and anything else possible. I just simply want to star at the sky ;). I am a beginner with a budget that can see some push, but not past $1K….any ideas with reflector or refractor would be best?

Cheryl Malicoat

January 31, 2021

The last several posts have me confused. Refractor v Reflector…..here is what I want; I desire to see the stars and moon (planets) as clear as possible on a beginner entry level. Sure seeing the galaxies would be great, but I don’t plan to take pictures.

any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Cheryl Malicoat

January 31, 2021

The last several posts have me confused. Refractor v Reflector…..here is what I want; I desire to see the stars and moon (planets) as clear as possible on a beginner entry level. Sure seeing the galaxies would be great, but I don’t plan to take pictures.

any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Michael Legary

January 26, 2021

Hi Larry, refractors aren’t good for planets at all, you may get away with visual, but the aperture on the refractors kills the capabilities for planetary. The reflector is good for DSO’s, and planetary, but tends to have Coma, which stretches stars. Overall, the reflector vs refractor argument is old news, because advances in technology and flat fields and fast focal ratios coming standard on a lot of scopes now a days, is evening the playing field.

For a beginner into astrophotography, I’d recommend a 60MM doublet or triplet APO in the F4-6 range, or a 6-8 Inch Sky-Watcher Quattro Newtonian in the same range both on something like a CEM26, AVX ETC, or a Star Adventurer for the APO, while if you have a FAT budget, and are jumping in deep (I seriously do not recommend it) go with something like a Celestron RASA 8, ZWO ASI 294MC/P on a Sky-Watcher EQ6R.

Larry

December 22, 2020

are your viewing comments for refractor and reflector scopes backwards? I just read 4 other refractor vs reflector site and all four recommend refractor for planet and moon viewing and reflector for deep space viewing!

Patrick

August 17, 2020

Can you please help to find the right adaptors to connect my canon EOS T7 camera to the new Explore Scientific 152mm f/6.5 Achromatic Refractor .
Thank you,

OPT

August 10, 2020

Hi Steve, we are happy to help you find a telescope for astrophotography and live streaming! We are working on getting in contact with you with some recommendations. In the meantime, we have some great guides on telescope buying like our best telescopes for astrophotography and astrophotography setup 101. Click on the “blog” link in the “company” section on the bottom of our site to learn more. Clear skies! 🔭

Steve Jones

August 08, 2020

I have an Orion skyscanner100 and I’m interested in upgrading to a better more piwerful scope mainly for astrophotography, and livestreaming.

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