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!
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
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.
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.
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.
Due to reflectors larger apertures at similar prices, they're usually going to be the best choice for almost all things visual. They can be great for deep sky astrophotography too, but we don't recommend them for beginners because they require a lot of maintenance and precise setting up.
Refractors, on the other hand, can be great for visual too but they get very expensive for similar size apertures as reflectors. But they are excellent for deep sky astrophotography, and what we recommend for all beginners getting started in deep sky imaging.
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!