Choosing a telescope is quite a difficult process, given how many models there are with different characteristics and prices. When you choose your first telescope, you should get acquainted in detail with the types that are on the market and their advantages and disadvantages. The first question you may have is which is the better reflector or refractor telescope and what is the difference between them. That is why in this article, I will talk about the telescope reflector vs refractor. This way you will be able to understand what kind of telescope is right for you.
Reflector vs Refractor Telescope: Beginner Guide
- First, you need to decide which celestial objects you want to observe;
- Think about where and how you will use the telescope and whether you plan to move it;
- Plan your budget and choose the device depending on it;
- Decide if you have the time and opportunity to take care of the tool.
What is a refractor telescope?
This is the first type of telescope, which was created in the early 17th century by the German-Dutch lens manufacturer Hans Lippershey. The refracting telescope is very easy to distinguish from the reflector because its eyepiece and focuser are located at the end of the telescopic tube. This telescope is somewhat reminiscent of a spyglass and is most familiar to the novice. It works on a similar principle to the monocular. The light passes through the lens, creating light rays that converge on the eyepiece holder. It is quite compact in size, which is why it does not collect as much light as a reflector. However, it does not require any adjustments from the observer due to its stable optics. The larger the lens, the longer the length of the optical tube in the refractor telescope should be for proper image focusing. That is, a large refractor will be quite expensive.
What is a reflector telescope?
This type of telescope uses mirrors instead of lenses, as in the previous one. The light coming from the star falls on the primary mirror located at the end of the optical tube. However, in order for these rays to reach the eyepiece, a secondary mirror is needed, which is located next to the front aperture of the telescope and directs the rays to the eyepiece. The size of the image on the eyepiece depends on the primary mirror. The larger the main mirror, the larger and brighter the image you can see. Newton’s telescopes are one of the most common reflectors due to their simple structure and low cost, and the Cassegrain and Richie-Chrétien telescopes are less common. However, before you start observing the stars, you need to adjust your device. In particular, to collimate the primary and secondary mirrors so that they are aligned with each other.
5 key differences: choosing between a reflecting vs. refracting telescope
If you plan to do astrophotography, then a reflector is definitely more suitable. Thanks to the mirrors, it absorbs more light, which helps make images of deep space brighter and clearer.
Field of view
Telescopes of the same size have different focal lengths, whereas the refractor telescope will be larger. This allows you to get a clearer and more detailed image, but with a smaller field of view.
There is a big difference in compactness between these two types of telescopes. Most refractor telescopes are quite light and small, which makes them suitable for movement. While the reflectors are more unwieldy and take up more space and are somewhat more difficult to install.
The refractor is more user-friendly. As its structure is stronger and protected from moisture and dust, it does not require special care. While the reflector needs additional adjustments and alignment of the mirrors before use.
If you take a reflector and a refractor with the same aperture, the price of the refractor will be much higher. That is why, in terms of cost, many people prefer the reflector. Of course, you can also find a cheaper refractor model. However, this means that the manufacturer used spherical lenses, which give very low quality images.
Reflector vs refractor telescope pros cons
When thinking about reflector vs refractor telescope pros / cons, you have to consider many factors and characteristics. Both types of telescopes have both advantages and disadvantages. It all depends on the purpose for which you plan to use it and the budget you expect.
Advantages of the reflector:
- mirrors help to collect more light from celestial objects, with them, you’re getting a brighter picture;
- this type of telescope does not have chromatic aberration (these are colored fringes that may appear around images of stars), as the reflector telescope uses mirrors;
- it has a relatively low price compared to a refractor, which makes it more affordable for beginners and amateur astronomers;
- the reflector has a large diaphragm that allows you to observe deep-sky objects;
- convenient to use for photographing astronomical objects.
Disadvantages of the reflector:
- optical quality is slightly worse, which can be disappointing;
- before stargazing, you need to carry out the process of collimation as well as take care of the mirrors;
- the telescope has an open tube, which increases the chances of moisture, dirt, or dust;
- a parabolic type of mirror can have a defect called a coma, which means that images located farther from the center will be extracted;
- it is mostly heavy and bulky, i.e. it will be harder to take with you when traveling.
Pros of the refractor telescope:
- has greater contrast and sharpness of the image thanks to the lens, which allows you to use it for planetary observations;
- it is quite light in weight, which makes it more transportable, so you will be able to take it almost anywhere;
- the refractor has a closed tube that protects the telescope from moisture or dust;
- requires minimal maintenance or cleaning, which, of course, makes it easier to use for beginners;
- can be used for ground-based surveillance with additional accessories.
Cons of the refractor telescope:
- it has a much higher price with a larger aperture, which is not always affordable for beginners;
- not very suitable for observing less bright galaxies and clusters;
- chromatic aberrations and image blurring can occur over time if left uncorrected;
- it may be somewhat inconvenient or awkward to use due to the fact that the eyepiece is located at the end of the tube;
- the refractory telescope takes longer to adjust to the ambient temperature.
Reflector vs refractor telescope – which is right for you?
Given that both types are quite popular among both beginners and professionals, it is difficult to say that one of them is much inferior to the other. Rather, you need to consider exactly how and where you plan to use the telescope. The larger the aperture of the telescope, the darker areas you can see, especially less bright celestial objects and galaxies. Of course, the larger the aperture, the heavier the telescope and the higher its price. However, the 10 ” Newtonian is easily operable for any adult. So, if you want to explore objects in deep space, the reflector will handle this task better. Also, the reflector telescope is well suited for those who live in rural areas and plan to place it somewhere in their backyard and are not going to move it often.
On the other hand, the refractor is quite compact and has a strong structure. It can be taken for a walk, on a plane, or placed on the balcony of the apartment. If you are a fan of hiking and camping, then this option is definitely for you. You also don’t need to adjust or aim it. Just mount the tube on a tripod, and you can start observing the stars. Therefore, if you are a beginner, the maintenance and care of the refractor will be much easier and clearer for you. If your goal is to observe the objects in our solar system, then a refractor telescope will be a great choice. In addition, most refractor telescopes can be used for ground-based surveillance.
FAQ on What Is a Refractor Telescope vs Reflector
How to tell a refractor from a reflector?
To tell the reflector from the refractor, you need to look at their structures. The refractor looks more like a monocular and has an eyepiece at the end of the optical tube. The reflector has a primary mirror at the end of the tube and an eyepiece on the side of the telescope.
Which telescope has better magnification, reflector or refractor?
The magnification does not depend on whether it is a reflector or a refractor telescope, as it is done with the help of an eyepiece, which you can always replace. Therefore, this criterion directly depends on the model of the telescope and the type of eyepiece you choose.
Is a refractor or reflector telescope better for beginners?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, as it depends on many factors. Given the budget, a reflector is more suitable for a beginner due to its lower price. However, if you plan to observe the planets or the moon, it is better to choose a refractor.
Refractor vs Reflector Telescope Which Is Better
Both types of telescopes have their advantages and disadvantages. They have different principles of operation, so they differ in structure and method of use. To find the one that works best for you, pay attention to your goal of stargazing and the budget you’re willing to spend on a telescope. If you are a beginner, then you might prefer a refractor, but if you aren’t afraid of adjustments, the reflector will be a good choice for its price.
Are you planning to do astrophotography? Which of the telescopes do you think is best? Please share your thoughts in the comments.