Refractor vs Reflector Telescope: Which is Better?

While the telescope is a fun blast. And you may even have shortlisted some nice telescope to choose from. But there’s a problem. There are different types of telescopes including refractor and reflector both serving different requirements.

And do you know which one is best for you?

No problem. You are going to know that today. No stone will be left unturned as you learn the difference. At the end of this article. You will have a clear view of what’s best for you among a refractor vs reflector telescope. In the main time, you are also free to have a look at our Telescope buying guide for beginners. So fasten your seatbelts as we lift off.

So refractor or reflector telescope is better?

This is how we approach this course. First, we learn what is a refractor telescope. It’s pros, cons and for what purpose it suits. The same will be repeated for reflector scopes.

1. Refractor Telescope

Refractor telescope by Percival lowell

Percival Lowell, US Astronomer, observing the sky with a refractor telescope

Refractor telescopes are usually expensive as compared to the results they deliver. Such type of telescope makes use of the phenomenon of refraction.

Light strictly travels in a straight direction, away from (eg. Sun) source, in the form of microscopic (photons) particles. When they fall on a (transparent) object or mediums like water or glass.

Some portion of this particle bounces back from the surface (also called reflection). While others penetrate through the object.

The portion of the light which can penetrate through depends on features and quality of the object, and the angle at which light falls on it.

Say, for example, a lot higher amount of light would penetrate through crystal clear water compared to the muddy one.

And as far as the telescope is concerned, the object is a glass lens. Its also called the objective lens. The more the light gets in the better the view. Hence it’s necessary to have as many photons penetrating as possible.

To achieve this, you need a high-quality lens that is free from impurity.

Another major factor is size. The larger lens increases distant viewing capabilities due to its ability to capture more light.

High-quality lenses are not easy to manufactures. So a bigger lens asks for a bigger price. And after all said and done, they still waste some portion of the light to reflect.

Hence refractor is not as good for distance viewing as reflector telescope is.

Internal structure of refractor telescope

Image from Wikipedia

It makes the instrument big and makes the overall system heavy. A telescope with a lens of more than 3 inches starts with more than 200$.

Celestron & Meade is one of the favorite brands on this point.

The refractor telescope makes light to penetrate through the lens (at the front side) and crowd at the inner lens (of eyepiece at the back end).

So the first lens is at the front & the other is at back. That means the whole telescope is sealed. No opening or hole.

So no dust or any unwanted particle can get in. And this is the reason – that – such telescopes require the least maintenance.

PROS & CONS

PROS:

 

Land & near sky viewing

Inner components are fixed & doesn’t move

Strong built-in

Less to no maintenance required

CONS:

 

Not good for deep-sky objects as they faint.

Sometimes lengthy

It can be heavy, inconvenient to transport.

Expensive

Inferior to reflector & compound telescopes

IDEAL FOR:

 

Beginners

Those who want a Telescope with little-to-no maintenance!

Sky+Land viewing (eg. birdwatching).

Refractor telescopes are the jack of all and master of none! As simple as that.

2. Reflector Telescope

refractor vs reflector telescope

A reflector telescope with equatorial mount in Lawn

I hope you got the clue of refraction by now. And I think it’s the right condition to pitch the reflector telescopes.

Newton was the first to build such a scope. So! This type of telescopes is also called Newtonian telescopes. Reflector telescopes are quite different compared to refractive ones. Instead of refracted light, it uses what it’s called for. Reflection!

No lenses. You know that the mirror is one of the best reflectors of light. And it’s just another piece of glass coated on one side. So light doesn’t refract (or penetrate).

The reflector telescope makes use of photons that bounces back from the surface.

Such scope implements a tube, opened at the front end so the light can enter inside the tube. At the bottom end, the mirror is placed so that light entering through the opening can fall on it.

The eyepiece is on the side of the tube, near the front end. It is a system of (smaller) mirror which collects and delivers all the light sent by (aperture/main) mirror.

Refractor telecope concept

Lightpath in reflector telescope by Wiki commons

It makes one thing clear. Unlike refractor one, the loss of light is minimum. So you get a far better experience. For eg. The reflector telescope with an aperture of 3” can produce far more detailed “Ring of Saturn” than a refractive telescope of the same size.

A mirror is quite light-in-weight, so the overall weight of the system is less than the other one. Manufacturing efforts for the mirror are also less. So the price is less.

But here’s the catch. The reflector telescope does not work for objects on the earth. You can probably use refractor one for birdwatching, land viewing, etc. Reflector scopes are strictly for skies. Its sky specialist.

PROS & CONS

PROS:

 

Its Light Weight

Great for deep-sky observations

More light is collected with a larger aperture, so nice & bright image is delivered

Superior to Refractor

The less expensive compared previous one

CONS:

 

Not meant for land viewing

Due to the involvement of mirrors, special care is needed to be taken.

The aperture side is vulnerable to dust

High maintenance is necessary

IDEAL FOR:

 

Beginners

Observations of faint & deep-sky celestial bodies

Best quality image experience

Those looking for value for money!

There’s also a third telescope type that combines features of this both. Off-course, that’s a little bit expensive than these guys. You can learn more about Compound telescopes here.

refractor vs reflector telescope

Red – Refractor telescope, Blue-Reflector telescope. Image from Wikipedia.org

Conclusion

I know choosing a telescope is overwhelming. But once you learn a few things about it, you get a clear picture.

The different telescope uses different optical methods to manipulate the light to serve different purposes.

So in conclusion, if you are looking for the telescope for a mix of experience including sky and birdwatching – Go for refractor telescope. On the other hand, if you are more interested in space and deep-sky observations – A reflector telescope is preferable. No, I’m a fan of the deep sky.

And finally, for the best of both worlds with a fair budget – Choose a compound telescope! 

Check out our handpicked selection of top telescopes for every budget and free yourself research hazel. Or go with our telescope buying guide and be your own expert.

3 Comments

  1. Ashutosh Pandey
  2. Panneer

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