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You probably already know the there room two major categories of telescopes: Refractors and Reflectors. But i m sorry is much better for beginners? prior to you decide because that yourself, it’s crucial to recognize the differences in between the two. In this article, we’ll start with a quick summary of the basic features of showing vs. Refracting telescopes. Climate we’ll go v 7 crucial differences between them, to aid you decision which form best fits her needs.


Basic Features: reflecting vs. Refracting Telescopes7 key Differences: Choosing in between a mirroring vs. Refracting Telescope

Basic Features: reflecting vs. Refracting Telescopes

Before we dig right into the pros and also cons of showing vs. Refracting telescopes … let’s begin with the basics. What specifically are the crucial features that identify reflectors indigenous refractors?

Refractor Telescopes – The “Classic” Telescope Design

If girlfriend ask the average human to define a telescope, they will probably be thinking of a refractor telescope. Why? due to the fact that it’s by much the many classic-looking type of telescope. Think about George Washington, at the elevation of the American Revolution, looking through his spyglass telescope to monitor the movements of british troops – this is a standard example that a refracting telescope.

The refracting telescope was many likely designed in the mid-1500’s through Leonard Digges (although Galileo Galilei is often credited as the inventor of the telescope). Its design is yes, really pretty straightforward: A refractor is do of a long optical tube through a convex glass lens in ~ the main opening. The irradiate enters the telescope with this lens, climate exits the telescope v the eyepiece because that viewing.

That’s pretty much it. It’s simple, elegant, and easy to understand.

The glass lens “refracts” (or bends) the light so the it will a focal distance point. The dimension of the lens (known together the telescope’s “objective”) determines the amount of irradiate the telescope can collect. (This is additionally referred to as the telescope’s “aperture“.) The focal size of the telescope, separated by the focal length of the eyepiece, identify the amount of magnification. The focal distance length also determines the field of view. (A shorter focal length gives a broader field of view, measure up in degrees.)

Refractors come in many varieties – and also they deserve to be optimized because that a variety of intake scenarios including astrophotography, research, and also visual astronomy.

Here’s a real-world example of a refractor telescope – this is the same one sketched in the image above. This one sits on a German equatorial mount. It also has a 90-degree diagonal, which redirects the irradiate upwards to the eyepiece.

Telescope shown: Orion Observer II 70mm (See the on Telescope.com)

Reflector Telescopes come Along Later, presenting Newton’s fix up Mirror-Based Design

Reflecting telescopes presented a brand-new concept – using mirrors as the primary means to conference light and also redirect it to a focal distance point. Unlike refracting telescopes, reflectors do not make use of a glass target lens – instead, a big curved winter is situated at the base of the telescope.

This major mirror (whose diameter is the dimension of the telescope’s aperture) theatre the role of bouncing irradiate rays back towards one or more additional mirrors, until the light ultimately exits the telescope v the eyepiece.

This has some vital advantages and disadvantages i beg your pardon we’ll talk about throughout this short article – however there is one advantage worth stating right up front. Together you move towards bigger aperture sizes, mirrors are much less expensive come manufacture than high-quality glass lenses. This provides it feasible to build telescopes that have the right to collect a lot much more light there is no the dramatic increase in cost.

Reflector telescopes have plenty of sub-types which different from each other in the number of mirrors, shape of mirrors, and other details. These encompass the classic Newtonian telescope (named after ~ Isaac Newton), Dobsonian telescopes, link or catadioptric telescopes (like the Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope i beg your pardon is a well-known compound reflector), and more. Yet the one thing they all have in typical is the they use a huge primary mirror together the aperture the the telescope (its main light-collecting component).

Here’s a real-world example of a reflector telescope – this is the same one sketched in the photo above. This one additionally sits on a German equatorial mount. Notice the ar of the eyepiece. It’s towards the peak of the telescope, since that’s the ar of the secondary mirror.


Telescope shown: Orion SpaceProbe 130ST (See that on Telescope.com)

7 key Differences: Choosing in between a reflecting vs. Refracting Telescope

Summary: which is Better?

For a quick an overview of the 7 crucial differences, take a look in ~ the table below. But keep in mental there are a many nuances to consider. Save reading additional for an ext discussion of each category.

1. Price & affordabilityReflectorsMirrors are less expensive for bigger aperture sizes. For smaller telescopes, refractors tho offer good value.
2. Maintenance & ease of useRefractorsReflectors require more maintenance the their internal components.
3. Size & portabilityReflectorsLarge reflectors are an ext compact 보다 refractors of comparable aperture size.
4. Optical power & clarityEither, if high-qualityYou can get stunning images with either a high-quality achromatic/apochromatic refracting lens, or a reflector with one or more true parabolic mirrors and also high-quality manufacturing.
5. Deep-sky visual astronomyReflectorsLarge reflectors do it feasible for the average astronomer come view remote galaxies, nebulae, and also star clusters.
6. Astro-photographyHigh-quality refractorsYou don"t need a huge telescope because that astrophotography. We recommend a triplet APO refractor through a fast focal ratio.
7. TravelingRefractorsCan"t win a 70-100mm travel refractor.

1. Price & Affordability (Winner: Reflectors… For larger Sizes)

The #1 benefit of showing telescopes is their affordability. This is because large mirrors are cheaper come manufacture 보다 high-quality glass for huge refracting lenses.

This is particularly true together you get towards very big apertures and also you space aiming because that the highest possible quality optical performance. A very big “triplet” apochromatic refractor is exponentially much more expensive 보다 a same-size showing telescope.

However, this general ascendancy only applies to larger aperture telescopes. It’s no 100% true for lot smaller telescopes. Sometimes, for very little telescopes (for example, below 100mm), refractors have the right to offer the superior value. For smaller sized sizes, reflecting telescopes can be an ext expensive come manufacture because of their being more complex, with an ext sensitive internal components, contrasted to their refracting counterparts. When you think about maintenance and other factors, this can quickly tip the scales towards refractors in state of overall value.

At medtox.org, we normally recommend you gain the biggest aperture dimension (a) that you have the right to afford, and (b) the fits your needs in regards to portability and usability. Hence – we regularly recommend civilization consider starting their astronomy journey with a decent-sized Dobsonian telescope, or a table reflector telescope. (Both are good choices because that a first telescope.)

Bottom line: If you’re ~ above a budget and also looking for a good aperture size, reflectors commonly offer more “bang for the buck”. However, if you’re ~ above a budget and looking because that a smaller telescope, you must still consider refractors a great value.

2. Maintenance & lull of usage (Winner: Refractors)

One clear advantage of refracting telescopes is the they hardly ever (if ever) need maintenance. The lens attaches securely come the optical tube, and it rarely moves sufficient to call for adjustment. Additionally, there space no complex internal components that can come the end of alignment.

Thanks to the simplicity of your design, refracting telescopes are drop-dead simple to use and also maintain. If her priority is ease and also convenience, and you room looking to be able to pull out your telescope anytime and use the in minutes, a refractor telescope provides clear advantages.

This is not rather the case with reflectors. Reflectors room a little much more complicated. Even if it is it’s a an easy Newtonian reflector, or a more facility catadioptric or link telescope, that will sometimes require a procedure well-known as collimation.

When you collimate a telescope, you have to make good adjustments come the alignment of the optical elements. Collimation can take time and effort away from viewing. (At the very least until you get good at it. Skilled astronomers have the right to collimate a telescope in minutes.)

For beginner especially, refractors space a good choice due to the fact that they are always ready to go. Yet even for progressed users, a refractor provides simplicity and convenience that might be compelling.

Bottom line: Refractors room drop-dead an easy to use – which provides them perfect for true beginners. Reflectors will usually need a bit much more maintenance.

3. Size & Portability (Winner: Reflectors… Usually)

So, take a good look in ~ the diagrams above in the article. Go you an alert anything around the focal street of the refractor vs. The reflector?

Size the the Optical Tube

For refracting telescopes, the in its entirety length that the telescope’s optical pipe is a little longer than the focal distance. (It’s not quite precisely the same, because the focal suggest is actually a little ahead of the eyepiece.)

For reflecting telescopes, the optical tube is lot smaller and much more compact. This is due to the fact that the focal allude is located past the an additional mirror – which makes it possible for the telescope length to be about 1/2 the focal street or also smaller. (For a standard Newtonian reflector, it’s around 1/2. Because that a compound telescope, it can be also smaller due to the fact that the light is redirected multiple times.)

With that stated … this size difference really just matters when you begin looking at bigger telescopes. At the beginning of the person stage, the dimension for lower-end refractors is really no a huge deal.

However, together you get into much more powerful refractors with larger lenses and also longer focal lengths, this telescopes can get really large and heavy, making lock more daunting to transport, balance, and also maneuver. And, since the eyepiece is always at the far finish of the key telescope tube, bigger refractors can make for awkward positioning of the eyepiece.


Another major consideration is the weight of the telescope. And again, reflectors will begin to outperform refractors as you start getting into the bigger aperture sizes. Production a high-quality glass lens in one ultra-large size calls for some serious glass to compose the facets of the lens. And also the more heavier the telescope, the more you’ll must spend buying a mount that have the right to adequately assistance it.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a compact, portable telescope with a large aperture, girlfriend should absolutely consider getting a reflector. For smaller telescopes, you could really walk either way.

4. Optical performance & Clarity (Winner: High-Quality Refractors or Reflectors)

In intuitive astronomy, over there is nothing rather like obtaining a clear, crisp, high-contrast see that’s complimentary of any kinds of aberration or distortion. Both refractors and reflectors have the right to offer stunning views, as lengthy as lock are made with high-quality components.

Disclaimer: Optical performance is a very complicated topic. In this ar we’re going to keep it somewhat simple and emphasis on the basics.

Low-quality refractors suffer an ext from chromatic aberration

Inexpensive refractor telescopes regularly use a basic refracting lens, made of a single piece that glass. The an obstacle with this is the it introduce a blurring of certain color wavelength in the image, dubbed chromatic aberration. (Why? different wavelengths of light require slightly different focal lengths after ~ refraction.)

For smaller refractors, this is not really a big deal. However, it starts to become more important as you go past lower-powered refractors.

Chromatic aberration deserve to be mitigated or reduced using a high-quality achromatic target lens (sometimes in combination with a fringe filter) or – even better – with an apochromatic lens (a.k.a. APO lens) consisting of 2 matched glass elements (a “doublet”) or three aspects (a “triplet”).

These higher-quality refractors provide ultra-sharp image quality – making lock a an excellent choice for thorough viewing of solar system objects. High-quality refracting telescopes additionally make for stunning astrophotography.

Low-quality reflectors suffer more from spherical aberration

Because mirroring telescopes reflect light rather of refracting it, castle don’t have to worry about chromatic aberration favor refractors do.

However, reflectors can still experience from a phenomenon recognized as spherical aberration, wherein distortion is brought about by distinctions in the emphasis of light throughout the surface of the mirrors. (Note: Refractors can suffer indigenous this too, yet the higher quality lenses carry out a an excellent job correcting because that it.)

The cheapest type of winter to produce is spherical in shape. However, spherical mirrors result in higher spherical aberration. High-quality reflectors rental one or much more parabolic mirrors. And, a “true” parabolic winter requires incredibly high-precision manufacturing, do it more expensive. (And note: over there are countless differences between the various sub-types of reflectors. Not sufficient time to enter it here.)

Bottom line: If you’re trying to find the sharpest feasible images, be all set to purchase a greater quality telescope, nevertheless of even if it is it’s refracting or reflecting. For refractors, take into consideration getting an achromatic or apochromatic lens. Because that reflectors, look because that true parabolic mirrors and also high-quality engineering.

5. Seeing Deep-Sky Galaxies, Star Clusters, and also Nebulae (Winner: Large Reflectors)

For intuitive astronomy, we generally recommend you gain the largest aperture you deserve to afford. (As lengthy as the telescope is a good fit for your needs in other means – especially in regards to size, weight, portability, and also ease of use.)

If you desire to prolong the “reach” of her telescope into deep space, climate the dimension of the aperture is the most important factor. Remember: The lot of light a telescope deserve to collect is pertained to the square of the aperture size. So, for example, a 10″ telescope, i m sorry is only 2″ broader than a 8″ telescope, have the right to collect 56% an ext light!

For refractors, together the diameter of the aperture increases, the cost and also bulk of the lens increases greatly faster. For this reason, many amateur astronomers prefer reflector telescopes because that deep-sky intuitive astronomy.

In fact, once it come to huge aperture sizes, reflectors are pretty much the only video game in city for the average amateur. You will have a difficult time finding an affordable high-quality refractor through a 10″ aperture. But, if you’re trying to find a 10″ reflector, you’ll discover plenty of good options, favor the Orion SkyQuest XT10.

A bigger aperture way more light repertoire ability, which way you’ll have the ability to see fainter, an ext distant objects in the skies – including galaxies, nebulae, and also globular clusters. And, when you’re viewing points within our own solar system, favor the rings and also moons the Saturn, you’ll be able to see stunning details that are difficult with smaller sizes.

(But, one native of caution: Don’t go overboard. You don’t desire to get something so huge that it ends up collecting dust in your attic. Make sure you know the telescope dimension that friend can finest handle.)

Bottom line: because that deep-sky visual astronomy, there is no substitute because that a large-aperture reflector telescope.

6. Astro-Imaging capacity (Winner: High-Quality Refractors)

Most amateur astrophotographers favor the simplicity of a high-quality apochromatic (APO) refractor telescope. (There are likewise some an excellent reflector choices for astrophotography, yet refractors have actually some crucial advantages.)

Why? Well, a few reasons:

First, friend don’t require a big aperture because that astrophotography. That could be surprising, but it’s true.

For intuitive astronomy, girlfriend do require a large aperture, due to the fact that you need to acquire as lot light as possible into the telescope (all in ~ once) for this reason you have the right to see the target v your eyes.

However, through astrophotography, what you really care about is the amount of light per pixel – so the speed of the telescope becomes more important. A “fast” telescope has actually a low focal ratio (ideally f/6 or reduced for astrophotography). (And remember, you gain the focal proportion by dividing the focal distance by the aperture size.) So, because that astrophotography, a fast 80mm APO refractor can outperform a larger but slower telescope.

Second, with astrophotography, smaller sized telescopes are regularly preferable because they space lighter. And also lighter telescopes require much less costly mounting systems.

Astrophotography mounting solution can gain expensive… in a hurry. In fact, for astrophotography the mountain is arguably simply as essential as the telescope. Astrophotographers require to have the ability to take lot of long-exposure shots while maintaining the telescope perfectly trained on their target.

Smaller telescopes are lot lighter and also therefore can follow a relocating object an ext cleanly than its enlarge brothers and also sisters. A comet moving across the night sky can be followed instantly if you have actually the best settings. Through a lighter telescope, you can use a much less expensive mount and still gain smooth regulate over the movement.

Bottom line: Apochromatic (APO) refractors are great for astrophotography. Girlfriend don’t require it to it is in large; instead, you desire something lightweight with high optical quality and a fast focal ratio.

7. Traveling with Your Telescope (Winner: Refractors)

Last yet not least, if friend are trying to find a tiny telescope to take through you “on the go”, a reflector is typically not precious the hassle.

There room plenty of wonderful small refractors available, designed v special lightweight tubes for traveling. (Celestron renders a terrific 80mm traveling refractor i beg your pardon we evaluation here.) these telescopes space versatile, drop-dead basic to use, call for zero maintenance, and also can to the right in a backpack.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a traveling telescope, it’s tough to beat a great 70-100mm traveling refractor.

Final think | showing vs. Refracting Telescopes

So, now that you’ve read this far, which is better, really? civilization have discussed this question since … well, pretty much the creation of the telescope. (But no quite, because refractors to be invented about 50 years before reflectors.)

Hopefully this write-up has helped you view there are clear pros and cons because that both varieties of telescopes.

Bottom line: There is no single best telescope type. It’s a an individual choice, and also it really relies on a number factors, your budget, and also how you arrangement to use your telescope. Each has its place in astronomy.

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Whichever method you end up going, we hope this article helped you do a much more informed decision.

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