Refractor vs Reflector Telescope – Which One is Best ?

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While telescope is a blast of fun. And you may even have shortlisted some nice telescope to choose from. But there’s problem. Some telescope are refractor and other, reflector. The worst part is that you don’t know which one to choose.

But don’t worry! No stone will be left un-turned as you learn the difference. At the end of this article. You will have the clear view of whats 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.

Refractor vs Reflector Telescope

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. Same will be repeated for reflector scopes.

1. Refractor Telescope

Refractor telescope by Percival lowell

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

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

Light strictly travels in straight direction, away from (eg. Sun) source, in the form of microscopic (photons) particles. When they fall on (transparent) object or medium like water or glass. Some portion of this particles bounces back from the surface (also called reflection). While others penetrate through the object.

The portion of light which can penetrate through, depends on features and quality of object, and the angle at which light falls on it. Say for example, a lot higher amount of light would penetrate through a crystal clear water compared to the muddy one.

And as far as telescope is concerned, the object is glass lens. Its also called objective lens. The more light getting in, the better view. Hence its necessary to have as much photons penetrating as possible.

To achieve this, you need high quality lens which 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 bigger lens asks for bigger price. And after all said and done, they still waste some portion of light to reflection. Hence refractor is not as good for distance viewing as reflector telescopes is.

Internal structure of refractor telescope

Image from Wikipedia

This are big and makes overall system heavy. Telescope with lens more than 3 inches starts with more than 200$. Celestron & Meade is one of the favorite brands on this point.

Refractor telescope makes light to penetrate through the lens (at front side) and crowd at inner lens (of eyepiece at back end). So first lens is at front & other is at back. That mean 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 requires 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 faints.

Sometimes lengthy

Can be heavy, inconvenient to transport.

Expensive

Inferior to reflector & compound telescopes

IDEAL FOR:

Beginners

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

Sky+Land viewing (eg. birdwatching).

Refractor telescopes are jack of all and master of non! 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 its the right condition to pitch the reflector telescopes.

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

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

Reflector telescope makes use of photons that bounces back from surface.

Such scope implement a tube, opened at 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 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

Light path in reflector telescope by Wiki commons

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

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

But here’s the catch. Reflector telescope does not work for objects on the earth. You can probably use refractor one for birdwatching, landviewing 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 larger aperture, so nice & bright image is delivered

Superior to Refractor

Less expensive compared previous one

CONS:

Not meant for land viewing

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

The aperture side is vulnerable to dust

High maintenance is neccessery

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 little bit expensive than this 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 telescope is overwhelming. But once you learn few things about it, you get the clear picture.
Different telescope uses different optical methods to manipulate the light to serve different purposes.
Say, you want a telescope that can do both the thing; sky and landviewing. Hey, you need refractor telescope!

No, I’m fan of deep sky. I want closer view of nebula’s, galaxies and all those exciting stuff. And I don’t give a damn to land. Reflector telescope serve the purpose. I want best of both – Compound telescope! Learn more about it in buyers guide.

I hope I’ve provided you with enough insides to sort things up. If you’re going to buy a telescope soon, don’t forget to have a look at this telescopes I personally prefer. If there’s objection you’ve. A confusion to be tackled. I have no plan to leave the earth at least for now! You can comment below.

One Reply to “Refractor vs Reflector Telescope – Which One is Best ?”

  1. Bobshegz says:

    Thank you for this post, very informative

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