Refractor or Reflector telescope what's the difference and what are the benefits of each?

A Refractor telescope is quite different than a reflector telescope. Here is an overview of the differences between them and the benefits of each. Knowing the difference between these types of scopes will have a big impact on your astronomy viewing.

The Physical Differences

The Refractor Telescope This is an image of a refractor telescope and it is what we usually think of when we think telescope. There is a big lens on one end and a small lens or eyepiece on the other end. The light comes in through the big lens and travels the length of the tube down to the little lens where you look in.

A Refractor Telescope

The Reflector Telescope

The reflector telescope gets its name because it uses a mirror to reflect light back up the tube and this mirror is parabolic shaped (depressed in the middle like a saucer or bowl) so it bends the light as it is reflected. The light is bounced back up to the tube to a secondary mirror that bounces it out of the tube to the eyepiece where you look.

The viewing Differences

Each type of telescope has its benefits and the refractor telescope excels when it comes to looking at objects that have some width to them. If your primary goal is to look at the moon, the planets and terrestrial objects a refractor is the best choice. But, refracting telescopes have definite size limits. It is very expensive to make large lenses where as it is much more cost economical to make very large mirrors for reflecting telescopes. So, if you want to get a lot of light gathering power in the form of a bigger telescope so you can really look into the deep space objects then a reflector is the best choice.


The cost of a refractor per opening size (aperture) is staggering. A refractor telescope with a 5 inch lens will easily run you in the range of three to four thousand dollars! wow. Where as you can get a reflector telescope with a mirror of 6 inches for a couple hundred dollars and an 8 inch mirror for around five hundred dollars. You can spend the same three to four thousand dollars on a whopping 12 or 14 inch reflector and get some astonishing light gathering power.

There is a compromise between these two types of telescopes. It falls in the middle of light gathering power and in the middle of cost and this type of telescope is the catadioptric. The catadioptric telescope uses both a lens at the front and a mirror at the back. So it takes the best from both worlds. You can get a decent catadioptric telescope in the mid range prices.

Rough Prices:

An eight inch refractor would cost you in excess of 5,000 dollars, an eight inch reflector can be had at around 500 dollars and an eight inch catadioptric will run you around 1,000 dollars.

Here is a look at some real examples of three types of telescopes. Roll over the pictures to see the price.


Refractor Telescope

Meade LXD75 AR5-AT 5"/127mm (f/9) 1143mm Focal Length Achromatic Refractor Telescope, with Motorized German-Type Equatorial Mount, Autostar Computerized Hand Controller, Autostar Suite Software, 8x50 Finderscope & Tripod. Actually quite a an awesome value in this scope. You get a whopping 5" lens and it's made by an outstanding telescope company.


Reflector Telescope

A reflector telescope Meade Reflector Telescope DS 2130ATS (DS2130 AT) - Includes Meade refracting telescope DS2130ATS Motorized GoTo altazimuth mount Autostar hand controller Adjustable aluminum tripod with accessory tray 9.7mm Series 4000 Super Plossl eyepiece 26mm Series 4000 Super Plossl eyepiece 6x30 viewfinder Astronomy Software.



Catadioptric (Schmidt-Cassegrain)


Meade ETX125AT Telescope w/ UHTC, Autostar Controller (497) and Tripod (884) Outstanding performance that gets the maximum from its optics. Superb quality.




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