Should you buy a Reflector or a Refractor Telescope?

By: Will Kalif

There are a lot of factors to consider before you buy a telescope. And these factors range from price, to performance desires, to your skill level and your lifestyle. I will go over these factors and help you find the instrument that is right for you.

A Quick look at scopes for beginners

Before I get into the specific performance and prices of telescopes I want to give you a quick rule of thumb about three different types. If you are very much a beginner and are just looking for a telescope to get started with you probably should consider getting a refractor in the 60mm to 70 mm range. This is the perfect entry-level scope. If you are pretty sure you are going to spend a fair amount of time with telescopes and you want to get an entry level priced one that has superior performance you should consider getting a dobsonian in the eight to ten inch range. If you know a bit about astronomy, or already have a scope, and are pretty sure it will be a life-long pursuit I recommend you consider getting a Schmidt-Cassegrain scope which is a high quality compound style instrument (It is a compound of both reflector and refractor).

Style of Astronomy you want to pursue

Reflectors and refractors have very different performance under the night sky and this performance could be a factor in what type of instrument you buy. Generally, if you are going to do observing of the moon and the planets and you want the absolute best performance you should consider getting a refractor. This type of scope has the absolute best performance in this area. If you want to do a lot of deep space exploration by finding and viewing galaxies, nebulae, and other deep space objects you should go with a reflector telescope.

This is because the most important thing about deep space objects is light gathering ability, and on a dollar per dollar basis a reflector gives you a substantial advantage over the refractor. You can get an eight-inch reflector for a few hundred dollars but an eight-inch refractor would cost you several thousand dollars.

Lifestyle and ease of Use

There are some other considerations that should go into your choice of scope. Are you a backpacker or camper? Do you travel a lot? If this is the case then the weight, portability, and ease of use are important considerations. Two good fits for this lifestyle would be an inexpensive four-inch reflector telescope or if you are able to spend more a Schmidt-Cassegrain in the six to eight-inch range. Both types of scopes are very portable (suitcase sized) and well suited for travel.

Should you buy a used telescope?

This is more a matter of personal preference and I can’t tell you whether a new one or a used one is right for you. But I can say that for the most part, if a scope is well cared-for it can remain practically perfect for decades. I can recommend that you don’t buy a used one if you can’t get a good hands-on look at it first. If you don’t know much about scopes you should try to find someone that does who can go with you to assess the condition and value of the one you are considering. If you are a savvy shopper, as is with most anything, you can find a fantastic value and get an instrument for less than half its retail value.

The Telescope Buyers Dilemma

One question that gets asked a lot is "What if I get a low end scope now and find out I love the hobby?" Then I have to go out and spend more on a bigger and better instrument. The money on the first telescope is pretty much wasted right? There is a small amount of truth to this but you have to consider that with your first telescope you are going to be getting a small one and just be dabbling into the hobby. If at some point in the future you spend more money and get a larger telescope you will find that your first telescope is very useful. Some nights you won’t be dragging a hundred pounds of telescope out the door and spending a half-hour to set it up. You will just want to do some light observing and the first scope will be perfect. That first, and smaller instrument, will also be a perfect gift for a child or younger sibling. I pretty handily solved this dilemma when I mounted my first refractor right onto the tube of my second, much larger, reflector telescope. It served well as a spotter scope. As a bare minimum, if you take care of your first scope you will be able to re-sell it and recoup some of your costs. But because the different sizes and types of scopes all have benefits they always useful and people who are bitten by the bug of astronomy rarely sell their telescopes. They are usually sold by people who have lost interest in the hobby.

The hobby of amateur astronomy is a wonderful hobby that can give you a lifetime of rewarding observation and photo taking. And finding the right instrument can be a bit of a challenge but with a little thought to priceFree Web Content, lifestyle and future observing aspirations you can find one that is perfect for you.

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