Reflector vs Refractor Telescope: Which is best for Astrophotography?


In the fascinating world of astrophotography, the debate of reflector vs refractor telescope is as heated as the core of a massive star. Both types of telescopes have their unique advantages and devotees, leaving newcomers to the hobby with a challenging decision to make. In this article, we’ll dive into the key differences between reflector and refractor telescopes, explore their pros and cons in the context of astrophotography, and help you determine which type of telescope will best suit your stargazing and celestial photography ambitions. So, buckle up for an interstellar journey as we unravel the cosmic mystery of reflector vs refractor telescopes!

Understanding Reflector Telescopes

Reflector telescopes, also known as Newtonian telescopes, use a combination of mirrors to collect and focus light. Light enters the telescope through an open end, strikes a concave primary mirror at the base, and then reflects back up to a smaller, flat secondary mirror. This secondary mirror directs the light toward an eyepiece or camera on the side of the telescope, where the image is observed or captured.

A Newtonian reflector ray diagram. Image by

Pros and cons of reflector telescopes for astrophotography


Larger apertures at lower cost: Reflector telescopes generally offer larger apertures (light-gathering ability) for a lower price compared to refractor telescopes. This translates to brighter and more detailed images, which is crucial for capturing faint celestial objects.

Minimal chromatic aberration: Since reflectors use mirrors instead of lenses, they do not suffer from chromatic aberration, which can cause color fringing in refractor telescope images.

Better for deep-sky imaging: Reflectors excel at capturing deep-sky objects like galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters, thanks to their larger apertures and ability to collect more light.


More maintenance: Reflectors require occasional collimation (alignment of the mirrors) to maintain optimal image quality. They are also more prone to collecting dust and debris, as they have an open optical tube.

Bulkier and heavier: Larger reflector telescopes can be quite bulky and heavy, making them less portable and potentially more challenging to set up and transport.

Coma: Reflectors can suffer from coma, an optical aberration that causes stars near the edge of the field of view to appear elongated or comet-like. This issue can be mitigated with the use of a coma corrector.

Understanding Refractor Telescopes

Refractor telescopes use a series of lenses to gather and focus light. Light passes through a large objective lens at the front of the telescope, which bends the light to form an image at the focal point. An eyepiece or camera is then used to magnify and observe the image at the focal point. Refractor telescopes have a closed optical tube, which protects the internal lenses from dust and debris.

Reflector vs Refractor Telescope
Refracting telescope. The primary lens focuses the light whereas the secondary lens produces the image.

Pros and cons of refractor telescopes for astrophotography


Low maintenance: Refractors require minimal maintenance, as their lenses rarely need adjustment and are well-protected within the closed optical tube.

Compact and portable: Refractor telescopes tend to be more compact and lightweight than reflectors, making them easier to transport and set up.

Sharp, high-contrast images: The lens-based design of refractors can provide crisp, high-contrast images, especially when capturing bright objects like planets and the Moon.


Chromatic aberration: Refractors can suffer from chromatic aberration, which occurs when different wavelengths of light focus at slightly different points. This can result in color fringing around bright objects. Achromatic or apochromatic refractors can help reduce this effect.

Smaller apertures at higher cost: Refractor telescopes typically have smaller apertures than reflectors at a given price point, which can limit their light-gathering ability and the detail visible in images of faint celestial objects.

More expensive for larger apertures: High-quality, large-aperture refractor telescopes can be quite expensive, making them less accessible for amateur astrophotographers on a budget.

Reflector vs Refractor Telescope

Image Quality Showdown

Both reflector and refractor telescopes have the ability to capture stunning astrophotography images. Reflectors excel in deep-sky imaging, thanks to their larger apertures and absence of chromatic aberration. Refractors, on the other hand, offer sharp, high-contrast images, making them ideal for planetary and lunar photography. However, they might experience chromatic aberration.

Ease of Use and Upkeep

Refractor telescopes come out on top in terms of ease of use and maintenance, since their lenses require minimal adjustments and are enclosed within the optical tube. Reflectors demand a bit more TLC, needing occasional collimation and being more susceptible to dust and debris with their open tube design

Travel-friendly Factor

Refractors are generally more travel-friendly, as they tend to be more compact and lightweight than their reflector counterparts. This is a bonus for astrophotographers who often venture to far-off locations for the perfect shot. Large reflectors can be a bit cumbersome and heavy, posing a challenge for on-the-go stargazers.

Price Tag and Bang for Your Buck

Reflector telescopes take the prize for offering larger apertures at more budget-friendly prices when compared to refractors. This can be a game-changer for amateur astrophotographers keeping an eye on their wallets. High-quality refractors, though pricier, do provide top-notch performance in a compact, low-maintenance package.

In the end, the choice between reflector and refractor telescopes boils down to personal preferences, needs, and budget constraints. Both types have their pros and cons, so carefully weigh the factors that matter most to you before embarking on your astrophotography adventure.

Choosing Your Star-capturing Sidekick: Reflector or Refractor?

Select your target

Contemplate the types of heavenly objects you’re eager to photograph. For deep-sky enthusiasts seeking images of galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters, a reflector telescope is a solid choice. But if crisp, high-contrast snapshots of the Moon and planets are your goal, a refractor telescope might be the perfect match.

Budget considerations

Determine your spending limits when it comes to astrophotography gear. For those on a tighter budget, a reflector telescope could provide more value with larger apertures at wallet-friendly prices. If you can splurge a bit more and want a compact, easy-to-maintain option, a refractor telescope may suit you better

Portability and upkeep

Do you plan to tote your telescope to remote locations, or will you set up shop in a dedicated observatory? If portability ranks high on your list, the compact and lightweight design of a refractor telescope could be a winner. And if maintenance matters to you, the refractor’s closed optical tube and minimal tweaking requirements might win you over compared to a reflector’s open tube design and collimation needs.

By carefully evaluating your astrophotography aspirations, budget constraints, and practical considerations like portability and upkeep, you’ll be well-equipped to make a wise decision between a reflector and refractor telescope. Keep in mind that there’s no universal solution, and the ideal telescope for you will be the one that resonates with your specific interests and requirements. Armed with the perfect telescope, you’ll soon be capturing awe-inspiring images of the starry skies!

Reflector vs Refractor Telescope
Boeing 737-8 MAX crossing a full moon, taken with an Explore Scientific ED80 f/6.0 Apochromatic Refractor.

Kickstarting Your Astrophotography Adventure with Your Telescope of Choice

Get to know your gear

Whether you’ve picked a reflector or refractor telescope, it’s crucial to become acquainted with your equipment. Learn the ins and outs of setting up, aligning, and focusing your telescope. Knowing your gear well makes capturing beautiful images of celestial objects much easier.

Begin with easy targets

Start your journey by photographing readily visible and bright sky objects like the Moon or prominent planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. Focusing on these targets will help you gain confidence in handling your equipment and sharpen your astrophotography skills without feeling overwhelmed.

Secure a reliable mount

A sturdy and stable mount is essential for successful astrophotography. Ensure you select a mount that’s compatible with your telescope type and can support its weight. Equatorial mounts are especially helpful for astrophotography because they counteract Earth’s rotation, keeping your target centered during long exposures. Check out our comprehensive guide to star tracking.

Embrace patience and perseverance

Astrophotography is a gratifying yet demanding hobby. Capturing striking images of the night sky requires time and practice. If your initial attempts fall short of your expectations, don’t lose heart. Continue practicing, experimenting, and learning from your experiences to hone your skills.

Engage with fellow astrophotographers: Join local astronomy groups or participate in online forums where you can ask questions, share your experiences, and learn from other astrophotographers. Tapping into the community can provide invaluable tips, guidance, and encouragement as you embark on your astrophotography journey.

By heeding these suggestions and sticking with them, you’ll soon be snapping awe-inspiring images of the cosmos using your reflector or refractor telescope. The night sky brims with celestial wonders waiting to be explored, and your telescope is your passport to those heavenly spectacles. Enjoy your stargazing adventures!