How to Choose the Best Telescope for Beginners: Refractor vs. Reflector Telescopes

Are you interested in buying your first telescope? When it comes to choosing the right telescope for beginners, it can be overwhelming to decide between a refractor or reflector telescope. It is important to understand the difference between these two telescope types so that you can make an informed decision. In this blog post, I’ll discuss the pros and cons of refractor and reflector telescopes, so you can determine which one is the best telescope for you.

The first recommendation I will make is to not buy a department store telescope. These are typcially inferior quality and will not provide you a good view of the cosmos. Always purchase your telescopes and accessories from a reputable astronomy dealer. Links in this article are for established and well known vendors that will assist you through the process of buying your first telescope or if you are upgrading. 

Types of telescopes

Celestron StarSense Explorer refractor telescope on an Alt-Az mount.
Celestron StarSense Explorer refractor telescope on an Alt-Az mount.

When considering the best telescope for a beginner, it’s important to understand the different types of telescopes available. The two most common designs are refractor and reflector.
Refractor telescopes use lenses to gather and focus light. They tend to be compact, lightweight, and relatively easy to use. In addition, they require very little maintenance and upkeep. However, they can be more expensive than reflectors. 

Reflector telescopes use mirrors to gather and focus light. They are typically bigger and heavier than refractors, and they require more maintenance due to the need to periodically collimate the optics. However, they are usually less expensive than refractors. 

Pros and cons of reflector telescopes
Reflector telescopes are a popular choice for amateur astronomers because they offer excellent viewing opportunities at a relatively low cost. 

Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130AZ Smartphone Telescope
Celestron StarSense Explorer DX 130 Alt-Az Smartphone Telescope

The pros of reflector telescopes include their large aperture size and relatively low cost compared to other types of telescopes. The larger aperture size allows for more light-gathering power, which means you can see objects in greater detail. As example, a Dobsonian telescope is an easy-to-use design that allows you to easily move the telescope up and down as well as side to side. The Dobsonian is also an affordable option when compared to other reflector telescopes.

One downside to using a reflecting telescope is that they require more frequent maintenance due to the mirrors being exposed. This includes re-alignment and cleaning of the mirrors which should be done on a regular basis.

Pros and cons of refractor telescopes

Refractor telescopes are the oldest telescope design dating back over 400 years and have been used by astronomers for centuries. They are the simplest of all telescope designs and feature a lens at the front which is used to collect light from the sky.

One of the main benefits of refractor telescopes is that they are simple to use. This makes them ideal for beginners. Grab and go!

A disadvantage of lower cost refractor telescopes (especially department store type!) is that they can suffer from chromatic aberration. This occurs when colours that make up light are bent differently as they pass through the lens, resulting in a distorted image. 



Help support my efforts to bring informative articles and videos to the astronomy community. If buying astro gear use these links below and I’ll receive a small commission at no cost to you:

High Point Scientific (USA):
Ontario Telescope (Canada):
All-Star Telescope (Canada)


Telescope mounts

An alt-azimuth mount, also called an alt-az mount, is a type of telescope mount that moves the telescope in two axes perpendicular to one another: altitude (up and down, or in the vertical plane) and azimuth (side to side, or in the horizontal plane).

Sky-Watcher’s AZ-GTi is the perfect tracking platform for those seeking a compact travel mount capable of both Alt-Az and Go-To functionality.

The alt-az mount is considered to be the easiest to use for beginners and even seasoned explorers of the night sky use this type of mount.

An equatorial mount (or EQ mount) is a type of telescope mount used to accurately track objects moving across the night sky. It uses two axis and motors to rotate the telescope in relation to the earth’s rotational axes. This allows the telescope to remain pointing in the same direction while it tracks the night sky and enables astrophotographers to take long-exposure images of stars, galaxies, and other celestial objects. The EQ mount is more difficult to use and requires more patience.

Which type of telescope is best for beginners?

A Starfield Optics Dobsonian reflecting telescope.
A Starfield Optics Dobsonian reflecting telescope.

For beginners, a reflector telescope with a Dobsonian base (also known as a “Dob”) is a great choice. Dobsonian design telescopes are reflecting telescopes, meaning they use mirrors instead of lenses to gather light. The Dob uses an alt-az style mount. This type of telescope is ideal for beginners because it has a simple design, and it’s also very affordable.

The Dobsonian design makes it easy to find objects in the night sky by using the two-axis system: one axis points the telescope to the desired object, while the other allows the user to keep the telescope tracking across the night sky. Additionally, Dobsonian telescopes are usually larger than refractors, giving them a wider field of view. This makes it easier for beginners to locate faint objects and get a better look at planets and galaxies.

When looking at reflecting telescopes, make sure you’re getting enough aperture, which refers to the size of the primary mirror or lens. Apertures of 8 inches or more will give you good resolution images.

Final thoughts

Make sure whatever telescope you buy comes with accessories such as eyepieces, filters, and software so you can make the most out of your experience.

As a last note, tabletop telescopes are a great option for beginners as well because of their lightweight and easy set-up. Simply put them on a table or sturdy surface and they’re ready to go!

Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi Tabletop GoTo Dobsonian

The Sky-Watcher Virtuoso GTi Tabletop GoTo Dobsonian is an excellent choice for those wanting to see the comet and get started in observing the night sky. This compact yet capable telescope is easy to use with its alt-az operation and features GoTo object technology which will make locating cosmic objects simple!

Click a link below for more info and to purchase:

High Point Scientific (USA)
Ontario Telescope (Canada)
All Star Telescopes (Canada)


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