If you’re unfamiliar with reflecting telescopes, the word “reflection” should come to mind and provide a clue about how they work.
Reflectors use mirrors and so they rely on reflection to bring light in to form an image that can be seen through an eyepiece.
How did reflecting telescopes come about?
Isaac Newton wanted to create an alternative to the refracting telescope. While this design has inherent flaws of its own, it significantly reduced the chromatic aberration (CA) seen in refractors and allowed for a much larger aperture at a lower price point.
Thankfully, the design works, and so we have a multitude of reflecting telescopes to seek out objects in deep space.
To learn more about reflectors and the available types in the market, reflect on the following info!
Best Reflector Telescope In 2021
Reflector telescopes are also called reflecting telescopes, Newtonian telescopes, and Newtonian reflectors. These terms are used interchangeably, and it is acceptable to do so.
Who is a reflector telescope for? These types of telescopes are for those who want to look to the skies for astronomical observation. Some reflecting scopes can also be used for astrophotography. Because the image orientation is inverted and reversed, they’re not suitable for terrestrial observation.
How much does a reflecting telescope cost? Reflecting telescopes have wide price points. They start at $100 for an entry-level model and can cost upwards of $1000. Precision manufacturing, quality components, and mount quality and types can change the value and price point of any given reflector.
To provide realistic options for the first-time buyer, the reflectors in this lineup are affordable models that give you an idea of what to expect. Of course, if you spend more, you can expect a great deal more.
Best Reflector Telescope Reviews
1. SkyWatcher FlexTube 300P Reflector Scope
The FlexTube is not your everyday kind of buy solely because of its price point. But, to show you what a collapsible reflector looks like, here’s an option an intermediate or advanced user may want to consider.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 12” aperture
✔️ No glue
✔️ Easy to use
The FlexTube isn’t your ordinary truss rod telescope. It has a collapsible system, but since you can retract and extend the tube without having to remove rods makes for a convenient and easy-to-use setup. There are many benefits to having a collapsible Dobsonian, but it’s not without its drawbacks.
The OTA has a huge 12” aperture, and unfortunately, there is no cooling fan included with the SkyWatcher telescope. It has a fast focal ratio that is good for wide fields of view, and with the huge mirror, you’ll be able to see exceptional details of nebulae and galaxies – all the good stuff.
As a Dob, you have the full-size, floor-based model that supports itself and the tube. Alt-az movement will restrict what you can do with imaging, but this model deliberately lacks computerized features to keep it simple for providing fantastic visual use.
There is no glue on this mount or base. Everything is attached via bonded nuts and fastening bolts for optimum durability and extended longevity.
The FlexTube is a great example of reflector variants in the market. If you’re an experienced telescope user looking for a new way to search the skies, you may have the scope that tops your shortlist.
2. Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Reflector Telescope
The SkyQuest XT4.5 is a Dobsonian. What this means is it’s a Newtonian reflector OTA on a Dobsonian-style mount. What can you expect from this telescope? Let’s check it out.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 4.5” aperture
✔️ Medium speed
❌ Spherical mirror
The SkyQuest has great optical assembly. What about the spherical mirror? While most spherical mirrors in Newtonians will produce spherical aberration, it’s really only apparent at fast focal speeds and short focal lengths. Fortunately, this model has an f/8 focal ratio, so it’s right at the acceptable range of balancing cost-effectiveness with good resolution.
The Newtonian is collimatable and comes with a collimation cap to get it done. The 4.5” aperture is still on the baby end for a Newtonian, but it’s still a whole lot larger than what you can get at this price point from a refractor.
Since it’s a Dobsonian, it has a very simple mount and base that serves as the tube’s stability platform. It provides altitude movement by manually moving the tube up or down in its place. It provides azimuth movement by “swiveling” the tube left and right. Basic, easy, and simple.
Ergonomics have been thought out as evidenced by its built-in carry handle on the tube. The mount also features the CorrecTension Friction Optimization System that supports a secure attachment and one-piece handling when moving the telescope setup.
Why choose the XT4.5 over other cheaper reflectors on EQ mounts? Well, if you’re not imaging and you want rock-solid mount performance and stability, a Dob is the best way to go. It’s a great reflector for its price point with that leeway in optical quality thanks to the longer focal ratio and slower optical speed.
3. Orion AstroView 6 Reflector Telescope
The highlight features about the AstroView is the 6” aperture and its EQ movement. You’re getting whole lot of seeing that you may appreciate if this is an upgrade from a smaller model.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 6” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ Good included accessories
❌ Limited astrophotography
The AstroView has a large 6” aperture which is great for gathering light and seeing plenty more of faint objects. It’s a fast telescope, so you wouldn’t immediately identify it as a good planetary scope, but the larger aperture allows you to see a whole lot more with higher power.
Even though many users are restricted to light-polluted areas which affects DSO visibility, it has the specs to perform well for spotting DSOs.
The AstroView 6 comes with an EQ mount. This is a good selling point if you want to track stars or upgrade with a clock drive at some point. It is a light-duty mount, so there will be no serious imaging with this scope. But, for visual use to keep objects within your field of view, this reflector scope can deliver.
The included eyepieces are Sirius Plossls and they provide good low to medium magnification. You could add another eyepiece or a Barlow lens to push the power over 100x as it’s capable of providing good views with high magnification.
A collimation cap is included in the package and this is indicative of a collimatable cell which is expected on any good reflector. What is the underlying theme? The Orion telescope is a good telescope for a beginner wanting to try out an EQ mount at a low price point.
4. Orion SpaceProbe 130ST EQ Reflector Telescope
The SpaceProbe is a good example of an entry-level reflector at a beginner’s price point that has features an amateur may want to learn and grow with.
Pros & Cons
✔️ 130 mm aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ EQ mount
❌ Limited astrophotography
The SpaceProbe 130ST EQ has a 130 mm/5” aperture. This is plenty big enough for exploring faint DSOs and accessing hundreds of objects that would otherwise be elusive dots or smudges through a smaller model.
Optical quality is present and evident by its collimatable, parabolic primary mirror. Since this is a fast telescope with wide fields of view, that paraboloid shape is a must-have. The scope even comes with a collimation cap to make the process easier for beginners.
The EQ mount will take some getting used to if you’re new to telescopes. It does allow you to polar align the scope so you can track stars, meaning, you can follow it along its orbital path while keeping it within your field of view.
While this is the type of mount you want for astrophotography, the SpaceProbe is best-suited to visual use. The EQ2 mount is really too light-duty and the OTA is too short in focal length for imaging with. While some mods can be made, its best to start off expecting that you won’t be doing much imaging with it.
With excellent optics and a decent mount, you’ll be able to get good views of DSOs and track objects without them annoyingly drifting out of the eyepiece. Good enough for beginners? It’s a high-rated and popular telescope, so it must fit the bill.
5. Meade Polaris 130 EQ Reflector Telescope
The Polaris 130 EQ is another budget reflector aimed at beginners looking to spend as little as possible. With such a low price point, what are the compromises?
Pros & Cons
✔️ 5” aperture
✔️ Parabolic mirror
✔️ EQ mount
❌ A lot of plastic
The Polaris has a 130 mm aperture which is a very large size for its low price point. Usually, 5” apertures don’t enter the picture until around $400. Also, the fact that it has a parabolic primary mirror and that it can be collimated is excellence at its best for its price.
With these elements and its fast focal speed of f/5, you’ll have great seeing ability on objects of all types with wide fields of view.
The EQ mount is paired appropriately with the Polaris OTA, but there is a downside. Like all other EQ mounts in this price class, it’s light-duty and intended for visual-only use. Between the mount and the tripod, there are a lot of plastic parts that will fail at some point. You’ll either have to buy a new mount setup or you may just be ready to buy an upgrade with a larger aperture.
The Meade telescope comes with a whole lot of accessories that adds value to the buy. Three eyepieces, a Barlow, and a red dot finder are included. Like other included accessories, they’re nothing to rave about, but they are very good pairings with this setup, and you won’t have to upgrade immediately.
If you plan on starting out with an inexpensive model knowing you will upgrade in a year or two, you’ll get your money and time’s worth out of the Polaris.
What to Look for in a Reflector Telescope
Reflecting telescopes are vastly different to refracting telescopes although they produce the same end results – a magnified peek into space.
They can be more difficult to work with because they require maintenance, but they’re extremely popular because they offer the largest apertures for the best value when compared to refractors.
If you’re considering a reflecting telescope, here’s what you need to know.
How Reflectors Work
While there are multiple types of reflector telescopes, the Newtonian is the most popular in the affordable price range between $100 to $1000. You will see variations that includes the Ritchey-Cassegrain, Cassegrain, and others. However, most amateurs, and even seasoned ones at that, will be most familiar with the Newtonian.
How does it work?
Light enters the tube and reflects off the primary mirror. It then hits a flat and smaller secondary mirror which is angled towards the focuser/eyepiece assembly. This is where the light rays meet and fall onto the focal plane to provide an image through the eyepiece.
What does it look like through a reflecting telescope?
The image is inverted (upside down) and reversed left-to-right (mirror image).
What is a reflector telescope good for?
Since the image orientation is not conducive for terrestrial use, it’s primarily for astronomical observation where up/down, left/right is not important.
Depending on its focal specs, it can be good for either high-power, planetary observation or low-medium power DSO observation with wide fields of view.
Reflectors have a number of benefits that make them appealing.
- Inexpensive to make
- Large apertures
- Value per inch in aperture vs refractors
- No chromatic aberration
- Allows for Dobsonian setups
- Various reflector types
- Most popular DIY build among amateurs
Reflectors aren’t the easiest telescope to use as a beginner. There is a lot to learn if you want to make the most of its performance, and you must perform maintenance procedures.
- Open tube
- Exposed optics
- Mirror coating degradation
- Collimation required
- Longer cool-down time
- Obstruction: less contrast and light-gathering
- Possible spherical aberration and coma
Reflector Maintenance Issues
There are both inherent and solvable flaws in a reflecting telescope. Let’s talk about some of those performance killers and if we need to live with them of if they can be addressed.
Spherical aberration is a common flaw of cheap and fast Newtonians. This is because a spherical mirror has been used with a short focal length and fast focal speed. This combination does not allow light rays to come to the same focal point for clarity and sharpness. The result? Blurry and poor visibility.
It was an inherent flaw in a Newtonian before parabolic mirrors were used, so it’s solvable. Paraboloid mirrors allow light rays to come to the same focal point in a fast reflector. In a slow reflector, a spherical mirror is sufficient to produce good resolution.
Many budget Newtonians will have a fast focal ratio of f/5 and lower (faster) and will have spherical primary mirrors. This is a recipe for spherical aberration. If you already own one or are considering one, you may end up having to use a negative Barlow lens to alleviate it. However, it’s best to avoid these scopes altogether.
If the reflecting telescope has a spherical mirror, look for a focal speed that’s f/8 or higher (slower). If it’s a fast reflecting telescope, a parabolic mirror is a must-have.
Collimation means to adjust the mirrors to achieve the best optical quality possible. This entails having to realign the mirrors when they become misaligned which may happen often. The larger the mirror, the more likely it is the mirrors will come out of alignment.
It’s essential to know how to collimate your Newtonian if you’re going to own one. The idea is to ensure the eyepiece is aimed towards the center of the primary mirror and that the primary mirror is aimed to the center of the eyepiece.
Mirror misalignment is an inherent flaw and you must live with it. However, misalignment is solvable with learning and performing the collimation procedure. Look for a collimatable primary mirror cell when buying a reflector, and this feature should be available at price points above $200-$300. Many in the entry-level and budget range will come with fixed-in-place primary mirrors and a non-collimatable cell which is the trade-off for a lower price.
This is usually referred to as central obstruction or secondary mirror obstruction. It decreases contrast and light-gathering ability by the time light reaches the eyepiece. Most visual Newtonians have an acceptably small amount of obstruction.
To figure out obstruction, you take the size of the secondary mirror and detract it from the size of the primary mirror. This will reveal the true aperture and behavior performance of a Newtonian. For example, a 203 mm (8”) Newtonian with a 50 mm secondary mirror will have a 2” obstruction. The 8” will perform like an unobstructed 6” refracting telescope.
Obstruction is an inherent flaw and you must live with it. Most manufacturers will provide a secondary mirror obstruction in mm, secondary mirror obstruction by area in percentages, and a secondary mirror obstruction by diameter in percentages.
Percentages below 20% often show no noticeable consequences. You can use a low-profile focuser or use a smaller secondary mirror to help with much higher obstruction, but it’s something you’ll have to live with.
Reflectors take longer to cool down than refractors. The issue is large mirrors getting too warm. This reduces visibility quality especially noticeable at higher powers. If you write this off as poor atmospheric seeing conditions, you’ll be cheating yourself out of some good views which you very well could have had. If you write it off as poor optical quality, you’ll be wasting money in buying a new scope that you will probably run into the same problems with.
Fortunately, this is not an inherent flaw and is solvable. Make sure to give your scope the required time it needs to come to temperature equilibrium. Larger apertures, usually that of 10”+, should have a cooling fan built-into the scope or at least be compatible with an aftermarket fan attachment.
Are Reflector Telescopes any Good?
Reflectors make very good telescopes for an amateur, and they can be excellent telescopes in the hands of an experienced user. How good they are will depend on its optical qualities and if it’s used with quality accessories for its most appropriate use.
Although reflectors require more maintenance and learning, they offer very large aperture sizes that refractors can’t match. They’re also cheaper than refractors of the same aperture size because they use mirrors which are inexpensive to manufacture. How good a telescope is depends on how much you want to spend and how much effort and skill you’re willing to put into your astronomy goals – true for any type of telescope.
What are the Disadvantages of a Reflecting Telescope?
The number one disadvantage of a reflecting telescope that most people think of is collimation. This is the process that realigns mirrors within the tube. Because of their design, the mirrors can become misaligned which affects optical quality. One must be willing to learn how to perform collimation and this can be overwhelming to a beginner.
Secondly, the tube is open, and so the optical elements are exposed. You can get dirt, dust, and bugs in the tube. Exposing the telescope to rain and extreme wind is not a good idea. Cleaning the scope may be required, but you’ll want to check what your warranty says about it first.
Other disadvantages include obstruction, longer cool-down time, and optical aberrations such as spherical aberration and coma.
Can you see Planets with a Reflector Telescope?
Newtonians are excellent telescopes to see the planets with. They have an advantage because they are available with larger apertures. The larger the aperture, the more resolution and light-gathering ability you have to make use of higher magnification.
However, seeing planetary detail with good visibility depends on many things from optical specs to atmospheric conditions and time of year/planetary orbit. What you do have control over is the optical specs.
Look for a telescope that can offer good performance at high-power. This may mean acquiring a scope with a focal ratio of f/11 and higher. While planets are bright, their features are not. So, a larger aperture can be justified since it allows more resolution at higher power to see details like festoons, shadows, and more.
Do Astronomers use Reflecting or Refracting Telescopes?
Simply put, many astronomers prefer reflecting telescopes over refracting telescopes.
Both in the advanced and amateur communities, reflectors offer material and manufacturing simplicity, larger apertures, and the lowest, up-front financial investment.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both reflecting and refracting telescopes.
Reflecting telescopes can be light-gathering champs. The fact that they offer large apertures at a cheaper price point than refractors makes them extremely attractive to many astronomers.
But, we know that aperture isn’t everything. You must weigh the optical specs and reflector drawbacks against your astronomy goals. It doesn’t make sense to buy a reflector if you also want to observe animals and scan the landscape. A reflector is designed for observing objects in space.
If you want the largest apertures at an affordable price point, a reflector is for you. If you want to build your own telescope, it’s likely going to be a reflector. If you’re willing to perform collimation, be content with obstruction, and look for quality optical features within your budget, a reflector will work out great for you.