Reflector, Refractor or Compound: Which Telescope Fits Your Budget?

Last year we were asked to house sit for a couple whom live on an acreage away from the city and all its city lights. Every night after sunset I would take a walk through the front yard and ponder at the glorious night sky. This is when I caught the bug to start researching and locating my first telescope. As it turned out my first telescope was a Celestron Travel Scope 60mm and it turned out to be a lightweight scope good for daytime bird watching and not good for nighttime star gazing. And I wrote about it here: Is a good beginners telescope the Celestron Travel Scope 60? Following this article I went down the proverbial rabbit hole completing extensive research into a variety of telescopes under $500 CAD.

This was the list composed from that search.

  1. Celestron Astro Fi 102
  2. Orion StarBlast 4.5 Astro Reflector 
  3. Meade Polaris 130 EQ Reflector
  4. Orion StarMax 90mm Tabletop
  5. Celestron AstroMaster 130EQ MD

A few weeks after this research concluded I purchased a second telescope from a local Toys R Us called Edu-Science Newtonian 114mm (4.5″) reflector telescope on-sale for $125.99 and then wrote about it: A Beginners Review of an Edu Science 114mm AZ SM Telescope however it too was just not strong enough for gathering sufficient light and keeping images steady under observation.

Thus the Edu Science telescope went back to the store and my research continued for the best beginner’s telescope for an adult user.

What’s happened since August 2020?

I’ve been jumping back and forth between YouTube and a vast array of Astronomy websites. Reading, learning and compiling statistics on which type of telescope to purchase. Simply put getting into Astronomy is more difficult than answering a few simple questions which repeatedly come up when reading around the Astronomy forums online. Those questions are;

  1. What is your budget?
  2. Where will you be using your telescope?
  3. Do you desire to take photographs?

As the research dug deeper into the world of ASTRONOMY – my mind was constantly being blown away by the types of telescopes out there, the abundance of terminology, the vast array of techniques, the similarities between camera lenses and telescope lenses and above all else the numerous decisions one must make in order to obtain a telescope to begin star gazing.

I wonder if manufacturers ever stop to consider… are there just too many options available for a consumer to make an intelligent decision on where to begin?

There are 3-common types of Telescopes.

  • Refractor – is a long, thin telescope. Light passes through the refractor in a straight line from the front objective lens directly to the eyepiece at the opposite end of the tube.
    • Typical focal ratio is f/5 to f/15.
  • Reflector (Newtonian) – including the Dobsonian (Dob), have a concave spherical or parabolic primary mirror at the back of the telescope that collects and focuses incoming light onto a flat secondary (diagonal) mirror. In turn, the secondary mirror reflects the image out of an opening at the side of the front end of the main tube and into the eyepiece.
    • Typical focal ratio is f/4 to f/8.
  • Compound (hybrid) is an optical system using a combination of mirrors and lenses. This unique design offers large-diameter optics while maintaining very short tube lengths, making them extremely portable. The light travels the length of the optical tube three times before viewing.
    • Typical focal ratio is f/13 to f/15.

After running down this rabbit hole again and again, over and over I’ve finally come to a conclusion which may be both fantastic and terrible at the same time. What I am specifically looking for is a telescope that is easy to learn on. Meaning I can find celestial objects (the moon, Jupiter, Orion’s belt, Pegasus, etc) on my own with using a star chart or other mapping system. And in doing so, I am not getting frustrated or discouraged.

Also, I would like my telescope system to be portable as I will be using it from multiple locations around Edmonton throughout the year.

Therefore, I’ve narrowed the field down to the following shortlisted Telescope’s made by Celestron.

  • Celestron’s StarSense Explorer LT 80AZ $259.95
    • An app based Refractor telescope
    • Aperture 80mm (3.1″)
    • Focal Length 900mm (35.43″)
    • Focal Ratio f/11
    • Manual Alt-Azimuth
    • Aluminium 1320.8mm (52″) tripod
    • Total kit weighs 9.2 lbs. (4.17 kg)
    • Includes Telescope tube, Mount/tripod, 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, StarPointer finder scope, Accessory tray and StarSense Explorer phone dock
  • Celestron’s StarSense Explorer DX130 AZ $549.95
    • An app based Newtonian Reflector
    • Aperture 130mm (5.11″)
    • Focal Length 650mm (25.59″)
    • Focal Ratio f/5
    • Aluminium 1244.6mm (49″) tripod
    • Manual Alt-Azimuth mount
    • Total kit weighs 18 lbs (8.16 kg)
    • Includes Telescope tube, Mount/tripod, 25mm and 10mm eyepieces, StarPointer finder scope, Accessory tray and StarSense Explorer phone dock
  • Celestron NextStar 130SLT $739.99
    • A motorized based Newtonian Reflector
    • Aperture 130mm (5.11″)
    • Focal Length 650mm (25.59″)
    • Focal Ratio f/5
    • Aluminium 1244.6mm (49″) tripod
    • Computerized equatorial mount
    • Total kit weighs 20 lbs (9.26 kg)
    • Includes Telescope tube, Mount/tripod, 25mm and 9mm eyepieces, and Accessory tray
Celestron NexStar 130SLT 130mm f/5 Reflector Telescope