In this guide we’ll look at the best refractor telescopes.
We’ve compared image quality, portability & magnification and cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What are the Best Refractor Telescopes?
More Detailed Telescope Reviews
The Sky-Watcher ProED is a high-quality apochromatic (APO) refractor telescope—I love apochromatic refractors because they are excellent for astrophotography, and they reduce chromatic aberration, a kind of visual distortion. More on apochromatic refractors below.
This telescope has an aperture measuring 3.15” (80mm) as well as a 600mm focal length and f/7.5 focal ratio. This ratio is moderate, making this a versatile scope that can adapt to a variety of viewing situations.
The Sky-Watcher is compact and user-friendly enough to serve as your go-to telescope whenever the mood strikes.
It’s capable of providing wide-field views that are perfect for observing larger objects and framing entire galaxies. And it’s also capable of zeroing in on planetary and lunar bodies and generating crisp, detailed images.
The Orion 9005 AstroView is another model with great optics that is well-suited for astrophotography. It has a 4.7” (120mm) aperture, 600mm focal length, and focal ratio of f/5.
This relatively “short” focal ratio makes the Orion 9005 ideal for deep space observation. It’s a wide-field refractor telescope that will let you view star clusters, nebular clouds, and galaxies.
This scope is also capable of observing bright, distinct objects such as the Moon and planets.
It comes with an adjustable tripod and an equatorial mount. Equatorial mounts are specifically designed to move in conjunction with the Earth’s rotation, allowing for easy tracking of objects across the night sky.
The Orion 9005 AstroView weighs 36.3 pounds when fully assembled. It’s a bit heavier than some other options on this list, but I think its high quality and features make it worth serious consideration.
The Celestron 22065 Astro Master is an excellent all-around telescope for new astronomers. Its aperture measures 4” (102mm), while its focal length is 660mm and focal ratio is f/6.5. This moderate focal ratio means that the Celestron is a versatile scope, capable of both deep space and lunar and planetary observation.
Its manual altazimuth mount is easy to use. Altazimuth mounts are very simple, moving along two axes (vertical and horizontal). They’re great for lower power observation, though equatorial mounts are better for deep sky photography.
This scope comes with an adjustable full-height tripod. No tools are necessary for set up or operation. Weighing in at only 14.1 pounds, the Celestron is extremely portable and easy to take with you anywhere!
Also included is an erect image diagonal that allows you to view things right-side-up—this is important if you plan to use your telescope for bird, wildlife, or terrestrial landscape viewing in addition to stargazing.
What makes the Orion 9024 AstroView distinct? Its long f/10.1 focal ratio. The Orion 9024 AstroView is a high power telescope, ideally suited for viewing the Moon and planets in sharp detail.
Its aperture is 3.5” (90mm), letting in plenty of light to generate bright, sharp images.
This telescope comes with an adjustable tripod and equatorial mount. You can also use this scope for terrestrial viewing with a correct-image diagonal (sold separately).
The Orion’s fully assembled weight is 23.7 pounds, light enough that you won’t hesitate to take it out to a window or back porch on clear, dark nights.
The Gskyer rounds out this list because it’s a versatile, high-quality, portable telescope that is a solid option for beginning astronomers. Plus, it’s at a reasonable price!
This telescope features a 3.5” (90mm) aperture, 600mm focal length, and f/6.7 focal ratio.
It’s designed for easy set-up and operation, no tools required. With a little practice, you’ll soon get the hang of using the Gskyer.
One final advantage: Weighing in at 18 pounds, this scope is very portable. It makes a great companion on stargazing trips, and is sure to get a lot of use on clear nights at home.
Refractor Telescopes Buyer’s Guide
What is a refractor telescope?
Refractor telescopes are probably what you envision when you hear the word “telescope.” They were the first kind of telescope produced, and they have a pretty traditional appearance.
They rely on glass lenses to gather and focus light. These lenses are contained within a sealed tube, which provides some protection from the elements, dust and dirt, and bumpy car rides. Personally, I love how low-maintenance my refractors are!
Refractors especially excel at observing compact and bright objects like planets and moons. They can zoom right in on the cloud bands of Jupiter, the rings of Saturn, or the many craters dotting the Moon.
That said, you can also view larger and more dispersed targets—like galaxies and nebulae—through a good refractor. If this is your main goal, you’ll want a refractor capable of a wider field of vision, which is partly determined by focal length and ratio (more on that below).
One potential disadvantage of a refractor telescope: chromatic aberration. This is a pesky visual distortion characterized by the appearance of colors around the object you’re observing. So, imagine you’ve got Jupiter in focus on your telescope, but there seems to be red and blue discoloration obscuring the planet.
Most commonly, chromatic aberration arises in refractors that have very large apertures (light-collecting areas).
In general, a larger aperture is a good thing, since it allows more light in and therefore yields crisper, more detailed images. However, it’s complicated (and therefore expensive) to make a refractor telescope with a large aperture and minimal chromatic aberration.
That’s why I’ve recommended refractor telescopes that have apertures within the “Goldilocks” window of 3.15” and 4.7”, which gets the balance between light-collection and distortion reduction just right.
Another way to avoid chromatic aberration is to opt for an apochromatic (APO) refractor telescope. APO models are designed to minimize distortions, and they offer additional benefits, such as:
Compact and portable builds
Suitability for astrophotography
How are refractor telescopes different from reflector telescopes?
Reflector telescopes are the main alternative to refractors. Reflectors use mirrors (instead of lenses) for gathering and focusing light.
When should you prefer a reflector over a refractor? One advantage to reflectors is that there are no problems with chromatic aberration. A large-aperture reflector will produce stunning images without color distortion.
So if you want a nice big “light bucket” with an 8” or 10” aperture, take a look at reflector models instead. Keep in mind however, that a bigger aperture generally translates into a bigger (heavier) telescope with a bigger price tag.
Reflectors (particularly those with large apertures) also tend to be great for observing dark, distant objects like galaxies and star clusters.
What are the disadvantages of reflectors? For one thing, they lack the low-maintenance quality of refractors. As I mentioned above, refractors tend to be quite durable; they don’t need regular adjustments. In contrast, a reflector’s mirrors must be regularly adjusted (collimated) to bring them into alignment.
In general, refractors are also better suited for lunar and planetary viewing. I’ve seen some truly astonishing views of the planets through my refractors.
Features to consider when buying a refractor
A refractor telescope’s aperture is the size of its objective lens, the area that is involved in collecting light. The more light allowed to enter your telescope, the brighter and clearer your images will be. State-of-the-art professional telescopes often have enormous apertures measured in meters!
This is not feasible or desirable for at-home astronomers, since these huge professional telescopes won’t fit in your house and cost about a billion dollars.
However, you do need a certain amount of aperture to let adequate light into your telescope. How much is enough? I generally recommend a minimum aperture of 2.76” (70mm).
The telescopes listed here have apertures ranging from 3.15” to 4.7”, wide enough to allow a good amount of light in.
Of all the scopes on this list, the Orion 9005 AstroView has the largest aperture at 4.7”.
Focal length and ratio
Once light enters your telescope and hits the lens, it then travels though the telescope and is brought into focus on a plane a certain distance away—this distance is known as the focal length.
In general, a longer focal length translates into a longer telescope.
The focal ratio is equal to focal length divided by aperture. For instance, a telescope with a focal length of 450mm and an aperture of 90mm will have a focal ratio of f/5.
As a rule of thumb, focal ratios of around f/5 and under are considered “short” or “fast.” Focal ratios of f/10 and above are considered “long.” Focal ratios from f/6 to f/10 are somewhere in the middle. Which is best for you?
A fast focal ratio (say, f/4) is ideal for wide-field views, deep space photography, and observing more spread out phenomena.
A long focal ratio (f/11) is suitable for higher power observation of objects such as moons, planets, and binary stars. You won’t get the broad field of view, but you’ll see highly focused detail of discrete objects.
Moderate focal ratios (for example, f/7) perform well for both kinds of observation and photography. Choose a middle-of-the-road focal ratio if you want a more versatile telescope that can show you good views of both planets and nebulae, moons and galaxies.
With a focal ratio of f/7.5, the Sky-Watcher ProED is an excellent all-around performer that will let you observe a wide variety of celestial phenomena in crisp detail.
If you specifically want a shorter focal ratio (for wide-field observation), then try out the f/5 Orion 9005 AstroView. And if you want a higher power telescope with a longer focal ratio, then look into the f/10.1 Orion 9024 AstroView.
A huge, heavy telescope might be incredibly powerful…but it won’t do you any good if it just sits in your basement gathering dust.
I find that my reasonably portable telescopes (say, under 30 pounds or so) get the most use. Smaller grab-and-go models are simply more convenient for many hobbyist astronomers. This goes double if you plan to take your telescope with you to Dark Sky areas or on camping trips.
The telescopes featured here weigh from around 14 to 36 pounds; I’ve made my selections to maximize value, recommending telescopes that are both powerful and portable.
If portability is a major concern for you, consider the Celestron 22065 Astro Master, a light, compact, and eminently portable option.
I love apochromatic refractors for astrophotography. They produce awesome images, and as noted above, they tend to be durable, compact, and capable of fantastic image quality with minimal chromatic aberration.
The Sky-Water ProED is my top pick on this list for those of you interested in capturing photos of the night sky.
All five of these refractors provide a combination of quality optics, reasonable portability, and good value. Which one should you choose? While I’m partial to the Sky-Watcher ProED myself, I’ve enjoyed using all four others on my list for different reasons. I hope this guide helps you narrow down your choice!