A refractor is what many people think when they hear the word “telescope” – a long skinny tube, with a lens at the front and an eyepiece at the back. Refractors are as renowned for their clear, sharp images as they are for their expense and bulk in larger sizes. Refractor owners tend to be a passionate lot. Some will not use any other type of telescope, preferring to confine their viewing to the moon, planets and double stars.
If you’re interested in a refractor, you will likely be confining your search to telescopes in the 3.1” to 5” range. That doesn’t sound like a very wide range, but there are many variations within that narrow span.
Refractors can be broadly divided into two categories – the more affordable achromats, and the perfectionist apochromats. If you’re just starting out, you definitely want to confine your choices to the achromats for the time being.
Among achromats, check out the following:
The Orion ShortTube 80 ($100-$150, depending on options) is the entry-level workhorse of the industry. Many amateur astronomers have started their observing careers with one of these, and then held onto them as second telescopes as they moved on to more expensive instruments. It is one of the few telescopes small and light enough to be used on a standard medium-sized photographic tripod.
Celestron’s C102 is a 4” f/10 refractor that has been around for decades. It can be found as an optical tube assembly only, or complete with a mount. There are clone models from Meade, Orion, Sky-Watcher, Explore Scientific, and many others. The 4” aperture is just large enough to start pulling in some deep sky objects. Packaged with a mount, they run $300-$400.
If you want more aperture than the C102, try Explore Scientific’s AR127, a 5” f/6.5 refractor at $600 for the optical tube, or the even larger AR152, a 6” f/6.5 unit at around $800. Celestron has a 6” C150 in the same price range. Be aware that these are large, heavy instruments, and will start to tax the capabilities of a mid-sized mount like Celestron’s CG-5 or AVX.
Among the apochromats, there are excellent, expensive refractors from high-end manufacturers like Takahashi, Astro-Physics, and others. There are waiting lists, however. It takes an experienced eye to detect the difference between an apochromat and an achromat, but the difference is there, if you know where to look.
Recent offshore manufacturing has resulted in models that are less expensive. Among them:
Orion’s 80mm f/7.5 ED80 ($449) is a big step up from the budget Orion ShortTube 80 model mentioned earlier. Explore Scientific has an 80 mm f/6 FCD100 apochromat at $1200. Similar models are available from Astro-Tech, Meade, Stellarvue, and others.
Moving up to the 4” models, check out the refractors from Astro-Tech ($600) Explore Scientific ($1000) Stellarvue ($1000) and others.
5” and larger apochromats are getting out of the range of the beginner. They begin around $1500 and go up (way up!) from there. Whichever model you choose, be sure to get out and use your telescope whenever you can. Clear skies to you all!