When is the last time a major observatory built a refractor? As far as I know, the largest refractor still in use is the 36-incher on Mt Hamilton, built in the 1880s (according to Wikipedia)! It's still a fine telescope, but there's a reason observatories are building reflectors. Perhaps they scale better. That wouldn't really be a problem with everyday astronomers.
Yes, reflectors scale vastly better, for several different reasons. To be precise: false color scales linearly with aperture, large lenses are hard to support, and the glass for a lens has to be perfect throughout its thickness rather than just at the surface. And this is indeed an issue for everyday backyard astronomers.
Refractors pretty much rule supreme in apertures smaller than 90 mm. There are some pretty good 76-mm Newtonians on the market, but they're only marginally cheaper than equivalent reflectors, and they have a number of disadvantages. So they appeal mainly to people who are really hard-up for money. There are also a handful of Mak-Cas scopes in apertures of 60 or 70 mm, but since the main benefit of that design is small physical size, and 60- or 70-mm refractors are already quite small, the tiny Mak-Cas's aren't very popular.
Refractors are also quite competitive in apertures from 90 to 125 mm. But toward the top of that range, the disadvantages of the design are beginning to kick in big-time. At 125 mm, either you end up with a short-focus achromat with tons of false color, or a long-focus achromat that's really unwieldy and hard to mount, or an apochromat that costs a minor fortune.
At 150 mm, refractors are really a stretch. Very few people can afford apochromats in this size, and with achromats you typically end up with both lots of false color and an unwieldy size. There are nonetheless some people who love 150-mm achromats because of their low light scatter, but that's truly the end of the line. Refractors bigger than 150 mm (6 inches) are rare indeed in the amateur world.
With reflective designs, by contrast, you're just getting started at 150 mm. That's considered quite small for a Newtonian, and not quite there for an SCT. Eight-inch Newts are really cheap and effective, especially on Dobsonian mounts, and eight inches is the standard size for SCTs.
In the modern world of amateur astronomy, where deep-sky objects are the most popular targets, even 8 inches isn't much. That's barely enough to resolve most globular clusters or see the spiral arms of the biggest and brightest galaxies. So while refractors certainly have their place for viewing wide fields, for viewing the planets in less-than-perfect seeing, and above all for photography, the fact that they scale up poorly definitely limits their popularity among amateur astronomers.
Newtonians, provide a natural, simple viewing position for the eyepiece at all apertures. Refractors and Cassegrains require tall tripods and star diagonals. We're not going to make the artificial distinction and comparison between 90mm refractors and 90mm reflectors or between any other refractors and reflectors that happen to have nominally matching apertures.
Edited by caveman_astronomer, 18 March 2017 - 07:45 AM.