The best camera for astrophotography needs to conform to some quite specific requirements. It needs to be able to keep its shutter open for at least 30 seconds – likely longer – and be able to shoot in RAW format for the post-processing, which is a big part of astrophotography. A tripod mount is also a must for those long exposures, as is a lens that's wide in both aperture and angle of view.
So it's quite a specific list. But to be fair, if you want to photograph the night sky and catch celestial events like the Perseid meteor shower or the Northern Lights, you do need to do quite a bit of preparation, otherwise you'll come back with essentially nothing to show for it. Light is in short supply when photographing the night sky, and so you need to find ways to maximise it.
In this guide, we've not only picked out the best cameras for astrophotography, but the entire suite of gear you can use to take incredible night-sky images. We start out with our picks of the best cameras for astro shooting, then move on to the best lenses – for more choice in this department, check out our guide to the best lenses for astrophotography.
From there, we pick out tripods and other accessories, like star-trackers, filters and even telescope mounts for deep-sky astrophotography of star clusters, nebulae and distant galaxies. This is something of a separate conversation, as the world of telescopes is an involved and complex one, but you can jump to our guide to the best astrophotography telescopes to learn more.
So, if you're planning to experiment with nightscapes and capture unforgettable images of the stars, read on as we lay out all the photo gear you need to make it happen. We have also a guide to handy camera accessories if you're looking for more options, and if you need a bag to put it all in, we'd recommend one of the best camera backpacks.
Read more: Astrophotography tips
Christmas came early for astrophotographers when Canon unveiled a fun surprise – the EOS Ra, a mirrorless camera specifically optimised for astro shooting, with an infrared-cutting filter capable of enabling four times the amount of hydrogen 656nm alpha rays. This means better transmission of deep red IR rays, for clearer and more vivid astro images.
The 30x zoom on the rear screen and electronic viewfinder is also handy for astro shooters, and if you pair it with an RF lens (we've recommended one below then you can prepare to be blown away by the image quality. The trick lies with the 30MP full-frame image sensor (Canon's previous astro camera, the Canon EOS 60Da, was an APS-C DSLR).
It's not exactly the cheapest option, but for our money, this is simply your best bet for shooting the stars. An absolutely superb astrophotography camera.
This isn't a truly specialized astrophotography camera (they aren't very common), but if you want a more general choice that's as good at astro as it is at everything else, then we'd fully recommend the Sony A7S III.
While first appearing laughably tiny, don't be fooled by its 12.1MP sensor, this sensor allows the camera to produce a quite frankly ridiculous extended ISO of 409600. I won't bore you with sensor science, but the larger pixels in the sensor mean it lets in much more light than tightly packed high-megapixel sensors, which plainly put, means it is just great in low light.
Also, weighing just 614g, this is a relatively light camera, which is handy if you're heading out to remote locations to capture your astro images. Having a 3-inch tilting touchscreen is useful for shooting from low angles, and the selection of E-mount lenses includes loads of great options for astrophotographers.
If you also want to record some video of the night sky then this camera has you well covered, with exceptional 4K video and a range of professional codecs to choose from you can produce some incredible video of your stargazing.
Mirrorless cameras don't have it all their own way. There are still some fantastic DSLRs out there for astrophotography and the D850 has to be one of the best. It's full-frame 45.7MP sensor still delivers some of the best images we've seen from camera, and while the ISO might not be quite the best around, it's still very well controlled. It can also shoot at up to an extended sensitivity range that's equivalent to 108,400 (Hi2), while there's a ISO ceiling of 25,600.
The build quality is excellent, while the handling is excellent - those shooting in poor light will appreciate the illuminated body mounted controls that can easily be switched on, while the large and bright optical viewfinder will make framing up easy. AF performance is stunning, but it's let down by the clunky focusing speed when using the rear screen. Battery life is brilliant though at over 1,000 shots per charge - something event the best mirrorless cameras will even struggle to come close to.
While slightly outperformed by the Fujifilm X-H2S, Fujifilm's mirrorless camera comes at a more affordable price and beautiful styling.
The X-T5 is a brilliant all-rounder that's a good option for astrophotographers. While you might not get much use from the 7-stop in-body image stabilization system if you're shooting in a tripod, the clever vari-angle touchscreen will make it a breeze to compose shots in both landscape and portrait orientation.
The classic body-mounted controls on the X-T4 make it a joy to use (and that bit easier to set-up in the dark), while the image quality doesn't disappoint. The 40.2MP APS-C sensor performs very well, while there's a great choice of fast primes out there to match with the X-T5.
How we test cameras
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We test mirrorless and DSLR cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use these real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides.
Is this the best lens for astrophotography and for shooting the Milky Way? Available with mounts for full-frame DSLR cameras from Canon, Nikon, Sigma and Sony (E-mount), this wide-angle prime lens from Sigma is all about speed. At f/1.8, it’s the fastest wide-angle lens in existence, and in dark conditions, that’s critical. It means that a long exposure shot of the Milky Way, something that usually takes about 25 seconds to image, can be done in about 10 seconds. Since stars begin to obviously blur in such images at 25 seconds, this Sigma makes much brighter, sharper astro-images possible. It’s also got an excellent (and quiet) auto-focus for use in daylight. However, this is a heavy lens that only dedicated astrophotographers will want to carry. See our full Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art review.
If you plump for an EOS Ra at the top of our list (or an EOS R5 or R6 alternatively) then this is the dedicated lens for you. While you could use Canon's EF to RF adapter if you've got some existing EF glass, this is the lens to go for if you're starting afresh. It's expensive, but this lens is stunning and makes the most out of the new RF mount. Focusing is fast and quiet thanks to the Nano Ultrasonic AF system, while the build quality is hard to fault. A nice touch is the detachable lens hood, meaning you can still used front-mounted filters with this ultra wide-angle lens. Optically, it's incredibly sharp, but if we're being picky, edge sharpness could be a bit better.
A world first when it arrived back in 2008, it's built up quite an impressive reputation since its launch, but has since seen a number of newer rivals appear on the scene in the shape of the brilliant Sigma 14-24mm and Tamron 15-30mm. This is still a cracking lens though. Build quality is excellent, with a rubber weather-seal featured on the mounting plate, but just watch that large front element though. Optically this lens delivers excellent centre-sharpness, and holds up very well in the corners as well. If you want even better performance in this area, then the Sigma edges it just.
From Korean manufacturer Samyang’s XP stable of premium manual-focus prime lenses for Canon and Nikon full-frame cameras, this 14mm f/2.4 is ideal for astrophotography. The lens is sold as the Rokinon SP 14mm f/2.4 in North America. The high-quality glass is neatly wrapped in a really solid casing. The rubberized manual focus ring gives a very assured grip and has a long rotational travel with a fluid feel. There’s no weather-seal ring on the mounting plate to guard against the ingress of dust and moisture. To be fair, though, if you’re photographing the Milky Way, you’ll need clear, dry and dust-free conditions.
In our review, we were hugely impressed by how well this lens maintained its image quality when wide open, which is hugely important for astrophotography. It's markedly better than Irix's rival 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone lens or a Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art. Sharpness is both very good and extremely consistent across the image frame.
How we test lenses
We test lenses using both real world sample images and lab tests. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.
The best choice for astrophotography and night-time landscapes is a full-size and very sturdy tripod. That's a shame, because the hobby usually requires walking off into the wilderness where equipment is at a premium, but it's nevertheless worth avoiding short travel tripods. That's particularly true if your camera doesn't have a tilting LCD screen, because you're likely to be pointing the camera upwards. However, you also can't afford for a gust of wind to ruin a long exposure photo. Weighing 2.4kg, the Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod has three sections (the fewer sections, the better) and a ball head that rotates through 360 degrees. It also includes a quick-release plate and handy bubble levels.
Read more: The best tripods right now
The rotation of the Earth means that long exposures of the night sky are limited to about 30 seconds in length before the stars start to trail across the sky. When exposures significantly longer than this are needed to capture enough light from celestial objects, it can be hard to know how to go about shooting them. The solution is a a star tracker like the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Mini, which is portable enough to take to any astro-shooting location.
What the Star Adventurer Mini does is tilt your camera to track the stars – once it's been aligned with the star Polaris, that is. This can take some practice, but is easy once you get the hang of it – we run through the basics in our practical landscape photography guide.
The Star Adventurer Mini is designed for 55mm lenses, though as we discovered in our Star Adventurer Mini review, you can use it with significantly larger and longer zooms, and still get great results. Once you link it up with your smartphone via the Wi-Fi, the tracker is easy to control, even if the app is a little buggy.
Another star tracker mount much like the Skywatcher Star Adventurer Mini, the iOptron SkyTracker is another reasonably affordable way into either long-exposure astro-landscapes, or 'deep sky' astrophotography using a zoom lens. Able to fit directly to regular photography tripods, and able to take a camera and lens weighing up to 3kg, the SkyTracker Pro has an illuminated polar scope for precise alignment with Polaris, the North Star. It's best used with the TS-Optics Ball Head TS-BH-51AT.
Great targets for DSLR cameras on star tracker mounts include the Andromeda Galaxy and Perseus Double Cluster – both rising in the east in autumn – and winter's Orion Nebula, just below Orion's Belt.
Read more: The best star trackers
If you do have a telescope, or you think you might have occasional access to one, a cheap T-Ring Adapter is a useful addition to your astrophotography kitbag. A standard screw mount for cameras that screws on in place of a lens, it enables a DSLR body to be attached to a telescope. The Celestron 93419 T-Ring Adapter, from telescope-maker Celestron, has a T-Ring specifically for Canon cameras, but the Celestron 93402 is also available for Nikon cameras. To attach it to a telescope means adding a T-Adapter uniquely designed for specific telescopes, which a telescope-owner will usually have.
If you just want to photograph the moon, a great alternative is to just put your smartphone up to a telescope’s eyepiece; it’s easy enough to do free-hand, but the Carson HookUpz 2.0 Universal Smartphone Optics Adapter makes it even easier.
A light pollution filter will suppress the emissions generated by artificial lighting, reducing the yellow/greenish colour caused by city lights that will stop you from capturing the night sky in all its glory. This screw-on filter is available in a range of filter thread sizes has a neat low profile, while it's compatible with both wide- and super wide-angle lenses. Perfect for shooting both nightscapes and astrological photography at night.
Read more Best light pollution filters
Not the most affordable option out there, but this light pollution filter from K&F Concept has a number of nice touches. Very slim at just 3.8mm wide, it's also scratch and water resistant, while the filter is made from aviation grade aluminum alloy as well. Optically, it features a double-sided nano coating to help stop yellow and orange wavelengths of light from entering the lens, with K&F Concept recommending using a manual white balance setting and selecting a color temperature between 700K and 1,500K.
Read more: The best light pollution filters
- How to improve your astrophotography: tips, tricks and techniques
- The best telescopes for astrophotography
- The best CCD cameras for astrophotography
- The best light pollution filters
- The best lenses for astrophotography
- The best star tracker camera mounts
- How to photograph a blood moon
- How to capture star trails
- Best head torch