The best camera for astrophotography in 2023: tools and lenses to shoot night skies

The best camera for astrophotography: tools, lenses and tools for shooting the night sky

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.

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So it's quite a specific list. But to be fair, if you want to photograph the night sky (opens in new tab) and catch celestial events like the Perseid meteor shower (opens in new tab) or the Northern Lights (opens in new tab), 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 (opens in new tab).

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

Read more: Astrophotography tips (opens in new tab)

Cameras

(Image credit: Canon)
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Canon's first ever full-frame astrophotography camera is a winner

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 30.3MP
Lens mount: Canon RF
Screen: 3.15-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 2.1m dots
Viewfinder: OLED type
Max burst speed: 8fps
Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30/25/24fps
User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to buy

+
Specialized full-frame sensor
+
30x Live View & viewfinder zoom

Reasons to avoid

-
Cropped 4K video
-
Single SD card slot

Christmas came early for astrophotographers when Canon unveiled a fun surprise – the EOS Ra, a mirrorless camera (opens in new tab) 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. 

(Image credit: Adam Duckworth)
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Stunning low light performance thanks to this terrific full-frame all-rounder's insane ISO

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 12.1MP
Lens mount: Sony-E
Screen: 3.0" 1.44m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen
Viewfinder: 9.44m-Dot QXGA OLED EVF
ISO: Extended ISO 40-409600
Max burst speed: 10fps
Max video resolution: UHD 4K 120p Video, 10-Bit 4:2:2 Internal
User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to buy

+
Insanely high ISO
+
Highly sophisticated AF system
+
4K video capabilities

Reasons to avoid

-
Imbalance with larger lenses
-
Expensive

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.

(Image credit: Future)
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The best DSLR camera for astrophotography

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 45.7MP
Lens mount: Nikon F
Screen: 3.2in tilting touchscreen, 2.36m dots
Viewfinder: Optical
Max burst speed: 7fps
Max video resolution: 4K UHD at 30/25/24fps
User level: Enthusiast/professional

Reasons to buy

+
Spectacular levels of detail
+
Lovely handling
+
Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Pedestrian live view AF

Mirrorless cameras don't have it all their own way. There are still some fantastic DSLRs (opens in new tab) 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. 

(Image credit: Alistair Campbell)
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The best all-round APS-C mirrorless camera for astrophotography

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 40.2MP
Lens mount: Fujifilm X
Screen: 3.0-inch vari-angle touchscreen, 1.62m dots
Viewfinder: 3.69M-dot OLED EVF
Max burst speed: 15fps mechanical, 20fps electronic (1.29x crop)
Max video resolution: 10-bit 4:2:2 video at 6.2K/30P, 4K/60p
User level: Enthusiast

Reasons to buy

+
7-stop in-body stabilization
+
Classic controls and layout
+
60p 10-bit 4K internal video

Reasons to avoid

-
Complex burst & video fps options

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

Why you can trust Digital Camera World Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

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. 

Lenses

(Image credit: Future)
The fastest, widest-angle prime lens for nightscapes

Specifications

Mounts: Full Frame (Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony E, Sigma SA)
Elements/groups: 16/11
Angle of view: 114.2°
Max aperture: f/1.8
Min aperture: f/16
Focal length: 14mm
Aperture blades: 9
Dimensions: 95.4x126mm
Weight: 1,170g

Reasons to buy

+
Incredibly fast wide-angle
+
Sharp, clean and bright Milky Way
+
Very quiet auto-focus

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavy and expensive

Is this the best lens for astrophotography (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab).

(Image credit: Future)
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A pro-spec constant-aperture f/2.8 ultra-wide zoom for the EOS Ra

Specifications

Mounts: Canon RF
Elements/groups: 16/12
Angle of view: 110°
Max aperture: f/2.8
Min aperture: f/22
Focal length: 15-35mm
Aperture blades: 9
Dimensions: 88.5x127mm
Weight: 840g

Reasons to buy

+
5-stop Image Stabilizer
+
Smaller than EF equivalent
+
No apparent distortion

Reasons to avoid

-
Edge definition average

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. 

(Image credit: Nikon)
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It may be over a decade old, but this is still the best own-brand Nikon ultra-wide

Specifications

Mounts: Nikon F
Elements/groups: 14/11
Angle of view: 114°
Max aperture: f/2.8
Min aperture: f/22
Focal length: 14-24mm
Aperture blades: 9
Dimensions: 98x132mm
Weight: 1,000g

Reasons to buy

+
Wide viewing angle and fast aperture
+
Useful zoom range
+
Great build

Reasons to avoid

-
Vignetting and distortion at 14mm

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. 

(Image credit: Samyang)
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Great prime lens for astrophotography on Canon and Nikon DSLRs

Specifications

Mount: Canon EF, Nikon F
Full-frame compatible: Yes
Autofocus: No
Stabiliser: No
Diaphragm blades: 9
Max angle of view (diagonal): 114 degrees (Full-frame)
Dimensions (WxL): 87x106mm
Weight: 791g

Reasons to buy

+
Generous viewing angle
+
Superb image quality
+
Good build and handling

Reasons to avoid

-
Only for Canon and Nikon DSLRs 

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab). 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.

Accessories

(Image credit: Vanguard)
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9. Vanguard Alta Pro 263AB tripod

Stable, flexible and packed with features usually found on higher-end tripods

Specifications

Maximum load: 6.9kg
Maximum height: 173cm
Minimum height: 142.2cm
Folded length: 71.5cm
Number of leg sections: 3
Weight: 2.5kg

Reasons to buy

+
Sturdy
+
Excellent value

Reasons to avoid

-
Heavier aluminium build 
-
Larger folded profile

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 (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Jamie Carter/Digital Camera World)
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This lightweight star tracker is perfect for long exposures with no star trails

Specifications

Mount Type: Ultra compact equatorial tracking platform
Motor Drive: DC Servo
Tracking Modes: Sidereal, Solar or Lunar tracking rate for both Northern & Southern hemisphere; time-lapse photography (12hr/4hr/2hr rev)
Auto-guiding interface: Built-in
Polar finder: Built-in
Weight: 650g

Reasons to buy

+
Straightforward assembly
+
Lightweight and portable

Reasons to avoid

-
Max 3kg payload
-
Battery life not great

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 (opens in new tab) 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.

(Image credit: iOptron)
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11. iOptron SkyTracker Pro

An alternative lightweight, portable star tracker that’s easy to align

Specifications

Mount Type: Ultra compact single axis EQ
Motor Drive: Single-axis DC Servo
Tracking speed: 1X Cel, 1/2 Cel, solar, lunar, N/S
Weight: 1.2kg

Reasons to buy

+
Ultra portable
+
Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
1.36kg max payload

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 (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: Celestron)
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12. Celestron 93419 T-Ring Adapter

A useful addition to your astrophotography tool kitbag

Specifications

Compatible with: Canon EOS cameras (other varieties exist)
Package weight: 0.05kg
Box dimensions (LxWxH) : 6.9x6.6x1.8cm

Reasons to buy

+
Snug connection
+
Well made

Reasons to avoid

-
Set screws can need retightening

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 (opens in new tab), a great alternative is to just put your smartphone (opens in new tab) 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.

(Image credit: Hoya)
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13. Hoya Starscape Light Pollution Cut Filter

A slim filter that even works with wider lenses

Specifications

Available sizes: 49mm, 52mm, 55mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm, 77mm and 82mm

Reasons to buy

+
Reduces colour casts
+
Improves contrast and visibility

Reasons to avoid

-
Large sizes are pricey

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 (opens in new tab)

(Image credit: K&F)
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14. K&F Concept Natural Night Filter Light Pollution Filter

Coated to be tough, this is a premium filter for cutting unwanted light

Specifications

Available sizes: 52mm, 58mm, 67mm, 77mm, 82mm and 100mm

Reasons to buy

+
Scratch and water resistant
+
Double sided nano coating

Reasons to avoid

-
Not the cheapest

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

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Jamie Carter

Jamie has been writing about all aspects of technology for over 14 years, producing content for sites like TechRadar, T3, Forbes, Mashable, MSN, South China Morning Post, and BBC Wildlife, BBC Focus and BBC Sky At Night magazines. 


As the editor for www.WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com, he has a wealth of enthusiasm and expertise for all things astrophotography, from capturing the Perseid Meteor Shower, lunar eclipses and ring of fire eclipses, photographing the moon and blood moon and more.


He also brings a great deal of knowledge on action cameras, 360 cameras, AI cameras, camera backpacks, telescopes, gimbals, tripods and all manner of photography equipment.