If you’re anything like most photographers I know, sunset signals time to pack your gear and head inside.
After all, it’s hard enough to take a great photo during daylight, and trying to get quality nighttime shots is even more difficult.
Or so it would seem…
See, photography equipment has come a long way in the last few decades.
Today, it’s possible to take stunning nighttime pictures of the cosmos with a camera.
Astro imaging is no longer a reserve for scientists and astronomers with high-end telescopes for astrophotography.
There’re numerous cameras that can help you take fantastic photos of the planets, stars, nebulae, milky way, and other celestial bodies without breaking a sweat.
But make no mistake, not all cameras are ideal for astrophotography- you’ll need something more capable than a simple point-and-shoot camera or smartphone.
See, taking photos of the night sky is already complex on its own because of the inadequate light entering the camera. And when trying to capture photos of the distant celestials, the task is even more challenging.
Of course, most cameras will get you a snapshot of a starry night sky, a flaring constellation, or an expanse of sparkling white night.
But if you’re serious about getting astrophotography-that is, if you want photos that reveal the true wonder of space and not just some blurry lights- you’ll need the best camera for astrophotography.
Cameras for astrophotography will take excellent snapshots in low light or even in pitch blackness.
And in some cases, you won’t even have to break the bank to pay for one.
But with so many options to pick from, choosing the best camera for astrophotography for your needs is challenging.
To help you with the selection, we’ve compiled a detailed guide, reviewing the top 5 cameras we feel are best for astrophotography.
Table of Contents
The Best Camera for Astrophotography For The Money
#1 Nikon D850 - EDITOR'S CHOICE
We’re opening our rundown of the best camera for astrophotography with a beast.
It’s not only the best camera for Astro but any other form of photography. Period.
Nikon D850 is Nikon’s current premier high-resolution DSLR camera and packs almost every feature Nikon offers.
It’s in a class of its own as far as DSLR cameras go, building upon the incredible but aging D180- a camera most Niko enthusiasts recognize and appreciate.
Nikon D850 is a really fun camera to use, designed with full weather sealing. So, if you’re planning to do some outdoor astrophotography, you can be sure this camera will be up to the challenge.
This incredible camera from Nikon delivers superb image quality with its 45.7 BSI CMOS sensor. For those of you who don’t know BSI, it’s an acronym for backside illumination, and it results in improved lighting in low-light conditions. As such, Nikon is an awesome option for capturing the objects of the sky.
What I like with this Nikon camera is the very extensive exposure and metering range, -5 to +5 EV and -3 to +20 EV, respectively. Both ranges qualify the camera as the ideal option for shooting in extremely bright and extremely low light conditions while letting the camera retain detail in the image at all brightness.
Honing is specifically on astrophotography; this camera is significantly better than its predecessor in high-ISO performance and dynamic range.
Regarding the camera’s low-light features, Nikon has an ISO range of 64-25, 600. In my opinion, it’s the perfect range for low-light photography.
Even at high ISO settings for night sky and nighttime architecture, Nikon’s images are shockingly clean, high quality and will have far less noise than other cameras I’ve used.
Some astrophotographers have reported over a one-stop gain in high ISO, but I don’t believe this is true because D850 has cleaner high ISO shots.
I do a lot of nightscapes, and the D850 is cleaner even at ISO 3200-6400.
Another great benefit of Nikon is that the full-frame sensor is housed within the camera, making for larger pixels, resulting in more light intake.
A more complex feature that also aids Nikon in low-light conditions is the dual conversion gain technology. It reduces the noise at higher ISOs, and while there’s still noise to deal with, it’s much better than other cameras within its class.
Moving away from the technical side of things, Nikon has some pretty nice additions made with photographers in mind.
For instance, having come from the D5200, I feel the controls are more intuitive and better placed for better ergonomics. The controls feel a much higher quality, which helps with the overall premium nature of the camera.
Astrophotographers will particularly love the illuminated buttons. I know they seem like tiny improvements, but I don’t know how I survived without them before this. They’re one of those quality-of-life improvements that just makes so much sense when you’ve them.
Overall, Nikon D850 is an awesome all-around camera that performs exceptionally well in low-light conditions.
#2 Sony a7S II - Premium Pick
The a7S II is undoubtedly among the best cameras for astrophotography that you could lay your hands on.
The camera has a unique system in that it’s a full-frame camera with the lowest resolution of all cameras we shall be looking at.
How is this beneficial?
Well, if you’re looking for a camera that works well in low-light conditions and astrophotography, a7S II has you covered.
Sony a7S II sports an Exmore CMOS sensor and a massive IO range. It’s practically built with low-light photography in mind and is very adaptable to your photography needs.
The camera has a low megapixel count, and under normal circumstances, this would be a deal-breaker.
But the camera is designed with low-light performance in mind, which is exactly what makes it excel. The fact that the megapixels are so low makes the overall pixel size rather large, so there’s a higher signal-to-noise-ratio, even at low lights and higher ISOs.
Speaking of ISO, a7S II ISO sensitivity range is 100-102, 400. It should provide photographers with decent exposure, that is, even when shooting in the low-light of the night sky.
On the other hand, a7S II autofocus feels slightly snappier and better at finding focus in the dark.
Keep in mind though the a7S II is a contrast-detection focus camera. At first, this might seem like a hindrance, but users’ experience reveals otherwise. The camera is surprisingly well because its low-light performance is good and would acquire focus in dark areas effortlessly.
Overall, the Sony a7S II is a great camera, truly designed with low-light photography in mind.
#3 Canon EOS Ra - Best for Capturing Stars
The Canon EOS Ra is an astrophotography camera with a huge 30 MP full-frame image sensor. Itself is a luxury in the world of Astro.
But make no mistake; it’s not a stock sensor-far from it.
The infrared-cutting filter is modified to allow up to four times the amount of hydrogen-alpha rays, allowing the transmission of deep IR rays without the need for specialized optics.
Additionally, this mirrorless camera has some special features that make it suited for astrophotography.
This Canon camera has an advantage over an APS-C sensor camera with a full-frame imaging sensor, especially in nighttime photography and low light performance.
The bigger pixels easily capture more light resulting in detailed and clear images. This is not to mention that dynamic range is often better with full-frame sensors.
For the price, we were impressed that Canon EOS Ra has an impressive 5,655 manually selectable AF positions that astrophotographers can auto-focus at any point they think of.
And for even more accurate focus, the camera offers 30x magnification in both Live View and viewfinder.
It also has a modified filter that enhances the night sky recording. The filter is positioned in front of the sensor, allowing a higher transmission of the deep red infrared rays. Simply put, you won’t need extra optics or filters to use the camera for astrophotography.
However, due to the camera’s specifications, it’s still not recommended for other photography genres. While it’s by far the best camera for capturing stars and other celestial bodies, it’s not versatile and may not be ideal for other photography forms.
Additionally, some of the more boutique third-party software is still playing catch-up to Canon’s RAW files, so you must ensure your optics can support the large sensor’s image circle.
Otherwise, few cameras come close to matching what offers, especially when capturing stars.
#4 Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body - Best for Beginners
The Canon T7i is a great entry-level camera for Astro image, thanks to its clean and crisp results in low light images of the stars and the milky way.
It’s also a wonderful option for those trying to keep their equipment costs within a budget.
But make no mistake, the Canon T7i is no slouch in the list. It’s a performance-oriented solution, coming with everything you would need to capture the starry objects’ images.
Let’s start Canon T7i’s review and look at its build quality. If you’ve never used a DSLR before, the Canon T7i might seem like a large camera, but when compared to most DSLRs, it feels ultra-light. And to me, this is a great thing.
Because of the compact size, it’s more likely that you’ll take it with you and take more photos.
Moving on to the specifications, there is a lot to love with the Canon T7i. It improves over its younger brother, the Rebel T6i, by offering better sensitivity and greater range in ISO settings.
I feel the camera is a good all-rounder, including astrophotography; it produces high-quality, crisp, and clear images, with a good amount of noise suppression.
For instance, it comes with a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor delivering good results and is quite handy if you’re looking to shoot close-ups because of its crop factor.
It utilizes Canon’s EF/E-S lens mount, so you’ve the option of choosing from a wide selection of lenses. I find this useful when I need to take my photos up a notch and capture sharp, detailed photos and videos.
Additionally, it has a 45 point autofocus viewfinder system along with new dual pixel autofocus.
It’s a great feature to have, and it’s normally found in the high-end camera.
So how well does it work?
The system is almost flawless and will allow you to capture clear and concise images quickly.
#5 Panasonic LUMIX G7 - Best 4K Camera
Our final pick, the Lumix G7, is an inspiring option for those who need something light and compact.
Despite the size, this option has a unique selling point, not found in many other cameras.
It supports 4K UHD video recording at 30 fps and 24 fps.
I find this feature quite useful as it allows me to extract high-resolution photos from 4K UHD videos that you just captured.
Another selling point with this camera is that it’s a budget-friendly camera sold as a bundle. Despite the low entry price, Lumix G7’s package comes complete with everything you need to get started, including a G VARIO 12-24 MM LENS, supported video microphone, 32 GB memory card, replacement battery, and a spider tripod.
Lumix G7’s performance is equally impressive, and with 16 megapixels, this camera is powerful, especially when paired with the 12-42 mm f lenses.
It ensures you’ve rare access to the planetary objects and that your photos turn out stunning and clear.
This is not to mention the camera works well in low-light conditions, so regardless of the outdoor weather, it’s easy to pick out even the faint stars.
Best Cameras for Astrophotography Buying Guide
The key to selecting the best camera for astrophotography is to get features ideal for low-light situations.
Your goal should be to capture as much light as possible without sacrificing quality and color saturation.
But before we look at the features, let’s first look at the different types of cameras for astrophotography.
What Types of Cameras are Good for Astrophotography?
There’re three main types of cameras for astrophotography.
None is better than the other, and we believe the best one is what works for you.
For instance, if you come from a DSLR background, there would be no reason to learn a new system such as mirrorless.
If you use them properly, then be sure you’ll produce stunning photos.
The Digital Single-Lens System cameras are an evolution of the film cameras, but a digital part.
- They’ve been around for longs, so it’s a system that works
- They generate fantastic image quality
- They’ve flexible controls
- Offer full control of the depth of field
The mirrorless cameras pass light from the lens directly to the sensor, capturing a preview of the rear screen’s live image.
They’re relatively a new system a lot of professionals are switching to.
- Compact, so great for traveling
- Better video
- Great focusing system
- Few lens varieties
If you need an ultra-specific camera, you can choose those dedicated to astrophotography, also known as CCD or CMOS.
They’re considered as more advanced options by astronomers.
- Designed specifically for astrophotography
- Ideal for deep-sky imaging
- Steep learning curve
- Can’t be used for other recreational purposes
Factors to Consider When Selecting the Best Camera for Astrophotography
Your camera’s shutter speed controls the amount of light entering and how much light is processed by the sensors.
When the camera isn’t taking any photos, the shutter remains closed the shield the sensors and prevent equipment from taking accidental photos.
While sports photography or other photography forms demand a super snappy shutter, astrophotography is quite the opposite.
The galaxy isn’t going anywhere in a hurry. Because of this, you would want the shutter to remain open for longer.
Exposing your shutter for longer gives your camera, the sensor, and the processors more than enough time to properly capture the light shining at you from millions of light-years away.
ISO value can get a bit confusing for new photographers.
Think of ISO as the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light.
When trying to photograph deep-sky objects, you’ll often point your camera to the dark expanse of the sky.
While the tiny dots of stars are easy to pick with the naked eyes, it doesn’t mean your camera can.
However, increasing the ISO value can help overcome this problem.
Cameras with high ISO value increase the camera’s sensitivity, making it easier to pick up the extremely faint light.
Cameras with high ISO can pick up stars far off in the night sky just as well as your naked eye can, or even better.
Image Sensor Size
Powering every camera is a sensor.
Of course, the quality of sensors varies, but one thing you should be paying attention to is the size of the sensor.
Generally, there’re two main sizes of sensors available: full-frame sensor and crops sensor, also known as an APS-C sensor.
We recommend choosing cameras with a full-frame sensor for our mission of acquiring the best camera for astrophotography.
A full-frame sensor, equivalent to the size of a standard 35mm film, captures more light, which is crucial when taking photos of the night sky.
Additionally, full-frame sensors have enhanced ISO capabilities. However, the depth field you get with a full-frame sensor isn’t great, but it’s not important with astrophotography.
On the other hand, crop sensors are smaller, nearly 2.5 less than the full-frame sensors. While they’re perfect for zooming in on objects and have a higher depth of field, they lack the surface area to capture light. This can be a bit problematic for astrophotography.
Sensors are as complex as ISOs.
In general, however, a standard full-frame DSLR should serve you well regardless of the sensor use.
You should have no problem capturing the moon and stars’ images, provided you’ve adequate ISO range and shutter speed.
However, if you need to take your astrophotography to the new levels and capture pictures of distant galaxies and twinkling star clusters, you’ll need a bit more out of your sensor.
Here, we mean capturing more than the boring ol’ moon and few stars we can see from our porches. It means going so far as to capture images of the more intense light show.
For this, you’ll want a CCD or CMOS sensor.
These sensor types do great with long-exposure shots and are often regarded as professional sensors.
While these sensors cost a penny, the technology powering these sensors can make a drastic difference in your final image.
Dynamic range is a fancy phrase for referring to the color, tones, and hues a camera can pick up.
In general, it refers to exactly how much vivid color and sharp tomes can be captured.
For instance, cameras with a high dynamic range can easily pick up subtle details such as shadows, faint highlights, and wispy cosmic tendrils your eyes can barely perceive.
On the other hand, cameras with low dynamic range pick objects with somewhat muddy photographs filled with unwanted star rails.
Using a camera with a high dynamic range is crucial when practicing astrophotography as you want all the explosives, oranges, color blues, and neon green of space to come out clear and sharp.
This is one area you’re probably most familiar with.
We all know megapixels-after all, they’re the main selling point for every camera.
But what do megapixels mean for astrophotography?
Generally, the more megapixels your camera captures, the more detail is shown.
This is the reason 4K or 8K have such amazing clarity because they’re so high on megapixels.
If your camera lacks sufficient megapixel capabilities, it won’t give you pictures that are large and full of complex detail and vivid colors.
Wrap Up: Our Choice
Our winner for the best camera for astrophotography is Nikon D850.
There’s plenty to love with this option.
First, it’s an inexpensive option, yet it comes with all the premium picks’ features on the list.
More importantly, it has awesome low-light performance, with all its specifications pointing to a camera suitable for astrophotography.
I love that the camera will give you detailed and clear photos of the nighttime objects and isn’t affected by the brightness conditions.