RMG Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020: Data Analysis

The Royal Museums Greenwich Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest is one of the most prestigious astrophotography awards.

Photographers from all around the world submit their images for consideration and the finalists and winners are announced once a year.

This September 2020, all the shortlisted photos were released along with helpful information about how the pictures were taken, including settings and equipment used.

In this article, we have trawled through the information provided on the 100+ images to pull out the relevant and interesting astrophotography trends in 2020 and presented these below.

This includes:

  1. What types of photos made the finalists of the competition
  2. What cameras were used
  3. What telescopes were used
  4. What mounts were used
  5. Highlights from two-year’s worth of data

1. What types of photos made the finalists of the competition?

Overall, there were 133 images shortlisted as finalists in 11 different categories: moon, sun, people & space, galaxies, skyscapes, image innovation, planets/comets/asteroids, stars & nebulae, newcomer and young photographer.

Because these categories can cross over with different kinds of astronomy images, we have broken these images down into the traditional three types of astrophotography – landscape, deep sky, and planetary:

  • Landscape astrophotography includes images of the Milky Way and star trails above the Earth – as long as part of the Earth’s landscape makes up part of the image.
  • Deep Sky photography images of galaxies and nebulae.
  • Planetary photography covers the major planets and objects in our solar system.

The results show that it’s a fairly even split, but that landscape astrophotography images are the most likely to make the shortlist of finalists:

We can also break down the planetary category down further to pull out the sun (solar) and moon (luna) images:

As you can see, there were only six planetary images (4.5% of the total) made the final shortlist if you take our the sun and moon pictures.

This information might be interesting to you if you plan on entering the competition next year, but it’s also necessary as we break down the cameras and other pieces of equipment used below.


2. What cameras were used?

From the shortlisted images, 73 used DSLR or mirrorless cameras, and 53 used dedicated astronomy cameras like CCD and CMOS cameras.

This reflects the different types of images outlined above, as dedicated astronomy cameras can be used for deep sky and planetary photography only, whereas DSLR and mirrorless cameras can be used for these as well as landscape astrophotography.

If you break this down further you can see that across all images DSLR cameras are the most likely to be used:

These findings are fairly close to the results last year, but there is an increase in the number of photographers using mirrorless cameras (it was 14 in 2019).

This likely reflects the general trend of mirrorless cameras growing in popularity in comparison to DSLRs and as more high-performing and affordable models become available, like the Sony Alpha, Nikon Z, and Canon EOS R ranges.

Four shortlisted images used smartphones or tablets. This was an increase from just one in 2019 and may be an indicator of the ever-improving performance of smartphone cameras.

The one other was a beer can pinhole camera with a three-month exposure 🙂

Most popular camera manufacturers

Nikon just edges out Canon as the most commonly used camera make:

This is actually a big turnaround from 2019, when Canon beat Nikon by some distance.

ZWO is by far the leading manufacturer of astronomy cameras.

Most popular camera models

In terms of camera models, the Canon EOS 6D reigns supreme for the successful astrophotographers in this competition (for the second year in a row):

For anybody looking to get a new camera for astrophotography then these results are great news since it is not the most expensive or newest models only being used. In fact cameras like the Canon 6D and the Nikon D750 are relatively old models and can be bought for very reasonable prices (new or used).

For ease, we have also pulled out only the DLSR/mirrorless cameras into the below chart:

Notably, no shortlisted photo used the Canon EOS Ra, which is the only pre-modified astrophotography DSLR/Mirrorless camera on the market in 2020.

The Nikon D810a is also a pre-modified astrophotography DSLR/Mirrorless camera but has been discontinued and is hard to find even second-hand these days.

These results are likely not anything against the Canon EOS Ra but rather just reflect that it’s very new on the market (it was released late-2019) and so fewer photographers have got their hands on one and also would have had very little time to make the deadline for submitting images to this competition. Look out for it in next year’s competition.

Landscape vs deep sky vs planetary cameras

As noted earlier, it’s worth breaking down the cameras used for astro image type out of landscape, deep sky or planetary images.

For landscape astrophotography the Canon EOS 6D is top dog. Followed by the Nikon D750 and Nikon D850.

The Sony A7III was the most popularly used mirrorless camera, followed by the Sony A7RIII, Canon EOS R, and the Nikon Z7.

For deep sky imaging, the most popular camera is the ZWO ASI1600MM Pro:

For planetary imaging, it is split between four different ZWO models:


3. What telescopes were used

63 of the shortlisted images used telescopes.

The most popular telescope make is Celestron, followed by Takahashi, Sky-Watcher, PlaneWave and Meade Instruments:

The most commonly used single telescope model was the Takahashi FSQ-106ED. This is quadruplet astrograph refractor for experienced astrophotographers.

More accessible for beginners (but not necessarily cheaper) would be the Celestron C11.


4. What mounts were used?

64 of the photographers named the tracking mounts used in their images.

The most popular mount is the Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro:

The most popular mount manufacturer was also Sky-Watcher, followed by Astro-Physics:


5. Highlights from two years’ worth of data

We did this analysis in 2019 also and you can see those results here.

Bringing the two years’ worth results together then we get a bigger set of data from 252 pictures (133 in 2020 plus 119 in 2019).

Cameras

The Canon EOS 6D is by far the most commonly used camera in the past two years:

Telescopes

The Takahashi FSQ-106ED has been the most successfully used telescope for astrophotography, followed closely by the Celestron 14-inch model:

Mounts

The Sky-Watcher EQ6 has been the most commonly used astrophotography mount by some distance:


Methodology

We did this by manually analyzing the information provided on the 133 images on the Royal Museums Greenwich website.

It’s worth noting the below where it may seem that there are minor anomalies in the results:

  • Some individual photographers have more than one photo shortlisted and so may use the same equipment more than once and will be counted more than once in the results.
  • Some may also use more than one camera or lens for a single photo, in these cases both pieces of equipment are counted in the results.
  • Some equipment details are not always clear, i.e. different names used for the same equipment or manufacturer not named, etc. In these cases, we’ve tried to find the correct make/model used in the US market. There are also anomalies such as the FLIR Grasshopper camera which combines CCD and CMOS sensor, so are counted towards both.
  • Sometimes equipment information is missing, for example, no star tracker or tracking mount mentioned even though the length of the exposure would have required it.
  • Some cameras may have been astro modified and some images used filters.
  • The image innovation category is for images that have been processed from publically available data provided by space telescopes like Hubble. These haven’t been included in the equipment analysis as it wouldn’t make a useful comparison.
  • Some photographers used homemade mounts or telescopes and these have been left out of the results.

Any questions?

We hope that is useful for you, whether you are researching equipment, entering competitions or just following astrophotography trends.

This is obviously not a scientific study as it’s a relatively small amount of data to work with and we can only see the images that made the final shortlist.

If you have any thoughts or questions, please use the comment box below.

If there are any other similar competitions or sources of astrophotography data that we could do a similar analysis of then please also suggest below.

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