Astronomy Photographer of the Year – Gear Analysis (2023)

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astronomy photographer of the year gear analysis

We analyzed 828 images shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the past six years to learn what equipment was used.

Want to know what cameras, lenses, telescopes, mounts, and star trackers are used by the best astrophotographers in the world?

We’ve got the data right here!

See below for a summary of the findings and read on for a more detailed analysis.

Summary of Key Findings

DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

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The trend towards mirrorless camera use increases every year – 58% Mirrorless vs 42% DSLR in 2023

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Full-frame sensor DSLR and mirrorless models are overwhelmingly favored – 87% full-frame vs 13% APS-C

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The most successful models are:

  • Canon EOS 6D
  • Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
  • Nikon D850
  • Nikon D750
  • Nikon D810A
  • Nikon Z6 II
  • Sony A7 III
  • Sony A7R III

Camera Lenses

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Sigma is the top lens maker

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14mm f/2.8 and 14mm f/1.8 lenses are the most used for landscape astrophotography

Dedicated Astronomy Cameras

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ZWO cameras lead for both planetary and deep sky imaging

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The most successful planetary cameras are:

  • ZWO ASI174MM
  • ZWO ASI178MM

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The most successful deep-sky cameras are:

  • ZWO ASI6200MM Pro
  • ZWO ASI2600MM Pro
  • FLI ProLine PL16803

Telescopes

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Celestron is the most successful telescope manufacturer overall

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The Celestron C11 and C14 Schmidt-Cassegrains are the most successful planetary imaging telescopes

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The Takahashi FSQ-106 ED is the most successful deep-sky telescope

Telescope Mounts

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Sky-Watcher is the top mount manufacturer

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The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is the most used mount overall. The Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro is becoming more popular in the last three years

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German Equatorial Mounts dominate but Harmonic and Direct Drive mounts are increasing in popularity

Star Trackers

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The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is the most successful star tracker, followed by the iOptron SkyGuider Pro

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The Fornax LighTrack II and Move Shoot Move have become much more commonly used in recent years

About This Research

This analysis is produced by information generously provided to Skies & Scopes by Royal Museums Greenwich. You can see details of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition and exhibition here.

In total, we have looked at 828 astrophotography images shortlisted in the competition from 2018 to 2023.

Each image is then categorized as one of the below:

  1. 315 Landscape Astrophotography images (including aurora)
  2. 284 Deep Sky images (galaxies, nebulae, etc)
  3. 229 Planetary images (including solar and lunar)

Breaking up the images into these categories is necessary as different equipment is typically used for different types of astrophotography imaging.

If you want to learn more about how we did this analysis, please see our methodology here.

Now let’s look at the results and admire some of the images, including the overall 2023 winner here:

Andromeda, Unexpected © Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty - astronomy photographer of the year winner 2023
Andromeda, Unexpected © Marcel Drechsler, Xavier Strottner and Yann Sainty. Taken with a Takahashi FSQ-106EDX4 telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount, and ZWO ASI2600MM Pro camera.

Canon, Nikon and Sony Dominate DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras

Looking at just DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, it is clear that Canon, Nikon and Sony lead the way – combined they account for 97% of all cameras in this bracket:

Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

Canon is the number one brand over the six years of data we looked at overall.

However, when we narrow this down to just the past two years we can see that Nikon and Sony have overtaken them:

Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022-2023
Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022-2023

Looking at the later data on models, this seems to be the result of Sony and Nikon’s newer mirrorless models being more popular than Canon’s.

Circle of Light © Andreas Ettl. Taken with a Nikon Z7 camera and 15 mm f/2.8 lens.
Circle of Light © Andreas Ettl. Taken with a Nikon Z7 camera and 15mm f/2.8 lens.

Mirrorless Camera Use Increases Every Year

The trend towards mirrorless cameras increases every year:

DSLR vs mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
DSLR vs mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

In 2023 it was up to 58% Mirrorless vs 42% DSLR. From the chart above you can see a clear pattern.

This reflects the growing shift in photography of mirrorless cameras becoming more popular than DSLRs.

Mirrorless models have become more affordable in recent years and are smaller and lighter.

Close Encounters of The Haslingden Kind © Katie McGuinness. Taken with Sony A7 IV mirrorless camera and 20mm f/4 lens.
Close Encounters of The Haslingden Kind © Katie McGuinness. Taken with Sony A7 IV mirrorless camera and 20mm f/4 lens.

Full-frame Cameras Are Top

When we compare sensor size, we see that full-frame sensor DSLR and mirrorless models are much favored over APS-C:

DSLR and mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
DSLR and mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

This is because full-frame sensors are better suited to landscape astrophotography where they can capture a wider expanse of the night sky and perform better in low light.

This is highlighted if we narrow it down to just landscape astrophotography images, where is it 92% full-frame versus 8% APS-C.

Pandora’s Box © Derek Horlock. Taken with a Nikon Z6 II camera and 35mm f/2.8 lens.
Pandora’s Box © Derek Horlock. Taken with a Nikon Z6 II camera and 35mm f/2.8 lens.

The Canon EOS 6D Rules

The most successful models over the past six years are (in this order):

  1. Canon EOS 6D – DSLR
  2. Nikon D850 – DSLR
  3. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – DSLR
  4. Nikon D750 – DSLR
  5. Nikon D810A – DSLR
  6. Sony A7 III – Mirrorless
  7. Sony A7R III – Mirrorless
  8. Nikon Z6 II – Mirrorless

To confirm the above finding, these all have full-frame sensors.

The Canon EOS 6D has long been a favorite of amateur astrophotographers and is aging now but this evidence shows that it can still be used to great effect and is still being used in shortlisted images in 2023:

Top eight DSLR and mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Top eight DSLR and mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

In recent years the mirrorless models have been more frequently used, with the top five in 2023 being:

  1. Canon EOS 6D – DSLR
  2. Nikon Z6 II – Mirrorless
  3. Nikon D850 – DSLR
  4. Nikon Z7 II – Mirrorless
  5. Sony A7S III – Mirrorless

For more insight on cameras using this data, see our articles on:

Comet 2022 E3 Above Snowy Mount Etna © Dario Giannobile. Taken with a Canon EOS 6D camera, Sigma Art 150–600 mm lens, and Fornax LighTrack II star tracker.
Comet 2022 E3 Above Snowy Mount Etna © Dario Giannobile. Taken with a Canon EOS 6D camera, Sigma Art 150–600 mm lens, and Fornax LighTrack II star tracker.

14mm Lenses Are Most Successful

Comparing lenses used is more difficult since different focal lengths will be used to suit different images.

Here we have looked at the focal lengths below 50mm used in landscape astrophotography images.

As you can see, 14mm is the most commonly used focal length, followed by 24mm and 35mm:

Lenses sorted by focal length in landscape astrophotography images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Lenses sorted by focal length in landscape astrophotography images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Celestial Equator Above First World War Trench Memorial © Louis Leroux-Gere. Taken with a Samyang XP 14 mm f/2.4 lens and 14mm lens Canon EOS 6D camera.
Celestial Equator Above First World War Trench Memorial © Louis Leroux-Gere. Taken with a Samyang XP 14 mm f/2.4 lens and 14mm lens and Canon EOS 6D camera.

Fast Aperture Lenses Are The Best

When looking at aperture, the faster the better for astrophotography as faster indicates better light-gathering capacity – essential when shooting in low light.

F/2.8 is the most commonly used aperture:

Most frequently used lens aperture in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Most frequently used lens aperture in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

This is at least partly a consequence of lenses at f/2.8 being more affordable than faster aperture lenses at f/1.8 and f/1.4.

On Top of the Dream © Jeff Graphy. Taken with a Canon EOS 6D camera and 35mm f/2.8 lens.
On Top of the Dream © Jeff Graphy. Taken with a Canon EOS 6D camera and 35mm f/2.8 lens.

Sigma Are The Most Successful Lens Manufacturer

When comparing my manufacturer/brand of lenses used, Sigma is top, followed by Tamron and Rokinon:

Lenses by manufacturer in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Lenses by manufacturer in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

There is not a lot of data on individual lens models as these are rarely named by the photographer – only the focal length and aperture are given.

However, there are some named models and the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art lens is frequently cited.

It is particularly well suited to landscape astrophotography with a full-frame camera with its wide angle (14mm focal length) and efficient light gathering (f/1.8 aperture).

The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens is also popularly used and makes a great alternative to the premium Sigma Art model, with the downside being a slower aperture.

For more detail on any of this, see the Best Lenses for Astrophotography.

The Milky Way © Kush Chandaria. Taken with a Sigma Art 40mm f/1.4 lens, Canon EOS Ra camera, and Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro star tracker.
The Milky Way © Kush Chandaria. Taken with a Sigma Art 40mm f/1.4 lens, Canon EOS Ra camera, and Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Pro star tracker.

ZWO Cameras Rule For Planetary and Deep Sky Imaging

Turning now to dedicated astronomy cameras (CCD/CMOS).

We see that ZWO is by far the most successful brand, accounting for nearly half of all dedicated astronomy cameras used in the last six years:

Dedicated Astronomy Cameras by manufacturer in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Dedicated Astronomy Cameras by manufacturer in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

To understand ZWO cameras more, see our ZWO Camera Comparison Guide.

astronomy photographer of the year
Ball of Rock © Rich Addis. Taken with a 6-inch Celestron SCT telescope and ZWO ASI120MC camera.

ZWO Has The Best Planetary Cameras

The most successful planetary cameras are the:

  • ZWO ASI174MM
  • ZWO ASI290MM
  • ZWO ASI178MM

These are monochrome, uncooled, CMOS cameras with fast frame rates and modest resolutions – the attributes wanted in a camera for planetary imaging:

Dedicated astronomy cameras in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Dedicated astronomy cameras in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

This data includes solar, lunar and planetary, but we can break this up to see which models come out top separately

The top solar cameras are:

  • ZWO ASI174MM (18%)
  • FLIR Grasshopper3 (16%)
  • ZWO ASI178MM (11%)

The top lunar cameras are:

  • ZWO ASI174MM (30%)
  • ZWO ASI178MM (15%)
  • ZWO ASI120MC-S (11%)

And the top planetary cameras without lunar and solar are:

  • ZWO ASI174MM (25%)
  • ZWO ASI290MM (19%)
  • ZWO ASI462MC (6%)
  • Player One Astronomy Saturn M-SQR (6%)
  • FLI ML16200 (6%)

Data Limitation: The amount of data for just lunar and solar images using dedicated astronomy cameras is relatively low, so the above points should be viewed in that context.

One thing that was notable was that Player One Astronomy cameras were very successfully used for planetary imaging in 2023, whereas they had never been used in any year prior to this.

For a deeper dive, see our article on the Best Planetary, Lunar & Solar Cameras.

A Visit to Tycho © Andrew McCarthy. Taken with a ZWO ASI174MM camera and Celestron c11 telescope.
A Visit to Tycho © Andrew McCarthy. Taken with a ZWO ASI174MM camera and Celestron C11 telescope.

ZWO and FLI Have The Best Deep-Sky Cameras

The most successful deep-sky models are the:

  • FLI ProLine PL16803
  • ZWO ASI1600MM Pro (note: this model is discontinued)
  • ZWO ASI6200MM Pro
  • ZWO ASI2600MM Pro

These are cooled, high-resolution cameras that are well-suited to deep-sky imaging:

Dedicated astronomy cameras in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Dedicated astronomy cameras in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

The FLI Proline PL16803 is a CCD model that tends to be used in observatory settings with professional-level Planewave and ASA telescopes.

The ZWO models are more often used by amateur astrophotographers with backyard setups.

If you want more information on any of this, see our article on the Best CCD and CMOS Cameras for Astrophotography.

New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya © Marcel Drechsler. Taken with a FLI ProLine 16803 camera, ASA Newtonian 500mm telescope, and ASA DDM85 mount.
New Class of Galactic Nebulae Around the Star YY Hya © Marcel Drechsler. Taken with a FLI ProLine 16803 camera, ASA Newtonian 500mm telescope, and ASA DDM85 mount.

Celestron is The Most Successful Telescope Manufacturer

Overall for all images using a telescope, Celestron telescopes are most commonly used, followed by Takahashi and Sky-Watcher:

Telescope manufacturers in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Telescope manufacturers in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

There are differences in the market for these telescope manufacturers, with Celestron and Sky-Watcher offering a range of affordable models in the reach of amateur hobbyists, and Planewave and ASA being premium observatory-level models that are much more expensive.

Jellyfish Nebula © Peter Larkin. Taken with a Celestron RASA 8 telescope, Celestron CGX mount, and ZWO ASI2600MM-Pro camera.
Jellyfish Nebula © Peter Larkin. Taken with a Celestron RASA 8 telescope, Celestron CGX mount, and ZWO ASI2600MM-Pro camera.

Celestron SCTs Lead For Planetary Imaging

Looking specifically at planetary imaging, Celestron’s range of Schmidt-Cassegrains are the most successfully used telescopes:

Telescopes used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Telescopes used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

The reason the Celestron SCTs are well-suited to photographing the planets is that they have long focal lengths. This enables you to get close into the planetary object being imaged.

For more on this, see the Best Telescopes for Planetary Imaging.

Colourful Saturn © Damian Peach. Taken with a Celestron C14 EdgeHD telescope, Losmandy G11 mount, and Player One Saturn-M SQR camera.
Colourful Saturn © Damian Peach. Taken with a Celestron C14 EdgeHD telescope, Losmandy G11 mount, and Player One Saturn-M SQR camera.

The Takahashi FSQ-106 ED Is The Top Deep-Sky Telescope

For deep sky imaging telescopes the top brands are:

  1. Takahashi
  2. Planewave
  3. Sky-Watcher

And the most successful telescope types for deep space are:

  1. Apochromatic Refractor
  2. Imaging Newtonian
  3. Corrected Dall-Kirkham (CDK)

The most successful model overall is the Takahashi FSQ-106 ED:

Telescopes used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Telescopes used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

It is a quadruplet apochromatic refractor telescope.

Apochromatic refractors are telescopes that are optimized for widefield deep sky astrophotography by correcting the chromatic aberration that occurs with regular refractors.

See the Best Telescopes for Astrophotography for more insight on this topic.

Nebulae of the Small Magellanic Cloud © Jonathan Lodge. Taken with a Takahashi FSQ-106ED telescope, Paramount MX+ mount, and FLI ProLine 16803 camera.
Nebulae of the Small Magellanic Cloud © Jonathan Lodge. Taken with a Takahashi FSQ-106ED telescope, Paramount MX+ mount, and FLI ProLine 16803 camera.

Sky-Watcher Is The Most Successful Mount Manufacturer

Sky-Watcher is the most successful mount manufacturer – 33% of all images used a Sky-Watcher mount.

They are followed by Astro-Physics, Celestron, Software Bisque, Astro Systeme Austria (ASA), Planewave, and iOptron:

Telescope mount manufacturers in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Telescope mount manufacturers in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

The vast majority of planetary images use Sky-Watcher or Celestron mounts.

Whilst Sky-Watcher mounts also lead for deep sky images, and mounts from Astro-Physics, Software Bisque, Planewave, and Astro Systeme Austria (ASA) are also frequently used.

Software Bisque, Planewave, and ASA provide premium observatory-grade mounts and setups.

Solar Flare X1 from AR2994 in ‘Motion’ © Miguel Claro. Taken with a Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount, Sky-Watcher Esprit ED120 telescope, and Player One Apollo M-Max Solar camera.
Solar Flare X1 from AR2994 in ‘Motion’ © Miguel Claro. Taken with a Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount, Sky-Watcher Esprit ED120 telescope, and Player One Apollo M-Max Solar camera.

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro Is The Most Used Mount

The Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro is the most used mount overall:

Telescope mount used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Telescope mount used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

The Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro has become more popular in the last three years, as have the ZWO AM5 and iOptron CEM70.

For planetary imaging, the most used models are the:

  1. Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
  2. Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro
  3. Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro

For deep sky imaging, the most used models are the:

  1. Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro
  2. Software Bisque Paramount ME
  3. ASA DDM85

For more on this, see our article on the Best Telescope Mounts for Astrophotography.

Pleione’s Daughters © Andre Vilhena. Taken with a Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount, TS-Optics Photoline APO 800/115 telescope, and QHY 268M camera.
Pleione’s Daughters © Andre Vilhena. Taken with a Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro mount, TS-Optics Photoline APO 800/115 telescope, and QHY 268M camera.

German Equatorial Mounts Lead, but Harmonic Mounts Coming Up

It is well known that equatorial mounts are best suited to astrophotography and German Equatorial Mounts have been used in the majority of images overall:

Telescope mount types used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Telescope mount types used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

Notably, in 2023 this falls to 53%, with Direct Drive and Harmonic mounts increasing in popularity.

This is at least partly the result of a new range of affordable harmonic mounts entering the market in recent years from companies like ZWO, iOptron, Hobym, and Rainbow Astro.

The Great Solar Flare © Mehmet Ergün. Taken with a Rainbow RST-135 harmonic mount, LUNT LS60 B1200 Double Stack telescope, and Player One Astronomy Neptune-M 178M camera.
The Great Solar Flare © Mehmet Ergün. Taken with a Rainbow RST-135 harmonic mount, LUNT LS60 B1200 Double Stack telescope, and Player One Astronomy Neptune-M 178M camera.

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Is The Most Successful Star Tracker

iOptron and Sky-Watcher are the most successful star tracker brands -accounting for 78% of all star tracker use over the six years.

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is the most successful model overall with the iOptron SkyGuider Pro in second:

Star Trackers used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023
Star Trackers used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2023

The Fornax LighTrack II and Move Shoot Move star trackers have become much more commonly used in the past three years (although still behind the iOptron SkyGuider Pro and Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer).

See the Best Star Trackers for Astrophotography for more on this.

astronomy photographer of the year equipment
Dolbadarn Castle, Home of Welsh Princes © Robert Price. Taken with a Canon EOS 6D Mark II camera, Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer star tracker, and 24mm f/2.8 lens.

More Information – Astronomy Photographer of the Year

Thanks to Royal Museums Greenwich in London, UK who host this competition every year and provided me with the data to examine.

You can visit the exhibition and buy the book with all the shortlisted images on the museum’s website.

If you want to learn more about how we did this analysis, please see our methodology here.

About the Author

Anthony Robinson is the founder and owner of Skies & Scopes, a publication and community focused on amateur astronomy and astrophotography. His work has been featured in publications such as Amateur Astrophotography, Forbes, the Guardian, DIY Photography, PetaPixel, and Digital Camera World - read more.

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7 thoughts on “Astronomy Photographer of the Year – Gear Analysis (2023)”

  1. What a wonderful review. however the results of having all this equipment fade quickly when we cannot see the results of using it. When can we see the photographs !
    Regards John.

    Reply
  2. Dear Mr. Robinson,
    thank you very much for this information.
    Might there be a mistake in the numbers in the diagram for:
    #Mirrorless_Camera_Use_Increases_Every_Yearn
    as for the year 2022: 52 and 42 will only add up to 94%
    whereas for the year 2022: 58 and 48 are 106%.
    If you turn around the numbers for DSLRs for both years, that would probably solve the problem.
    With kind regards,
    Dr. Schuhmacher

    Reply

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