We Analyzed 685 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Images – Here’s What We Learned

We analyzed all 685 images shortlisted for the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in the past five years.

Our goal is to find out what equipment is being used by the best astrophotographers in the world today. They are producing amazing images and you want you to be able to too.

We have looked at what cameras, telescopes, mounts, and star trackers have been most used from 2018 to 2022.

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

The Starry Sky Over the World’s Highest National Highway © Yang Sutie taken with a Sony A1 camera. Shortlisted in the ‘People & Space’ category in Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

Summary of Key Findings

1. The Sony A7 III is the most used DSLR or mirrorless camera in the competition in 2022.

2. In 2022, for the first time, mirrorless cameras became more used than DSLRs in the competition.

3. Sony camera use increases every year. 38% of all images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras used Sony models in 2022, up from 17% in 2018.

4. Canon cameras were previously dominant in the competition but have decreased year-on-year since 2018. Canon models account for 17% of DSLR or mirrorless images in 2022, down from 53% in 2018. Nikon has held the top spot for the past three years.

5. ZWO cameras dominate planetary imaging and the ZWO ASI174MM is the top model. 47% of all shortlisted planetary images used a ZWO camera.

6. ZWO cameras also lead for deep sky imaging. The ZWO ASI1600MM Pro and the FLI ProLine 16083 are the joint top models for deep-sky imaging.

7. Celestron is the most successful telescope manufacturer, ahead of Takahashi, Sky-Watcher, and Planewave.

8. Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes dominate planetary imaging. 40% of all shortlisted planetary images use Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrains.

9. Takahashi telescopes lead for deep sky astrophotography. The Takahashi FSQ-106 is the most used individual telescope model over five years. Apochromatic refractors account for 40% of deep-space images.

10. Sky-Watcher telescope mounts are the most successful. 32% of images used a Sky-Watcher telescope mount. The Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro is the most used mount.

11. The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is the most used star tracker.

Read on for more detail on each of these findings


The Sony A7 III is the Most Popular Astrophotography Camera in 2022

The most used individual DSLR/mirrorless models in 2022 are Sony models, with the Sony A7 III in the top spot.

25% of all shortlisted images using a DSLR or mirrorless camera in 2022 used either the Sony A7 III or Sony A7R III.

You can see the top models this year:

Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022
Back to the Spaceship © Mihail Minkov taken with a Sony A7 III camera. Runner-up in the ‘People & Space’ category in Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

From 2018 to 2021, the Canon EOS 6D was the most used model and is the most successful camera when looking at all five years of data:

Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

Yet the Canon EOS 6D has dropped off completely in 2022, reflecting it being an older model.

For more insight on cameras using this data, see our article on the Best Cameras for Astrophotography.

Mirrorless Cameras Overtake DSLRs for the First Time

In 2022, for the first time, mirrorless cameras became more used than DSLRs in the competition.

This year 52% of images used mirrorless cameras, versus 48% for DSLRs.

This may only be a narrow majority but every year previous DSLRs were more used. In 2018 it was 83% DSLR vs 17% mirrorless.

You can see a clear trend in this year-by-year chart below:

DSLR vs mirrorless cameras in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

This reflects the growing shift in photography of mirrorless cameras becoming more popular than DSLRs. Mirrorless cameras have become more affordable in recent years and are smaller and lighter.

DSLR and mirrorless cameras are mostly used for landscape astrophotography. For example, this photo of the Milky Way core in the sky above the earth taken with a Nikon Z6 II:

Badwater Milky Way © Abhijit Patil taken with a Nikon Z6 II camera. Runner-up in the ‘Skyscapes’ category of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

For more information on this, see the Best Mirrorless Cameras for Astrophotography.

Sony Camera Use Increases Every Year

Sony cameras have become significantly more used over the past five years. This likely reflects the dominance in the mirrorless market of Sony models.

Sony camera models make up 38% of all images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras in 2022. This is up from 17% in 2018.

As you can see, there is a noticeable jump in 2022:

Percentage of DSLR/mirrorless images taken with Sony cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

If we look at the manufacturers of mirrorless cameras used, we see Sony’s dominance again:

Percentage of images taken with mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022
The Night Highway © Filip Hrebenda taken with a Sony A7R III camera. Highly Commended in the ‘Skyscapes’ category of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

If we look at the mirrorless models used in 2022, Sony still has the vast majority but Nikon is taking a greater share:

Percentage of images taken with mirrorless cameras by manufacturer shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022

Canon Cameras Used Less And Less Each Year

The use of Canon cameras has decreased over the years in the competition.

In 2018, 53% of the DSLR/mirrorless images used Canon cameras, in 2022 this is 17%:

Percentage of images taken with DSLR or mirrorless cameras shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The previous dominance of Canon was largely due to the popularity of the Canon EOS 6D and Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

As these cameras have aged it seems as though astrophotographers have moved to newer Sony or Nikon mirrorless cameras, rather than more recent Canon models.

Nikon has had the top spot for most used cameras for the last three years running.

Nikon DSLRs like the D750, D850, and D810 were very popular with astrophotographers. Now the mirrorless Nikon Z6 / Z6 II and Z7 / Z7 II models are too.

Diagonal © Gen Kiryu taken with a Nikon Z7 camera. Shortlisted in the ‘Skyscapes’ category of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

ZWO Dominates Planetary Imaging

By far the most successful manufacturer of planetary cameras is ZWO, as you can see in this chart:

Camera brands used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

ZWO specializes in dedicated astronomy cameras. Five of the top seven most used models for planetary imaging are from ZWO:

Camera models used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The ZWO ASI174MM is the most used model for planetary imaging. This is a 2.3 MP resolution, uncooled, monochrome, dedicated astronomy camera.

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

The Jovian Family © Damian Peach taken with a ZWO ASI174MM camera and ASA 1000RC telescope. Runner-up in the ‘Planets, Comets & Asteroids’ category in Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

ZWO Cameras Lead for Deep Space Imaging

ZWO cameras are also the most used for deep sky imaging:

Camera brands used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The most used individual camera models for deep sky objects (DSOs) are the ZWO ASI1600MM Pro and the FLI ProLine 16083:

Camera models used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The ZWO ASI1600MM Pro is a cooled, 16MP resolution monochrome, CMOS dedicated astronomy camera.

The discontinued FLI Proline 16083 was a cooled CCD dedicated astronomy camera. There are now other models from FLI available in the Proline range.

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

Majestic Sombrero Galaxy © Utkarsh Mishra, Michael Petrasko, Muir Evenden. Taken with a FLI ProLine 16803 camera. Winner of the ‘Galaxies’ category in Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2022.

Celestron is the Most Successful Telescope Brand

Turning now to telescopes. Celestron models are the most used, with Takahashi in second, Sky-Watcher in third, and PlaneWave in fourth:

Top telescope brands used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

As for telescope types, apochromatic refractors and Schmidt-Cassegrains are the two most used:

Telescopes types used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

See further below for how this breaks down for planetary vs deep sky imaging.

The Takahashi FSQ-106 is the most used telescope model in five years of the competition:

Telescopes used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

It is a quadruplet apochromatic refractor telescope.

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

What a Flaming Star! © Martin Cohen taken with a Celestron C11 EdgeHD telescope, Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro mount, and ZWO ASI2600MM Pro camera.

Celestron Telescopes Dominate Planetary Astrophotography

Breaking this down now to planetary imaging, we see that Celestron telescopes are the most used, followed by Sky-Watcher models.

40% of all shortlisted planetary images use Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrains (SCTs).

Telescope brands used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

This is then reflected in the top telescope types for planetary imaging, with Schmidt-Cassegrains (made by Celestron) at number one:

Telescopes types used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The high-aperture Celestron C11 and C14 Schmidt-Cassegrains are the most used models for planetary imaging:

Telescopes used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The C11 is an 11-inch aperture SCT, the C14 is 14-inch, and the C8 is 8-inch.

You can buy them as standalone OTAs or as part of packages with a mount included.

There is also a 9.25-inch version in this range (the C9.25) and there are also EdgeHD versions that are coma corrected.

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

The Crab Nebula in Hydrogen and Oxygen © Julian Shapiro. Taken with a ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera, Celestron C8 telescope, and Orion Atlas Pro mount.

Takahashi & Planewave Dominate Deep Sky Telescopes

If we look at telescopes for deep sky imaging we see Takahashi and Planewave leading:

Top telescope brands used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

Apochromatic refractors are the most used telescope type for deep sky, followed by imaging newtonians:

Telescopes types used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

Apochromatic refractors and imaging newtonians are both telescope types that can be acquired relatively cheaply and so are accessible to more people (although many premium models are very expensive).

You can buy these telescope types relatively cheaply. This makes them more accessible to more people. Although many premium models are very expensive.

Corrected Dall-Kirkham telescopes from Planewave are observatory-grade, ultra-premium telescopes.

The top models are then:

  1. The Takahashi FSQ-106 apochromatic refractor,
  2. The Planewave CDK17, and
  3. The Sky-Watcher Quattro 200/800 imaging newtonian
Telescopes used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

See the Best Telescopes for Deep Space Astrophotography for more insight into this area.

The Centre of the Heart Nebula © Péter Feltóti. Taken with a Sky-Watcher Quattro 200/800 telescope, Sky-Watcher NEQ6 Pro mount, and Moravian Instruments G3-16200 Mark II camera.

Sky-Watcher Leads for Telescope Mounts

For telescope mounts, Sky-Watcher is the most successful manufacturer by some distance:

Top telescope mount brands used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

The Sky-Watcher EQ6 Pro is the most used model, followed by the Software Bisque Paramount ME:

Top telescope mounts used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

If we look at the last two years of data only though, we see that the Sky-Watcher EQ8 Pro has taken the top spot:

Top telescope mounts used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021-2022

Models like the Hobym Traveller and iOptron CEM60/70 have also become more popular in recent years.

We can also break it down between what mounts for deep sky versus planetary imaging.

For deep sky, the Software Bisque Paramount ME is out front. This has a 240lb payload capacity and is for use as part of advanced setups.

The smaller Sky-Watcher mounts like the EQ6 Pro and NEQ6 Pro are also right up there. They are likely used with smaller apochromatic refractor telescopes:

Top telescope mounts used in deep sky images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021-2022

For planetary imaging, Celestron mounts and larger Sky-Watcher mounts like the EQ8 Pro are more likely to be used.

They have higher payload capacities to deal with larger telescopes like the Schmidt-Cassegrains:

Top telescope mounts used in planetary images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2021-2022

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

Cosmic Rose © Lionel Majzik. Taken with a FLI ProLine 11002M camera, Planewave CDK20 telescope, and Planewave Ascension 200HR mount.

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is the Most Successful Star Tracker

For star trackers, the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is the most popular model:

Star trackers used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2018-2022

Note though the two leading iOptron models taken together are used nearly as much.

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


Summary & Conclusion: What Can We Learn From This?

There are five quick takeaways from this data:

  1. Mirrorless is replacing DSLR as the camera type of choice for landscape astrophotographers
  2. ZWO dedicated astronomy cameras dominate for planetary and deep sky imaging
  3. Apochromatic refractors are the top telescope type for deep sky imaging. Takahashi models lead the way
  4. Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrains are the telescope of choice for planetary imaging
  5. Sky-Watcher dominates for telescope mounts and star trackers

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

Thanks to Royal Museums Greenwich in London, UK who host this competition every year. You can visit the exhibition and buy the book with all the shortlisted images on the museum’s website.

If you have any thoughts or questions on any of the findings above, please use the comment box below.

Anthony Robinson founded Skies & Scopes in 2017 and has been practicing and writing obsessively about astrophotography and astronomy ever since. He has written for Amateur Astrophotography and Dark Sky Travels magazines. Skies & Scopes has also been featured in Forbes, Digital Camera World, Peta Pixel, and many other publications.

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3 thoughts on “We Analyzed 685 Astronomy Photographer of the Year Images – Here’s What We Learned”

  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

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