Best Camera for Astrophotography 2020 [With Data Analysis]

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Below we assess and recommend the best cameras for astrophotography based on analysis of what cameras are being used to produce the most successful astronomy images in 2020, as well as the recommendations from some of the world’s best astrophotographers in case studies on this website.

In 2020, the best camera for astrophotography is the Canon EOS Ra. However, this is a premium option and the Canon 6D and the Nikon D750 are lower budget options that will be perfect for most people.

Advanced imagers will also consider dedicated astronomy cameras, like the ZWO ASI1600MM Pro.

For more detail on these recommendations and on what to look for in an astrophotography camera, please read on.

Preview
Best overall
Canon EOS Ra Astrophotography Mirrorless Camera, Black - 4180C002
Best value Nikon
Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Best value Canon
Canon EOS 6D 20.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only) - Wi-Fi Enabled
Best CCD/CMOS
ZWO ASI 174MM Cooled USB3.0 Astronomy Camera
Make & model
Canon EOS Ra
Nikon D750
Canon EOS 6D
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro
Type
Mirrorless
DSLR
DSLR
CMOS
Sensor type
Full-frame
Full-frame
Full-frame
CMOS
Check prices from different retailers
Best overall
Preview
Canon EOS Ra Astrophotography Mirrorless Camera, Black - 4180C002
Make & model
Canon EOS Ra
Type
Mirrorless
Sensor type
Full-frame
Check prices from different retailers
Best value Nikon
Preview
Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Make & model
Nikon D750
Type
DSLR
Sensor type
Full-frame
Check prices from different retailers
Best value Canon
Preview
Canon EOS 6D 20.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only) - Wi-Fi Enabled
Make & model
Canon EOS 6D
Type
DSLR
Sensor type
Full-frame
Check prices from different retailers
Best CCD/CMOS
Preview
ZWO ASI 174MM Cooled USB3.0 Astronomy Camera
Make & model
ZWO ASI1600MM Pro
Type
CMOS
Sensor type
CMOS
Check prices from different retailers

Last update on 2020-10-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

1. What cameras are used by successful astrophotographers?

To start with, we have analyzed all 252 images shortlisted for the RMG Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition for the past two years (2019 and 2020) to see what cameras were used.

We found that:

See the results here:

If you break it down by type of astrophotography image in 2020, then you find the most commonly used cameras are:

  1. For nightscapes and landscape astrophotography: Canon EOS 6D and Nikon D750
  2. For deep sky astrophotography: ZWO ASI1600MM Pro and the Canon EOS 6D
  3. For planetary astrophotography: ZWO ASI174MM

If you want to read the full results of this analysis, see RMG Astronomy Photography of the Year 2020: Data Analysis.

These were great findings as cameras like the Canon 6D and the Nikon D750 are not the most expensive models and can be found for around half the price of the top range Canon, Nikon or Sony (and maybe even cheaper if you pick one us second hand). Yet they are clearly capable of delivering fantastic results.

Some of these cameras in the chart above are quite different from others, so read below for an explanation of the different types of camera you can use for astronomy photography.


2. Best cameras for astrophotography

Taking this into account, we have picked out a number of cameras to suit different budgets that are proven to deliver for astrophotography.

Best Canon cameras for astrophotography

Canon EOS 6D – best value Canon full frame

Canon EOS 6D 20.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD (Body Only) - Wi-Fi Enabled

The Canon EOS 6D is a full-frame DSLR with a 20.2 Megapixel sensor and an ISO range expandable to 102,400.

It’s the most popular camera used by the finalists in the 2020 Astronomy Photographer of the Year awards, which emphasizes its credentials as a great astrophotography camera, even though it was first released back in 2012.

From the Skies & Scopes astrophotography masters interview series, Ivan Slade and Leonardo Orazi both use the Canon 6D.

The alternative to the 6D is the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, which is also a high-end full-frame DSLR but has some improved features, such as better video capability. It is generally more expensive than the 6D though, and so we are featuring the 6D as a great value for money option.

There is a Canon EOS 6D Mark II, but it is a very similar camera that has the advantage of a flip screen but the downside is that many consider it to be worse at handling high ISOs than the original 6D.

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: Full-frame
  • Sensor size: 26.2 MP
  • ISO max: 40,000
  • Weight: 1.7 lbs
  • Year of release: 2017

Canon EOS Ra – best overall astrophotography camera

Canon EOS RA

Canon released this brand new astrophotography-focussed camera at the end of 2019.

It is a modified version of the Canon EOS R – the full-frame mirrorless camera released in late-2018 (the “a” in the name is for “astrophotography”).

The modifications mean that the camera works much better for deep sky photography – i.e. capturing nebulae and other far off objects.

This is much like in previous specialist astrophotography DSLRs – the Canon 60Da and the Nikon D810a (read more here about these). This is because the filters used on regular DSLRs and mirrorless cameras do not capture the deep red hydrogen-alpha light emitted by these objects.

On the Canon EOS Ra, this is altered in order to perform much better in this area.

The only thing that potential buyers should be aware of is that the modifications that make it better for astrophotography conversely degrade the performance for regular photography.

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor type: Full-frame
  • Sensor size: 30.3 MP
  • ISO max: 40,000
  • Weight: 1.3 lbs
  • Year of release: 2019

Canon EOS Rebel T7i – best entry-level Canon

best beginners camera for astrophotography

This is a great entry-level DSLR that will be perfect for someone looking for a first “grown-up” camera, or an up-to-date upgrade.

Released in 2017, it has a 24.2-megapixel APS-C sensor and an ISO range up to 25600.

Positives include built-in wifi and a moveable screen with touchscreen functionality.

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: APS-C
  • Sensor size: 24.2 MP
  • ISO max: 25,600
  • Weight: 1.2 lbs
  • Year of release: 2017

Best Nikon cameras for astrophotography

Nikon D750 – best value Nikon full-frame

 best nikon for astrophotography

The Nikon D750 is a full-frame sensor DSLR. As you can see from the chart above in this article, it is one of the most popular cameras with successful astrophotographers.

It has a 24.3 megapixel sensor, a tilting touchscreen (which is extremely when photographing the night sky – as are the illuminated buttons), its ISO goes up to 51,200.

You can see images taken with this camera in this case study with photographer Marcus Cote.

Note that Nikon D780 was released in 2020 as the upgraded model to the D750. However, in terms of performance and value for money the D750 is still perfect. In fact, the release of the D780 may work out to reduce the price of the D750 and so there are bargains to be found.

Other popular full-frame Nikon DSLR options are the D810, which was released back in 2014, and the D810 upgrade model, the D850, which is a professional-level camera – and is priced accordingly. For these reasons, we stand by the D750 as being a great value option in 2020.

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: Full-frame
  • Sensor size: 24.3 MP
  • ISO max: 51,200
  • Weight: 1.65 lbs
  • Year of release: 2014

Nikon D3500 – best entry-level Nikon

best entry-level Nikon DSLR for astrophotography

If you’re looking for an affordable entry-level Nikon, then the D3500 is a great bet.

My first DSLR was an earlier version of this (the Nikon D3000) and I got about ten years great use out of it before upgrading to a full-frame model.

Even today, with great performance from smartphone cameras, you will see a massive improvement in the images you take with an entry-level DSLR like this.

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: APS-C
  • Sensor size: 24.2 MP
  • ISO max: 25,600
  • Weight: 0.86 lbs
  • Year of release: 2018

Nikon Z6 – best value mirrorless camera

best Nikon mirrorless camera for astrophotography

Nikon released the full-frame mirrorless Z6, and the high-spec Z7, in 2018, and they’ve proved exceptionally popular.

There’s a fantastic hands-on review of the Z6 for astrophotography on the Amazing Sky website here.

In short, it’s a great full-frame camera that has the advantages that come from being mirrorless and works brilliantly for both landscape and deep sky astrophotography.

If you favor a Nikon camera (and there are many good reasons to), you could choose between this and the D750 for the best value full-frame cameras.

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor type: Full-frame
  • Sensor size: 24.5 MP
  • ISO max: 51,200
  • Weight: 1.29 lbs
  • Year of release: 2018

Best Sony camera for astrophotography

Sony A7III

Sony a7 III ILCE7M3/B Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera with 3-Inch LCD, Black

The Sony A7III is a high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera it can seriously compete with the best DSLRs for astrophotography and as an all-purpose camera.

It has a 24.2 MP image sensor and a high ISO of 204,800 with excellent noise performance.

From the Skies & Scopes case study series, both Ivan Slade and Talman Madsen use Sony mirrorless cameras for amazing results in photographing the stars and Milky Way – they say:

“for astro the dynamic range is insanely good” – Ivan Slade

“the Sony Camera system has the best dynamic range I’ve ever used allowing me to really push my files in post-processing” – Talman Madsen

It has a tilting screen and at 1.44 lbs it is significantly lighter than many DSLR models featured here and feels less clunky to carry.

Any lens of just about any brand can be used with the camera (with the use of an additional adapter).

There was previously an issue, where a Sony firmware update for the camera in early 2017 resulted in stars disappearing from images as they were mistaken by the camera as ‘hot pixels’ and deleted. This was known as the “star eater” issue. However, the problem was resolved in 2018 and should not be a barrier to you considered using a Sony mirrorless camera for astrophotography now.

  • Camera type: Mirrorless
  • Sensor type: Full-frame
  • Sensor size: 42.4 MP
  • ISO max: 32,000
  • Weight: 1.45 lbs
  • Year of release: 2017

Best Pentax cameras for astrophotography

Pentax K-70 – best entry-level DLSR

best budget dslr for astrophotography

The Pentax K-70 is another great entry-level DSLR. If you have no preference for Canon or Nikon then this is a great option for a first DSLR camera that would work for all types of photography, including astro.

One of the main features that distinguishes it from the Nikon D3500 or the Canon EOS Rebel T7i is that it is weather-proof, and so tailored for outdoor photography.

In addition, it has a feature called pixel shift resolution that can help take sharper images over long exposures.

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: APS-C
  • Sensor size: 24.24 MP
  • ISO max: 102,400
  • Weight: 2 lbs
  • Year of release: 2016

Pentax K-1 Mark II – best Pentax full-frame DSLR

best camera for astrophotography

The Pentax K-1 Mark II is a great full frame DSLR that was released in 2018.

It is one of the few cameras available that has dedicated astrophotography functions. In particular, its astrotracer function where the camera adjusts to compensate for the rotation of the Earth and allow longer exposures.

This is essentially what a separate piece of equipment known as a star tracker does, but the astrotracer functionality builds a small version of this into the camera.

The camera is also weatherproof, which is a great advantage given that for astrophotography you often need to travel to locations with less light pollution away from cities and the rain may catch you out.

It has a night mode on its tilting screen so that you can use it without ruining your night vision.

It has a 36.4 megapixel resolution and an extremely high ISO range that goes up to 819,200.

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: Full-frame
  • Sensor size: 36 MP
  • ISO max: 819,200
  • Weight: 2.2 lbs
  • Year of release: 2018

See the full specifications on Pentax’s site.

Best dedicated CCD and CMOS cameras for astrophotography

ZWO ASI1600MM Pro – best for deep sky imaging

The ZWO ASI1600MM Pro monochrome CMOS camera is the most popularly used dedicated astronomy camera for deep sky images of the RMG Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 contest.

It is ideal for photographing deep space objects like galaxies and nebulae but needs to be used with other equipment and is for advanced astronomy imagers.

ZWO ASI174MM – best for planetary astrophotography

best cmos camera for astrophotography
ZWO ASI174MM (click image for pricing information)

The ZWO ASI174MM monochrome CMOS camera is one of the most popular dedicated astrophotography cameras for use with a telescope and computer.

This model was the most popular dedicated astronomy camera used in the shortlisted planetary images of the RMG Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2020 contest.

It is ideal for photographing the sun, moon, and planets but also needs to be used with other a telescope and other equipment.


3. What types of cameras for astrophotography are there?

When picking a camera for astrophotography, we have broken it down into four main categories to consider:

  1. Entry-level DSLR cameras
  2. Full-frame DSLRs or mirrorless cameras
  3. Astro-modified DSLRs or mirrorless cameras
  4. Dedicated astronomy cameras (CCD or CMOS)

What is best for you will depend on your level of experience/ambition and what you plan to do with the camera.

1. Entry-level DSLR cameras

entry-level dslr

An up-to-date entry-level DSLR from a leading manufacturer will give you a very good camera that will serve for all-round photography, including astronomy imaging.

It will be capable of capturing the stars and Milky Way, as well as deep sky objects if you work hard.

They will generally cost in the region of $500-$600 and are the best option for people with lower budgets and/or those looking for a camera capable of being used casually for astrophotography, but that will also work perfectly for any other day-to-day photography.

What differentiates them from the higher-performing DLSR or mirrorless models is that they will have what is known as an APS-C or “crop” sensor, instead of a full-frame sensor.

This makes them cheaper, but, for astrophotography, this will mean a slightly lower capacity to take clear images of the night sky in comparison to a full-frame camera.

Example recommended cameras in this category are the Canon EOS Rebel T7i, Pentax K-70, or Nikon D3500.

These are the latest entry-level cameras from these leading manufacturers and have the potential to capture great images and provide good value for money. You can read more about each of these cameras below.

Other than its capacity to take great images, some great added extras to have in a camera for astrophotography are:

  1. A tilting screen: This is because you might have to have your camera as weird angles or heights at times and being able to tilt the screen can make it a lot easier to operate the camera.
  2. A screen capable of ‘live-view’: Using a live view screen is one of the best ways to help you get sharply focused on the stars you are shooting – a must for producing great images of the night sky.
  3. A light weight: This will reduce the burden if taking on trips and on the capacity of your tripod to hold it.
  4. Weather-proofing: For night sky photography you often have to stay out for hours in areas where the weather may be unpredictable and this just might extend the life of your camera and save your shots.

2. Full-frame DSLRs or mirrorless cameras

full-frame dlsr

Full-frame mirrorless and DSLRs are the top tier and are preferred by professional photographers and serious hobbyists.

You should expect to pay something in the range of $1000 to $2500 for a new full-frame model.

For what we are discussing – astrophotography and capturing the night sky – full-frame sensor cameras will generally perform much better than crop sensor (APS-C) cameras for night photography.

In particular, they work better when using high ISO settings – which are needed to compensate for low levels of light.

In comparison at similar ISO levels, images from APS-C cameras will suffer from greater “noise” – which is a sort of graining on the image – and therefore less crisp, clear photos of the night sky.

Examples of full-frame cameras which are good for astro imaging are the Nikon D750, Canon 6D, and Sony A7III.

More details on each of these models can be found below.

3. Astro-modified DSLRs or mirrorless cameras

astro modified camera

There is also a further category of DSLR/mirrorless camera, which is one that have been specifically modified for astrophotography – and for photographing deep sky objects in particular.

Essentially, the sensors in regular cameras are not ideal for capturing the light emitted by nebulae and galaxies.

What can be done is that the sensor can be altered to improve performance in this area. You can manually do this to the sensor of a regular DSLR/mirrorless (either by yourself or by paying a professional), or you can buy pre-modified ones.

The downside of doing this is that the camera will not perform as well when used for regular photography. Therefore in getting an astro-modified camera you are getting it solely for use in astrophotography.

The Canon EOS Ra has these astro modifications in-built and is the first specialist mirrorless astrophotography camera. It was newly released at the end of 2019 and is the only specialist astrophotography DLSR or mirrorless camera on the market today.

If you want to read more about this, see our article on ‘astro modified cameras and how to get one‘.

4. Dedicated astronomy cameras (CCD or CMOS)

cmos astro imaging camera

Lastly, you can also use specialist CCD or CMOS cameras for astrophotography.

These are webcam-like objects that are attached to telescopes and are controlled via a computer.

These are generally for advanced deep sky or planetary imaging.


4. How to choose what’s best for you

To make your choice of what camera is best for you, there are really two main things to consider:

  1. What are you planning to photograph, and
  2. How serious you are about it (including how much you want to spend).

Generally, if you are looking for a first camera just to dabble with capturing the night sky along with other photography, then an entry-level DSLR will be perfect.

If you are a bit more ambitious with your astrophotography and want picture-perfect images of the Milky Way etc, then a full-frame camera will probably suit you.

There are also a few other bits of equipment you will need alongside these camera which will differ depending on what you are shooting. For example, you need a wide-angle lens for nightscapes and a telephoto lens for photographing the planets. See the best lenses for astrophotography for more information.

(Note that compact or bridge cameras will generally not be suitable as they don’t give enough manual control over the settings and will not allow interchangeable lenses.)

If you are a serious astrophotographer and want to capture deep sky objects, then you could look at a dedicated astronomy camera, but bear in mind that these will be good only for this and not any other photography and also require quality astrophotography telescopes and mounts.

See the chart here for an overview:

ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT

5. Frequently Asked Questions

1. Are DSLR or mirrorless cameras best for astrophotography? What’s the difference?

DSLRs have been the most popular camera types for photographers in the past decade or so, but mirrorless cameras are growing in popularity.

Previously, mirrorless cameras were more expensive but technological advances have been bringing down their prices in recent years.

Mirrorless cameras do not have an optical mirror like a DSLR (hence the name) and tend to be smaller and lighter. They feature an electronic viewfinder which displays what the camera image sensor sees, which can be a real bonus when composing shots and focusing on objects in the night sky. Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras can be used with interchangeable lenses.

On the other hand, DSLRs tend to have better autofocus capabilities, better battery life, and work with a larger range of lenses.

The quick answer is that neither DSLR or mirrorless is “better” for astrophotography. There are great DSLRs (like those featured above), but they are now being rivaled in both performance and price by mirrorless cameras like the Nikon Z6, and by the astrophotography modified Canon EOS Ra.

2. What are APS-C and full-frame sensors and what is best for astrophotography?

Full-frame sensor cameras typically have better noise performance than in APS-C (or crop sensor) cameras.

This is important in astrophotography as it allows the photographer to use a higher ISO setting in order to take better pictures of dark skies.

This is due to the fact that a full-frame sensor is larger and can collect more light in the same period of time in comparison to an APS-C sensor camera.

This reduces noise (a type of distortion on images) and means that the camera detects more stars and achieves better astronomy images.

The downside is that full-frame cameras are more expensive than APS-C or other sensor cameras.

3. What is ISO and what does it mean for astrophotography?

ISO stands for International Standards Organisation, which is a body that sets standards for many things globally.

In photography, this refers to a camera setting that is used in response to the level of light you are shooting in.

If it is well lit (i.e. outside on a sunny day) then you will use a low ISO. If it is darker (i.e. in the evening), you will increase the ISO in order to take the photo. This prevents you from using a longer exposure time which might not be suitable, especially if you are shooting by hand.

For astrophotography, you will need to experiment with your camera settings to work out what is best. You might be able to keep the ISO low if you have a long exposure shot set up on a tripod, or with a star tracker.

You may need to increase the ISO though for better performance in the dark and compensate for any potential noise in post-processing.


What do you think?

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below on what you believe is the best camera for astronomy photography.

I personally use a Nikon D750:

Nikon D750 astrophotography

I think the findings above show that it is camera that can deliver for astrophotography whilst also being substantially cheaper than newer models available.

13 thoughts on “Best Camera for Astrophotography 2020 [With Data Analysis]”

  1. Please mind the ”star eater” issue with the Sony A7 series which is not solved yet. Many articles available. If it turns out the problem got solved, please let us know then 😉
    Cheers.

    Reply
    • Hi Nicholas, thanks for pointing this out. It is indeed a relevant issue and is still not resolved. We have updated the article now to cover this and will continue to monitor to see if Sony resolve the situation.

      Reply
  2. My suggestion for the least expensive and most versatile astrophotography camera: If you have an older Nikon D3000 or D5000 series, send it to Lifepixel.com and have the low pass filter replaced with one that allows Halpha emissions, so the longer wavelengths in the red part of the spectrum, through. Then get a new model for every day photography. The difference between low pass and Halpha permeable filter is stunning. Sensitivity in the red emission nebula spectral range increases by 5-fold.
    There is no need to have a very complex and feature rich camera body for astrophotography. Essentially all you need is a camera body to which you can connect a remote release that keeps the shutter open for minutes at a time. Autofocus, program automatic, all that is irrelevant. A chip that gives reasonably low noise at 1600 ISO is all that is required.

    Reply
  3. Maybe you should change the title to “Best DSLR camera for AP” as imho a dedicated CCD or CMOS camera is far better than a DSLR…

    Reply
  4. The Best Digital Camera for AP, especially Small Objects, is the Samsung NX-mini
    – 4 min. Bulb Exposure at ISO 800 is enough for the faintest Galaxies & Nebulae
    – BSI Sensor is the Sony imx183 with a Top QE of 84% in the Green Channel
    – its IR-cut Filter is very easy to remove, even for a non-specialist

    Reply

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