In this article, we assess and recommend the best cameras for astrophotography in 2019.

As part of this website’s astrophotography masters series, we have asked some of the world’s best night sky photographers what cameras they use and their recommendations are included here.

See below for details and an explanation of what you should look for in an astrophotography camera.

Best DSLR & mirrorless cameras for astrophotography at-a-glance

Last update on 2019-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What types of camera for astrophotography are there?

To start, it is worth understanding what the main categories of camera there are for you.

When picking a camera for astrophotography, there are really four types to consider:

1. Entry-level DSLR cameras

An up-to-date entry-level DSLR from a leading manufacturer will give you a very good camera.

It will be capable of capturing the stars and Milky Way, as well as being useable for all other types of photography. They will generally cost in the region of $500-$600.

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

For astrophotography, this will mean a slightly lower capacity to take clear images of the night sky in comparison to a full frame camera.

These cameras are great if you are looking for your first DSLR camera or are looking to upgrade an older model, and photography and astrophotography is a hobby.

Example cameras are the Pentax K-70 (covered below), as well as the Canon EOS Rebel T7i and the Nikon D3500.

2. Full-frame DSLRs or mirrorless cameras

Full-frame mirrorless and DSLR cameras 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.

Full frame sensor cameras will generally perform much better than crop sensor (APS-C) cameras for astrophotography.Click To Tweet

In particular, they perform 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 fullframe cameras which are good for astro imaging are the Nikon D750, Canon 6D, Sony A7r III and the Pentax K1 Mk2 (more details on these four cameras below).

3. Astro-modified DSLRs

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 nebulas and galaxies.

What can be done is that the sensor can be altered to improve performance in this area. You can manually modify the sensor of a regular DSLR 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 deep sky astrophotography.

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

Also, you can read our article on the Nikon D810A and Canon 60Da, which are discontinued astro-modified cameras previously offered by Nikon and Canon. They are now very hard to get hold of though.

The cameras recommended in this article are not astro-modified, but rather great all round cameras as this will be best for the vast majority of people.

4. Specialist CCD or CMOS cameras

Lastly, you can also use specialist CCD or CMOS cameras for astrophotography. These are webcam-like in appearance that are attached to telescopes and are controlled via a computer.

These are generally for advanced, deep sky imaging. We haven’t focused on these in this article as, for most people (and especially beginners), a good DLSR or mirrorless will usually be the preferred option for the greater flexibility offered.

If you do want to read more about CMOS and CCD cameras, see our guide to astrophotography for beginners.

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?

There are 3 main types of astrophotography:

  1. Landscape astrophotography (i.e. images of the Milky Way above the earth)
  2. Planetary photography (the planets and other objects in our solar system)
  3. Deep sky astrophotography (objects like galaxies and nebulae in deep space)

2. How serious are you about it?

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

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

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

If you are a serious astrophotographer and want to capture deep sky objects, then you could look at an astro-modded DSLR or a CCD camera, but bear in mind that these will be good only for this and not day-to-day photography.

There are also a few other bits of equipment you will need alongside the camera (like a lens) which will differ depending on what you are shooting. See the chart here for an overview:

ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT

This article focusses on the first two categories of entry-level and full frame DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

Best cameras for astrophotography reviews

1. Canon EOS Rebel T7i

Canon EOS REBEL T7i astrophotography

Canon EOS REBEL T7i (click image for pricing info)

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.

More specifications for this camera can be seen on Canon’s site.

Sale
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
158 Reviews
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
  • 242 Megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor Multimedia cards (MMC) cannot be used
  • Built-in Wi-Fi*, NFC** and Bluetooth***
  • High-Speed continuous shooting at up to 60 fps
  • Color Filter System:RGB primary color filtersColor Filter System:RGB primary color filters
  • Metering range:EV 1-20 (room temperature, ISO 100, evaluative metering)

Last update on 2019-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

2. Nikon D750

Nikon D750 astrophotography

Nikon D750 (click image for pricing info)

The Nikon D750 is a full-frame sensor DSLR.

It has a 45.7 megapixel sensor, a tilting touchscreen (which is extremely when photographing the night sky – as are the illuminated buttons), its ISO goes up to 102400, and it is capable of 4K Ultra HD video recording.

Find more specifications for the D750 on Nikon’s site.

Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
621 Reviews
Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
  • Full frame 243 megapixel CMOS image sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor
  • Full HD 60/50/30/25/24p video
  • Built in Wi Fi connectivity and compatibility with the WT 5a + UT 1 Communication Unit
  • Shoot up to 65 fps at full resolution Frame size (pixels) : 1920 x 1080
  • Pro Video feature set including: Simultaneously record uncompressed and compressed, Manually control ISO, shutter speed and aperture while recording-even use Power Aperture control for smooth iris transitions and Auto ISO for smooth exposure transitions

Last update on 2019-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

3. Pentax K-1 Mark II

Pentax K-1 Mark II astrophotography

Pentax K-1 Mark II (click image for pricing info)

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 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.

See the full specifications on Pentax’s site.

Pentax K-1 Mark II  36MP Weather Resistant DSLR with 3.2' TFT LCD, Body Only, Black
4 Reviews
Pentax K-1 Mark II 36MP Weather Resistant DSLR with 3.2" TFT LCD, Body Only, Black
  • 36 MP AA filter less shake reduction sensor with APS C crop mode for compatibility with Pentax k mount lenses
  • Hand Held Pixel Shift Resolution that allows 4 images to be complied into an superior image with increased color rendition and sharpness
  • Engine Accelerometer for reduced image noise, faster focusing and increased image sharpness
  • Magnesium Alloy, Weather Resistant body for every demanding situation
  • Astro tracer extended exposure mode with reduced star trails

Last update on 2019-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

4. Canon EOS 6D

Canon EOS 6D Mark II astrophotography

Canon EOS 6D Mark II (click image for pricing)

The Canon EOS 6D Mark IV is a full frame DSLR, first released in 2017.

It has a 26.2 Megapixel sensor and an ISO range of 100-40000.

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

Sale
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body - Wi-Fi Enabled
142 Reviews
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body - Wi-Fi Enabled
  • 26.2 Megapixel Full frame CMOS Sensor
  • Optical Viewfinder with a 45 point All Cross type AF System. Compatible Lenses: Canon EF lenses (excluding EF S and EF M lenses)
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with Phase detection & Full HD 60p
  • DIGIC 7 Image Processor, ISO 100 40000. GPS, Wi Fi, NFC and Bluetooth low energy
  • Vary angle Touch Screen, 3.0 inch LCD

Last update on 2019-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

5. Sony A7R III

Sony a7R III astrophotography

Sony a7R III (click image for pricing info)

Lastly, the Sony A7RIII is a high-resolution full-frame mirrorless camera it can seriously compete with the best DSLRs for astrophotography and as an all-purpose camera.

From the Skies & Scopes astrophotography masters interview series, both Ivan Slade and Talman Madsen use this camera 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 42.4 MP image sensor and a high ISO of 100-32000 (expandable to 50-102400) with excellent noise performance.

It has a tilting screen and at 1.45 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 a “star eater” issue, where a Sony firmware update for the camera in early 2017 resulted in a loss of performance when shooting the night sky – with stars disappearing as they are under 1 pixel in the image and therefore mistaken by the camera as ‘hot pixels’ and deleted – this has become known as the “star eater” issue. However, as of 2018, the problem has been resolved.

Sale
Sony a7R III Mirrorless Camera: 42.4MP Full Frame High Resolution Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with Front End LSI Image Processor, 4K HDR Video and 3' LCD Screen - ILCE7RM3/B Body
110 Reviews
Sony a7R III Mirrorless Camera: 42.4MP Full Frame High Resolution Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Digital Camera with Front End LSI Image Processor, 4K HDR Video and 3" LCD Screen - ILCE7RM3/B Body
  • INCREDIBLE DETAIL: Shoot high speed subjects at up to 10fps with continuous, accurate AF/AE tracking
  • OPTIMAL LIGHT: A back illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor with gapless on chip lens collects more light. Operating Temperature: 32 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit / 0 to 40 degrees Celsius
  • FASTER IMAGE PROCESSING: An updated BIONZ X processing engine boosts processing speeds up to 1.8x
  • STUNNING HD VIDEO: Sony Alpha 7R 3 mirror less cameras record clear 4K video for editing and viewing
  • BUNDLE INCLUDES: Power cord, charger, cable protector, shoulder strap, body/shoe caps, eyepiece cup.Metering Type:1200 zone evaluative metering

Last update on 2019-10-15 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about astrophotography cameras

1. What is best: DSLR vs mirrorless for astrophotography?

DLSR stands for Digital Single-Lens Reflex cameraThese are digital cameras that use mirrors to reflect light from the lens to the optical viewfinder or onto an image sensor. 

They comprise a main body that can then have a range of different lenses attached.

They contrast with ‘point-and-shoot-cameras’ by being capable of attaching different lenses, and by offering more control over the settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

These have been the most popular cameras for photographers in the past decade, but mirrorless cameras are growing in popularity.

Canon EOS REBEL T7i EF-S 18-135 IS STM Kit

The Canon EOS REBEL T7i is an example of a DSLR camera (click image for pricing info)

Mirrorless cameras do not have an optical mirror like a DSLR (hence the name), but instead have an electronic viewfinder which displays what the camera image sensor sees, which can be a real bonus when composing shots.

Like DSLRs, mirrorless cameras can be used with interchangeable lenses.

Nikon Z6 Full Frame Mirrorless Camera Body

The Nikon Z6 is an example of a mirrorless camera (click image for pricing info)

Mirrorless cameras are becoming more popular and tend to be smaller and lighter than DSLRs and the digital display gives a more accurate image preview in the viewfinder.

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

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

A common school of thought is that mirrorless cameras will eventually replace DSLRs as the default camera choice at some point in the future.

 

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 collect more light and 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 means 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.

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Vote – what do you think is the best astrophotography camera?


This article was originally posted on 17 July 2017 and is updated regularly.