What’s the best camera for astrophotography? [2018]

2018-06-18T13:03:51+00:00June 8th, 2018|

What is the best camera for astrophotography in 2018? What are the best Nikon and Canon DSLR models for astrophotography? Can other high-end cameras compete in this area?

In this article, we assess the best cameras from the leading manufacturers from more affordable all-rounders to specialist astrophotography models in an attempt to answer the question: ‘what is the best camera for night sky photography?’.

As part of our astrophotography masters series, we have asked some of the best night sky photographers in the world what cameras they use to take stunning images and their recommendations are included here.

These camera models are all technologically up-to-date in 2018 and popular amongst astrophotography enthusiasts, both amateur and professional.

Best astrophotography cameras – summary table

Last update on 2018-08-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Further down this article we also profile some of the best beginners cameras for taking pictures of stars at lower price ranges.

 

Best camera for astrophotography – detailed reviews

1. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV – Best Canon for astrophotography

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV was released in the second half of 2016 and is a great camera with outstanding low-light capabilities.

It is one of the best DSLR cameras for astrophotography and potentially the best Canon astrophotography camera.

From the Skies & Scopes astrophotography masters interview series, Ivan Slade and Leonardo Orazi both use the older predecessor to this camera (the Canon 6D).

Pros

  • Sensor: A 30.4 megapixel full-frame high-speed CMOS sensor means it performs well for shooting the night skies.
  • ISO: It has a high ISO range of 100–32000 (expandable up to 50–102400) and features one of the best CMOS sensors for shooting photos at night.
  • Noise: The EOS 5D Mark IV has powerful built-in features for noise reduction and delivers some of the best results in tests of various cameras’ abilities to suppress noise. The high resolution of approximately 30.4MP brings out the variation in brightness of the stars. Because noise is basically pixel-based, the more pixels there are, the smaller the pixels, and therefore the less they stand out. Moreover, because dark stars will appear smaller, the variations in the brightness of the stars are brought out.
  • Weight: It’s marginally lighter than the Nikon D810A at 800 grams (28.22 oz), although heavier than the Sony A7Rii covered below.
  • Touchscreen: A great feature for night shooting as it helps your reviewing your picture in the dark.
  • Usability: A relatively small thing, but the remote control terminal has been placed in the front of the camera which makes it much easier to use in the dark.

Cons

  • Screen: Again, like the Nikon D810a it has no tilt screen
  • Battery: The battery life of the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV has compared unfavorably with other models
  • Ergonomics: It can be awkward using the touchscreen because your right-hand grips the camera you need to loosen that to pinch zoom in/out.

Summary

Canon did previously offer specialized models for astrophotography (for example, the Canon 60 DA) but this practice has been discontinued in favor of focusing on high-performance DSLRs that can deliver in multiple areas. The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is a great example of this done successfully.

This is a brilliant all-round camera and many astrophotographers generally believe that Canon outperforms Nikon in this area, so don’t be put off but not being able to find a specialist Canon model for astrophotography. Find more detail on the EOS 5D Mark IV on Canon’s site.

Check prices for the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV on Amazon

2. Sony A7RIII – best mirrorless camera for astrophotography

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

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.

In fact, it is widely regarded as one of the top two all-round cameras on the market now – with the Nikon D850 being its primary rival.

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

Pros

  • ISO: High ISO of 100-32000 (expandable to 50-102400) with excellent noise performance.
  • Sensor: 42.4 MP back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS image sensor results in stunning image quality with high levels of detail.
  • Lenses: Any lens of just about any brand can be used with the camera (with the use of an additional adapter).
  • Screen: Unlike the models featured above it has a tilting screen – yay!
  • Weight: At 1.45 lbs it is significantly lighter than the Nikon and Canon models featured here and feels less clunky to carry.
  • Battery life: In a significant improvement from the previous model (the A7RII), the battery life is no longer a weak point and it now can be expected to last as long as a comparable Nikon or Canon model.

Cons

  • The “star eater” issue: 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.
  • Menu system: It’s not the most intuitive and can take a long time to get set up to shoot as you want it to.
  • Screen: Lacks full touchscreen functionality.
  • Lenses: Whilst you can adapt Nikon or Canon lenses to work in this camera they will lose performance as a lens always works best on its own brand of camera. Therefore the Sony Zeiss lenses work best for this camera but this limits your options.

Summary

The Sony A7RIII is a great camera and makes sharp, high-resolution images and will deliver for astrophotography. It’s incredibly popular with its owners. Most photographers do prefer DSLRs and you should be aware of the differences when considering investing in this camera, but it is a great all-round model.

As noted, this newly-released camera in 2017 is widely-regarded as one of the best available all-round cameras on the market – and that’s not just mirrorless cameras, all cameras including DSLRs. Previously, the “star eater” issue caused by a firmware update was a problem for astrophotographers, but this has been resolved in 2018. Find more detail on the A7 RIII on Sony’s site.

Check prices for the Sony A7R III on Amazon

3. Nikon D850 or D750 – best all-round and good Nikon astrophotography camera

 

Nikon D850 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body

The Nikon D850 is widely regarded as one of the two best new cameras of 2017 (with the Sony A7RIII being the other one – see below) and is being referred to as ‘the last great DSLR’ camera. It’s Nikon’s newest and most advanced model and is gaining popularity amongst users as a fantastic camera. It is not a specialist astrophotography camera but it is a brilliant all-round DSLR that can deliver in this area.

Pros

  • Sensor: At 45.7 megapixel it provides outstanding resolution.
  • Screen: It has a tilting touchscreen, which is greatly appreciated when photographing the night sky – as are the illuminated buttons.
  • ISO: Extremely high at 64-25600 (expanding to 32-102400).
  • Video: Capable of 4K Ultra HD video recording.

Cons

  • Weight: At 2.02 lbs it is heavier than the Sony A7RIII.
  • Cost: As with all the top-end cameras on this list, it requires a reasonable investment and so would only be for those with sufficient budgets.

Summary

The Nikon D850 makes the perfect choice for someone looking for the most up-to-date and technologically advanced DSLR camera that be used for all photography – this is where is contrasts with the Nikon D810A, which is a specialist astrophotography model.

The D850 is ideal for someone looking for a market-leading camera that can also be used for all kinds of photography. It’s definitely a camera that can take pictures of the stars, but it also excels for portrait, landscape or whatever else you want to shoot.

An alternative to the D850 is the slightly lower spec Nikon D750. This camera makes a great option if your budget is lower but you still want a top of the range Nikon. This is also a camera that is popular with astrophotographers. Find out more about the D850 on Nikon’s site.

Check prices for the Nikon D850 on Amazon

4. Nikon D810A – Best Nikon astrophotography camera

 

Nikon D810A FX-format Digital SLR

The Nikon D810A is a version of the popular D810 model but optimized for astrophotography. It was also the world’s first full-frame DSLR dedicated to astrophotography when released in 2015 and therefore has a legitimate claim to being the best dslr for astrophotography.

So what’s different about this camera and how it is designed for astrophotography? Well, most cameras’ Infrared filters are more broad-ranging and filter out some visible red light, as well as infrared.

The filter on the D810A is much more precise and around four times more sensitive to long-wavelength red light than an ordinary DSLR. This makes it much more capable of capturing images of deep space objects and Nebulae by better capturing the Hydrogen Alpha spectral line (656nm) – the precise color emitted by the hot clouds of Hydrogen gas that occur in emission nebulae.

This same quality though does mean that it will deliver above and beyond for astrophotography but conversely will underperform when compared to other high-end cameras in other areas of photography.

Pros

As you would expect from a high-end Nikon dedicated to astronomy, it’s a fantastic camera that will produce outstanding results in this field.

What you need from a camera for night photography are in particular a high ISO with low noise, and a long exposure time – and this camera delivers. It has:

  • ISO: High ISO with low noise levels up to 12,800 (expandable to 51,000)
  • Virtual preview: For shots longer than 30 seconds this feature enables you to have a better idea of how your long exposure shots will turn out\
  • Exposure: Long in-camera exposure settings of 15 minutes

As part of its optimization for astrophotography it has:

  • Filter: As mentioned above, the optical Infrared cut filter with specific transmission characteristics enables the capture of nebulae and distant galaxies that emit H-alpha wavelength in red.
  • Shooting: Unlimited continuous JPEG shooting, in order to create star trail images that span the entire sky
  • Viewfinder: The ability to enable the viewfinder virtual horizon in M* manual mode and keep it lit in red. This will help leveling the camera in the dark when you don’t want to degrade your night vision by using the virtual horizon on the rear LCD screen

Cons

It is a great astrophotography camera, but let’s cover the downsides:

  • Adaptability: It is worth considering that because it is optimized for shooting the night sky (namely higher sensitivity to red (H-alpha) for shooting nebulae) the D810A can give poor color rendition for normal photography – manifested as red tinge on regular images. Therefore you are likely to still need a regular DSLR for other photography so you should only be considering this camera if you are committed to astrophotography and/or have other DSLRs in your collection for regular photography.
  • Long exposure: The in-camera exposure settings of up to 15 minutes could actually be a bit longer – other models have up to 30 minutes. You can buy remote releases and timers at extra cost though, and a cynic might suggest that keeping it to 15mins in the camera firmware “encourages” you to do this…
  • Sensor: Deep sky photography requires taking relatively short exposures of the same object, then stacking them to create a single picture. The 36MP RAW files produced by this camera are huge in size and software performance and computer storage might be an issue when stacking multiple images.
  • Weight: It’s heavy at 880 grams and might present balancing issues if mounting on a telescope.
  • Screen: The rear LCD screen is not of the tilting type. Considering that the camera will often be used at odd angles, a tilt-screen is valuable.

Summary

The Nikon D810A is undoubtedly a fantastic astrophotography camera. It is expensive though and given that it’s not recommended for other types of photography, you should be committed to astrophotography to be making this investment. However, if that’s the direction you want to go, then you will definitely be rewarded with stunning astronomy images with this camera.

Unfortunately though, in 2018, it’s extremely hard to get hold of a new D810A, with most major camera retailers out of stock at the time of writing. You can maybe get hold of a second-hand model, wait for it to come back available, or consider another model from this list. Find more detail about the D810A on Nikon’s site.

Check prices for the Nikon D810A on Amazon

Best camera for astrophotography – comparison table

Preview
Best specialist astrophotography camera
Nikon D810A FX-format Digital SLR
Best Canon
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body
Best mirrorless
Best all-round
Nikon D850 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Make & model
Nikon D810A FX-format Digital SLR
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body
Sony a7R III 42.4MP Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera
Nikon D850 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Type
DSLR
DSLR
Mirrorless
DSLR
Megapixels
36.3
30.4
42.4
45.7
Screen Size
3.2 inch
3.2 inch
3 inch
3.2 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
200-12800 (expands to 100-51200)
100–32000 (expands to 50–102400)
100-32000 (expands to 50–102400)
64-25600 (expands to 32-102400)
Image stabilization
Item Weight
1.94 lbs
1.76 lbs
1.45 lbs
2.02 lbs
Best specialist astrophotography camera
Preview
Nikon D810A FX-format Digital SLR
Make & model
Nikon D810A FX-format Digital SLR
Type
DSLR
Megapixels
36.3
Screen Size
3.2 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
200-12800 (expands to 100-51200)
Image stabilization
Item Weight
1.94 lbs
Best Canon
Preview
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body
Make & model
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Frame Digital SLR Camera Body
Type
DSLR
Megapixels
30.4
Screen Size
3.2 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
100–32000 (expands to 50–102400)
Image stabilization
Item Weight
1.76 lbs
Best mirrorless
Preview
Make & model
Sony a7R III 42.4MP Full-Frame Mirrorless Interchangeable-Lens Camera
Type
Mirrorless
Megapixels
42.4
Screen Size
3 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
100-32000 (expands to 50–102400)
Image stabilization
Item Weight
1.45 lbs
Best all-round
Preview
Nikon D850 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Make & model
Nikon D850 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Type
DSLR
Megapixels
45.7
Screen Size
3.2 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
64-25600 (expands to 32-102400)
Image stabilization
Item Weight
2.02 lbs

Last update on 2018-08-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Best beginners cameras for astrophotography

The cameras above are all high-end models – the best available on the market. But you don’t necessarily need an absolute top-end camera to take great pictures of the night sky. In fact, many budget and mid-range models will provide all you need in the way of performance for capturing the milky way and the stars. 

The below cameras are some of the newest models from the most reliable brands that will provide what you need in a camera for night sky photography, and all other types of photography, but at a lower cost.

We have recommended here four cameras that provide some of the best value in 2018 and would suit beginners looking for a first DSLR or mirrorless camera, or just someone looking for a 2018 upgrade.

They are not specialist astrophotography cameras, but rather great all-round performers that are more than capable of delivering this area.

Best beginners cameras for astrophotography – summary table

Last update on 2018-08-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

1. Pentax K-70

 

Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)

The Pentax K-70 is a great DSLR that is suitable for beginners and more experienced users alike. It has a tilting night-vision screen and is weather-sealed so you don’t need to worry about it getting wet in the rain.

It was first released on to the market in summer 2016 and provides great value for money.

It’s a 24 megapixel, APS-C sensor camera with an ISO range of 100-204800. Find out more about the K-70 on Pentax’s site.

Check prices for the Pentax K-70 on Amazon

2. Nikon D3400

 

Nikon D3400 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)

The D3400 is fantastic entry-level / mid-range DSLR from one of the most popular camera manufacturers out there.

First released in mid-2016, but definitely up-to-standard in 2018. Photographer Marcus Cote uses the earlier version of this camera (the D3200) for astrophotography.

It’s lightweight, has a 24mp DX-Format CMOS Sensor with an ISO of 100-25600. Find out more about the D3400 on Nikon’s site.

Check prices for the Nikon D3400 on Amazon

3. Canon EOS REBEL T7i

 

Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body

Canon’s EOS Rebel T7i was released only around a year ago in early 2017 and is one of the best beginner DSLR cameras available.

It has a 24 megapixel CMOS (APS-C) sensor with an ISO range of 100-25600. Find out more about the EOS Rebel T7i on Canon’s site.

Check prices for the Canon EOS Rebel T7i on Amazon

4. Fujifilm X-T20

 

Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Silver (Body Only)

For a mid-range mirrorless camera, the Fujifilm X-T20 is one of the best options out there in 2018.

Brand new on the market last year (2017), it’s extremely popular with users and is considerably smaller than the other (DSLR) cameras on this list.

It has a 24MP APS-C sensor with an ISO range of 200-12800 and a tilting touchscreen. Find out more about the X-T20 on Fujifilm’s site.

Check prices for the Fujifilm X-T20 on Amazon

Best beginners cameras for astrophotography – comparison table

Extremely popular
Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)
Brilliant affordable Nikon
Nikon D3400 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)
Popular entry-level Canon
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
Mid-range mirrorless
Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Silver (Body Only)
Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)
Nikon D3400 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Silver (Body Only)
Type
DSLR
DSLR
DSLR
Mirrorless
Megapixels
24.24
24.2
24.2
24.3
Screen size
3 inch
3 inch
3 inch
3 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
100-204800
100-25600
100-25600
200-12800
Image stabilization
Item weight
2 lbs
0.87 lb
1.18 lbs
2.2 lbs
Extremely popular
Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)
Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)
Type
DSLR
Megapixels
24.24
Screen size
3 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
100-204800
Image stabilization
Item weight
2 lbs
Brilliant affordable Nikon
Nikon D3400 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)
Nikon D3400 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR (Black)
Type
DSLR
Megapixels
24.2
Screen size
3 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
100-25600
Image stabilization
Item weight
0.87 lb
Popular entry-level Canon
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
Type
DSLR
Megapixels
24.2
Screen size
3 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
100-25600
Image stabilization
Item weight
1.18 lbs
Mid-range mirrorless
Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Silver (Body Only)
Fujifilm X-T20 Mirrorless Digital Camera - Silver (Body Only)
Type
Mirrorless
Megapixels
24.3
Screen size
3 inch
Tilting screen
ISO range
200-12800
Image stabilization
Item weight
2.2 lbs

Last update on 2018-08-17 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

 

Overall – What is the best camera for astrophotography?

The cameras above are all high-end, high-performance cameras capable of delivering excellent results for astrophotography and if you are looking to make a serious investment in this area then you can’t go wrong with these.

It is of course more than possible to get great results with mid-range or budget DSLRs and the high-end models considered here have prices that reflect that they are for the serious enthusiasts.

None of the downsides of any of the above models are reasons to steer clear of them and ultimately which model you might go for will depend on a number of factors.

If you are a Nikon user then you may well favor the Nikon D810A, but be aware that it is a specialist astrophotography model and not necessarily ideal for other types of photography. The highly recommended alternative is the Nikon D850 – widely regarded as the best all-round camera on the market right now and was brand new in 2017.

If you are a Canon user then you can’t really go wrong with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. It’s a brilliant all-round camera. Entry-level and mid-range Canon DSLRs tend to perform strongly for astrophotography and so you might want to explore this. There is a model to avoid though – the Canon 1100D – as it has a defect which leaves black lines under bright stars at long exposure. 

If you are looking to invest in something different and are not already in the Nikon or Canon camps then the Sony A7R iii may be a good option for you as a versatile camera capable of producing amazing pictures of all kinds. Many believe that the future of photography will be mirrorless over DSLR and if you agree this might be the right camera for you.

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

Be sure to also check out the best lens for astrophotography to help ensure you make the most of your camera for shooting the stars.

This article was originally posted on 17 July 2017 and has been updated for 2018. 

7 Comments

  1. Nicolas November 10, 2017 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    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.

    • Anthony Wallace January 5, 2018 at 6:43 pm - 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.

      • Anthony Wallace July 26, 2018 at 1:27 pm - Reply

        Just to note for readers – the ‘star eater’ problem for Sony cameras has been resolved in 2018!

  2. Jose Corazon June 8, 2018 at 10:11 pm - Reply

    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.

  3. John Tunney July 11, 2018 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    A glaring omission in your review is mention of the Pentax K-1 – arguably the best camera for night photography on the market.

    • Anthony Wallace July 16, 2018 at 8:58 am - Reply

      Thanks John! We’ll consider adding the camera on the next review and update of the article.

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