Best camera for astrophotography [2020]

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In this article, we assess and recommend the best cameras for astrophotography in 2020.

We’ve based our recommendations on a combination of analysis of what cameras are being used in the most successful astronomy images today, as well as the recommendations from some of the world’s best astrophotographers in the case studies on this website.

In 2020, the best overall camera for astrophotography is the Canon EOS Ra, however there are other great options to suit different budgets, and models like the Canon 6D and the Nikon D750 will be perfect for many people.

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

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 Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body – Wi-Fi Enabled
Best entry-level
Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)
Make & model
Canon EOS Ra
Nikon D750
Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Pentax K-70
Type
Mirrorless
DSLR
DSLR
DSLR
Sensor size
Full-frame
Full-frame
Full-frame
APS-C
User rating
Best overall
Preview
Canon EOS Ra Astrophotography Mirrorless Camera, Black - 4180C002
Make & model
Canon EOS Ra
Type
Mirrorless
Sensor size
Full-frame
User rating
Check prices
Best value Nikon
Preview
Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
Make & model
Nikon D750
Type
DSLR
Sensor size
Full-frame
User rating
Check prices
Best value Canon
Preview
Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body – Wi-Fi Enabled
Make & model
Canon EOS 6D Mark II
Type
DSLR
Sensor size
Full-frame
User rating
Check prices
Best entry-level
Preview
Pentax K-70 Weather-Sealed DSLR Camera, Body Only (Black)
Make & model
Pentax K-70
Type
DSLR
Sensor size
APS-C
User rating
Check prices

Last update on 2020-08-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

1. What cameras are used by successful astrophotographers?

To start with, we analyzed the 119 images from the finalists of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 competition to see what cameras were used.

We found that:

See the results here:

Most frequently used cameras by the finalists of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 competition

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.

If you want to read the full results of this analysis, see What equipment was used by the winners of Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019?.

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. 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. CCD or CMOS cameras

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:

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.

[click_to_tweet tweet=”Full frame sensor cameras will generally perform much better than crop sensor (APS-C) cameras for #astrophotography.” quote=”Full frame sensor cameras will generally perform much better than crop sensor (APS-C) cameras for astrophotography.” theme=”style3″]

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:

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.

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

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.

4. CCD or CMOS cameras

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 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.

The most popular of these cameras is the ZWO ASI174MM monochrome CMOS camera.


3. 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 – what are you planning to photograph and how serious you are about it:

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)

For landscape astrophotography, you will need a DSLR or mirrorless camera.

For planetary or deep sky photography, a DSLR/mirrorless camera, or a set up with a CCD/CMOS camera, can be used.

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 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 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 CMOS or 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

4. Best cameras for astrophotography

Taking all 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 Rebel T7i – best entry-level Canon

best beginners camera for 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.

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

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Canon EOS 6D Mark II – best value Canon full-frame

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

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II 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.

It’s also the most popular camera used by the finalists in the 2019 Astronomy Photographer of the year awards, which emphasizes its credentials as a great astrophotography camera.

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.

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

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Canon EOS Ra – best overall specialist astrophotography camera

Canon EOS RA
Canon EOS Ra (click image for pricing information)

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

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Best Nikon cameras for astrophotography

Nikon D3500 – best entry-level Nikon

best entry-level Nikon DSLR for astrophotography
Nikon D3500 (click image for pricing information)

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

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Nikon D750 – best value Nikon full-frame

 best nikon for astrophotography
Nikon D750 (click image for pricing info)

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

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Nikon Z6 – best value mirrorless camera

best Nikon mirrorless camera for astrophotography
Nikon Z6 (click image for pricing information)

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

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Best Sony cameras for astrophotography

Sony A7R IV

Best Sony camera for astrophotography
Sony A7R IV (click image for pricing information)

The Sony A7R IV 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 case study 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, the problem has been resolved.

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

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Best Pentax cameras for astrophotography

Pentax K-70 – best entry-level DLSR

best budget dslr for astrophotography
Pentax K-70 (click image for pricing information)

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

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

best camera for 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 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.

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Best CCD and CMOS cameras for astrophotography

ZWO ASI174MM – best CMOS for 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 specialist astrophotography cameras for use with a telescope and computer.

This model was the most popular CMOS or CCD camera used in the winning images of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest.

It is ideal for photographing the sun, moon, planets, and deep-sky objects, but needs to be used with other equipment and is for advanced astronomy imagers.

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Moravian G3-11000 – best CCD for astrophotography

best ccd camera for astrophotography
Moravian G3-11000 (click image for pricing information)

Like the ZWO model above, the Moravian G3-11000 is an advanced astro camera that is used in conjunction with a number of pieces of other equipment.

It specialises in deep sky astronomy imaging in low-light conditions, and so is best suited for use with large telescopes at observatories. It is the most commonly used CCD camera by the finalist of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest.

Check the prices here.


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.

9 thoughts on “Best camera for astrophotography [2020]”

  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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