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.

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

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2. 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 sensor.

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 Canon EOS Rebel T7i (covered below), as well as the Pentax K-70 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.

 

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.

 

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 photography 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)

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.

 

4. Best cameras for astrophotography reviews

1. Canon EOS Rebel T7i

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.

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

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Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body
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Canon EOS REBEL T7i Body

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: APS-C

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2. Nikon D750

best nikon for 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.

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Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body
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Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera Body

  • Camera type: DSLR
  • Sensor type: Full-frame

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3. Pentax K-1 Mark II

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 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.

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4. Canon EOS 6D

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 tied as 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.

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Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR Camera Body – Wi-Fi Enabled
153 Reviews

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5. Sony A7R III

best mirrorless camera for astrophotography

Sony a7R III (click image for pricing info)

Lastly, the Sony A7R III 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, the problem has been resolved.

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6. Canon EOS Ra – NEW

Canon EOS RA

Canon EOS Ra (Click image for pricing info)

Newly announced is that Canon are releasing a brand new astrophotography-focussed camera in December 2019 (available for pre-order now).

This is a very exciting development as it has been a long time since any of the leading DSLR/mirrorless manufacturers released a specialist astro imaging camera.

This is a modified version of the Canon EOS R – the full frame mirrorless camera released in late-2018.

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.

R-A Body
  • Modified Filter for Enhanced Night Sky Recording.
  • RF Mount Compatible with RF Lenses and EF/EF-S Lenses*.
  • 30.3 Megapixel Full-frame CMOS Sensor and DIGIC 8 Image Processor.
  • Dual Pixel CMOS AF with 5,655 Manually Selectable AF Positions**.
  • 4K 30p with Canon Log and 10-bit 4:2:2 HDMI Output

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5. 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.

best astrophotography camera

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.

Mirrorless astrophotography Camera

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 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.

 

4. What cameras were used by the Astronomy Photographer of the Year 2019 winners?

Every year, the Royal Observatory, in Greenwich, UK,  runs the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition.

The contest has a number of different categories for different types of astrophotography.

Below we have analyzed what DSLR and mirrorless cameras were used by all the finalists in the landscape astrophotography categories (Skyscapes and People and Space).

DSLR/Mirrorless cameras used by Astronomy Photographer Of The Year 2019 finalists

Note that specialist cameras used in the deep sky and planetary photography categories have not been included here as we are focussing on what DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are popular for landscape astrophotography.

As you can see, Nikon (14 photos) and Canon (12 photos) cameras are the most popular, with four images taken by Sony cameras, and one by a Hasselblad camera.

Pricing information and quick links to buy any of these cameras from Amazon are below:

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


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