Best lens for astrophotography [Top 5 for 2018]

2018-10-09T08:51:19+00:00August 2nd, 2018|

What is the best lens for astrophotography? In this article, we analyze and recommend five of the most popular lenses for night sky photography in 2018.

To help truly find the best equipment with proven success, as part of our astrophotography masters series, we have asked some of the best photographers in the world what astrophotography lenses they use and recommend.

The lenses below are all technologically up-to-date in 2018 and popular amongst astrophotography enthusiasts, both amateur and professional.

1. Best astrophotography lens comparison table

Make & model
Top budget lens
Rokinon 12mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Fisheye Lens for Canon EOS EF DSLR Cameras - Full Frame Compatible
Budget zoom lens
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor) (for Nikon)
Top zoom lens
Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon
Professional quality
Tamron AFA012N700 SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Wide-Angle Lens for Nikon F(FX) Cameras
Best advanced lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Preview
Rokinon 12mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Fisheye Lens for Canon EOS EF DSLR Cameras - Full Frame Compatible
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor) (for Nikon)
Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon
Tamron AFA012N700 SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Wide-Angle Lens for Nikon F(FX) Cameras
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Focal length
12mm
11-16mm
18-35mm
15-30mm
14-24mm
Aperture
F/2.8
F/2.8
F/1.8
f/2.8
F/2.8
Focus type
Manual
Automatic
Ring-type ultrasonic
Automatic
Ultrasonic
Sensor type
Full frame, APS-C
APS-C
APS-C
Full frame, APS-C
Full frame, APS-C
Weight
1.14 lbs
1.21 lbs
1.79 lbs
2.5lbs
2.14 lbs
User rating
Reviews
85 Reviews
426 Reviews
388 Reviews
155 Reviews
246 Reviews
Top budget lens
Make & model
Rokinon 12mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Fisheye Lens for Canon EOS EF DSLR Cameras - Full Frame Compatible
Preview
Rokinon 12mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Fisheye Lens for Canon EOS EF DSLR Cameras - Full Frame Compatible
Focal length
12mm
Aperture
F/2.8
Focus type
Manual
Sensor type
Full frame, APS-C
Weight
1.14 lbs
User rating
Reviews
85 Reviews
Check availability
Budget zoom lens
Make & model
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor) (for Nikon)
Preview
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor) (for Nikon)
Focal length
11-16mm
Aperture
F/2.8
Focus type
Automatic
Sensor type
APS-C
Weight
1.21 lbs
User rating
Reviews
426 Reviews
Check availability
Top zoom lens
Make & model
Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon
Preview
Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon
Focal length
18-35mm
Aperture
F/1.8
Focus type
Ring-type ultrasonic
Sensor type
APS-C
Weight
1.79 lbs
User rating
Reviews
388 Reviews
Check availability
Professional quality
Make & model
Tamron AFA012N700 SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Wide-Angle Lens for Nikon F(FX) Cameras
Preview
Tamron AFA012N700 SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Wide-Angle Lens for Nikon F(FX) Cameras
Focal length
15-30mm
Aperture
f/2.8
Focus type
Automatic
Sensor type
Full frame, APS-C
Weight
2.5lbs
User rating
Reviews
155 Reviews
Check availability
Best advanced lens
Make & model
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Preview
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Focal length
14-24mm
Aperture
F/2.8
Focus type
Ultrasonic
Sensor type
Full frame, APS-C
Weight
2.14 lbs
User rating
Reviews
246 Reviews
Check availability

Last update on 2018-12-10 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

2. What to look for in an astrophotography camera lens

There are two main things to look for in the lens for your camera to give you the best chance of getting fantastic astrophotography shots.

Firstly, it the lens you use should be wide angle.

This means a short focal length as mentioned in millimeters, with the lower the number the wider it is and the more sky you can capture. It will depend on the type of camera you have but a wide-angle lens is generally regarded as anything less than 35mm for a full frame camera, 24mm or below for an APS-C sensor camera, and 16mm or below for a micro 4/3 camera.

Secondly, the lens you use should be fast.

This is indicated by a low f/number – the lower the number, the larger the aperture of the lens and the more light that it can collect for exposing the stars in the night sky. A good lens for astrophotography will have an f/number rating of f/2.8 or lower.

Below we examine some of the best camera lenses for astrophotography and capturing the milky way.

All of these are popular models and have options available for the most popular DSLR and mirrorless cameras from manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, Olympus and Fuji (make sure to select the right lens for your camera model when buying).

 

3. Best camera lens for astrophotography – detailed reviews

Rokinon AE14M-C 14mm f/2.8-22 Ultra Wide Angle Lens with Built-In AE Chip for Canon EF Digital SLR

 

1. Rokinon 14mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Angle Lens

Rokinon is a South Korean manufacturer who produce some great value lenses that are compatible with different cameras.

Confusingly, Rokinon also goes by the names Samyang and Bower in different markets and can sometimes offer the same lenses under different names. For example, Samyang 14mm and Rokinon 14mm lenses can sometimes both be found for sale at different prices, despite being the same lens. However, in the US and Europe, they most frequently sell their lenses under the Rokinon name and so that is the model that we are looking at here.

This Rokinon prime lens is a popular and great value lens for star photography. At 14mm it opens up the skies and with a F/2.8 aperture it is fast and will capture the light you need for astrophotography.

Versions of the lens are available for full frame Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax cameras. It is also compatible with APS-C format cameras, where the 12mm would be, in effect, 22mm.

One thing to note is that it is fully manual which might need some learning if you are used to auto-focus lenses, however, it really is great value when compared to lenses of similar focal length and aperture.

Rokinon (and Samyang) do also offer a similar 12mm f/2.8 lens, and a 12mm f/2.0 specifically for Sony mirrorless cameras, which both make good alternative options. This is a fish-eye lens though, and so has some distortion around the edges.

 

Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor) (for Ni...

 

2. Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II Digital Zoom Lens (AF-S Motor)

Japan’s Tokina offers this fantastic 11-16mm zoom lens which offers great performance for night photography.

This lens designed for cameras with APS-C Sensors and there are different versions for Nikon and Canon. This lens features an automatic focus.

Use of the Tokina 11-16mm for astrophotography can be seen in the work of Laura Krause in capturing the night sky over the LA desert.

Check prices for the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens

 

 

 

Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon

 

3. Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Art DC HSM Lens

This Sigma 18-35mm zoom lens is an extremely popular wide angle lens for astrophotographers. It features automatic (ring type ultrasonic) focus, rather than manual.

It is designed for APS-C cameras (with an equivalent focal length of 27-52.5mm) and different versions are available for Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma and Sony cameras.

Check prices for the Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 Lens

 

Tamron AFA012N700 SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Wide-Angle Lens for Nikon F(FX) Cameras

 

4. Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Wide-Angle Lens

This Tamron astrophotography lens is perfect for night sky photography and well-loved by experienced photographers.

You can see the results of its use for capturing the Milky Way in our profile of the work of Ivan Slade.

It is designed full-frame cameras but can also be used with crop sensor cameras (where it would be equivalent to a 23-45mm lens).

Different versions are available for Canon, Nikon, and Sony / Minolta cameras, so be sure to select the right option when buying.

The only small downside to consider is that it is fairly large and heavy in comparison to similar-specification lens from other manufacturers.

Check prices for the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 lens

 

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

5. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Lastly, this is an extremely popular wide-angle lens for astrophotography. It is for those with a higher budget than many of the budget options on this list, but it provides high-quality in return.

It can be used with both FX- and DX-format sensor cameras and this is probably the closest we can get to awarding the ‘best lens for astrophotography’ and will suit serious photographers with the budget.

Use of the Nikkor 14-24mm for capturing the Milky Way can be seen in the work of Micheal Ver Sprill.

Whilst it is a Nikon-made lens, Canon users can use an adapter so that they are able to use this lens. However, if you would prefer a Canon astrophotography lens then the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens is a great alternative. It is a high-quality wide-angle zoom lens that rivals the 14-24mm Nikon lens. The zoom capabilities give it versatility that can cover more than just astrophotography, but it loses none of the sharpness for not being a prime lens. Canon are currently on the third version of the lens which was released in 2016 to upgrade the popular series 2 version, that was originally released in 2007.

Check prices for the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm Lens

 

4. Conclusion: What is the best lens for astrophotography?

If you are new to astrophotography, note that a standard kit lens that comes with most DSLR cameras is 18-55mm and so can fit the bill for capturing the night sky when used at 18mm.

However, it may not be the greatest performer when it comes to speed and light capture and so the options listed above make some great options for upgrading for all different budgets.

There is no single best lens, but these models are fantastic examples of wide and fast camera lens that should produce results.

The Rokinon models have been a welcome addition to the market in the past few years by offering brilliant performance at lower prices than could previously be found.

If you are to buy a new lens, it’s always worth checking that it is compatible with your camera model and many offer tools on their Amazon listings where you can enter your camera make and model and confirm. If you decide to buy, then make sure when ordering to select the right version for your camera make.

5. Vote! What do you think is the best lens for astrophotography?

Please also see our other astrophotography gear analysis pieces, including:

This article was originally posted in December 2017 and has been updated for 2018.

6 Comments

  1. John January 29, 2018 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Hi,

    I was wondering if you could help me. I have just purchased a Canon 5D mk.iv after getting a great deal(-30%) and wanting to upgrade to my first full-frame sensor. My plan originally was to take landscape and astro-landscape shots whilst traveling, originally i was set on buying 2 lenses to cover both themes of shooting and my choices were:
    Carl Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 Distagon for Landscape
    Rokinon 24mm F/1.4 for Astro-landscape
    but i am now thinking the Rokinon has too-narrow a focal length and i should get something more wide to really capture the landscape at night. Is it worth getting both lenses though? Or is there a lens that will cover both these subjects without sacrificing quality in each shooting theme or am i better off keeping the distagon and buying a astro-landscape specific lens? I want to shoot both themes but i am not sure what to buy in terms of a astro-specific lens and even more so now after hearing that many Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 are defective and get returned due to imperfections.
    What are my choices in your humble opinion? I have around $2000 for 2 lenses and the majority of that was going to go towards the Distagon(know source i can get for $1100) and the remaining would be for my astro-specific lens although i may be tempted to spend more on something truly worth it . Please can you advise?

    Many Thanks in advance!
    John

    • Anthony Wallace February 6, 2018 at 7:13 pm - Reply

      Hi John,

      Congrats on getting yourself a great camera and for taking the time to research the best gear you can get for your money. It’s hard to say what is right for any one person but I think that with a full frame camera the 24mm lens is certainly wide enough.

      I would say though that given both of these lenses you are considering are good, fast, wide lenses, it might be best just to get one and try it for both landscape and astro and see what results you can get with it, rather than getting the two lenses at the same time. You might then find it gives you all you need, or if not you’ll learn to push it to it’s limits and then be in a better place if you decide you want to invest further.

      Good luck!

      Anthony

  2. Rainen March 20, 2018 at 1:59 am - Reply

    what about the Rokinon 12mm F2.0 lens?

    • Anthony Wallace March 20, 2018 at 9:12 pm - Reply

      Yep, that’s a perfect lens that ticks all the boxes for astrophotography. 12mm is wide and f/2 is plenty fast.

  3. Jordan Berry March 24, 2018 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Hi,
    Just wondering how these two compare?
    Samyang AF 14mm f/2.8 Full Frame Sony E-mount
    Rokinon AF 14mm f/2.8 Full Frame Sony E-mount

    • Anthony Wallace March 28, 2018 at 3:59 pm - Reply

      I think these might be the same lens – Rokinon & Samyang (and Bower) are the same company but they offer the same lenses under different brand names in different markets.

      On Amazon they appear to be identical in specifications and description:
      – Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 – https://amzn.to/2pLl7tM
      – Samyang 14mm f/2.8 – https://amzn.to/2IaDgaV

      The Rokinon lens is available slightly cheaper and so I would just judge it on that.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.