Pentax is one of the leading manufacturers of photography equipment, but what is the best Pentax camera for astrophotography?
In this article, we dig into what models are best and investigate Pentax’s Astrotracer functionality.
Keep reading to find out why.
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Below we examine four different Pentax models and their suitability for astrophotography:
- Pentax K-1 Mark II
- Pentax K-70
- Pentax KP
- Pentax K-3 Mark III
Best Pentax camera for astrophotography
The Pentax K-1 Mark II is their flagship full-frame DSLR and was released in 2018. We regard it as the best Pentax camera for astrophotography.
The decisive factor is the full-frame sensor, which is a key specification for astrophotography. We delve into this more in our article on the best cameras for astrophotography but, in short, full-frame sensors:
- Perform better in low light, and
- Enable you to capture a wider expanse of the sky (important for landscape astrophotography and getting those images of the Milky Way above the earth that we all want).
This camera is one of the few DLSR available from any manufacturer that has dedicated astrophotography modes available. In particular, its built-in GPS enables its Astrotracer functionality. You can read more about Astrotracer below but essentially it allows you to take much longer exposures of the night sky without getting star trails and replacing the need to add an external star tracker.
In addition, another internal function available on the camera is its Starstream mode. This creates 4K timelapse videos of the night sky that require very little, if any, editing or post-processing.
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 and the elements may catch you out.
It has a night mode on its screen so that you can use it without ruining your night vision and it has lights inside the camera to help you operate at night (for example, in the card slot).
Another bonus for the astrophotographer is the fully articulating screen which can be really helpful for composing shots at night at awkward angles.
It has a 36.4 megapixel resolution and an extremely high ISO range that goes up to 819,200.
In summary, this is a great DSLR for astrophotography and, we believe, the best option from Pentax’s range.
- Camera type: DSLR
- Sensor type: Full-frame
- Sensor size: 36 MP
Best beginners’ Pentax camera for astrophotography
The Pentax K-70 is a great beginners’ camera for astrophotography and a real bargain.
One of the main features that distinguishes it from entry-level equivilants from Nikon or Canon is that it is weather-proof, and so tailored for outdoor photography.
Other great pros of this camera are:
- It has a feature called pixel shift resolution that can help take sharper images over long exposures
- It has a fully articulating screen – great for composing astro shots
- It’s relatively cheap in comparison to other Pentax models of similar specifications
It does not have in-built GPS, which means that the Astrotracer function is not available as standard, but you can add the Pentax O-GPS1 unit to give it this functionality.
In short, the K-70 is about as good as it gets for entry-level crop sensor DSLRs for astrophotography and can be a real bargain.
- Camera type: DSLR
- Sensor type: APS-C
- Sensor size: 24 MP
Other Pentax cameras for astrophotography
We recommend those two cameras above as your best Pentax astrophotography cameras but we also just wanted to touch on two other models in the market:
- Pentax KP
- Pentax K-3 Mark III
Pentax KP (vs K-70)
The Pentax KP is very similar in many ways to the K-70:
- APS-C crop sensor
- 24 MP sensor size
However, it generally costs twice as much as a K-70 and there seem to be few advantages of the KP over the K-70. One thing is an improved autofocus, but this is not something you will use for astrophotography as you will always be manually focusing. This may be a positive though if you plan to use the camera for other day-to-day photography.
There are some advantages of the K-70 over the KP though:
- It has a fully articulating screen, rather than just a tilting screen
- It is smaller and lighter
- It has better battery life
- It’s cheaper (although check the live prices by clicking the links on this page)
In short, for astrophotography there is little the KP can do better than the K-70 and so we would regard the K-70 as better value.
There is a good video here that gives a brief overview of the K-1 Mark II, the K-70, and the KP for astrophotography:
Pentax K-3 Mark III (vs KP vs K-70)
The last model that we wanted to touch on was the brand new Pentax K-3 Mark III, which was released in mid-2021.
It is branded as Pentax’s “flagship” crop sensor camera (with the K-1 Mark II as the flagship full-frame model). Again though it is very similar in terms of the key specifications to the K-70 and KP:
- APS-C crop sensor
- 25 MP sensor size
It does have some advantages over these other models, in particular:
- It has the Astrotracer functionality built-in
- It is a better and fully up-to-date all-round camera for other types of photography
The major downside though is the cost. At the time of writing it was retailing for about the same price as the full-frame K-1 Mark II.
In our opinion for this money (and with our astrophotography hats on), most people would be better off going for either a much cheaper K-70 and adding the external GPS unit for Astrotracer functionality, or going straight for the full-frame K-1 Mark II.
What is Pentax Astrotracer?
A number of Pentax models have a mode that can be used called Astrotracer. What this does is shift the sensor inside the camera so it adjusts to compensate for the rotation of the Earth when shooting.
This is a major thing for astrophotography as you generally want to shoot for as long as possible to capture as much light as you can, but are limited on how long you can do this by the rotation of the earth as the stars begin to lose their sharpness and start to trail after a certain amount of time (depending on what camera and lens focal length you are using).
Therefore Astrotracer allows longer exposures without star trails and increases the chances of getting great shots without needing to take multiple shots and stack them in post-processing.
This is essentially what a separate piece of equipment known as a star tracker does, but the astrotracer functionality builds a version of this into the camera and so makes having this extra piece of equipment between your tripod and camera unnecessary.
Here is a video from one Cuiv the Lazy Geek (one of the best astrophotography YouTubers) that gives a good overview of the astrotracer functionality:
Which Pentax cameras have Astrotracer?
The Pentax camera models which have the astrotracer functionality in-built are the:
This is because these are the models that have in-built GPS units.
For other Pentax models, you can add the Astrotracer functionality by buying the separate Pentax O-GPS1 Unit that attaches to the top of your camera.
Some more information on the O-GPS1 Unit can be found on Ricoh’s site.
Astrotracer vs Star trackers
There are a number of advantages to using in-built Astrotracer versus using an external star tracker:
- You don’t need to buy, carry and think about powering another piece of equipment.
- It avoids you having to go through the process of polar alignment (required with star trackers). Astrotracer requires just some simple calibration.
- It reduces your total weight on your tripod, meaning that you can get away with a lighter, compact travel tripod.
- If you are caught without a tripod or just want to take a quick shot of the night sky, you can place the camera on the floor and use the Astrotracer mode. You can’t get by without a tripod when using a star tracker.
There’s a good overview of this translated from Japanese on Pentax’s site.
Final word – what’s the best Pentax for astrophotography?
In summary, we believe that:
- The Pentax K-1 Mark II is the best Pentax camera for astrophotography. It has a full frame sensor and has the Astrotracer mode built in.
- The Pentax K-70 is the best Pentax model for astrophotography beginners. It’s a great entry-level camera, its cheap and you can add the GPS unit to get the Astrotracer mode.
Both of these cameras are weather-sealed, rugged, and tough, articulating screens. They also have good lens options for astrophotography.
We hope you found this overview useful. Let us know in the comments below if you have any questions or thoughts on this.