The death of the Nikon D810A (and the specialist astrophotography DSLR?)

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The Nikon D810A was the most advanced in a limited range of DSLRs optimized for astrophotography by Nikon and Canon over the past decade.

But has the D810A been discontinued and are DSLRs optimized for astrophotography a thing of the past?

1. What are specialist astrophotography DSLRs?

Specialist astrophotography DSLRs are optimized for deep sky astrophotography because of an infrared-blocking filter that lets in more h-alpha light than standard DSLR filters.

Most cameras’ Infrared filters are more broad-ranging and filter out some visible red light, as well as infrared.

The filter on cameras optimized for deep sky astrophotography 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 sky objects (for example, galaxies 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.

Orion nebula
Photo of the Orion Nebula (Credit: Bryan Goff)

2. Which DLSR models are optimized for astrophotography?

The Nikon D810A and the Canon 60Da are the two most recent specialist DSLR cameras optimized for astrophotography available to buy.

The Nikon D810A

Nikon D810A FX-format Digital SLR

The Nikon D810A was released in 2015. It is a version of the popular Nikon D810 model, but optimized for astrophotography – the “a” at the end of the name is for “astrophotography”.

It was the world’s first full-frame DSLR dedicated to astrophotography when released and has a legitimate claim to being the best DSLR for astrophotography.

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.

The camera also had other features:

  • 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.
  • 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 to level 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

There were however some potential downsides to the camera, in that because it was optimized for shooting the night sky the D810A gave poor color rendition for normal photography – manifested as red tinge on regular images.

It therefore underperformed when compared to other high-end cameras in other areas of photography and so a photographer was likely to still need a regular DSLR for other photography. Not an inconsiderable issue in that the camera retails at $3,799.95.

See the profile of the Nikon D810A on Nikon’s site for the full details of the camera.

The Canon 60Da

canon 60da

The Canon 60Da was released in 2012. It was a tweaked version of the regular Canon 60D DSLR but optimized for astrophotography in a similar way to the

Canon had previously offered an astrophotography DSLR in the Canon 20Da, which was released in 2005.

See the profile of the Canon 60Da on Canon’s site for the full details of the camera.

3. Can I buy the Nikon D810A or Canon 60Da?

Unfortunately, in 2018, it’s extremely hard to get hold of the Nikon D810A and Canon 60Da and they seem to have been discontinued.

At Skies & Scopes, we asked Nikon if the D810A had been discontinued and a Nikon spokesperson answered with:

“The Nikon D810A is available at various retailers/vendors.” – Nikon spokesperson (27 October 2018)

They directed us to this page on the Nikon website which has links to retailers that sell the Nikon D810a, however, if you follow the links none of the retailers have any of the cameras in stock.

We also asked Canon about the 60DA camera and they confirmed that it had been discontinued:

“Sadly the Canon 60DA has been discontinued” – Canon spokesperson (6 November 2018)

Therefore, getting hold of a new D810a or 60Da in 2018 looks to be extremely difficult.

4. Can I buy pre-owned versions of the Nikon D810a or Canon 60Da?

It may be possible to find second-hand versions of these cameras. One place to try is KEH cameras, who specialize in pre-owned photography equipment:

Another place to try is Amazon. Whilst neither of the models are generally available as new, there are often pre-owned versions for sale from various sellers:

A further place to look is eBay:

5. Will there be new DSLR models optimized for astrophotography in the future?

We asked Nikon does it have plans for future cameras optimized for astrophotography?

A Nikon spokesperson responded with:

“Nikon does not comment on future products or speculation.”

So no information there, but this is Nikon policy.

Similarly, Canon said:

“We are unable to comment on plans for future cameras.”

As far as anyone knows though, there are no new cameras optimized for astrophotography coming from Nikon, Canon or other leading manufacturers in the pipeline.

Nikon and Canon have recently released new full-frame mirrorless cameras, which seems to be the direction that these companies are taking.

Whilst Nikon “does not comment on future products or speculation”, it was well-known that they were working on a full-frame mirrorless camera and that it was coming in 2018.

See our article on the best cameras for astrophotography for an up-to-date overview.

nikon d810a discontinued
Our conversation with a Nikon spokesperson (27 October 2018)
canon 60da discontinued
Our conversation with a Canon spokesperson (6 November 2018)

6. Do I need a specialist astrophotography camera?

It is likely that only the very experienced astrophotographer that will need – and be able to make the most of – one of these specialist astrophotography cameras.

As noted above, the specialist Canon and Nikon astrophotography models do not work perfectly as all-purpose cameras, as the differences in how they capture infrared light interferes with photography in the daylight.

For the vast majority of people it would make sense to get the best all-round DLSR or mirrorless camera for their budget. See our article on the best cameras for astrophotography for an up-to-date overview.

However, if you really want to take your deep sky photography to another level, then a specialist astrophotography camera might be for you and maybe you can get hold of one of them pre-owned.

7. Can I convert a regular camera to be a specialist astrophotography camera?

Yes, there are companies that can convert regular cameras to be optimized for deep space astrophotography.

Check out our full overview of Astro Modified DSLRs.

If you have a standard DSLR or mirrorless camera companies like Life Pixel can replace the low pass filter with one that allows H-Alpha emissions, or you can buy pre-converted camera models.

Life Pixel

2020 UPDATE – Canon EOS Ra

Since this article was written in 2018, Canon have since released the Canon EOS Ra – a brand new specialist astrophotography camera.


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