Best Cameras for Astrophotography: Reviews, Buying Guide and FAQs 2022

by Alex W.

Astrophotography, as mentioned in our best lenses for astrophotography guide, is one of the few genres of photography where gear is actually very important.

Sure, you can get decent images with any respectable DSLR or Mirrorless camera, but to get the absolute most out of the night sky you'll want to strive for one of the best cameras for astrophotography.

You'll still need to know the basics of astrophotography, of course, but having the best suited camera and lenses will make it that much easier to capture the cosmos in all its glory.

Before we get into our list of the best astrophotography cameras, it's worth knowing exactly what you should be looking for. Which features are important and what do they all mean for your photography?

Important Features for Astrophotography Cameras

Important Features for Astrophotography Cameras
Important Features for Astrophotography Cameras

Sensor size

We went into a bit more detail about sensor size in our best cameras for landscape photography article, and it's very important when choosing a camera for astrophotography, too.

Basically, full-frame sensors are generally the better option. The individual pixels are larger than their cropped sensor equivalents, allowing them to gather more light and increase the signal-to-noise ratio.

The best cameras for astrophotography will always have a full-frame sensor (well, medium format trumps full-frame but the associated costs are astronomical, if you'll excuse the pun). That's not to say that APS-C cameras can't do a good job though!

ISO range

When you first start out in astrophotography you'll be shocked at how high you have to crank your ISO, so having a wide native-ISO range is an important factor.

While the ISO range is important, how the camera actually performs throughout the range is equally so.

Dynamic range

A wider dynamic range generally results in better low-light performance. With astrophotography this advantage largely effects the darker end of the dynamic range, allowing you to recover more detail from the shadows in post-processing.

Battery life

This is a criminally under reported necessity in astrophotography. You'll often be shooting in lower than average temperatures, and cold conditions can have a devastating effect on your camera's battery life!

There's very little worse than your last battery draining before your eyes are you try to shoot a glorious star trail! This is actually one of the biggest pitfalls of mirrorless cameras where astrophotography is concerned.

Either choose a camera with good battery life or pack a pocketful of spare batteries. Preferably both!

Top 4 Best DSLR for Astrophotography Reviews 2022

Best DSLR for astrophotography
Best DSLR for astrophotography

Nikon D850 - Top DSLR for astrophotography

  • Nikon D850 FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body

    Nikon D850 FX-Format Digital SLR Camera Body

    • Nikon designed back side illuminated (BSI) full frame image sensor with no optical low pass filter
    • 45.7 megapixels of extraordinary resolution, outstanding dynamic range and virtually no risk of moiré
    Rating:

The Nikon D850 really is in a class of its own as far as DSLR cameras go.

It builds on the incredible but ageing D810 - which is now available at a very reasonable price if you're willing to forego some creature comforts for one of the best sensors around - to bring Nikon's flagship offering into the modern world.

45.7 megapixels are recorded on its full-frame BSI CMOS sensor. BSI, for those of you who don't know, stands for back side illumination and basically results in improved low-light performance. The absence of low-pass and anti-aliasing filter also increases sharpness, making this a landscape photographer's dream.

Honing in specifically on astrophotography, the Nikon D850 is significantly better than its predecessor in both high-ISO performance and dynamic range, and it produces shockingly good quality images as high as ISO-12800.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II - Next best DSLR

While the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is Canon's best performing DSLR sensor, if you looking for a better bang for your buck it's definitely worth considering the EOS 6D Mk II.

It's aimed squarely at the serious hobbyist photographer rather than the professional, but it's only real downside compared to the 5D Mark IV is a slightly reduced Dynamic Range at the base ISO.

Now, clearly this would be a problem based on our important features for astrophotography cameras above. However, the Dynamic Range of the two cameras actually converges as the ISO is pushed further, resulting in a surprisingly similar performance between the two cameras when shooting at a high ISO.

And while its bigger brother boasts six more megapixels than the 6D Mark II, this isn't necessarily a problem with astrophotography. Both boast full-frame sensors, which means the individual pixels in the 6D Mk II are bigger than the 5D Mk IV and capable of gathering more light.

The Canon EOS 6D Mark II also has a slightly higher native ISO range (40,000 vs 32,000), a vari-angle touchscreen rather than the fixed one of the 5D Mk IV and 33% longer battery life.

All in all, considering it's around half the price of its more esteemed family member, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is probably the better option for astrophotographers.

Nikon D5600 - Best budget DSLR for astrophotography

  • Nikon D5600 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR + Case +...

    Nikon D5600 w/AF-P DX NIKKOR 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR + Case +...

    • This Jerry's Photo DSLR Camera Package Includes Transcend 32GB High Speed Class 10 SD Memory Card,USB Card Reader,55mm UV Filter,Battery, Charger, Lens Caps And Body Cap, Deluxe Gadget Bag, 7" Spider FLex Tripod,Neck Strap, Jerry's Photo Lens Cleaning Cloth, And Includes :
    • Nikon D5600 DSLR Camera (Import Model) - 24.2MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor - EXPEED 4 Image Processor - 3.2" 1.037m-Dot Vari-Angle Touchscreen - Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps - Multi-CAM 4800DX 39-Point AF Sensor - ISO 100-25600 and 5 fps Shooting - SnapBridge Bluetooth and Wi-Fi with NFC - Time-Lapse Movie Recording
    Rating:

If you're looking for a more wallet-friendly entry into astrophotography the Nikon D5600 is about the best you can get.

Yes, it may be a cropped sensor camera but the 24.2 megapixel CMOS sensor is one of the best performing APS-C sensors on the DSLR market and is more than up to the task of shooting at ISO-6400 or below.

This does limit its ability compared to the top performing full-frame cameras, but with all that money you saved you can go out and buy a top-notch astrophotography lens.

Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D - Next best budget option

If you're more of a Canon-oriented astrophotographer the EOS Rebel SL3 is a fantastic choice for those on a budget.

Like the Nikon D5600, it's an unspectacular but reliable performer and while the overall sharpness lags behind the D5600 due to the presence of AA and low-pass filters, it actually offers greater signal-to-noise ratio at both lower and higher ISO sensitivities.

In layman's terms, it's better in low-light situations and also has a greater Dynamic Range than its Nikon counterpart, so you could do a lot worse than this as a starter astrophotography camera.

Top 5 Best Mirrorless Cameras for Astrophotography Reviews 2022

Canon EOS Ra - Best mirrorless camera for astrophotography

If you're looking for a camera designed specifically with astrophotographers in mind, this is it.

The Canon EOS Ra comes equipped with their excellent 30.3 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor and is billed as the world's first full-frame mirrorless camera dedicated to astrophotography.

It's almost identical to the excellent Canon EOS R, but the modified infra-red filter transmits four times as much Hydrogen Alpha light as a standard full-frame sensor.

What does this mean? The Canon EOS Ra sensor is more sensitive to red light, allowing astrophotographers to more readily capture the distinctive colors in nebulae. In a nutshell, it can pick up more of the night sky.

Oh, and it also has an impressive 30x magnification feature which allows you to check focus on a minuscule level.

Obviously all this comes at a hefty price. It's really only for those truly dedicated to the craft of astrophotography, especially since it's less than ideal to use in daytime due to the modified infra-red filter.

Sony a7R IV - Next best mirrorless camera

  • Sony α7R IV Full-frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens...

    Sony α7R IV Full-frame Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens...

    • Stunning resolution: world's first 61MP full-frame 35mm back-illuminated Exmore R CMOS Image Sensor. The product is compatible with Final Cut Pro X and iMovie
    • High speed: up to 10Fps continuous shooting at 61MP with AE/AF tracking; 26. 2MP in APS-C crop mode
    Rating:

The Sony a7R IV is, quite simply, the most advanced camera you can buy right now, and it's no surprise that it makes for one of the best astrophotography cameras.

It boasts a whopping 61.2 megapixel BSI CMOS full-frame sensor and Sony have managed to overcome the low-light challenges that come with an increased pixel density. In fact, it outperforms the Nikon Z7 - it's main competitor - in this area and actually produced usable images up to ISO-25,600.

The increased resolution does mean slightly noisier images than its predecessor, but it's nothing a little post-processing noise reduction doesn't sort out and overall it's the best option for astrophotographers who also want to use their camera for other types of photography.

Nikon Z7

Nikon's first foray into the full-frame mirrorless market certainly wasn't a dip-your-toes-in-the-water entrance. They cannonballed into the market with this 45.7 megapixel beast, which offers image quality comparable to the fantastic Nikon D850 above.

High-ISO performance and Dynamic Range are up there with the best, although Sony's dominance of the mirrorless segment still continues.

However, if you're transitioning to mirrorless and want to keep using your old Nikon lenses, the Z7 is a fantastic choice because of how well it works with Nikon F-Mount lenses with the adaptor.

While it might not be quite up there with the Sony a7R IV, the Nikon Z7 still boasts performance that is at least equal to the Nikon D850, which is class-leading in the DSLR department.

Sony a7S II

This is a bit of a curveball. The Sony a7S II is five years old and sports a meagre 12.2 megapixel sensor, but as I've already touch upon this isn't necessarily a bad thing in astrophotography.

It still has a full-frame sensor, and the low resolution means the individual pixels are comparatively huge. This results in extraordinary light gathering capabilities and fantastic high-ISO performance. Speaking of which, the native ISO range is a massive 100-102,400.

Of course, you can't ignore the downsides though. The Sony a7S II's low resolution leave it behind the curve for everyday use, and with it being a half-decade old mirrorless camera the battery life simply isn't up to scratch.

Still, if you're looking for something geared directly towards low-light photography it's still worth a good look.

Sony A7 III (only 24.2 megapixels but, with full frame sensor that means bigger pixels and higher signal-noise ratio and light gathering capabilities)

Sony A7R IV (full-frame, best mirrorless) (A7R3 also excellent and coming down in price)

Fujifilm X-T3 - Best budget mirrorless for astrophotography

  • Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) - Silver

    Fujifilm X-T3 Mirrorless Digital Camera (Body Only) - Silver

    • New 26.1MP X trans CMOS 4 sensor with X processor 4 image processing engine
    • 4K movie recording: Internal SD card 4K/60P 4:2:0 10 bit recording and the first mirrorless digital camera with APS C or larger sensor that is capable of 4K/60P 4:2:2 10 bit HDMI output
    Rating:

If, like me, you're a sucker for Fujifilm's ergonomics and handling, it's worth noting that the more recent models actually perform remarkable well in low light.

Sure, the Fujifilm X-T3 won't live up to the likes of the Sony a7R IV or the Nikon Z7, but it's dropping in price thanks to the release of the X-T4 and it handles high ISO shooting better than most of the Sony APS-C range.

The X-T3 beats competitors such as the Nikon D500 and the Sony A6500 in terms of both dynamic range signal to noise ratio at higher ISOs, so if you're looking for a budget-friendly, cropped sensor mirrorless camera for astrophotography this is probably your best bet.

Not to mention that Fuji have a stunning lens selection…

Many Types of Lenses for Astrophotography

Fast and Slow Lenses

There are also many types of lenses for astrophotography, but they can be broken down into two main categories: fast and slow. This is because the longer the focal length (rate of magnification), the less light will hit each pixel making it dimmer; all other things equal. A fast lens is one with a low focal ratio, or f-number. A full frame camera has the same resolution as a smaller sensor when they are both at the same ISO level (one is not more "sensitive" than the other). The depth of field in an image is also equal to the diameter of the aperture divided by that f-number, so that does not depend on the sensor size.

The Distance Between a Lens and Sensor Does Not Affect the Focal Ratio

It can only change magnification. Optical vignetting is when the corners of an image are dimmer than the center. The maximum dimming occurs with a full frame camera because light must travel through more glass to get to the corners. Optical vignetting affects images all over though, so this is why many astrophotographers crop their images to remove it instead of changing cameras or lenses. Even sensors within the same camera model can have slightly different sensitivities, so there can be a range of exposure times that would produce the same amount of light. This spread is not big on most cameras though.

Sensor Size and Focal Ratios Affect How Much Magnification a Camera + Lens Will Provide.

The more magnification, the lower the field of view (FOV). At high magnifications, fainter objects become visible but they also cover less real estate in an image because they are smaller; this makes them harder to find/center/align. Exposure time for each pixel increases as magnification increases. In other words, longer lenses require longer exposures for a given scene brightness and desired signal-to-noise ratio. Let's say you want to photograph M33 from your backyard with an 83mm telescope. The sky will cover 33.1' x 19.7'. If you use a camera with an APS-C size sensor, the FOV is about 27', which means that 7' of that is filled with sky (ignoring optical vignetting). That's roughly 60% of the total FOV. This means that your FOV drops to 40% if you use a full frame camera, so the area of sky covered becomes 12'. That's nearly double the area! Using an APS-C camera will give you larger images with less noise, while using a full frame camera will get you smaller images with more noise because of longer exposure times. Camera sensors can have a field of view that is much larger, but they tend to be more expensive and don't provide better results for astrophotography.

Buying Guide for the Best Camera for Astrophotography

Here are some considerations when choosing a camera for Astrophotography

Sensor size

A larger sensor will generally produce less noise per pixel than a smaller one because it corresponds to a larger surface area of the camera's focal plane. A full frame sensor is 24mm x 36mm, APS-C sensors are slightly smaller, and Four Thirds sensors are half the size of a full frame sensor. There are also other types of crop factors for different sensors. For example, Sony uses their own "APS-C" sensors in some of their compact interchangeable lens cameras, which are smaller than the usual size. The best sensor for astrophotography is a full frame camera with no low pass filter.

Pixel Size

This refers to how big each pixel is on the camera's sensor. The larger the pixel, the greater its surface area and higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). Here's an example that gives you an idea how it works: imagine putting two photos side by side that were taken with two different cameras using exactly the same exposure settings but one has pixels half as big as those of another photo. Obviously, noise will be less visible in the image taken with larger pixels because they collect more photons per square millimeter.

Anti-Aliasing (Low Pass) Filter

This is a filter that sits in front of the sensor and blurs out small details slightly to reduce moire and aliasing effects. If you plan on taking photos of stars, galaxies, or nebulae, it's best to look for a camera without this filter (or with an AA filter like Canon cameras have), as removing this filter would improve image quality by increasing resolution and color accuracy. It may also be removed later with software postprocessing methods.

ISO Range

Maximizing the dynamic range of your astrophotos will allow you to reveal more detail in them---however, long exposures at high ISOs can introduce more noise which will reduce the dynamic range of your photos. An ISO range that is too low may result in longer exposures, but with more detail in them. The best choice generally depends on available light.

Pixel size

Larger pixels are better, because they collect more photons per square millimeter - when doing long exposures, this means less noise in the image when compared to smaller pixels at exactly the same ISO speed and total exposure time. But... do not confuse pixel size with sensor size! You can have a full frame camera with larger pixels than most APS-C cameras you find today, so remember to compare pixel sizes between different sized sensors before coming to any conclusions about what sort of astrophotography performance you can expect.

Dynamic range

This refers to the ratio of the maximum brightness/luminance (typically measured in f-stops or EV units) that can be captured by a camera at its lowest ISO speed to the minimum brightness/luminance it can capture at its highest ISO speed. A DSLR with larger pixels will generally have greater dynamic range than one with smaller pixels, but this number is also dependent on how good the response curve of each particular sensor is - Sony sensors are often cited for having great response curves, which results in better high ISO performance than Nikon sensors. The higher this number is, the better for exposures involving bright stars. Cameras like Nikon D800 and Canon 5D mark III have enormous dynamic range, even at high ISO speeds.

Maximum useful ISO speed

This refers to what is the highest ISO speed that won't lead to excessive noise in images of stars. You can usually find this number in online astrophotography forums or by talking directly with the manufacturer since it varies from model to model.

Noise performance

The lower the noise in your photos, the more detail you will be able to reveal when processing them later - period! A camera that is marketed as having low image noise may not necessarily deliver on that promise when used for astrophotography - read my Nikon D600 review if you want an example about what happens when a without low pass filter tries doing astrophotography.

Dynamic Range

This is a measure of how many stops between highlights and shadows can be captured by a DSLR camera - the higher this number, the better it is for astrophotography! The dynamic range rating for DSLRs are usually based on testing done by dcraw.org - check out their results here.

Crop Factor

A smaller sensor means larger pixels (i.e., more sensitive to light) relative to what you might get with APS-C cameras with similar sensors - because of this, lenses designed for full frame cameras may give you slightly sharper images at the same focal length when used on smaller sensor size cameras APS-C or Four Thirds. The crop factor of a camera is determined by comparing its sensor dimensions to that of a full frame 35mm size sensor. A Nikon D7000, for example, has a 1.5x crop factor relative to a full-frame camera - try not to confuse this with the focal length multiplier you might be used to in your DSLR!

Focal Length

This describes how "zoomed in" or "telephoto" your lens is - lenses with longer focal lengths produce larger images and smaller ones have shorter focal lengths. Longer focal lengths are ideal when capturing deep sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies - they allow you to take advantage of the high resolution offered by large aperture telescopes and maintain a reasonable field of view which is helpful when you're dealing with dim and far-away objects.

Maximum Aperture

This number describes the widest aperture available in a lens - this determines how fast your camera lens can let light through, so the higher this number is, the better for astrophotography since it allows more light to get on your camera's sensor! For example, an f/2.8 maximum aperture will let 4 times more light than an f4 one. In my opinion, all lenses currently being made by Nikon and Canon have very good optics for professional use - I'll leave out third party lenses for another discussion because some of them may not be as good quality as those from Nikon or Canon.

Size

Larger lenses (measured by their diameter and length) are capable of gathering more light than smaller ones, giving you a brighter image at the same ISO speed and exposure time - there's no benefit to having an f/1.4 maximum aperture with a lens that is only half the size of another one with the same specifications!

Weight

Nikon and Canon DSLRs weight less compared to other brands because they often use plastic parts instead of metal in their construction. This difference may not matter much if you're using a tripod all the time, but it can become an issue when shooting handheld, particularly for long periods of time. I've also seen cases where very heavy lenses cause the mount in Nikon DSLRs to become loose over time.

Teleconverters

You can multiply your focal length with a teleconverter, but you will lose 2 stops of light in the process due to their optical design - they also shorten maximum aperture by 1 stop. This is why manufacturers usually only produce them for longer telephoto lenses.

Astrophotography cameras are commonly used with refractor or reflector telescopes that have interchangeable camera T-adapters that allow you to couple your imaging camera directly with your telescope's focuser drawtube. There are also "hybrid" adapters available which combine an eyepiece holder with a T-threaded hole so it can be attached directly to your telescope. These adapters are useful when you do not require the additional length that they add to the imaging train since it may cause problems with your focuser or camera positioning relative to your telescope's tube - for example, if you're using an Orion 80ED, there is very little space between the top of its dew shield and the top of the focuser.

Maximizing Magnification

The best magnification achievable with a given telescope and camera is achieved by using the lowest focal length eyepiece you can find - this also minimizes image size and thus improves resolution. For example, if your telescope has a focal length of 1000mm and an eyepiece with a focal length of 40mm, you will get the best resolution when using it at its lowest magnification, which would be 80x. For imaging purposes, this means that you must have a 2-inch extender or Barlow in between your telescope's focuser and camera T-adapter to achieve the highest magnification. However, keep in mind that every additional piece of glass in your imaging train increases light loss - I recommend sticking with low magnifications because higher powers are not really useful for planetary astrophotography.

Camera T-adapters

DSLRs come with what's called an "integral" autoguider port which allows you to control them from within PHDiding software - this is much better than the usual method of using a separate ST4 guide port.

Camera Type

Canon DSLRs are generally better than Nikon ones for astrophotography because they have more efficient Live View autofocus and can shoot longer exposures without experiencing severe noise buildup - this is especially important when shooting deep-sky objects that require additional processing to reduce digital noise. However, if you're using refractor or reflector telescope with aperture smaller than 150mm, you will probably not need long exposures to get good image quality since your f/ratio will be high enough to let more light in with the same sensor size - this means that resolution trumps signal-to-noise ratio. For example, a 100mm aperture scope gives more magnification than one of 130mm with the same eyepiece, but this will not be an issue if you're using a 2.5-inch telecompressor.

Focusing Accuracy

The most common method for focusing deep-sky objects is through Live View at around 50x magnification - this lets you see enough detail to precisely focus on stars that are hardly visible with just your own eyes or even in low-magnification views of the object. However, dust motes may cause problems when focusing because they are very bright compared to actual stars and can throw off your camera's autofocus system - keep your environment as clean as possible during imaging sessions by turning off air conditioning or closing window blinds. You must have adequate depth-of-field to achieve proper focus from infinity down to around 1/3 of the smallest scale division - this is especially important for planetary imaging when you have a very small object like a moon trapped against black background and don't want to waste time focusing every single frame. DSLRs always use contrast detection autofocus during Live View, which works by measuring changes in magnification between few primary points scattered across the image and hunting through possible distances between camera and lens until it finds one that produces sharpest result - this process can take several seconds, which is why Canon recommends using Manual (!) mode instead.

Telescope Aperture

Focal ratio or f/ratio denotes relative light grasp of your telescope compared with exit pupil of your camera at a particular combination of telescope and camera focal length. It is calculated as f/ratio = telescope focal length divided by its aperture, which for amateur telescopes is usually expressed in millimeters or half-inch increments such as 10", 12", 14". 16" etc. For example, f/4 system has focal ratio of 4 and focal length about four times greater than its aperture - this means that if you attach 100mm camera to it, the resulting magnification will be 25x per 1mm sensor size assuming ideal optical quality without vignetting. If you use same 100mm camera lens on an f/10 scope with the same bellows factor, the resulting image will have 1000x magnification because both instruments are operating at their respective maximum apertures. As you can see, there are several factors that contribute to final hardware magnification above base bellows factor: telescope aperture, camera sensor size and lens focal length - for example, it is easy to achieve 1000x total magnification (or even higher) by combining f/10 telescope with 1.4x telecompressor and 100mm camera lens while keeping other variables constant. The same applies to field of view, because basic rule of thumb states that f/ratio 3 times larger than the eyepiece focal length (e.g., 32mm or 2") yields sharpest images. Of course, this doesn't mean that any scope with sufficient aperture should be used with lowest practical magnification to get optimum results; instead, use telescope that allows for both fast image acquisition and long exposures. With few exceptions, astrophotography requires imaging through Newtonian reflector type telescopes with secondary (folding) mirror and alternative focusing mechanism to accommodate camera lens - popular models like Meade LXD75 and Celestron C8+ include such features in their design besides easier portability and wider fields of view. It is also possible to achieve good results using Schmidt-Cassegrain or Maksutov scopes (e.g., SkyWatcher Mak127), but these instruments will require additional accessories like focuser extension tube, Bahtinov mask, etc. For example, while a standard 10" SCT has focal ratio around f/10 it can be easily converted to f/6.3 with an appropriate secondary mirror, which will produce sharper images at the expense of shorter exposure times.

Also, I highly recommend trying to acquire a telescope that uses precision mechanical components instead of common "point-and-shoot" style focusers found in most entry-level instruments - this doesn't mean that any old Crayford focuser will do the trick; it should have adjustable tension and lock at desired position without losing its calibration. I use AstroTech MPC focusers on all my scopes because they are very easy to calibrate thanks to fixed locking screws, but there are also other popular brands like MoonLite or Feathertouch. If your scope came with stock rack-and-pinion focuser and you cannot afford better one, make sure it locks down on position and doesn't drift even with heavy accessories attached (especially important for imaging!).

Tips for Taking Great Astrophotos

Availability of the night sky

A major consideration for planning a shoot is the phase of the moon, its waxing and waning has a huge impact on how much natural light there is in your night sky. There are many amazing astrophotos taken during new moon conditions, with no moonlight to interfere with faint deep space objects such as nebulae, galaxies and star clusters...however they require very dark skies which most city, suburban or even rural dwellers will only rarely see due to that pesky big orange glow from our good friend Mr. Sun! Conversely if you live near an area that has really bright skies due to lots of street lights etc. it may be difficult to find truly dark skies, so you can still get great astrophotos but will need to do a little more scouting for dark areas.

A major consideration for planning a shoot is the phase of the moon, its waxing and waning has a huge impact on how much natural light there is in your night sky. There are many amazing astrophotos taken during new moon conditions, with no moonlight to interfere with faint deep space objects such as nebulae, galaxies and star clusters...however they require very dark skies which most city, suburban or even rural dwellers will only rarely see due to that pesky big orange glow from our good friend Mr. Sun! Conversely if you live near an area that has really bright skies due to lots of street lights etc. it may be difficult to find truly dark skies, so you can still get great astrophotos but will need to do a little more scouting for dark areas. Time of year: The seasons also greatly impact the location and availability of objects in the night sky, for example if you live in the northern hemisphere summer/fall you'll have a tough time photographing really faint objects such as nebulae because they will be up all night…invisible! Likewise during mid summer it's difficult to shoot deep space objects that are low on the horizon as your telescope/camera lens is pointing through much thicker atmospheric layers with less transparency compared to winter or early spring when most bright deep space object sit far above the horizon.

As a general rule, if you're imaging from a light polluted area it's best to shoot in the early morning hours when the bright objects such as the milky way core are up and strong or during winter months for those extra long exposures.

The Seasons

The seasons also greatly impact the location and availability of objects in the night sky, for example if you live in the northern hemisphere summer/fall you'll have a tough time photographing really faint objects such as nebulae because they will be up all night…invisible! Likewise during mid summer it's difficult to shoot deep space objects that are low on the horizon as your telescope/camera lens is pointing through much thicker atmospheric layers with less transparency compared to winter or early spring when most bright deep space object sit far above the horizon. Location: Perhaps one of the most important factors in imaging astrophotography is finding a good place to setup your telescope, preferably away from city or suburban light pollution (I'll refer to both as light pollution because they are essentially the same thing)…the darker the area the better, however if you're like me you may not be able to travel hundreds of miles away from home so simply traveling 30 minutes out can make all the difference.

A Good Place to Setup Your Telescope

Perhaps one of the most important factors in imaging astrophotography is finding a good place to setup your telescope, preferably away from city or suburban light pollution (I'll refer to both as light pollution because they are essentially the same thing)…the darker the area the better, however if you're like me you may not be able to travel hundreds of miles away from home so simply traveling 30 minutes out can make all the difference. Telescope: Camera lenses don't gather much light and thus require long exposures to get anything more than faint fuzzy objects such as the milky way or Andromeda galaxy…As a result nearly every astrophoto is taken with an attached telescope (with either a dedicated or DSLR camera) and there are many different types of telescopes available depending on your needs and budget.

Deep Space Imaging Telescopes

Cassegrain-type reflectorsT

these are also referred to as catadioptric telescopes (in general all types of refractor/reflector combinations are catadioptric scopes) which use both mirrors and lenses to form an image…advantages include having fewer lens elements than say a refractor thus reducing chromatic aberration and a closed tube design which protects the optics from dust and moisture.

Disadvantages include a central obstruction due to the secondary mirror (usually around 30-40% of the light is blocked) and they can be expensive to manufacture since they require additional mirrors or lenses for correction. Pros: Suitable for deep space imaging, high focal ratio allows high resolution detail of planets/deep sky objects, compact design with few moving parts makes them easy to transport.

Refractor-type reflectors

these types of scopes form an image using only lens elements (no mirrors typically) although sometimes there are additional lenses in the light path…advantages include having fewer lens elements than say a catadioptric thus reducing chromatic aberration and a compact design which makes them easy to transport.

Disadvantages include a central obstruction due to the secondary mirror (usually around 30-40% of the light is blocked) and they can be expensive to manufacture since they require additional lenses for correction. Pros: Suitable for deep space imaging, high focal ratio allows high resolution detail of planets/deep sky objects, compact design with few moving parts makes them easy to transport.

Refractor-type Schmidt Cassegrain or Maksutovs

These types of scopes form an image using both mirrors and lens elements but use a small corrector plate at the front end of the scope…advantages include having fewer lens elements than say a catadioptric thus reducing chromatic aberration and a closed tube design which protects the optics from dust and moisture.

Disadvantages include a central obstruction due to the secondary mirror (usually around 30-40% of the light is blocked) and they can be expensive to manufacture since they require additional lenses for correction. Pros: Suitable for deep space imaging, high focal ratio allows high resolution detail of planets/deep sky objects, compact design with few moving parts makes them easy to transport. Cons: Not as good for planetary imaging as say an SCT or refractor…lower magnifications than other types of scopes such as reflectors which isn't ideal if you're into wide field astrophotography because it will limit your ability to pull in fainter objects.

Reflector-type Schmidt Cassegrain or Maksutovs

Like the above scopes these types of scopes form an image using both mirrors and lens elements but use a small corrector plate at the front end of the scope…advantages include having fewer lens elements than say a catadioptric thus reducing chromatic aberration and a closed tube design which protects the optics from dust and moisture.

Disadvantages include a central obstruction due to the secondary mirror (usually around 30-40% of the light is blocked) and they can be expensive to manufacture since they require additional lenses for correction. Pros: Suitable for deep space imaging, high focal ratio allows high resolution detail of planets/deep sky objects, compact design with few moving parts makes them easy to transport. Cons: Not as good for planetary imaging as say an SCT or refractor…lower magnifications than other types of scopes such as reflectors which isn't ideal if you're into wide field astrophotography because it will limit your ability to pull in fainter objects.

Schmidt Cassegrain (CAT) or Maksutovs

Like the above scopes these types of scopes form an image using both mirrors and lens elements but use a small corrector plate at the front end of the scope…advantages include having fewer lens elements than say a catadioptric thus reducing chromatic aberration and a closed tube design which protects the optics from dust and moisture.

Disadvantages include a central obstruction due to the secondary mirror (usually around 30-40% of the light is blocked) and they can be expensive to manufacture since they require additional lenses for correction. Pros: Suitable for deep space imaging, high focal ratio allows high resolution detail of planets/deep sky objects, compact design with few moving parts makes them easy to transport. Cons: Not as good for planetary imaging as say an SCT or refractor…lower magnifications than other types of scopes such as reflectors which isn't ideal if you're into wide field astrophotography because it will limit your ability to pull in fainter objects.

Hybrids

These are a cross between a refractor and Maksutov (a catadioptric). They usually have an open (mirror-less) design like a refractor but use lens elements to form the image.

Advantages include having fewer lens elements than say a catadioptric thus reducing chromatic aberration, good planetary imaging is possible due to their short tube length when compared with other types of scopes.

Disadvantages can include coma around the edges of the field of view when used for deep space imaging due to their radial gradient refraction design…not suitable for very tight framing images of small objects in wide field astrophotography. Pros: Suitable for deep space imaging, high focal ratio allows high resolution detail of planets/deep sky objects, compact design with few moving parts makes them easy to transport. Cons: Not as good for planetary imaging as say an SCT or refractor…lower magnifications than other types of scopes such as reflectors which isn't ideal if you're into wide field astrophotography because it will limit your ability to pull in fainter objects.

Refractors

This type of scope uses a series of lenses separated by air spaces…an advantage over the others is that all optical elements are air spaced and thus don't suffer from chromatic aberration (magenta/green halos around stars).

Refractors can be very expensive but usually offer the shortest tube length when comparing similar aperture sizes. They are good contenders for planetary imaging and wide field astrophotography because of their lower magnifications when compared to other types of telescopes.

Disadvantages include a smaller field of view than reflectors or Maksutov type scopes which can limit the ability to pull in fainter objects in deep sky imaging. Pros: Suitable for planetary imaging, short tube length is better suited for wide field astrophotography when compared with SCTs/Maksutov scopes, no chromatic aberration present since all optical elements are air spaced. Cons: Not as good for deep space imaging due to a narrower FOV, expensive design with multiple lenses makes them even more costly…if you drop your scope you're going to need a very large insurance policy to cover the cost of replacement lenses.

Reflectors

This type of scope uses a primary mirror at one end which reflects light back up an enclosed tube through a centrally mounted secondary mirror where it is brought to focus for your eyes, eyepiece or camera…advantages are that they are usually cheaper than any other design because all optical elements are air spaced and thus don't suffer from chromatic aberration (magenta/green halos around stars). Another advantage is that reflectors offer higher magnifications when compared with refractors or catadioptric designs.

Disadvantages can include spider vanes in the structure which cause diffraction spikes around stars if not properly aligned during assembly. They also have a slightly lower image quality when compared to refractors. If a reflector is bumped in an accident it will likely break lenses in the light path which is going to be very costly for you to repair/replace…mirror flop can also happen when an object isn't placed centrally in the FOV which can cause collimation issues. Pros: Good planetary imaging due to high magnifications, least expensive design available since all optical elements are air spaced and thus don't suffer from chromatic aberration (magenta/green halos around stars). Cons: Not as good for deep space imaging because of narrower FOV, quite heavy & bulky…unless you're trying to impress someone with how manly you are by lifting your gear then this might not be the design for you.


Conclusion for Astrophotography Camera Buyers

Astrophotography is an interesting and unique hobby that can produce some stunning results. If you're interested in getting into astrophotography, we hope the information in this post has helped you figure out which camera is best for you. Thanks for reading!

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About Alex W.

Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.

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