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
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!
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.
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.
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!
Best DSLR for astrophotography
Nikon D850 – Top DSLR for astrophotography
- 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
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
- 26.2 Megapixel full frame CMOS sensor
- Optical viewfinder with a 45 point all cross type AF system. Compatible Lenses: Canon EF lenses (excluding EF S and EF M lenses)
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
- 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
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
- Mounting Type: Bayonet
- Turn your Canon Camera into a high-quality webcam.
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.
Best mirrorless camera for astrophotography
Canon EOS Ra – Best mirrorless camera for astrophotography
- Modified filter for enhanced night sky recording
- Rf mount compatible with RF lenses and EF/EF-S lenses*
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
- Stunning resolution: world’s first 61MP full frame 35 millimeter back illuminated Exmor R CMOS Image Sensor
- High speed: up to 10Fps continuous shooting at 61MP with AE/AF tracking; 26.2MP in APS C crop mode
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.
- New larger Z mount for revolutionary optical performance
- Nikon-designed 45.7MP backside Illuminated image sensor with no optical low pass filter (OLPF)
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
- full-frame camera with 5-axis image stabilization
- fast and effective, enhanced fast hybrid af
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
- 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
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…
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.