What is the Best Lens for Astrophotography? Find Out Here!

Photography in general can quickly become a rabbit hole of sunken costs as the photographer strives for the very best in image quality, and in no genre is that more true than astrophotography. In astrophotography gear is important, and the lens you choose is one of the most important.

I'm a big believer in Ansel Adams' famous old quote:

"The most important component of a camera is twelve inches behind it."

Indeed, the skill, knowledge, and creativity of the photographer trumps all when it comes to photography, but sometimes even that isn't enough. In astrophotography you're trying to capture things that are almost invisible to the naked eye, and that means that you sometimes have to push your equipment to it's limits. 

It goes without saying that the higher those limits are, the more options that become available to you. Simply put: The better your equipment is, the more potential you have to capture some truly stunning astrophotography.

All of your equipment is important in astrophotography, with everything from your remote shutter release to your camera body playing an important role. However, the lens you use is undoubtedly one of the biggest factors in how your image of the night sky turns out.

Here, we'll be discussing the options you have when it comes to selecting a lens for your astrophotography.

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Best Focal Length for Astrophotography

 Wider is often better in astrophotography.

Wider is often better in astrophotography.

It's always difficult to recommend a 'best' of anything in a medium as fluid and creative as photography, but for astrophotography I do have some very strong recommendations.

One of these is focal length. If you're just starting out in astrophotography I strongly suggest that you look towards the wider end of the spectrum. It's very difficult to get a usable image of the night sky with telephoto lenses, and considering most photographers are aiming to show off as many stars as possible a wide-angle lens is a natural fit.

How wide though? Well, alongside your standard zoom lens (such as the 18-55mm on APS-C cameras and the 24-70mm on full frame cameras) I would recommend picking up a super wide prime lens. We've already discussed the benefits of using prime lenses, and all of these translate perfectly into astrophotography too. Especially the section on aperture.

In addition to being able to pick up a lens with a very wide aperture, you also want a shorter focal length to fit more of the beautiful night sky in. Not only that, but using the rule of 500 (see here) you can use longer shutter speeds without causing the stars to trail.


Aperture in Astrophotography

 A wider maximum aperture allows your camera's sensor to capture more light, rendering more detail out of the black inkiness of the night sky.

A wider maximum aperture allows your camera's sensor to capture more light, rendering more detail out of the black inkiness of the night sky.

As we know from the Exposure Triangle, the wider the aperture in your lens the more light it will let through to the sensor. 

In a field where you need as much light as possible, but also constrained on shutter speed due to star trailing, this ability to open your aperture up is incredibly useful. 

This is an area where prime lenses shine. You can pick up a wide angle prime lens with a wide aperture for peanuts compared to their zoom equivalents, which at least takes some of the cost out of a potentially expensive hobby!


What to Look for in an Astrophotography Lens

So, by looking into the previous two sections we know that the best starter lens for astrophotography is a wide-angle lens with a wide maximum aperture (preferably f/2.8 or wider.)

That's narrowed it down significantly, but there are still plenty of options to consider. Let's take a look at some of the best lens options on offer:

Prime Lenses - The Cheaper Option

Rokinon / Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon, Sony E Mount, Samsung NX, Pentax KAF, Sony A, Canon EOS, Sony Alpha, Minolta AF, Olympus 4/3rds, Pentax K SMC-F, Canon EF, Sony FE

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 35 seconds

Autofocus - No

Full Frame Compatible - Yes

Irix 15mm f/2.4 (Blackstone or Firefly)

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon F, Canon EF, Pentax K

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 33 seconds

Autofocus - No

Full Frame Compatible - Yes

Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG HSM

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon F, Sigma SA, Canon EF, Sony E

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 25 seconds

Autofocus - Yes

Full Frame Compatible - Yes

Rokinon / Samyang 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon F, Sony E, Samsung NX, Pentax KAF, Sony A, CAnon EOS, Sony Alpha, Minolta AF, Olympus 4/3rds, Pentax K SMC-F, Canon EF, Sony FE

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 20 seconds

Autofocus - No

Full Frame Compatible - Yes


Zoom Lenses - Feeling Flush?

Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon F, Canon EF, Sony A

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 33 seconds

Autofocus - Yes

Full Frame Compatible - Yes

Tokina AT-X 11-16mm f/2.8 DXII

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon F, Canon EF, Sony Alpha

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 29 seconds

Autofocus - Yes

Full Frame Compatible - No

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

Lens Mount Availability - Nikon F

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 35 seconds

Autofocus - Yes

Full Frame Compatible - Yes

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

Lens Mount Availability - Canon EF

Max Shutter Speed (using Rule of 500) - 31 seconds

Autofocus - Yes

Full Frame Compatible - Yes


Our Astrophotography Lens Recommendations

Deciding which lens to actually purchase depends a lot on your situation. Do you have a large budget or are you looking for a more wallet friendly solution? Is autofocus important to you? Could you kill two birds with one stone and buy a lens to use in other areas of your photography as well?

Hopefully the list below should lead you in the right direction:

Best Astrophotography Lens on a Budget - Rokinon / Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC

Best Lens for Avid Landscape Photographers - Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD

Best Mid-Range Astrophotography Lens - Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone

Money is No Object Astrophotography Lens - Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD


Closing Thoughts

Astrophotography is a genre of photography that can be taken as far as your wallet allows. The sky is the limit, literally.

You can spend tens of thousands of dollars on telescopes, adaptors, star trackers, and all manner of things and delve into an entire new subset of photography. Buying a more suitable lens could be all you ever need to fulfil your astrophotography ambitions, and as you can see it can be done on a rather modest budget if you're willing to make some small sacrifices.

If you're left wanting more though, sign up to our email list here. We've got an exciting project in the making that can banish those pesky shutter speed restrictions and allow you to further improve the quality of your images. To make matters even better, it's something that will cost you less than a meal out!

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