Best cameras for Astrophotography in 2022
June 30, 2022
You’ll need a healthy dose of self-will and a hardy camera to boot in order to venture out in the sub-zero clear-sky nights to make pictures of the stars. Our buyers guide will take you through what to look for when buying a camera for astrophotography, as well as give some recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography.
How to choose a camera for Astrophotography:
Ideally, your camera in hand will be weather-sealed, easy to navigate in the dark and even operate with gloved hands. Some high-end cameras feature illuminated buttons which can prove useful, but more importantly you’ll need a way to obtain sharp focusing.
Autofocus is less helpful for astrophotography and most well-practiced astrophotographers use manual focus with live view magnification to be sure, edging a fraction close than infinity to get those white blobs in the sky as small (sharp) as possible. You don’t need to worry about high frame rates in this slow photography discipline, either, so sports cameras are a little overkill.
You’ll want to attach a fast aperture, wide-angle lens to the camera in order to maximise image brightness and capture the night sky in its glory, plus shoot at a relatively high ISO and ideally in RAW format. A full-frame camera will in general perform better in low light than APS-C and micro-four-thirds cameras, plus there are more full-frame wide angle lenses to choose from than APS-C ones.
Otherwise, there’s a balance to strike between high-resolution for large-scale pictures, and lesser resolution for superior low-light image quality – a general rule of thumb for cameras of a similar age. A resolution in the region of 20-30MP is popular.
DSLRs remain the most popular camera type for astrophotography, though mirrorless cameras do have a few advantageous features, which we’ll cover in detail below. Along these lines, we’ve put together the best cameras from the big brands for astrophotography, including budget secondhand options and some with some dedicated astrophotography features that you may well have never heard of before.
Here’s our choice of the best cameras for astrophotography:
Best Pentax camera for astrophotography: Pentax K-1 II
At a glance
- 36.4MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-819,200
- 5-axis shake-reduction and GPS with Astrotracer
- Illuminated buttons
- £1,899 RRP
Everything about the K1-II is perfectly suited to low light workings. It’s a rugged, weather-resistant DSLR with vari-angle screen and illuminated buttons. It’s also a high-resolution 36.4MP full-frame stills-shooter boasting excellent dynamic range and low light performance. But there’s more to the K-1 II that makes it a top choice for astrophotography.
Pentax ingeniously paired sensor-based shake reduction and GPS to create a feature it calls Astrotracer. Astrotracer utilises GPS data to match the position of the stars in the sky and shift the camera sensor to counter for the Earth’s rotation accordingly, and therefore keep those stars nice and sharp rather than trailing. Simply put, no other camera feature designed for astrophotography can maximise image brightness and clarity better than Astrotracer.
The K1-II represented a modest update from the original Pentax K-1 which will also give you everything you need for astrophotography, including Astrotracer, for half the price. If there’s one common point of weakness, it’s limited choice of wide-angle lenses.
Best Micro Four Thirds camera for astrophotography: OM System OM-1
At a glance
- 20MP stacked micro-four-thirds sensor
- Stabilisation up to 8-stops
- IP53-rated weather-proofing
- Starry Sky AF
- £1,999 RRP
The flagship OM System OM-1 offers photographers the best low-light image quality capability of any Micro Four Thirds camera, and some clever features that aid astrophotography to boot. Most astrophotographers go slow and steady with manual focus and tripods, but the latest and greatest tech in the OM System OM-1 camera makes other methods possible, including Starry Sky AF.
Debuted in the E-M1 III, Starry Sky AF uses an algorithm to scan the scene for small points of light (the stars) to acquire focus. It’s night sky focusing made easy, and crucially we’ve found the mode entirely reliable in both speed and accuracy. Otherwise, you have all you need for nighttime adventures; an IP53-rated weather-proofed body, vari-angle touchscreen and the best image stabilisation around. And let’s not forget how much smaller and lighter the Micro Four Thirds system is compared to full-frame – those excellent wide-angle lenses come in at a fraction of the heft. Pixel peep and low light image quality won’t quite compare with full-frame cameras, though.
Best Canon camera for astrophotography: Canon EOS 5D IV
At a glance
- 30.3MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-32,000
- 3.2in fixed screen
- Rugged build
- £2,599 RRP
A truly popular camera among award-winning astrophotographers, the Canon EOS 5D IV is a high-end Canon DSLR as tough as they come. Able to take on arctic winters, the EOS 5D IV also has excellent low light image quality. Features-wise, you get built-in GPS, intervalometer and in-camera 4K time lapse. It’s a shame that the 3.2in LCD touch screen is fixed, that manual focus magnification is limited to 10x, and there’s no in-camera stabilisation, but otherwise you can’t go wrong here.
If you’d rather go mirrorless and don’t mind a camera with less extensive weather sealing, then the full-frame Canon EOS R6 is a good shout, with its low-light friendly 20.1MP resolution and sensitivity up to ISO 102,400, excellent image stabilisation, vibration-free shutter action, vari-angle screen and 3.69m-dot EVF.
Best Nikon camera for astrophotography: Nikon D780
At a glance
- 24.5MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-51,200
- 2.36m-dot tilt screen
- AF sensitivity -7EV
Replacing the D750, the Nikon D780 boasts an excellent low light performance thanks to its 24MP full-frame sensor and ISO 100-51,200 sensitivity. Nikon’s most ‘modern’ DSLR, the D780 offers clear live view on its large 3.2in tilt screen with a 23x manual focus magnification, in-camera 4K time lapse, shutter speeds up to 900 seconds and a robust interval shooting experience and exposure smoothing, ideal for creating star trails.
You also get DSLR sturdiness with weather-sealed body, excellent battery life and an optical viewfinder with 100% coverage. It’s a shame that illuminated buttons are missing since you get them on the D850, but otherwise this is a highly capable astrophotography camera benefitting from the extensive choice of Nikon F-mount lenses. With the same sensor and many common strengths, the original mirrorless Nikon Z6 is a solid alternative for a much lower price.
Best Fujifilm camera for astrophotography: Fujifilm X-T4
At a glance
- 26MP APS-C sensor
- 1.62m-dot vari-angle screen
- Exposure dials
- 6.5EV stabilisation
- £1,549 RRP
Still one of the best APS-C cameras available, the X-T4 is a true hybrid camera and makes a more sensible option than the significantly more expensive X-H2S if astrophotography is your main concern (even if the X-H2S boasts a stacked sensor and improved dynamic range).
In the X-T4, you get a 26MP APS-C sensor and ISO 160-12,800 range, a weather-sealed body and 6.5EV image stabilisation. The vari-angle screen provides clear viewing, as does the 3.69m-dot EVF. None of the controls are illuminated, but the ‘traditional’ exposure dials on the camera’s top are easily found in the dark. Other handy astrophotography features include a shutter speed up to 15 minutes while phase detection AF down to -7EV comes in handy at the blue hour. All in all there’s little wanting, and the XF 8-16mm f/2.8 R LM WR wide-angle zoom lens is a fantastic option for astro.
Best Sony camera for astrophotography: Sony A7 IV
At a glance
- 33MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-51,200
- 1.44m-dot vari-angle screen
- 5-axis image stabilisation
Sony’s all-rounder series, the original A7 is now in its fourth iteration and the A7 IV represents a solid option for astrophotography. The 33MP full-frame sensor strikes an optimum resolution balance for large and clean night images, with an excellent dynamic range and shadow detail recovery – a key concern for dark sky snappers.
Handling wise, all boxes are ticked; there’s the 3in vari-angle screen, weather-resistance and image stabilisation. And despite its small stature, making your way around the camera in the dark is done easily enough thanks to the large controls. If you’re priced out of the A7 IV, the A7 III can be had for about 60% the cost and is a decent alternative because it’s low light image quality is equally impressive.
Best Panasonic camera for astrophotography: Panasonic Lumix S5
At a glance
- 24.2MP full-frame sensor
- 1.84m-dot vari-angle screen
- Dedicated timelapse mode
- £1,599 RRP
If you’re starting out in astrophotography and have no ties to other camera brands, then the Panasonic S5 is worth looking into. It’s a brilliant all-rounder with very competitive price tag to boot and particularly good deals to be had. For the modest outlay you get a compact and tough full-frame mirrorless camera with excellent low light image quality.
For every perceived ‘flaw’, there is an answer. Battery life is OK, but the S5 can be charged via USB while in use. The EVF isn’t the best in town, but the vari-angle touch screen provides clear viewing. Lens choice is limited, but there is the wider-than-normal affordable 20-60mm full-frame kit lens, the excellent 16-35mm F4 and further third party options available. It being a Panasonic, the video features are extensive too, with an extensive dedicated timelapse mode on the drive mode dial.
Best camera under £1000 for astrophotography: Pentax K-70
At a glance
- 24MP APS-C sensor
- Astrotracer (needs GPS unit)
- Shake reduction
- £799 RRP
Bang for buck, the Pentax K-70 is undisputed for astrophotographers. It packs many pro-feeling features despite being positioned as an enthusiast camera with a modest £799 RRP. Headline features include a 24MP APS-C sensor with ludicrous ISO 100-102,400 sensitivity for sharp low-light images, weather-resistant body operable down to -10°C (unusual for this level of camera), optical viewfinder with 100% coverage (again, unusual), vari-angle screen, shake reduction up to 4.5EV and access to features like Astrotracer via an optional GPS unit.
There are also the little things to be found here that experienced astrophotographers appreciate, like the comfortable grip and well-spaced controls that are easy to operate even for gloved hands. This is a camera tailor made for the outdoors and photographing the night skies. There’s even a “night mode” LCD setting to make it easier to use in low-light.
Best camera under £500 for astrophotography: Canon EOS 6D
At a glance
- 20.2MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 100-25,600
- AF sensitivity -3EV
- Built-in GPS
- £250-500 street price
If you look into the camera of choice for Astronomy Photographer of the year entrants, there’s one camera that pops up again and again, year after year: the Canon EOS 6D. It’s a 10-year old camera (2012) that proves you don’t need the latest and greatest kit to create award-winning astrophotography pictures. What makes the EOS 6D so popular? Perhaps it’s the 20MP full-frame sensor and ISO 100-25,600 sensitivity that performs really well in low-light. Or maybe it’s the excellent choice of EF-mount wide-angle, fast aperture lenses.
Now superseded by the Canon EOS 6D II which boasts a higher 26MP resolution and modern conveniences such as a vari-angle screen, image stabilisation and 4K timelapse, a second-hand EOS 6D can be had for anything between £250-500 depending on the condition. Absolute bargain.
Best dedicated camera for astrophotography: Nikon D810a
At a glance
- 36.3MP full-frame sensor
- ISO 200-12,800
- H-alpha ‘astro’ filter
- Sensitive to 656nm wavelength
- £2,700 approx street price
The Nikon D810a is a modified version of the 36.3MP full-frame D810, made specifically with astrophotography in mind. Under the same concept there’s the mirrorless Canon EOS Ra. In both cases the ‘a’ denotes astrophotography and tells us that the filter in front of the sensor allows H-alpha emissions, also known as an Infrared cut filter. What you get is a camera 4x more sensitive to the hydrogen-alpha wavelength, bringing out the true clarity and colours of the night sky.
Now discontinued, good luck finding a D810a or EOS Ra on the secondhand market. Alternative to buying a camera dedicated to astrophotography, a service like www.lifepixel.com can convert a regular camera by replacing the standard low-pass filter with one that allows H-alpha emissions. Conversion could breathe new life into a camera otherwise gathering dust, or you could pick up a second-hand DSLR specifically for modification at a much lower price than a dedicated one.
Article Tim Coleman.