Tired of just stargazing? The best astrophotography cameras will enable you to enjoy and explore the heavens above in ways that your telescope simply can’t compete with.
Rather than just staring at the stars, you can capture the cosmos for artistic expression or scientific record keeping. However, you can’t get satisfactory images with just any old kit – the best cameras for astrophotography are finely tuned imaging devices with very specific properties.
From bespoke sensors designed to cut through solar radiation to bespoke GPS functions that follow the path of the stars, these cameras unlock the secrets to shooting spectacular photographs with the kind of clarity and detail that others simply aren’t capable of.
We’ve split our guide into sections depending on what type of astrophotography camera you’re looking for, so whether you’re looking for a traditional camera, a CCD camera that attaches to your telescope, or even just the best smartphone for astrophotography, we’ve got you covered.
Below the camera options, you’ll also find some useful information about astrophotography cameras, and what you should be looking for when making your purchase. And if you want to learn more about our night sky, you can also check out our guide to the best astronomy books too.
Best astrophotography cameras
There have been a handful of dedicated astrophotography cameras over the years, such as the Canon EOS 60Da and Nikon D810a. However, the only model currently on the market is this, the Canon EOS Ra. A special edition of the standard EOS R mirrorless camera, its 30.3MP image sensor has a modified IR filter array to accommodate quadruple the amount of hydrogen alpha rays – enabling the camera to capture the distinct details and deep red hues of nebulae.
That same full-frame sensor also allows for beautiful 4K video, albeit with a 1.6x crop (effectively increasing your focal length and ‘zooming in’ on your composition). Perhaps most useful of all, the EOS Ra also boasts a 30x magnification when previewing your scene – most cameras top out at 10x, so this is invaluable for punching in and making sure that your stars are as sharp as possible.
The camera employs the new Canon RF (mirrorless) lens mount, which is populated by optics that are generally fantastic in quality but have a price tag to match. However, it is compatible with Canon EF (DSLR) lenses via an affordable adapter – which gives you a much greater selection of glass and at lower prices.
The Sony A7S III boasts near night vision performance, thanks to its ridiculous native ISO range of 80-102,400 (expandable to 409,600, though you’ll never actually shoot that high) which also features dual native ISO. While most cameras have just one native ISO (the point at which performance is cleanest), the A7S III has two – one at ISO640 and another at ISO16000 (though this varies in video modes).
As a body designed primarily for video, it should come as no surprise that this is the ultimate astrovideography camera. However, herein lies a compromise: the A7S III only features a 12.1MP sensor. This aids the camera’s low light performance (since there are fewer pixels, each one is larger and able to gather more light), but means there is less detail if you want to print your photographs.
While this is the best camera for filming stars, though, there is one sting in the tail: the “star eater” phenomenon that plagued earlier Sony cameras (where overactive noise reduction would ‘eat’ stars misidentified as noise) occasionally rears its head when shooting video with wide angle lenses that are very sharp. And where the EOS Ra has a monstrous 30x magnification, the Sony only has a paltry 4x – which can make focusing a challenge, especially if you have poor eyesight.
Mirrorless bodies are great for shooting the stars, but some of the best astrophotography cameras are still DSLRs. The Pentax K-1 Mark II is the best of the bunch, with its 36.4MP full-frame sensor, weather sealing, in-body image stabilization (IBIS) and cleverly designed flexible angle rear screen. And while it can’t beat the EOS Ra or A7S III for specialist features, the K-1 Mark II might be the best all-round astro camera when you consider everything else it has to offer.
Central to this is Pentax’ Astrotracer technology. Rather than using the stabilization (which makes micro-adjustments to the image sensor) to compensate for camera shake, Astrotracer uses it in tandem with the inbuilt GPS to compensate for the movement of the stars. Using GPS data, it moves the sensor to prevent unwanted star trails when the camera is mounted to a tripod – so you can capture long exposure shots without getting unwanted star trails.
Throw in a Night Vision mode that turns the LCD screen red to optimize it (and your eyes) for shooting in the dark, along with external illumination that lights up the underside of the rear screen as well as the camera mount (for changing lenses in the black of night), this is a camera that’s tailor made for awesome astrophotography.
Unlike other cameras on this list, the Nikon D850 doesn’t have any astro-specific features. Instead, it is simply a fantastic DSLR whose specs lend themselves wonderfully to photographing the night sky.
Its 45.7MP image sensor is back side illuminated (constructed so that the circuitry is on the underside, so as not to obstruct the front), which means that it has superior light-gathering capabilities with less noise and better all-round image quality. This works in tandem with a good, if not great, ISO range to produce enviably low light performance. Like the Sony A7S III, the D850 also has dual native ISO – but at the less useful ISO64 and ISO400 sensitivities.
The chunky DSLR design is a pleasure to handle, boasts weather sealing, and also has a curtain mechanism for the optical viewfinder to stop unwanted light when shooting long exposures. It also boasts two card slots, one XQD / CFexpress and one SD. A big bonus is the inclusion of illuminated buttons, but only on the left-hand side of the camera – we’d love to have all the buttons light up, but being able to see key controls in the dark is a hugely welcome feature.
Micro Four Thirds sensors are approximately 50% the size of full frame sensors, enabling the bodies (and lenses) to be much smaller, lighter and cheaper – so your kit is compact enough to take anywhere. However, because the sensor is so much smaller, it has less surface area with which to absorb light. As the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III proves, though, there is more to consider than just sensor size when it comes to astrophotography.
The E-M1 III features a unique Starry Sky AF algorithm, which can perform precision autofocus on even the smallest stars. The Accuracy Priority mode will help you nail focus when the camera is on a tripod, but the Speed Priority mode (which uses the powerful image stabilization, good for up to 7.5 stops of compensation) means that you can shoot astrophotographs handheld with a wide-angle lens!
Coupled with the Live Time and improved Live Composite mode (which enables you to keep the shutter open for six hours, and only adds exposure when illumination changes to keep your images clean and evenly lit) makes capturing light trails an absolute breeze. You can even use a USB source like a power bank to charge the camera while shooting. If size, weight and cost are considerations, the E-M1 Mark III offers powerful tools that make it a formidable choice despite the smaller sensor.
Like the Nikon D850, the Sony A7 III isn’t a dedicated astrophotography camera – it’s just a darned good mirrorless camera that is very adept at shooting the stars. And again like the D850, the A7 III boasts a back side illuminated full frame sensor (with a lower 24.2MP resolution) and a sky high ISO range – which hits a staggering 51,200 natively, and is expandable all the way to 204,800.
With dual memory card slots and the ability to employ USB power (such as a power bank) while shooting, taking long exposures all night long won’t cause you any problems. However, the camera does feature a few Sony specific quirks that you’ll have to be able to overlook to get the most out of it.
The main culprit is the dreaded “star eater” phenomenon when shooting stills, whereby aggressive noise reduction can make stars disappear during long exposures. It’s not as bad as earlier Sony bodies, but the problem does raise its head from time to time. The other issues relate to the rear screen, which is a tilt-only affair, has only limited touch functionality, and is very low resolution at less than a million pixels.
Best astrophotography CCD cameras
Where normal cameras are standalone devices, a CCD (charged couple device) camera is purpose-built to work with a telescope. Previously they were prohibitively clunky and costly, but nowadays they are both easier to use and much more affordable – and they are designed to capture images of deep space.
They remain the preserve of more advanced, dedicated astrophotographers, but if you really want to up your game then it’s worth considering one of these CCD cameras from astrophotography specialist ZWO.
If you’re looking to get into long-exposure deep sky photography of subjects like nebulae, the ZWO ASI183MC (with color sensor) is an affordable entry point to the world of expensive, cooled cameras.
Its high-sensitivity 1-inch 20.2MP CMOS sensor is made by Sony, and is back side illuminated for clean and efficient imaging (aided by the cooling system to further reduce noise in long exposure imaging).
With a claimed 12 stops of dynamic range, impressive spectral response (the amount of light that enters the telescope and is used by the sensor) and software finely tuned to reduce amplifier glow, the ASI183MC offers impressive performance.
Where the ASI183MC is an ideal entry point for deep sky imaging, the ZWO ASI120MC is the perfect beginner camera for CCD astrophotography – making it a great option if this is your first time taking images using your telescope.
While its bigger brother is the one to go for if you intend to shoot galaxies and nebulae, this is camera’s image sensor is a smaller and lower megapixel affair with slightly lower spectral response. It is still very capable for photographing the moon and planets, though, and can capture video at up to 60fps at just under 1080p resolution (1280 x 960).
It’s not well suited to deep sky astrophotography, but otherwise it’s a fantastic choice for your first time shooting the stars.
Best astrophotography camera phones
While they aren’t going to give you anything like the results of a traditional or CCD camera, some camera phones have been designed to take impressive images of the night sky with starscapes and even the galactic core.
So if you’re an astro shooter looking for a new handset, or you’d like a camera that fits in your pocket that can take some impressive (if limited) nightscape images, it’s well worth checking out these camera phones.
The Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra is arguably the best camera phone on the market, so it should come as no surprise that it’s also the best phone when it comes to shooting astrophotography.
This is thanks to the fact that you can take fully manual control. While other phones features night shooting modes, they are powered by computational photography that produces results via software wizardry. The S21 Ultra, by contrast, enables you to use Pro mode to shoot exposures up to 30 seconds, adjust the ISO up to 3200, and even perform manual focus.
Away from astro shooting it’s an incredible all-round photography device, with four cameras including its headline 108MP f/1.8 primary unit and its 12MP f/2.2 ultra-wide. For the best photos right from your pocket, the S21 Ultra is a no brainer.
Google wasn’t the first company to feature an astro mode in its phones, with the likes of Huawei beating it to the punch. However, the Astrophotography mode that debuted in the Google Pixel 4 was a cut above the competition – and it’s better than ever in the Google Pixel 5a.
Built on Google’s HDR+ technology – a system that ‘brackets’ a series of multiple exposures, in order to preserve highlight detail and prevent blown-out images, then boosts the shadows to create artificial dynamic range – Astrophotography mode takes around 15 exposures of about 15 seconds each, processing the sky separately in order to accurately render the stars.
So it’s a completely software-driven system, unlike the manual control offered by the Samsung, but that makes this a much more streamlined point-and-shoot solution to shooting astrophotography on your phone.
What is an astrophotography camera?
Astrophotography cameras are imaging devices that enable you to capture clean long-exposure images of the night sky. This is achieved, primarily, by opening the camera’s shutter long enough (usually around 30 seconds) to allow the dim starlight to be clearly visible through the black of night.
In order to accomplish this, you’ll obviously need a camera with pristine image quality – though getting great photographs in low light conditions is one of the most challenging tasks that any camera can perform.
Thus, the best astrophotography cameras need to possess a number of critical characteristics: exceptional ISO performance (the sensitivity of the camera’s image sensor), the ability to record low noise and high dynamic range, and a capable image processor to translate all this technology into the best possible image.
Some cameras even feature a specially modified IR filter on the sensor, which is designed to allow the infrared rays of deep space to be recorded by the camera (rather than being blocked, as they are by stock sensors in 99% of cameras).
Cameras come in two flavors: DSLR and mirrorless. DSLRs (digital single lens reflex) are chunkier cameras with a traditional mirror mechanism inside that flips out of the way to record an image. These tend to be cheaper and sturdier, but are built on older technology. Mirrorless cameras are smaller and lighter cameras that ditch the mirror, giving you a live ‘what you see is what you get’ view of exactly what your photograph will look like, both on the rear screen and through the viewfinder.
What else do you need for astrophotography?
Even with one of the best astrophotography cameras, though, you’re still not quite set to start taking great pictures of the Milky Way; the camera body is just one part of the equation…
The right lens
Firstly, you’ll need an appropriate optic – the slow kit lens that came bundled with the camera won’t really be up to the job. Invest in a fast, wide-angle lens – fast meaning an aperture with a large f-number (such as f/1.8 or f/2.8), and wide-angle meaning something ideally between 10mm and 24mm. Prime lenses (with a fixed focal length) tend to be both faster and sharper, though zoom lenses (with a variable focal length) offer greater versatility at the expense of speed.
A sturdy tripod
Since you’ll be shooting long exposures of 30 seconds or so, you’re going to need something to keep your camera rock-steady. Travel tripods and vlogging-friendly Gorillapods will do in a pinch, but you should really invest in a full size, heavy tripod with as few sections as possible. You want to ensure that your camera is being held as rigid as possible, since even a slight gust of wind will be visible when shooting a long exposure.
Even with a tripod, just the act of depressing the camera’s shutter can cause vibrations. To combat this, invest in a remote shutter or shutter release cable – this enables you to control the shutter without physically touching the camera, and some even come with intervalometers that make it easier to shoot multiple exposures (handy for star trails). Alternatively, you can use the camera’s self-timer to avoid shake when hitting the shutter.
A motorized star tracker does exactly what it says on the tin: it tracks the movement of the stars, enabling your camera to move in sync to avoid unwanted trails when capturing long exposures. These are advanced tools of the trade, so once you’ve cut your teeth in astrophotography they’ll offer you the next step to up your game.
Of course, at the heart of your setup is the camera itself – so here are the best astrophotography cameras you can get right now…