In this guide we’ll look at the best cameras for astrophotography.
We’ve compared image quality, low light capability, magnification & cost
to give you our top recommendations.
What Is The Best Camera For Astrophotography?
More Detailed Astrophotography Camera Reviews
The Sony a7R II is a wonderful option for astrophotographers in search of a mirrorless camera model. Mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras (MILCs) aren’t as broadly known as DSLRs, but they produce images of comparable quality and they tend to be a bit smaller and more compact, making them great for travel and portability.
With a maximum ISO of 102,400, the a7R II performs very well under low-light conditions. You can use a relatively high ISO setting on this camera without excessive noise.
This model also boasts a great, brand-new sensor design for optimal light collection and efficiency.
Its image stabilization system counteracts camera shake to produce crisp, blur-free images. It’s designed to work even if you’re shooting photos as you walk!
The durable, magnesium-alloy body is solid enough to handle heavier attachments such as a super telephoto lens. Yet at the same time, it’s not a huge bulky camera; it weighs in at slightly over 1 pound.
The Sony a7R II connects easily to your smartphone via Wi-Fi or NFC, allowing you to share and back up photos. It also has a user-friendly 3” LCD screen.
The Canon EOS REBEL T7i is one of my favorite DSLRs on the market today, especially for astrophotography. Its main selling point for me: It produces crisp, clear, colorful images even under low-light conditions (as will be the case when you’re shooting the night sky).
On top of that, the T7i has a number of thoughtful features that have quickly made it popular with both experienced and brand-new photographers.
Canon has updated the sensor from previous models, bringing the T7i fully up-to-date. The sensor is paired with a DIGIC 7 image processor; the overall effect is extremely detailed, sharp image quality.
The T7i’s auto-focus system is excellent; it’s a dual pixel AF with phase detection, which essentially means that the camera can lock on and focus very quickly.
Maximum ISO is 25,600. I’ll discuss ISO in greater depth below; for now, keep in mind that using a very high ISO setting will increase the “noise” or graininess of an image. That said, different cameras have different capabilities, and a model that is capable of an extremely high ISO (like the Canon T7i) will likely perform well at moderately high ISO values.
The bottom line: You can push ISO up quite a bit with the T7i and still have nice, clear images without much noise. This makes it ideal for low-light photography.
The T7i connects easily to other technology, thanks to its built-in Wi-Fi, NFC, and Bluetooth. This makes it very easy to back up your photos, share them on social media, or save them off-camera to free up more space on your memory card.
Finally, it’s worth noting that the Canon T7i is very user-friendly. It has an LCD touchscreen that (by default) displays an informational view for each mode. So as you move between modes, the screen will briefly explain each mode and why you might want to use it.
If you’re already experienced with DSLRs, then you can switch this feature off in favor of a more traditional display. However, new photographers will find it very handy.
Unlike the first two cameras on my list, the ZWO is specifically designed for astronomical imaging. It can be used for deep-sky imaging (galaxies, nebulae, and so on), as well as for lunar and solar imaging (with the appropriate filter).
The camera provides a fairly generous field of view, ideal for enjoying broad vistas of galaxies and other more spread-out phenomena.
You can pair it with either a reflector or a refractor telescope, ideally on a solid, stable equatorial mount.
The ZWO’s 16-megapixel 4/3” CMOS sensor produces detailed images. A thermoelectric cooling (TEC) system reduces the temperature of the sensor, bring it below ambient, which reduces noise and allows the camera to capture faint, deep-sky bodies in addition to brighter, closer objects like the Moon.
It has a compact, durable aluminum body that can handle hiking and camping trips in search of that perfect photo.
Note that this camera is monochrome; to take color photographs, you would also need an astronomical LRGB color filter set.
The Orion Star Shoot has a CCD chip sensor—a ½” format Sony ICX829ALA monochrome sensor—that is well-suited for imaging the deep sky, including dim and distant objects. Its thermoelectric cooling (TEC) system reduces the sensor temperature—to 20 degrees below ambient—to cut down on noise and enable deep-sky imaging.
Its exposure range is 0.01 seconds to 60 minutes, meaning that you can capture both short- and long-exposure shots. You can use this camera to take quicker photos of brighter, discrete objects (e.g. the Moon, planets) with relatively short exposure, as well as slower, longer-exposure shots of faint galaxies , nebulae, and star clusters.
Orion Camera Studio software download is included, which helps you save, process, and share images more easily.
Like the ZWO camera, the Orion Star Shoot is monochrome. However, it can be combined with LRGB or narrowband astrophotography filters to yield enchanting colored photos.
At a reasonable price, the Orion Star Shoot G4 is one of the more affordable options for astrophotography that offers high quality and good performance.
Astrophotography Camera Buyer’s Guide
DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras)
DSLRs are incredibly popular among photographers with all sorts of goals. One of their defining characteristics is their use of a mirror.
DSLRs are popular for two main reasons. One, they produce high-quality images. Two, they’re versatile, capable of adapting to a wide range of photographic situations. You have a high level of manual control over a DSLR’s settings, and you can also swap out lenses.
A DSLR is a good choice if you’re interested not only in astrophotography, but also in other forms of photography. If you’re hoping to capture landscapes, portraits, and vacation shots in addition to the night sky, a DSLR will serve you well.
MILCs (mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras)
Mirrorless camera models differ from DSLRs in part due to their lack of mirror. They are similar, however, in that they take excellent pictures in a variety of situations (not just astrophotography).
MILCs typically tend to be somewhat smaller and more compact. Many photographers are loyal to mirrorless cameras because they produce superb images while also remaining portable. However, some DSLR models are also quite compact, including the Canon DSLR listed up above.
When it comes to choosing between a DSLR and a MILC, you may make your final choice based on factors like price point, extra features, user-friendliness, and personal preference.
Camera features: ISO
I’ve mentioned ISO in my reviews of the DSLR and mirrorless cameras up above, so I’ll take a moment here to explain it further. ISO (in addition to aperture and shutter speed) influence your image’s brightness. It is a measurement of how sensitive your camera is to light.
You should be able to adjust your ISO settings manually in a DSLR or MILC model. A higher ISO (for example, ISO 6400) will yield a brighter image than a lower ISO setting (such as ISO 800).
Note that the Canon EOS REBEL T7i has a maximum ISO setting of 25,600, while the Sony 7R II has a maximum ISO of 102,400, a pretty enormous number.
You probably won’t need or want to push the ISO all the way up to its max. That’s because as ISO increases, noise also increases, and your image becomes grainer.
During daytime photography, your camera’s sensor has no need to be super light-sensitive. When there’s plenty of natural or artificial light available, you should shoot on a low ISO setting.
But those of us interested in astrophotography naturally end up shooting in dimmer conditions. We need our camera sensors to be very light-sensitive. Ideally, we want this increased light sensitivity to come without tons of noise.
That’s why I like the Canon and Sony models for astrophotography. They both have extremely high max ISO settings (that you’ll probably never use), but they perform very, very well at moderately high ISO settings. With these cameras, you can bump up the ISO quite a bit and still get good-quality images.
The exposure triangle
Remember that ISO is not the only determinant of an image’s brightness. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO (known as the “exposure triangle”) all work together to determine brightness.
Aperture and shutter speed decide how much light gets into the camera, while ISO measures how sensitive the camera is to that light. These three factors are all interrelated, so changing any one of them will change image exposure.
These concepts apply to both DSLR and MILC cameras. If you’re new to these kinds of cameras and you end up buying one, I recommend experimenting in the daytime before you get serious about astrophotography. Try different modes, adjust settings, and so on to get a full understanding of how exposure works.
Astrophotography tips for DSLR and MILC users
Here are a few tips for getting the most from your DSLR or MILC camera:
- Get acquainted with your camera in the daylight first. Learn how to use its different modes and how to adjust the settings manually. With a little practice, you’ll develop a sense of how each small change you make (say, by bumping up the ISO a little) influences the image produced.
- Opt for shooting in RAW file format instead of JPEG. RAW files may require more storage space, but they include much more information, which allows you to make substantial edits using post-processing software like Photoshop or Lightroom.
- Use manual focus. Astrophotography brings its own set of challenges, and auto mode won’t suffice. You focus should be set to “infinity,” since the things you’re photographing are extremely far away.
- Manually adjust white balance. Altering the white balance settings on your camera changes the color of the sky in an image. By default, you camera will likely have some sort of auto white balance setting, but I find that a “daylight” or “sunny day” setting often works better for astrophotography. You can also experiment with manually setting a customized white balance.
CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensors have improved drastically over time and are now powerful, sensitive, and effective sensors. Today’s CMOS sensors work well even in low light situations, reducing noise to produce clear images.
CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras are another valid choice for astrophotography. Like CMOS cameras, CCDs are capable of creating high-quality, detailed images with a minimal amount of noise.
They are known for their use in astrophotography. Most notably, the Hubble Telescope includes CCD cameras since they’re able to handle long-exposure photography.
The CMOS and CCD cameras on my list are two top options for avid astrophotographers. Both of these models were designed with astrophotography in mind—which makes them great for that purpose, but not useful for more generalist photography.
Why switch to a monochrome sensor
Multi-purpose DSLR and MILC cameras are rightfully quite popular, in part because of their versatility. After all, it’s convenient to own a camera that performs admirably in all sorts of circumstances.
Plus, who doesn’t love a good color photo—chances are it’s pictures like these that inspired your interest in this incredible hobby in the first place.
That said, I want to end with an explanation of why you might want to switch from a color camera to a monochrome sensor camera (like the ZWO or the Orion Star Shoot) for your astrophotography.
First, bear in mind that you can use color filters and image processing to produce color photographs with a monochrome sensor camera.
Second, the key advantage to monochrome cameras is that they collect more light, more efficiently than color cameras. A color camera requires a longer exposure time to register the same signal. Mono cameras give you the potential to take even more intricately detailed images with less interference from noise or light pollution.
Enjoy your time out there under the night sky. I hope this guide has helped you get started with astrophotography and narrow down all the camera options that are on the market. All four of these cameras are great examples within their respective categories.
Whichever one you choose, I suggest spending a lot of time with your camera to become accustomed to it. The more you experiment and get practical hands-on experience, the more you’ll get out of these powerful instruments.