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Best cameras for astrophotography 2022

Best cameras for astrophotography: Image shows Milky Way behind durdle door in Dorset
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you’ve chosen one of the best cameras for astrophotography, the bonus is that they are also typically great versatile cameras that perform exceptionally in the daytime too, negating the need for separate kit. Here we’ve rounded up the best cameras for astrophotography in one handy summary to help show you kit which will help you capture your best astro images. Of course, it’s not all about the camera. Lenses are just as important. That’s why we've laid out the best lenses for astrophotography too. In our guide to the best zoom lenses, we highlight lenses for those individuals requiring more flexibility for easier composition. 

DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have long been known for their night sky shooting prowess. Low image noise and high ISO capabilities, plus their flexibility for regular daytime shooting make them ideal devices for many users. However, there are also astro-specific cameras that regular photographers often overlook. These are specialized devices that mount to telescopes for incredibly clear astrophotographs that can easily surpass DSLR or mirrorless cameras but are not suitable for regular photography.

Before you jump straight into a camera brand, consider the performance of each system's noise-handling - something that is a persistent issue in low light and night-time photography. Also, check how well they block infrared light as this is the only way to view many cosmic objects. Saying this, removing the IR filter is something that can be done by a specialist post-purchase. Dimensions and weight are also other important factors to consider for portability.

Despite the common misconception, price isn’t everything. Affordable cameras can give superior image quality to more expensive models. However, there is always a trade-off. That might be shooting flexibility, lens mount versatility, or budget. Of course, you won’t be able to capture the stars without a tripod, so be sure to check out our guide to the best tripods for astrophotography to create the perfect setup.

Nikon D850: Best all-rounder

Image shows the Nikon D850 viewfinder screen

(Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
A workhorse and detail-oriented powerhouse, this 45.4MP DSLR is possibly one of the best cameras for astro full stop

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: 45.4MP, Full-frame 35mm
Lens mount: F-mount
ISO range: 64-25600 (102400 expandable)
Viewfinder size/resolution: Optical, 0.75x mag
Video capability: 4K UHD 30FPS
Weight: 915g
Size: 146 x 124 x 78.5 mm
Memory card type: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC and UHS-II, 1x XQD/CF Express

Reasons to buy

+
Huge stills resolution for extra detail 
+
Native compatibility with F-mount lens range 
+
Reliable and durable weather sealing 

Reasons to avoid

-
Bigger and bulkier than mirrorless 
-
Low ISO range 
-
Optical viewfinder 

The Nikon D850 DSLR was released almost five years ago but still keeps up with the young kids on the block. The 45.7 megapixel image sensor on the D850 produces ultra-detailed stills photos whilst keeping image noise to a minimum, it even has the capability of shooting 4K UHD 30 frames per second video for those that want to make movies of the stars.

Like all DSLRs, it has an optical viewfinder. This does make it a little more difficult to compose and focus for night sky imaging, but the rear tilting touchscreen more than compensates for this. It has two card slots for SD and XQD/CF Express cards to make sure it can record all that fabulous detail quickly. It is considerably heavier, bigger and bulkier than astro-specific cameras, or its mirrorless competition, but thanks to its rugged construction and excellent weather sealing it will last for many years to come, no matter what environment you choose to shoot in. 

As seen on the flagship D5, the D850 utilizes full button illumination making it easy to operate at night or in the dark without the need for a headlamp. Its expandable ISO sensitivity range of 102400 can practically see in the dark. Although image quality will be drastically reduced at this level, the high ISO can be helpful just to frame your composition if nothing else. 

Focusing is notoriously difficult in astrophotography, but the D850’s autofocusing detection range plunges down to -4EV. While it's not the best performer compared to some other models it's enough to snap focus onto a distant lighthouse or torchlight for pin-sharp results.


Fujifilm X-T4

Fujifilm X-T4 camera review: image of Fuji X-T4

(Image credit: Diana Jarvis)
(opens in new tab)
The perfect stylish camera for astrophotography and beyond

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 26.1 megapixel APS-C
Lens mount: X-mount
ISO range: 160-12800 (80-51200 expanded)
Viewfinder size/resolution: 0.5-inch, 3.69 million dots
Video capability: 4K
Weight: 607g
Size: 135 x 93 x 64 mm
Memory card type: UHS-I / UHS-II / Video Speed Class V90 *1

Reasons to buy

+
Multi-swivel screen
+
Wide ISO sensitivity range 
+
Versatile for other photography types 

Reasons to avoid

-
Only 26MP 
-
Pricey 
-
No battery charger, it needs plugging in 

The X-T4 is Fujifilm’s flagship mirrorless camera and the most powerful X-series to date. It is a great option for astrophotography enthusiasts. The vari-angle screen makes composing shots much more comfortable than without given the camera will be pointing at the sky. 

The classic look of the camera makes it stylish, but also, the body-mounted dial controls make it easier to use in the dark. The 26.1MP APS-C sensor creates excellent image quality and there are plenty of lenses available to fit this model to enhance them further. The Fuji X-T4 uses the NP-W235 battery which has a CIPA rating of around 500 shots per charge in an everyday performance mode. When we carried out our full review though we found this can be a lot higher when shooting in the daytime. However, when shooting the night sky the long exposures needed do sap the battery more, so expect slightly fewer. 

This camera serves as a versatile option for use with other types of photography too, it has 6.5 stops in-body image stabilization, great low light performance and has a high-speed processing engine, ideal for action or sports photography. It is also a top choice when it comes to timelapse photography.


Sony A7 III: Best for low noise astro shots

Sony A7 III review: image shows Sony A7 III camera outside

(Image credit: Lauren Scott)
A low light beast, this camera set a precedent as one of the best astro mirrorless cameras

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 24.2MP, Full-frame 35mm
Lens mount: E-mount
ISO range: 50-51200 (204800 for stills)
Viewfinder size/resolution: 0.5-inch, 2.35 million dots
Video capability: 4K UHD 30fps
Weight: 650g
Size: 126.9mm x 95.6mm x 73.7mm
Memory card type: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I/II compliant) 1x Multi slot for Memory
: Stick Duo/SD/SDHC/SDXC (UHS-I compliant)

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible low light video performance
+
Good battery life
+
93% AF point coverage 

Reasons to avoid

-
Certainly a more expensive option
-
Low stills resolution compared to competition
-
New version now available

The Sony A7 III is a favorite among astrophotographers that like to shoot mirrorless and is one of the brightest stars of the astro camera world (pardon the pun). Though its electronic viewfinder isn’t as detailed as others on this list it still provides a very helpful exposure-ramped view when composing astrophotographs. Low light autofocus detection, while not as sophisticated as some in this list, still performs well by working in -3 EV.

Although not marketed as Sony’s top-tier model for astrophotography, we found in our review that the A7 III’s low-light performance is one of the best on the market. Its RAW files retain good detail and contrast up to ISO 12800, although sharpness and texture start to disappear after 25600.

Shooting all night can empty the battery quickly, especially when you consider it has to run power to the rear screen and the EVF. However, this camera is CIPA-rated well above average for a mirrorless of this type and can shoot 710 still shots via the rear LCD monitor. It is a little more expensive than others in its class but if you’re after a real low light performer that is also versatile enough to excel in other styles of photography as well then the A7 III might be the one for you.


Nikon Z6: Best all-rounder for mirrorless

Nikon Z6 review

(Image credit: Andy Hartup)
This camera is ahead of the curve when it comes to clear night-time shots

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: 24.5MP, Full-frame 35mm
Lens mount: Z-mount
ISO range: 100-51200 (204800 expandable)
Viewfinder size/resolution: : 0.5-inch, 3.69 million dots
Video capability: 4K UHD 30fps
Weight: 705g
Size: 134 x 100.5 x 69.5 mm
Memory card type: 1x SD/SDHC/SDXC and UHS-II, 1x XQD/CF Express

Reasons to buy

+
Low image noise 
+
Superb electronic viewfinder 
+
Great low light Autofocus 

Reasons to avoid

-
Stills resolution not the highest 
-
Limited lens range 
-
Superseded by Z6 II 

Though superseded a while ago by the superior Nikon Z6 II (opens in new tab), the Z6 - one-half of the first two mirrorless cameras Nikon ever produced, is still one heck of a camera and excels in low light. For our money, we think the Z6 is better for astrophotographers than its big brother the Z7 due to the lower resolution. A lower resolution on the same full-frame image sensor means there’s less image noise to detract from the final shot - something that plagues astrophotographs the world over.

The Electronic Viewfinder is brilliantly detailed, with a million more dots than the Sony A7 III, and it gives a realistic, clear view of the world. Though the Z-mount lens range is expanding, it’s still not as established as other models in this roundup. However, with an FTZ adapter, you can use Nikon’s F-mount lenses from the past several decades so this isn't an issue. When reviewing this camera we found that shooting even up as high as ISO 12,800 there’s very little noise or softness to the image. This only starts to degrade a little on the maximum and expanded settings. This is perfect for low light situations like astro, especially if you’re trying to pick out unlit objects or scenery to give the night sky some context.


Canon EOS 6D Mk2: Best budget astro camera

Canon EOS 6D Mk2: Best budget astro camera

(Image credit: Amazon)
A helpful vari-angle touch screen screen and 4K timelapse feature makes it easy to compose in even the darkest skies

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: 26.2MP, Full-frame 35mm
Lens mount: EF-mount
ISO range: 100-40000 (102400 expandable)
Viewfinder size/resolution: Optical, 0.71x mag
Video capability: 1920 x 1080, 60fps
Weight: 765g
Size: 144.0 x 110.5 x 74.8 mm
Memory card type: SD, SDHC or SDXC (UHS-I) card

Reasons to buy

+
4K timelapse feature 
+
Handy vari-angle touchscreen display 
+
A lot of camera for the money 

Reasons to avoid

-
No 4K video recording 
-
Only one SD memory card slot 
-
Low dynamic range a shame 

This is an affordable DSLR for those wanting to dip their toes into astrophotography without breaking the bank. It does lack some modern features but the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is a brilliant full-frame option for its price point.

Its useful vari-angle touchscreen display makes it easy to compose the scene even if the camera is pointing directly up at the sky. For astro-shooters that like a moving image, the EOS 6D Mark II can shoot 4K time-lapses (in timelapse mode) making it perfect for detailed videos of the night sky, especially when paired with a slider or a star tracker.

Unfortunately, it only captures regular video footage at full-HD 1080p, but it records this at 60FPS for smooth results. Its dynamic range also leaves something to be desired, but if combined with plenty of calibration frames then this shouldn’t make much of a difference once images have been processed. A single SD card slot might have nervous shooters biting their nails during longer sessions, but with its 102400 expandable ISO and 26.2MP stills capture, you can relax knowing results will be clear and crisp every time.


ZWO Optical ASI183MC: Best for portability

Best cameras for astrophotography: ZWO ASI183MC Pro

(Image credit: Amazon)
High resolution stills with an astounding frame rate, this dedicated color astro cam is also one of the lightest

Specifications

Type: Color CMOS astronomy camera
Sensor: 20.1MP, 1-inch
Lens mount: Scope mounted
ISO range: N/A
Video capability: 5496 x 3672, 19 FPS
Weight: 140g
Size: 62mm diameter
Memory card type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Electronic shutter minimises camera movement 
+
19FPS perfect for solar/lunar photography 
+
USB 3.0 output 

Reasons to avoid

-
Scope mounted only 
-
Requires dedicated software to run 
-
Images at 12 bit depth maximum 

One of the best, dedicated, astrophotography cameras out there, the ZWO Optical ASI183MC is the color (but uncooled) version of the ZWO Optical ASI183. That means you won’t need to bring a stack of RGB filters with you when heading out to shoot. It’s also much smaller and lighter than other astro cams because there isn't dedicated cooling paraphernalia. However, that does mean noise might be a little more of a problem since the chip isn’t as cool. Still, at 1.6e read noise, it’s a serious camera not to be sniffed at.

As one of the more efficient camera models for astrophotography, it provides a whopping 84% Quantum Efficiency peak. For an astro camera it has a high pixel count as well, at approximately 20.48MP. It shoots an all-out frame rate of 19FPS at full resolution which makes the ZWO Optical ASI183MC ideal for solar or lunar imaging. However, if users drop the resolution down there's a possibility of shooting hundreds of frames a second if required. One downside, as with all dedicated astro cams, is that you’ll need to plug it into a computer with dedicated software to run it. Though, a fast USB3.0 port means a healthy data transfer for the higher frame rate captures.


QHY 8L CCD camera: Best for low image noise

Best cameras for astrophotography: QHY 8L cooled CCD camera

(Image credit: agenaastro.com/)

QHY 8L cooled CCD camera

This two-stage cooled camera is perfect for clear night sky images, devoid of noise, but only shoots 6MP stills

Specifications

Type: Color CCD astronomy camera
Sensor: 6MP, APS-C
Lens mount: Scope mounted
ISO range: N/A
Viewfinder size/resolution: N/A
Video capability: N/A
Weight: 400g
Size: 63mm diameter
Memory card type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Built-in cooling for better thermal dissipation 
+
Low image noise 
+
Color sensor negates need for RGB filters 

Reasons to avoid

-
Requires separate power source 
-
Low resolution images 
-
Heavy for its size 

With a price point comparable to many DSLRs, the QHY 8L cooled CCD camera is a one-shot color CCD camera worthy of being your next astrophotography camera. It comes with two-stage TEC cooling with construction designed to wick away heat quickly. This keeps the massive APS-C Sony ICX413AQ Super HAD CCD sensor below 40 degrees Celsius to minimize dark image noise.

Despite the in-built cooling system, this astro camera is sufficiently portable being both narrow and lightweight. However, the maximum 6MP stills images leave a lot to be desired. Compare this to the competition from the much more versatile DSLRs and mirrorless cameras which now capture around 50MP or more, and it seems paltry. The overall build is good, with a matte finish to avoid glare and flare when used in Hyperstar systems, and it has a cable clip to ensure a strong connection at all times.


ZWO Optical ASI533 Pro: Best for zero amp glow

Best cameras for astrophotography: ZWO ASI1533MC Pro Camera

(Image credit: https://astronomy-imaging-camera.com)
This camera’s design and build is very specifically geared towards clean astro shooting, as complemented by its zero amp glow

Specifications

Type: Color CMOS astronomy camera
Sensor: 9MP, 1-inch
Lens mount: Scope mounted
ISO range: N/A
Viewfinder size/resolution: N/A
Video capability: 3008 x 3008, 20FPS
Weight: 800g
Size: 78mm
Memory card type: N/A

Reasons to buy

+
Zero amp glow 
+
80% quantum efficiency 
+
High 20FPS frame rate 

Reasons to avoid

-
No mono version 
-
Square CMOS sensor unusual for some 

Conclusion

When scouring the market for the best camera to use for astrophotography, there are a few key factors that come into play that you should use to help you decide. Budget is important. New users, who may not be as experienced as seasoned photographers, often set aside less money than those who only want the very best images. However, image clarity is also key, and you'll find that larger sensors with fewer pixels can capture awesome astro shots with minimal image noise. By negating the effects of image noise we’re able to process imagery more efficiently with more detailed results.

Autofocus, while not particularly useful for astrophotography, may still be helpful for those that want to combine night-time shooting with near-twilight landscapes that show the brightest stars, planets, and satellites hanging above a beautiful foreground. So a low EV rating on the autofocus ability is crucial for sharp shots in the dark. Fiddling around with a dim-lit red head torch can be a little frustrating at times (and make shooting impossible if you forget it!) so take into account whether you need backlit illuminated buttons to help guide camera setup in the dark.

Cameras designed specifically for astrophotography have the predisposition to warm up during long exposure shots. If that's something you're interested in doing then it's worth looking for an astro cam that has built-in cooling to keep the performance of the image capture high. It won't come cheap though, and cameras with this are likely to be larger and heavier. It can also be a little noisier as the fans that are included can whir whilst they operate - depending on the model, of course.

When not mounting onto a telescope, photographers must consider lens choice when choosing a camera for astrophotography. While most major manufacturers have excellent ranges of top-quality glass, not all camera models can accept the full range of lenses due to differences in mount types. Ideally, fast lenses with wide apertures and excellent optical sharpness and clarity are what to look for when shooting astrophotographs. This, paired alongside a camera body that handles high ISO and image noise well and you should be good to go.

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Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer, educator and writer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients.