The best camera for astrophotography in 2022: tools and lenses to shoot night skies

Astrophotography captures what you see in the sky. It is a way to create beautiful images of the cosmos. The hardest part of the entire process is choosing the right astrophotography camera.

Your needs will determine the type of astrophotography camera that you need. However, your budget and experience will also play a role.


Credit: iStock

When choosing the right camera for astrophotography, consider whether you want to do wide-field, deep-sky, or planetary imaging. Night-sky imaging requires long exposures, remote shutter capability, ISO control, and the ability to alter light sensitivity.

We’ll be going through the top astro-imaging cameras, outlining their strengths and limitations, starting with the type that most people have.

Continue reading to find our guide on the best astrophotography cameras.

What camera should you purchase for astrophotography photography?

Smartphones

You can use your smartphone every day to capture many night-sky objects. Credit: iStock

Many smartphones are capable of performing basic astrophotography. Others can take long exposures that allow you to pick up details such as star trails or Milky Way details.

To take photos, you can also hold your smartphone up to a telescope eyepiece. Or use an adaptor for your smartphone (more details below). Although this allows for planetary and lunar imaging, it is difficult to capture sharp images.

Andromeda was captured using the Google Pixel 4 smartphone’s ‘Night Sight” mode. Credit: Paul Money

Some smartphones come with multiple cameras, but they can be difficult to align to the eyepieces. Smartphones aren’t dedicated to astrophotography and they don’t provide exposure control like a DSLR camera.

You can read more about smartphone astrophotography by reading our top tips and best smartphone astrophotography gadgets.

ForStar trails and general wide-field imaging

LimitationsDeep sky photography

Ideal accessories Tripod, telescope adaptor

DSLRs

Canon EOS M100 DSLR camera

DSLRs (Digital single lens reflex cameras) are great all-rounders. These cameras can be used to adapt for many astronomy goals, including changing the ISO level and managing exposure lengths.

An ISO setting that is higher than the minimum allows a DSLR to pick up details from deep-sky objects such as nebulae. However, if the exposure time is long, noise can creep in. This can occur because either the ISO setting is too high (the best ISO differs between cameras) or because it is heating up.

Picture saved with settings embedded.

Tom Howard captured the Andromeda Galaxy with a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera and TS-Optics 65mm quadruplet telescope.

DSLRs that have ‘Live View’ (or video capability) can be used to take planetary images, but they are less effective at removing atmospheric distortion than a planet camera. This guide will explain how to see astronomically.

Astro-imagers can modify a DSLR to remove the infrared filter. This makes it more sensitive for nebulae. Modified DSLRs allow narrowband filters to also be used which enhances image details.

Our guide will show you how to keep your DSLR camera in top condition. Our DSLR guide will help you get more from your camera.

Most suitable forWidefield, lunar, and deep-sky imaging

LimitationsExposures lasting more than 5 minutes, planetary imagery

Ideal accessoriesTracking mounting, intervalometer (remote shutter-release cable)

Webcams and planetary cameras

A laptop is required to view webcams and planetary images. Credit: Steve Marsh

A telescope is required for planetary imaging. Reflectors are best because they have a long focal length.

A planetary camera can be used in conjunction with a 2x Barlow lenses to obtain the required magnification for planet detail. The camera’s high framerate will also allow you to cut through atmospheric turbulentence.

To run these cameras, you will need a laptop. A solid tracking telescope mount, which allows for the planet to be centrally positioned in your field of view, is also required.

Craig Towell captured a mosaic of the Moon from Bristol, UK using an Altair Astro GPCAM3 290M monocam, Fullerscope 8.75″ f/7.5 Newtonian, and Sky-Watcher EQ6 mounting.

Deep-sky imaging is difficult because planetary cameras are small.

You can also modify an off-the shelf webcam to allow for planetary imaging.

Best suited toLunar or planetary imaging

LimitationsDeep sky objects and wide-field imagery

Ideal accessoriesLaptop and 2x Barlow lenses, as well as processing software (eg RegiStax).

CMOS & CCD cameras

QHYCCD QHY168C CMOS color camera. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

CCDs and CMOS are dedicated astrocams that can be attached to a telescope. Each is available in either a ‘colour’ (for RGB (Red Green and Blue) imaging) or a’mono” variant. Mono cameras can only be used with colour filters or narrowband filters.

CCD (charge-coupled devices) cameras are well-suited for long exposure astrophotography (10+ minutes per frame). They have’set point’ cooling systems which keep the sensor temperature constant. This is also known as ’active’ camera cooling.

CMOS sensors are more efficient with shorter exposures. They can also be actively or passively cooled.

Rogerio Alonso captured the Southern Pinwheel Galaxy, Minas Gerais Brazil with a ZWO Optical ASI1600MM CMOS Camera, Sky-Watcher 200/1000mm Newtonian, and SkyWatcher AZ-EQ6GT mount.

To run both devices, you will need a laptop. Additional accessories, such as software and guiding equipment, are required to maximize CCD exposure times. These cameras can be difficult to use so it is best to work your way up slowly.

These adaptors can be used to fit the ‘astrocams’ to DSLR lens lenses. This allows for wide-field, deep-sky imaging.

You can find more information about CCDs in our guide to the best astrophotography CCD cameras or our beginner’s guide for CMOS astrophotography.

Most suitable for Deep Sky Imaging

LimitationsMilky Way & Wide-Field Imaging

Accessories Laptops, telescopes, guide equipment, and software

Connecting a camera to a telescope

An adaptor for smartphones will allow you to align your phone’s camera with your telescope eyepiece.

A DSLR and lenses can take you far in astrophotography, but a telescope will allow you to see deeper into the sky or planets. You can see more detail and your target will appear larger.

Smartphones are compatible with telescope eyepiece holders via adaptors. You just need to find the one that fits your model. You can make your own adaptor by following our DIY guide.

A T-ring and a nosepiece are required to attach a DSLR. The T-ring attaches to the camera just like a lens. A Canon-fit T-ring is required if you have a Canon DSLR. You can choose between a nosepiece that is 2-inch or 1.25 inches. Most telescopes will accept either of these diameters.

You will need to modify a webcam to fit the scope’s eyepiece holders. It is often necessary to take the webcam apart and rehouse it in a suitable case. The model will determine how difficult or effective this task is.

If you’re using a 2x, 3x or 4x Barlow lens with a reflector you will need to insert the Barlow into your eyepiece barrel before attaching the webcam.

The CCD or CMOS designated planetary cameras come with a nosepiece attachment to fit your scope.

Photo Taken In Fukuoka, Japan

Do your research to find the best astrophotography camera for you. Credit: Misato Namura / EyeEm/ Getty Images

Over the years, we’ve reviewed many astro imaging cameras at BBC Sky at Night Magazine. These range from low-cost models that offer reliable quality to professionals who want to take their astrophotography further.

You can read all our reviews about astrophotography cameras to find out more. Our team of experts has created numerous guides for astrophotography to help you use your camera to capture images in the night sky and deep-sky targets.

Don’t forget your astrophotos. We love seeing them and could publish them in a future BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

19 The best astrophotography cameras

Canon EOS 1000D D-SLR camera with a Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens, Bath, April 29, 2010. (Photo by Simon Lees/Digital Camera magazine via Getty Images)

Canon EOS 1000D DSLR

Credit: Digital Camera Magazine/Getty Images4.0 stars rating

Price PS199

Although the Canon EOS 1000D camera is older, it’s a great entry-level DSLR for beginners in astrophotography. It can be compared with Canon’s EOS Ra astrophotography cameras further down the list to see what we mean.

The 1000D can produce excellent astrophotography photos. The 1000D is capable of producing excellent astrophotos even at high ISO settings. It also has great noise handling. You can find a DSLR for as low as $50 online, or buy one used.

For advice on buying secondhand equipment in astronomy, please refer to our guide to purchasing it.

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