Finding the best astrophotography camera can be challenging. But if you follow our guide, you will have a clear idea of what will work, where and when.
Before we dive into the best cameras, make sure you know what astrophotography is, and what you can photograph as an astrophotographer by checking out our previous articles on the topic.
Types of Astrophotography Cameras
When it comes to astrophotography, DSLRs, mirrorless systems, CMOS, CCD, and even webcams and point-and-shoots can come in handy.
Here’s a rundown of the top cameras across the first four different types.
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You can’t go wrong investing in an entry-level DSLR camera and kit lens. This is something most of you probably already have in fact.
Some of the newer models of DSLRs come with many advanced settings. Yet for the sake of photographing the sky, they aren’t needed and they will also create a black hole in your savings.
We recommend the Canon Rebel T7i. Canon is one of the leaders on the DSLR camera market. They offer a staggering amount of camera lenses and software applications.
One of the best ways to get started in astrophotography is to use the DSLR with a camera lens, not a telescope. You can use a tripod or a simple tracking mount for this method.
The benefit of a DSLR is that you can modify it. This means that the stock IR cut filter is removed to allow the recording of a large range of red colours. And you can also place filters internally. This leads to a reduction in colour casts, refracted light and vignetting.
A DSLR is what you would use to photograph deep sky photography. Deep sky photography is photographing deep-sky objects in space such as galaxies, nebulae, and globular clusters.
These objects are also known as Messier Objects. Use your DSLR to capture amazing photographs such as this one.
There are many mirrorless systems that offer full-frame bodies, amazing resolution and an array of high-range ISOs. They also take your money far, far away from you.
The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark II is a great choice as an astrophotography camera. It is small and compact, great for long distances. It has a powerful zoom, perfect for focusing on that object many light years away.
If you are looking for an alternative, Panasonic GH5 belonging to the Lumix series is another great choice.
Its live composite mode is a very interesting way to capture and render tracked Milky Way shots. Also, its four-thirds sensor means you are closer to the action due to the cropped sensor.
Again, use this camera on a tripod or tracking mount and let it do its thing. It can capture low light scenes too, as it can shoot at up to ISO 25,600. Its silent shooting means that those hungry bears won’t be able to hear you taking photographs in the dead of night.
Unlike the CMOS and CCD cameras, these are not dedicated cameras for astrophotography. This means they are versatile across all fields of photography, making the purchase of these a little more acceptable.
A mirrorless system is what you would use to photograph Landscape Astrophotography. Landscape astrophotography is a lot more general.
Here, you are incorporating the landscape and astrophotography together. These images often capture and show the allure of the Milky Way. This type of photography can also include constellations, planet conjunction and planets.
Your mirrorless system is perfect for these images, due to their high-number ISO.
Apart from the DSLR and mirrorless systems, there are two different kinds of dedicated cameras for astro and deep sky photography. The ZWO ASI1600MM Pro 16 MP CMOS is one of these. These cameras excel at long exposures for deep sky imaging.
They do, however, need dedicated computer software to operate. Many of them need multiple filters, adding to the cost.
Another disadvantage with these cameras is that they are dedicated. They can’t photograph your cousin’s wedding. Nor can they take captivating photographs of your dog Kevin.
A CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) astro photography camera with a mono sensor like the ZWO ASI 1600MM Pro records images in greyscale. This means that if you want to shoot in colour, a minimum of 3 filters (R, G, B) are necessary.
Mono CMOS sensors are much more sensitive than their colour counterparts. They will just make you work a little harder.
The other benefit here is that the CMOS sensors are cheaper than the CCD siblings.
A CCD (charge-coupled device) astro photography camera is designed for astronomical imaging. They usually need a telescope to operate.
These cameras work differently than a DSLR, as they maximize their efforts in collecting light for long periods of time. They are the masters of long exposures.
A CCD camera has a cooler that can keep the sensor from overheating. This helps the resulting images have very little noise.
The Orion Star Shoot G4 is a perfect CCD sensor astro photography camera. Again, they need to work with a telescope via three different threads.
The CCD sensors create high-quality, low-noise images. The CMOS sensors, traditionally, are more susceptible to noise.
A CMOS or CDD camera is what you would use to photograph Narrowband and Solar System Imaging / Planetary Astrophotography.
Narrowband imaging is very interesting, used by professional astrophotographers around the world. Those taken by the Hubble Space Telescope are of narrowband photography, using a CMOS sensor.
The purpose here is to shoot deep-sky objects through different filters. These filters only pick up certain wavelengths of light.
There you have it. Four different cameras for four different astrophotography scenarios.
If you are still unsure about which system would benefit you the most, use what you already have. A point-and-shoot camera will work with a telescope. Borrow or rent one to see if it fits your style.
If you have a DSLR, chances are they will take amazing images, but you may have to acquire lenses to get you closer to the subject. A tripod and telephoto lens would work well too.
If you have a mirrorless system, use a long exposure to grab a great landscape with the milky way dangling above.
Our recommendation would be to start slowly and find your feet. Then, after many images and scenarios, if you are still hooked, go for a CMOS or CDD sensor. They will get you closer, giving you a higher resolution photograph. They are challenging to use, especially with the software they provide with the cameras.
But, photography is all about learning, practising and eventually getting it, right?