The 6 Best Astrophotography Cameras for Any Budget (2022)
Looking up at the night sky and wanting to capture its awe-inspiring beauty is a feeling familiar to most photographers and astronomy enthusiasts. In this article, I’ll to explain exactly how to do that and which of the best astrophotography cameras are right for you and your budget.
I’m coming at it from a photographer’s point of view: I spend my time showing people how to become travel photographers, and shooting astrophotography is a great way to develop your skills behind the camera.
While there are some amazing cameras out there specifically designed for astrophotography, I’m going to focus on more traditional consumer/prosumer cameras. The astrophotography cameras I’m going to talk about don’t need expensive filters and complicated computer-controlled, star-tracking tripod mounts in order to work.
At its most basic level, all you’ll need to create stunning images of the sky at night is one of the cameras mentioned in this article (or similar), a lens, a tripod and your own sense of creativity.
This post was originally published in May 2019, and was updated in May 2022 with newer models of the cameras we recommend, when they are now available.
Factors to Consider for Astrophotography
By far the most important settings you need to consider are the exposure settings. These will tell your camera how much light to capture. Something that you won’t be surprised to hear is very important when shooting in the dead of night.
The first thing you need to set is your aperture. It’s really simple, you just set it to be as wide as possible.
2. Shutter Speed
Next up is the shutter speed. This depends on what focal length you are using. To roughly calculate your shutter speed you should use “the 500 rule” as a guideline. Here’s a really handy video explaining how the 500 rule works for full frame and crop sensor cameras, or you could look into using an app like PhotoPills to with all the settings when you’re out shooting photos.
The ISO you’ll use totally depends on a number of different factors like your lens’s maximum aperture, ambient light, and model of camera. But as a rule of thumb, it should be somewhere between 2000 and 5000. Just take several test shots and see what looks best.
To ensure your images are all in focus, switch your camera and lens to manual focus and twist the focus ring all the way to infinity.
5. LCD Screen Brightness
In your camera’s settings, you need to turn the LCD screen brightness down as low as it will go. LCD screens are backlit, so if you don’t turn the brightness down the image previews on the back of your camera won’t accurately represent the actual photo.
When you get back to your computer and take a look at the files you’ll be bitterly disappointed if you had the LCD brightness turned up. They will look much darker and a lot less spectacular than they did when you previewed them on your camera.
6. Ability to Shoot in RAW
You need to shoot in RAW format when it comes to astrophotography because it gives you much more flexibility during the editing process. Photos of the night sky come alive in the editing suite so it’s important to capture as much information as possible in a large file.
7. Location Scouting
Planning when and where your shoot will take place is just as important as choosing the best camera for astrophotography. You need to check the weather and plan to shoot when the skies are clear.
Also, you’ll need tofind a location with minimal light pollution. The same goes for nights when the moon is very bright. You are best off choosing to shoot on a night when there will be minimal moonlight.
One last thing to consider is your composition.
While pointing your camera straight up at the sky is a great way to get some stunning images, think about how you can add perspective to the scene by incorporating some foreground interest.
Think about these things when choosing your next astrophotography shoot location and you’ll already be halfway there to capturing a keeper.
Other Camera Factors to Keep in Mind
A lot of people will say that you need a full-frame camera for shooting the night sky. They say this for a number of reasons but it’s mainly because full-frame cameras have larger sensors. A larger sensor means it has a greater dynamic range, or in other words, it will perform better in low-light situations.
But if you’re on a budget, buying a full-frame camera might simply not be an option. However don’t worry, you can still shoot astrophotography.
If you are on a budget, you’ll need a digital camera with an APS-C sensor, sometimes known as a crop sensor. These sensors are smaller than full-frame ones but when used in the right way can produce amazing results. APS-C cameras also tend to be cheaper.
There are two main things to look for when choosing the best camera for night sky photography. Number one is the ability to use full manual mode, and the second is the ability to change lenses.
You need to be able to use a wide-angle lens (more on this later) and control the three main settings manually when it comes to exposure: ISO, shutter speed and aperture.
The Best Budget-Friendly Astrophotography Cameras
There are plenty of great options for astrophotography cameras, but most of us don’t have a bucket of money to spend – especially for our first camera. Here are four great budget-friendly astrophotography cameras to get you started, and if you love the hobby you can always upgrade later (I have two more recommendations for high-end cameras later).
One of the best APS-Cs on the market today, the Nikon D7500 is a fantastic alternative for those venturing in the art of astrophotography. This camera has stunning features and promises to deliver the same image quality as the amazing Nikon D500.
Let’s start with the ergonomics. Overall, the Nikon D7500 has a nice grip and it’s comfortable to hold for a long period of time. Plus, it is reasonably lightweight As for the image quality, the Nikon D7500 has fewer pixels – it features a 20-megapixel sensor. Don’t let that fool you, though. While it has a lower resolution, this camera has a fantastic dynamic range and superior low-light performance
The Nikon D7500 also has a great high ISO performance, topping out at ISO 1,640,000. A pleasant surprise is that this camera comes with a good buffer capacity of 50 raw (NEF) files.
- Sensor: APS-C
- Megapixels: 20
- Focus points: 51 total
- Native ISO range: 100 – 51,200
- Native shutter speed: 1/8000 – 30 sec
Canon EOS 6D Mark II
The Canon EOS 6D Mark II had a lot of hype around it when it first came out. Mainly, because it put a full frame camera into the hands of many amateurs who otherwise were priced out of the market.
This full-frame sensor camera gives rookies that extra dynamic range, lowlight ability, and higher quality. Given its price point, the Canon EOS 6D Mark II comes with some impressive specs, like the new 45 point autofocus system, high ISO performance, dual pixel autofocus in Live View, and faster six-and-a-half frames per second continues shootings. However, the biggest selling point for the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is the optical viewfinder.
The only downside to the 6D for astrophotographers is that it doesn’t come with a built-in timer or intervalometer, but you can solve this with an external time-lapse intervalometer.
- Sensor: CMOS
- Megapixels: 26.2
- Focus points: 45 total
- Native ISO range: 100-25600
- Native shutter speed: 1/4000 – 30 sec
Buy the Canon EOS 6D Mark II on Amazon
The first astrophotography camera on this list is the Sony A6600, the latest model of Sony’s successful A600 series. It’s a great camera for beginners or people just getting started out in astrophotography.
You can get the camera and lens together in a kit for a reasonable price. While getting the camera with a kit lens is a great idea, especially if it’s your first camera, the kit lens isn’t necessarily the best lens for astrophotography. But it is a great lens when you’re starting out for other types of photography.
For astrophotography, you’ll need a much wider focal length and maximum aperture. I recommend pairing the Sony a6600 with the Samyang 12mm f/2.0 E-mount lens for the best results. The Samyang lens is affordable and known for being a superb lens for shooting the night sky.
Unlike its predecessors, the A6600 features a better processor and better high-ISO image quality. Plus, it has a much better burst depth. However, the highlight of the A6600 is by far the sensor’s 5-axis image stabilization in-camera. It’s quite impressive, considering this camera is pretty small.
The only downside to the Sony a6600 is that because it has a smaller APS-C sized sensor, the image quality at high ISOs does suffer. You shouldn’t really go over ISO 3200 with this camera. You can achieve great shots under ISO 3200 though and, for the price, you can’t really complain.
- Sensor: APS-C
- Megapixels: 24.20
- Focus points: 850 total
- Native ISO range: 100 – 32,000
- Native shutter speed: 1/4000 – 30-sec
Fujifilm X-T30 II
In my opinion, the Fujifilm X-T30 II is the best cheap camera for night sky photography. The thing that I love about the X-T30 II, and all Fujis for that matter, is the tactile dials it has. They allow you to physically adjust the camera’s setting without diving into the menu. The old-school feel of the camera combined with the latest modern technology makes it a pleasure to use.
It’s fun and brings joy back to photography. And if it’s a pleasure to use, it encourages you to go out and shoot more. Practice will improve your photography more than anything else.
Again, since we are talking about budget-friendly options, the best lens for this camera when it comes to shooting the sky at night is the Samyang 12mm f/2.0 x-mount. Note the different mounts between the Sony and the Fujifilm. You must choose the right mount for the right camera.
- Sensor: APS-C
- Megapixels: 26
- Focus points: 325 total
- Native ISO range: 80-51200
- Native shutter speed: 1/32000 – 900 sec
Buy the Fujifilm X-T30 II on Amazon
The Best High-Performance Astrophotography Cameras
These next two cameras are geared towards advanced amateurs and pros. You will be able to achieve incredible results with them, but those results come at a cost.
The first high-performance camera on this list is another Sony. The A7Riii is a flagship model and is jam-packed full of powerful features. From its mammoth 42.2 megapixel sensor to its low-light performance and video capabilities, it is probably the best all-around camera on the market today.
Its full-frame sensor absorbs as much light as you can throw at it making it a great astrophotography camera.
It’s the only camera on this list to have In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) which comes in very handy for astrophotography. Any unintended camera shake during the long exposures needed to capture the stars will be eliminated.
Pair this camera with the equally mind-blowing FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens and you’ve got a package that will help you capture the stars and beyond like no other.
- Sensor: Full frame
- Megapixels: 42.2
- Focus points: 824 total
- Native ISO range: 100 – 32000
- Native shutter speed: 1/8000 – 30 sec
Canon 5D Mark IV
Canon’s latest iteration of its famous 5D model is the last camera we are going to talk about. The 5D Mark IV has led the charge for Canon in the “prosumer” market since 2016 when it was first released.
It has proven its worth as a true workhorse that can be relied upon in any situation. It too has a full frame sensor which will help you to extract every bit of detail from the night sky. With a great dynamic range and low-light performance, the Canon 5D Mark IV firmly cements its place on this list.
One of the best things about Canon cameras though is the range of lenses available. Canon produces some of the best glass out of any camera manufacturer. The EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM is probably Canon’s best wide-angle lens. But if you want something totally different, you can have a lot of fun with their fisheye lens, the EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM. Fisheye lenses really come into their own in astrophotography.
- Sensor: Full frame
- Megapixels: 30.4
- Focus points: 61 total
- Native ISO range: 100 – 32000
- Native shutter speed: 1/8000 – 30 sec
Buy the Canon 5D Mark IV on Amazon
Other Photography Gear You’ll Need for Astrophotography
There are a few extra pieces of equipment you’ll need for astrophotography.
You will be shooting long exposures. The camera has to be kept totally still for the duration of the exposure. So a good quality tripod is essential.
And I do mean a good quality one.
A cheap, flimsy one won’t work, especially if you are on soft, uneven ground or there is any wind. Go for reputable brands like Manfrotto or Vanguard. Something like the Vanguard Alta Pro 263B or the Manfrotto MT055CX Pro4 (catchy name, right?) will do the job.
Shutter Release or Remote
Most cameras can only shoot up to a 30-second exposure without a shutter release cable. While you probably won’t need to go over 30 seconds for astrophotography, you do need to minimize camera shake as much as possible.
Even pressing the shutter button to take a photo wobbles the camera slightly. Using a shutter release cable or remote eliminates that.
Red Light Flashlight/Headlamp
You’re going to be setting your gear up in the dark so it’s a great idea to have a red flashlight with you. Even better, a headlamp with a red setting will give you two hands free for setup and shooting.
At the end of the day, choosing the best camera for night sky photography comes down to personal preference and budget. While an expensive 40+ megapixel camera may be a great choice on paper, if it’s unattainable to you then it simply isn’t the best option.
As Chase Jarvis said: “The best camera is the one that’s with you”.
The best way you can improve any type of photography is by getting out there and practicing. Once you have the best astrophotography camera for you, spend your money on things like travel. The more you focus on shooting different locations, the quicker you’ll find your photography improving.
Have any questions about these astrophotography cameras or shooting astro photos? Let me know in the comments.
Great article, thank you! Could you recommend a shutter release or remote for a Nikon D3400?
When it comes to shutter realises I don’t think you need anything fancy. I’ve only ever used the cheapest ones possible and they work just fine, as long as it opens and closes the shutter you’re good to go. I’d recommend something like this for the D3400: https://amzn.to/31xtiuI
Just lookup Nikon D3400 Wireless Remote Control. Can get one in eBay for less then 2 bucks.
This is an older article, but I found it so I’m assuming people will still need this info. The Nikon D3400 is a bit of a outlier for using an intervalometer for AP. They (Nikon) removed the DC2 connection that’s standard on most of their cameras and you have to use a intervalometer that relies on IR triggers like the “Promaster Multi-Function IR Timer Remote”. Search for that on Amazon (it’s $70) and based on the reviews, works well.
Thanks for the update, Scot! This post is on my list to update to the latest models in 2022, at some point this year.
Thank you for the camera advice. Does the use of a camera with a telescope change your recommendations at all? That is, when using a camera body without the lens, are there cameras you’d recommend rather than those you’ve listed here? I’m looking for something in the $750-$1,000 range, for a body, with an adjustable LCD screen and wi-fi capability. Thanks for any advice you can offer!
Thank you. I am trying to replace my old Canon Powershot that has shot some OK but limited time lapse night sky video and am searching for articles like yours to help me with that decision. I think that your cameras + lenses are out of my budget? But great article. Thank you
Thanks for reading, Dan! Unfortunately good astrophotography cameras do require an investment, though smartphone cameras are getting better at it to!
Hello. I love to take pictures of the seasons and of space or sky. Lol. Can you or someone please tell me what camera is best. I never knew how relaxing taking pet pictures of the world and nature would feel until I started doing it with my son who is on the autism spectrum.
Hi, I have a quick question for you. I’m buying a new DSLR camera and I’m between Nikon and Canon. Do you think those are the best brands? And do you prefer one over the other? It seems like there are other cheaper options out there. I’m trying not to break the bank of course. I really appreciate the advice!
Best Camera for AP, especially for Small Objects, is the Samsung NX-mini
– 4 min. ISO 800 Exposure is enough for the faintest Galaxies-Nebulae
– BSI Sensor is Sony imx183 = Top QE of 84% in Green Channel
– IR-cut Filter very Easy to remove, even by a non-specialist
I AM NEW TO ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY I AM A DISABLED ROYAL ENGINEER/PARA IN MY 70S AND ON A SMALL WAR PENSION IS THERE ANYTHING OUT THERE FOR AROUND £400 TO £500 FOR AN OLD COFFIN DODGER, I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN FASCINATED BY ASTRONOMY BUT ALWAYS STRUGGLED WITH THE COST OF THE EQUIPMENT, I HAVE AN OLD SECOND-HAND SKYWATCHER TELESCOPE BUT MY PANASONIC LUMIX CAMERA, WHICH I LOVE, WILL NOT FIT ON IT AS THE LENS IS NOT DETACHABLE, MOST OF THE OTHER ASTRONOMY BUFFS AT MACCLESFIELD ASTRO SOCIETY RECOMMEND CANON
Hello. I am Looking for a budget camera for my son. Of all of these in this article can you name the top 3 you would recommend. He loves astronomy and loves taking pictures.