Best lenses for astrophotography
Astrophotography is something you can do with a basic DSLR or mirrorless camera and its kit lens. Without one of the best lenses for astrophotography, however, your results might not be quite what you imagined and you’ll soon be looking around for upgrades.
Once you’re ready for a new lens, apertures of f2.8 and wider are what you’re looking for, to let as much light reach your camera’s sensor as possible. If you’re serious about the hobby, investing in one of the best cameras for astrophotography is also a no-brainer — when you’re set-up with a good body and a solid lens, you’ll see some serious improvements in your images.
There are plenty of other astro accessories worth throwing in your kit bag too, from small things like lens heaters, intervalometers to larger bits of kit like star trackers. However, you’ll notice much more of an improvement when using a good quality lens, so start there if you can.
Third party lens manufacturers such as Sigma come into their own when you’re looking for astrophotography lenses, as not only are their lenses often cheaper, but they tend to create lenses that fill niches overlooked by the camera manufacturers. Whether primes or zoom lenses, there’s an astro lens to fit every sort of budget. In fact, some of the cheaper manual-focus lenses can outclass their more sophisticated competition, as you don’t necessarily need AF when focusing on the stars.
Best lens for astrophotography overall
(Image credit: Sigma)
The first thing you’ll notice when handling this lens for the first time is its weight. At 2.58 lbs on the scales, this is a heavyweight lens, but the good news is that this is also matched by a heavyweight performance. Build quality is excellent and the lens is also weather sealed, however, this is not an important consideration for astrophotography. The fixed focal length and extra-wide field of view is also ideal for capturing expansive vistas of the landscape and night sky.
Performance in the field is nothing short of exceptional. Stars appear pin-sharp, even when the aperture is opened up to its impressive f/1.8 maximum, although stopping down the aperture a little will improve the coma that appears towards the corners of the image frame at its widest opening. Chromatic aberration (fringing) is well controlled when shooting at wide apertures and image distortion is handled equally well – not something you will find with all ultra-wide lenses.
It’s worth noting that the lens doesn’t have a filter thread due to the bulbous nature of its front element. This may not be a deal-breaker for astrophotography, but it’s a consideration to keep in mind if you also plan to use this lens for daytime shoots. For an ultra-wide lens, the performance of the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art is top class.
Most versatile astro lens
(Image credit: Sigma)
The Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM is another lens from Sigma’s ‘Art’ range, well known for their optical quality and high-class engineering. This lens has more than a passing resemblance to the fixed 14mm focal length of Sigma’s 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art but has the added benefit of boasting a zoom range from 14mm through to 24mm. There is always a trade-off when using zoom lenses for astrophotography and it comes in the shape of a reduced maximum aperture size of f/2.8. Its light collecting ability is understandably weaker than its 14mm f/1.8 prime lens stable-mate, however, the advantage of using a zoom lens is the flexibility it affords for shooting at various focal lengths.
The lens is optimized for full-frame cameras and has a typically solid Sigma construction. Zoom and focus rings operate smoothly and the lens has a rapid and almost silent autofocus – handy if you wish to use the lens for daytime use. Image distortion is minimal and stars appear sharp throughout most of the image frame with little to no chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture setting. This lens is available in Canon and Nikon mount options but the Canon version can also be used on the Sony E-Mount system when using Sigma’s MC-11 mount converter.
This lens is quite simply one of the best lenses on the market today for astrophotography.
Best budget lens for astrophotography
(Image credit: Rokinon/ Samyang)
Astrophotography can be an expensive hobby, not least because this genre of photography demands the use of fast lenses, which usually comes at a premium. This is where the Rokinon/Samyang 14mm f/2.8 steps in. Although this South Korean made lens sits at the lower end of the price spectrum in this list, make no mistake, it deserves its place on the list as one of the best lenses for astrophotography.
There are reasons why this lens is cheaper than other ultra-wide lenses and that is primarily because this lens is fully manual – both the focus and aperture are controlled manually. As focus is usually set manually in astrophotography anyway, this doesn’t present a problem. Similarly, setting the aperture using the manual adjustment ring near the base of the lens is not a huge issue. It does, however, mean that there’s no electronic connection between the lens and the camera attached to it, so no image data will be relayed with your images. The construction of the lens body, although plastic, is fairly solid and lightweight.
Star sharpness is generally very good on the Rokinon/Samyang but there is deteriorating sharpness towards the corners at f/2.8, with some evidence of coma and chromatic aberrations. The distortion and vignetting are heavy with this lens but both of these can be corrected in post processing.
In summary, this is a very capable and affordable ultra-wide lens that is ideal for newcomers to astrophotography or those with a smaller budget.
Best for crop sensor DSLRs
(Image credit: Tokina)
Released in 2015, the Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX sports a dated appearance from another decade. Despite its retro styling, this lens has a tough build, superb sharpness and a wide maximum aperture of f/2.8, which makes it ideal for astrophotography. The Tokina has been specifically manufactured for cameras with an APS-C sensor and offers mount options for both Canon and Nikon users.
Both Canon and Nikon have competing ultra wide-angle zoom lenses for APS-C cameras, however, only the Tokina offers a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. The lens is provided with a removable lens hood, which is a handy addition and helps to keep dew from forming on the glass element during humid nights under the stars. When the hood is removed, there’s an option of using the 82mm thread to attach filters such as noise pollution or star glow filter to enhance your night images. Auto-focus is a little slow and noisy on the Tokina, although this is unlikely to be of concern when shooting the night sky because manual focusing is the order of the day.
Optically, the Tokina produces excellent results with sharp images at f/2.8. Image quality reduces towards the corners with some spherical aberration at the short end of the focal range, but this is a trait exhibited by many fast lenses and is not unusual in the context of astrophotography. Coma is well controlled. Overall, this lens represents fantastic value for money and is probably the best ultra wide-angle zoom lens for photographers wielding an APS-C Canon or Nikon.
Best for Sony cameras
(Image credit: Sony)
The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM is from Sony’s line of best-quality lenses, the ‘G-Master’ range, and is the most expensive lens on the list. This lens has a solid build, is compact and relatively light at just 1.87 lbs – quite a feat for an f/2.8 aperture lens with such a wide viewing angle. The combination of a large aperture and extra-wide viewing angle means that the front glass element is large and bulbous by design. A petal-shaped integrated hood protects the glass, however, this also means there’s no option to use a front filter without investing in an adapted filter system. The good news is that there’s a slot in the rear of the lens for gel filters.
Image quality is nothing less than spectacular. Stars appear extremely sharp in the centre of the image and still very sharp in the corners throughout the full focal length range, even at the widest aperture of f/2.8. The shortest focal length of 12mm gives a whopping viewing angle of 122 degrees – perfect for capturing huge portions of the Milky Way and landscape, which can only be achieved by taking panoramas with many other lenses.
If you’re a Sony user and demand the best quality images from your equipment, there’s no need to look any further than this classy lens for astrophotography. Yes, it’s a pricey lens but you get a lot of bang for your buck and it might be the only astro lens you ever need.
Sony prime lens for astro
(Image credit: Sony)
This bright, ultra-wide 14mm prime lens is Sony’s answer to Sigma’s 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art lens. Both lenses offer the same fixed focal length and maximum aperture but there’s a marked difference between the two. The Sony FE 14mm F1.8 GM has been designed specifically for its mirrorless system, which means Sony have been able to engineer a much smaller and lighter lens. For comparison, the Sony weighs in at 1.02 lbs and the Sigma tips the scales at a chunky 2.6 lbs. This translates into a much better balance when the native Sony lens is fitted to a Sony camera.
The Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM is the widest Sony prime lens and it has the usual high-resolution, weather seals and smooth focusing like all the lenses in Sony’s G-Master range. The lens also incorporates a dedicated aperture control ring for manual control, which is a handy feature for quick exposure changes. The front element is fluorine-coated to repel moisture and is protected by an integrated lens hood. Image quality is excellent and star sharpness is maintained throughout the frame and towards the corners with minimal distortion and vignetting.
It might be a niche focal length but, at a similar price point to the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM, it’s hard to see why a Sony user would look beyond this native Sony 14mm prime for an ultra-wide astrophotography lens.
Best for Nikon mirrorless
(Image credit: Nikon)
Touted by Nikon as the world’s shortest full-frame f/2.8 ultra-wide-angle zoom, this fully sealed lens slots into the trinity of Nikon’s professional mirrorless zoom lenses. At just 1 lb 7oz in weight the Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S has a compact and lightweight construction, despite its wide aperture and ultra-wide viewing angle at the shortest end of the focal range. Build quality is excellent and the front element is noticeably less bulbous than similar lenses from other brands. This allows the option of attaching 112mm filters to the front of the lens using the supplied lens hood. However, this is of limited appeal for astrophotography and 112mm threaded filters are costly. The inclusion of a customizable Lens Function (L-fn) button gives the user the ability to further modify settings instantly without having to scroll through menus.
The Nikkor has exceptional image quality with little distortion and vignetting. More importantly, coma and other aberrations are largely absent from the far corners of the image frame. The lens sports a programmable lens control ring which, although not very useful for astrophotography, may be beneficial for daytime photography. Of more interest to astrophotographers is the handy LCD display on the lens that allows the user to easily see and make changes in the dark without having to switch on a headlamp.
In summary, this is the ideal native astrophotography lens for the Nikon mirrorless system, if a little expensive.
Best Nikon DSLR lens
(Image credit: Nikon)
The Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 ED has been around since 2008 and forms part of the “holy trinity” of Nikon lenses, along with the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. This lens has stood the test of time and is still a favorite among astrophotographers.
No lens is bomb-proof but the construction of this lens means it is built to last and it deals with whatever conditions are thrown at it, including the occasional knock. Its simple but effective design means the lens is easy to handle, even on cold nights while wearing gloves. The integral petal-shaped lens hood protecting the front element means that a costly third party filter adapter is needed to attach filters, although this is only likely to be an issue if you plan to use the lens during the daytime. The focus ring is comfortable to grip and the movement is smooth.
This lens is very sharp. With the aperture fully open at f/2.8, images are crisp and stars appear as pinpoints with slight star elongation towards the corners – normal for this type of lens. There is a small amount of barrel distortion but this is easily fixed with a simple click in on the lens profile in Lightroom.
Full frame Nikon users will love the versatility and quality of images this lens delivers but now there are newer alternatives on the market, such as the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art, which offers full weather sealing and fluorine-coated optics. That being said, the Nikorr is a superlative ultra-wide zoom for astrophotography, provided you are happy to carry around the extra weight.
Best Canon RF lens
(Image credit: Canon)
The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM uses Canon’s highest quality L-series glass and is beautifully crafted, with a clean uncluttered design. Exposure controls can be assigned to the customizable control ring via an RF camera body and the lens has smooth, silent focus and zoom rings. The lens boasts 5 stops of optical stabilization which, although not relevant in astrophotography, is a huge bonus when shooting handheld in other low light situations. When connected to a compatible RF body, this is boosted to an impressive 8 stops.
At 15mm, the lens has a 1mm wider viewing angle than the existing 16-35mm incarnations from Canon’s DSLR range of lenses and the design of the front lens element is such that filters can be attached via the 82mm thread when the detachable hood is removed. Images are razor sharp throughout but there is some edge sharpness drop-off when shooting wide open at f/2.8. A decrease in edge sharpness is exhibited in many lenses but then the Canon isn’t cheap, which is mildly disappointing, but certainly not a deal-breaker.
The 15-35mm focal range covers a larger and more useful range than other ultra-wide zoom lenses on this list, allowing you to crop tighter compositions that are simply not possible with other lenses. The Milky Way core can be revealed in glorious detail at 35mm.
This lens is a wonderful, high-performing tool for astrophotography and extremely capable. But this is more than just an astrophotography lens – its versatility means the lens is also perfect for landscape and architecture photography. Sure, it’s an expensive lens, but the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM one of the best lenses Canon has made and is highly recommended for EOS R-series owners.
Best Canon EF lens
(Image credit: Canon)
Canon 16-35mm L lenses have a reputation for quality so it’s unsurprising that amateurs and professionals use them so widely. A very popular lens, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM replaces the previous Mkii and in doing so addresses the flaws of its predecessor. The latest iteration of this lens builds upon the quality of the Mkii and introduces improvements to the autofocus system, diaphragm and optics, leading to sharper images at the image periphery when shooting at its widest aperture settings and focal range. Image stabilization was unfortunately dropped from this latest version, but this would need to be switched off for long exposures at night anyway.
The useful constant aperture of f/2.8 is ideal for astrophotography, as is the focal range, allowing the user 20mm of flexibility to play with in the field. The lens handles nicely with a solid build quality and the high speed USM autofocus system is rapid and accurate. Focusing manually is the norm when shooting images of the night sky but this is a handy feature to have on a versatile lens that can also be used for more applications than just nightscapes. The lens is also compatible with filters due to the inclusion of an 82mm thread.
Optically, the lens has been designed to correct chromatic aberration and distortion, although there is some very minor distortion in the corners of the frame. However, this is only noticeable under scrutiny at much higher magnifications.
It’s pricey, but this is a serious lens that gives superb results when shooting wide-field images of the night sky.
Some photographers prefer using fixed focal length prime lenses for astrophotography and others prefer zoom lenses, but which lens is the right astrophotography lens for you? It will come down to a balance between versatility, cost, personal preference and which camera system you use.
Prime lenses have the advantage of generally less distortion and better overall low-light performance. On the other hand, zoom lenses afford more versatility with a range of focal lengths available, but at the expense of slightly smaller maximum apertures and light collecting ability.
If you’re looking for one lens to do the job, a wide-angle zoom option is a great choice as it allows you to work across a range of focal lengths in one convenient package. If, on the other hand, your priority is maximum light collection and you don’t mind a fixed focal length, go with one of the bright and extremely fast f/1.8 options we’ve listed here. These are excellent for photographers without star trackers, when exposure times are limited. Alternatively, if you’re just starting out on your astrophotography journey and don’t want to spend a fortune just yet, it’s hard to look past the very affordable Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 which is excellent value for money.
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