5 Best DSLR for Astrophotography (2020)

Whether you’re just getting into amateur astronomy or already spend every night scanning the cosmos, being able to take pictures of what you’re observing provides a greatly enhanced experience. 

The human eye is quite a feat of evolution, but it’s incapable of observing some wonders the cosmos is hiding—even through a regular telescope. A camera, on the other hand, is capable of capturing detailed images of the universe, from long exposures of nebulae to multiwavelength views of galaxies and stars. 

Camera technology has come a long way, but astrophotography still requires advanced equipment. DSLR cameras are the most popular option, primarily due to their excellent capabilities and reasonable price ranges, but there is a wide range of options and features to consider before making a decision. In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know to find the best DSLR for astrophotography!

We Recommend

Best value/price option

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Best budget option

Nikon D5600 DX

Best for the money

Nikon D750 FX

Full-frame vs. crop sensor?

There are two specific types of imaging sensors in DSLR cameras, full-frame and crop sensor. Full-frame means that the sensor size has the same dimensions as a 35mm film format (the standard analog format in film since 1909). Crop sensor (the most common being APS-C) simply refers to any sensor that’s smaller than the standard 35mm. Both formats have some different advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’ll be photographing.

Full-frame cameras, in general, perform better in low-light conditions and provide a better image quality. They also offer a more aesthetically pleasing depth of field, commonly referred to as bokeh (defined as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light”). 

However, though you’ll be able to view the cosmos in splendid glory, their field of view is much broader, meaning you won’t get the same level of magnification (up-close views) out of them as you would a crop sensor. Additionally, the larger sensor size consequently means they are significantly more expensive than a crop sensor camera.

Crop sensor cameras, while they don’t provide the same quality, are generally considered the better choice for many astrophotographers. They provide a tighter field of view, extra magnification, are more lightweight than their counterparts, and they’re considerably cheaper. Crop sensor cameras can view practically anything in the cosmos, but their main attraction is that they provide astrophotographers more up-close and personal views of the universe, whether viewing the Moon’s craters or a distant star cluster. 

Overall, there is no clear objective answer to which format is better to use. Both ultimately boil down to budget, what you’ll be observing, and subjective aesthetic appeal.

Features you need for astrophotography

DSLR cameras are complex instruments with many working parts, and there are some specific features your camera will need for astrophotography. The first thing you’ll need is a long shutter speed range, which will allow you to take long-exposure images. 

Your camera will also need a high ISO setting, which handles your camera sensors sensitivity to light (increases brightness by amplification of the sensor). Higher ISO settings allow you to capture fainter objects in more detail. Functions to help control mirror vibration and reduce noise.

Aside from the technical features, there are other things you need to consider before heading out for some astrophotography, notably the camera’s durability, whether or not you’ll need a tripod, and if you have sufficient battery power. If you plan on spending cold nights observing the stars, you’ll want to make sure your camera is resistant to cold weather conditions. 

If you’re using a telescope for your astrophotography, a tripod typically isn’t necessary, but if you’re out to take pictures of the Moon with just your camera, consider picking up a strong and sturdy tripod. The final thing to consider is how long your sessions will be—you don’t want them cut short because of a small battery. Most cameras come with sufficient battery power, but it’s always a good idea to make sure you use a larger battery (or bring an extra) for prolonged use!

What can you shoot with DSLRs?

DSLRs are often the go-to for astrophotography because of their versatility. You can capture a wide variety of things on Earth or in the universe (within reason) with a DSLR. DSLR’s are also relatively inexpensive compared to other types of cameras—combining quality and cost into a neat little package suitable for most astrophotographers. 

What you can observe with a DSLR camera depends on its power and whether or not you’re using a telescope. With just a tripod and a camera, you can capture details of planets in our solar system, such as Saturn’s rings, Mars, or Jupiter. If you have a telescope, you’ll be able to take long-exposure shots of many deep-sky objects, including galaxies and star clusters. 

What you can observe also depends on your camera’s imaging sensor. With a full-frame camera, you can take gorgeous scenic shots of the Milky Way or constellations. With a crop sensor camera, you can view multiple deep-sky objects in detail, such as M51 or the Veil Nebula.

DSLR price timeline

As we mentioned earlier, the big difference in pricing comes from the sensor size, with full-frame sensor cameras costing considerably more. We’ve outlined only two price range categories below for DSLR cameras: mid-range pricing and professional-grade equipment. 

Each category offers some details on what type of camera and features you can expect to find in that price range. We’ve left out bargain or budget cameras because, if you’re interested in legitimate astrophotography, you’ll want to save up for a high-quality camera.

Mid-range: $500-$999 – In this case, mid-range is simply referring to the pricing, the cameras themselves in this range are quite suitable for the needs of most beginner to intermediate amateur astrophotographers. 

Cameras at these prices almost always have a crop sensor (APS-C), and typically offer around 24 MP resolution, mid-ISO ranges, and around 5-6 frames per second of continuous shooting speeds.

Professional: $1000+ – At $1,000+, you’ll start to see more full-frame DSLR cameras and some high-tech crop sensor cameras. Cameras at this price point typically have a max resolution of between 20 and 26.2 MP, high (to very high) ISO ranges, and a continuous shooting speed between 6 and 10 fps. 

Other features can include anything from intelligent viewfinders and enhanced autofocus (not typically useful for astrophotography, but helpful for other applications) to a more durable design and Wi-Fi connectivity.

How to choose the right DSLR for astrophotography?

There is a veritable mountain of things that play a part in professional astrophotography. However, some specific traits are more important than others, including shutter speed, ISO range, image sensor size, and the number of megapixels.

 

  • Shutter speed: Astrophotography requires a long shutter speed to properly capture an image of the night sky. You’ll want a camera with a shutter speed of at least 20-30 seconds.
  • ISO range: If you intend to do any deep-sky observing, you’ll want a camera with a high ISO range. An ISO between 1600 and 6400 seems to be the sweet spot for many different DSLR cameras. 
  • Image sensor size: Image sensor size is not quite as crucial for astrophotography as it is for other forms of photography—it mostly boils down to what you intend to photograph. A full-frame camera will provide better wide view shots and a bit higher quality, while a crop sensor will excel at picking up incredible detail of specific distant objects.
  • Megapixels: Though megapixels are a major advertising point for most cameras, a higher count doesn’t necessarily equal better quality. Many older high-grade optics equipment, such as the Hubble Telescope’s original camera, used less than 1 megapixel.

Best DSLR for astrophotography

1. D5600 DX-format Digital SLR

The D5600 DX-Format DSLR is an excellent choice for beginners interested in launching an astrophotography hobby or intermediate users. 

It’s a sensor crop camera (APS-C) with a 24.2 MP sensor. 

It features a continuous shooting speed of 5 fps, manual and autofocusing, an ISO range between 100 and 25600, and long shutter speeds. 

With a high-quality crop sensor and a long shutter speed, this camera excels at taking detailed long-exposure photographs of deep-sky objects. 

On the downside, the ISO settings are more widely spaced than other similar models, with significant jumps in settings (from 1600 to 3200, for instance). Another problem is the cameras lack of settings save options—you’re unable to save certain individual settings, such as ISO, aperture, or focus.

The features of the D5600 DX-Format DSLR are well-rounded, making it sufficient for many different forms of photography. It does have a few quirks, but overall it’s an excellent choice for beginners looking to hone their knowledge of astrophotography. 

Check the price of D5600 DX-format Digital SLR here

Matching lens for astrophotography: Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G

What we liked

  • High-quality
  • Great for beginners & intermediates
  • Manual focus
  • High ISO ranges
  • Suitable shutter speed for long exposure
  • Capable of viewing DSO’s with clarity
  • Long battery life

What we didn’t like

  • Crop sensor

Type: Crop sensor
Shutter speed: 30 – 1/4000 second
Image sensor: CMOS
ISO range: 100-25600
Megapixels: 24.2
Battery: Lithium-ion, 970 shots per charge
Weight: 1.2 lbs

2. Canon EOS REBEL T7i

The Canon EOS REBEL T7i is another excellent choice for beginners interested in entering the realm of photography. 

It has a 24.2 MP CMOS crop sensor (APS-C), a continuous shooting speed of 6 fps, an ISO range up to 25600, and a long shutter speed. 

The EOS REBEL is quite capable of bright imaging objects, such as planets. 

However, on the downside, this camera offers no manual focus capability, which can significantly hinder your astrophotography experience. 

Autofocus notoriously has a hard time focusing when observing low-light objects such as DSOs. There is also no mention of just how long the battery will last, so it may need an additional battery just in case.

Check the price of X hereCanon EOS REBEL T7i 

Matching lens for astrophotography: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM 

What we liked

  • High-quality
  • Great for beginners & intermediates
  • High ISO range
  • Suitable shutter speed for long exposure
  • Slightly higher fps
  • Capable of viewing planets with clarity

What we didn’t like

  • Crop sensor
  • May need additional battery

Type: Crop sensor
Shutter speed: 30 – 1/4000 second
Image sensor: CMOS
ISO range: up to 25600
Megapixels: 24.2
Battery: Lithium-ion, unknown shots per charge
Weight: 1.18 lbs

3. Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR

Canon’s EOS 6D Mark II DSLR is an exceptional option for the professional astrophotographer looking to up their game. 

The camera boasts a 26.2 MP full-frame CMOS sensor, a continuous shooting speed of 6.5 fps, an ISO range up to 40000 that’s expandable to higher settings, and an optimal shutter speed for astrophotography. 

This camera is an absolute powerhouse, perfect for capturing stunning wide-angle views of the cosmos, planets, and DSOs. 

The EOS 6D Mark II does occasionally have some problems with its autofocusing feature, but autofocus is not recommended for astrophotography anyway! 

It comes with a standard battery capable of supplying up to 1200 shots per charge, and there is a battery grip available that doubles the lifespan.

Check the price of Canon EOS 6D Mark II Digital SLR here

Matching lens for astrophotography: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM 

What we liked

  • High-quality build
  • Great for professionals
  • Manual focus
  • Very high ISO ranges
  • Suitable shutter speed for long exposure
  • Wide-angle views of planets and DSO’s
  • Adapter available for second battery

What we didn’t like

  • Higher pricetag

Type: Full-frame
Shutter speed: 30 – 1/4000 second
Image sensor: CMOS
ISO range: up to 40000
Megapixels: 26.2
Battery: LP E6N/E6, 1200 shots per charge
Weight: 3.45 lbs

4. Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

The EOS 7D Mark II DSLR is an earlier version of our previous entry from Canon, the 6D Mark II.

It has a smaller megapixel count at 20.2 MP CMOS crop sensor, but it has a higher continuous shooting speed of 10 fps. 

The base ISO range is from 100-16000 and is expandable up to 51200. 

It excels at viewing deep-sky objects such as nebulae and galaxies. 

It has a base LP-E6N battery pack and the option to add an extra battery with a grip attachment. Similar to the 6D, it also suffers some issues with the autofocus feature (again, not typically a problem for astrophotography). 

Altogether, this camera provides quality long-exposure images with a great ISO range at a cheaper price point than the 6D, though it isn’t quite as powerful. 

Check the price of Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera here

What we liked

  • High-quality design
  • Great for advanced users & professionals
  • Durable body
  • Manual focus
  • High ISO ranges, expandable
  • Suitable shutter speed for long exposure
  • Capable of viewing DSO’s with clarity
  • Expandable battery life
  • Cheaper alternative than the 6D

What we didn’t like

  • Crop sensor

Type: Crop sensor
Shutter speed: 30 – 1/8000 second
Image sensor: CMOS
ISO range: 100-16000
Megapixels: 20.2
Battery: LP-E6N/E6, unknown shots per charge
Weight: 2.01 lbs

5. Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera

The Nikon D750 FX-format DSLR is the ultimate choice for advanced or professional astrophotographers looking for a high-quality camera with wide-angle capability. 

It has a 24.3 MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor, which provides a pleasant combination of low noise and fast frame rates. 

It has a wide ISO range of 100 to 12800, with the option of expanding up to 51200, and a continuous shooting speed of 6.5 fps. 

The D750 is perfect for capturing wide-angle views of the night sky, but it also works quite well for more focused images such as planets or DSOs. 

There are no remarkable problems with the D750—any issues people have run into seem to be defective units, which the company will replace.

Check the price of Nikon D750 FX-format Digital SLR Camera here

What we liked

  • High-quality build
  • Durable 
  • Great for seasoned pros
  • Manual focus
  • High ISO ranges, expandable
  • Suitable shutter speed for long exposure
  • Capable of viewing DSO’s and planets with detail
  • Long battery life

What we didn’t like

  • Higher price tag

Type: Full-frame
Shutter speed: 30 – 1/4000 second
Image sensor: CMOS
ISO range: 100-25600
Megapixels: 24.3
Battery: EN-EL 15 Lithium-ion, 1230 shots per charge
Weight: 1.65 lbs

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