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Best camera and lens for Milky Way photography

Deciding which is the best camera for Milky Way photography can be overwhelming.

First, because of the many options of good cameras for photographing the Milky Way in the market, built with sensors that offer superb performance and quality.

Secondly, because the goals and budget of each photographer are different, some aspire towards capturing the best Milky Way images, while others just want some casual Milky Way images from their stargazing experience.

Cameras and lenses Milky Way photography

Best camera and lenses for Milky Way photography

To help you decide which is the best option for you, below, you’ll find a breakdown of the best cameras to take pictures of the Milky Way according to your budget and preferences. Lenses are as important as cameras in night photography, so there’s also a section about the best camera lenses to photograph the Milky Way.

Lastly, in this post about the best Milky Way photography gear, you’ll find more accessories and all the necessary equipment for taking pictures of the Milky Way and the Galactic Center.

If you already have some photography equipment and don’t know whether it’s good enough for Milky Way photography, don’t worry, you’ll find out throughout the article. Also, if you’ve any doubt by the end of the article, feel free to leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you.

  1. Best Camera for Milky Way photography
  2. Best Milky Way camera lenses
  3. Best tripod for Milky Way and night photography
  4. Other gear for Milky Way photography
  5. Night Photography equipment rental

Best camera for Milky Way Photography

When you look for a good camera to shoot the Milky Way, make sure that it offers the following basic requirements:

  • Shooting RAW files: Shooting in RAW is fundamental in order to make the most of your camera and extract as much detail of our galaxy as possible.
Best gear to photograph the Milky Way

Shooting Raw files in manual mode is key in any of the best cameras for Milky Way Photography

Nowadays, most smartphone cameras can shoot Raw files in manual mode, but that doesn’t mean that they are quality cameras for night photography. We can also photograph the Milky Way with a GoPro camera but don’t expect the same results as with a standard digital camera.

According to this, the below section is focused on the best digital cameras to photograph the Milky Way, considering DSLR and mirrorless cameras. (If you want to know the difference between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, check our guide on the best photography gear for travelers.)

We will also make a very short selection of the best top-notch compact cameras for shooting the stars and the Milky Way.

Best full-frame cameras for Milky Way photography

Without a doubt, the best cameras for taking photos of the Milky Way are full-frame cameras. These cameras are more expensive and are generally aimed at professional and enthusiast photographers. They are your best bet if you want to make sure to take top-quality Milky Way photos.

The main reason for this is because of their performance in low light situations, capturing images with significantly less digital noise and more general quality.

On top of that, in full-frame cameras, the autofocus works fast and precisely even at night, and they can be paired with some of the best lenses for shooting stars and the Milky Way.

As you can see, for many reasons, full-frame are the best cameras to take Milky Way pictures. Now you’ll find which are the best full-frame cameras for Milky Way photography:

  • Nikon D850 (DSLR)The D850 offers an otherworldly dynamic range. It also has one of the strongest bodies and a more efficient battery life, making this probably the best camera for photographing the Milky Way. Pair lens suggested: Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art DG HSM.
  • Nikon Z7 (Mirrorless)The best Nikon mirrorless camera is a very good camera for Star and Milky Way photography. It’s built with the same sensor and most of the features of the  Nikon D850, but the latter is ahead in terms of autofocus and battery life. On the other hand, as a mirrorless camera, the Z7 works smoothly at high ISOs. Pair lens suggested: NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S.
  • Sony A7RIII (Mirrorless): Sony’s A7Rs mirrorless series are top cameras for Milky Way photography. The A7RIII is all you need to take top-quality Milky Way images, with top autofocus, no noise at high-ISOs, and the best battery life in a mirrorless camera. Pair lens suggested: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.

If the budget is not a problem and your goal is to have the best possible results, you should check the Sony A7RIV, which offers a better dynamic range with 61 megapixels.

  • Sony A7S2 (Mirrorless): The Sony A7S mirrorless series were specifically designed for low light video and photography. In the A7S2, you can set an impressive range of ISO 50-409600, opening a world of possibilities as a camera for night photography. Pair lens suggested: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.
  • Canon 5d Mark IV (DSLR): This is the best full-frame Canon camera for Milky Way photography. Like the previous models, It offers an incredible quality in low light conditions. Pair lens suggested: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L.

Best APS-C cameras for shooting the Milky Way

Most of the crop-sensor (APS-C) cameras can capture the Milky Way, but most of them can’t be compared with the quality of full-frame cameras.

These cameras usually struggle in low-light conditions and won’t allow you to set a high ISO without creating a considerable amount of digital noise in your photographs.

These cameras are usually cheaper, and (with a few exceptions) are aimed at beginners and intermediate photographers.

The list below shows the best APS-C cameras for Milky Way photography:

  • Fujifilm XT-3 (Mirrorless): According to its price and performance, this camera is aimed at the enthusiast/semi-professional range, and it’s with no doubt the best crop sensor camera for shooting the Milky Way. You’ll forget that you’re shooting with an Aps-c camera once you see the results photographing stars in low light conditions. Pair lens suggested: Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4.
  • Sony a6500 (Mirrorless)The Sony a6500 is the “go-to” Sony camera for Milky Way in the mirrorless APS-C range. It stands out for its performance in low-light conditions and its wide offer of lenses. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0.

Best Micro 4/3 Cameras for Milky Way

Most of the photographers agree that Micro four-thirds cameras aren’t the best cameras for Milky Way photography, especially because of their poorer performance in low-light situations and, secondly, for the fewer options of cheap and fast wide-angle lenses.

However, some new models are noteworthy, and there are two good Micro 4/3 cameras for Milky Way photography:

  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 X (Mirrorless): It’s expensive, and for the same price, you can buy any of the top full-frame cameras for Milky Way, but if this camera system is your choice, this is the best micro 4/3 camera for Milky Way. Pair lens suggested: Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8.

Best cheap camera for Milky Way

If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, these are the best cheap cameras for shooting the Milky Way:

Best cheap full-frame cameras for shooting the Milky Way:
  • Nikon D750One of the most well-rounded and quality-price cameras ever made. Pair it with a lens like the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8, and, for less than $1800, you’ll have one of the best and cheapest Milky Way gear. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8
  • Sony A7III personally use this camera in my Milky Way photography gear and, to me, It’s the best quality-price mirrorless camera for night photography that you can get in the market today. The price (less than $1000) and the results shooting Northern Lights and the Milky Way are simply outstanding. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8.
Best cheap aps-c camera for shooting the Milky Way:
  • Sony Alpha a6000For around $500, you can get a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera suitable for shooting night scenes and the Milky Way. Together with the Rokinon 12 mm f/2, you’ll have the best cheap combination for shooting the stars. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8

Best compact camera for Milky Way Photography

It’s more challenging, but compact cameras can also take decent pictures of the Milky Way. For this reason, we had to include the best compact cameras for photographing the Milky Way in this guide.

The size and weight of most DSLR cameras and lenses is a downside for many photographers. If this is your case, a good compact camera for photographing stars can help you take decent images of the Milky Way.

*Note: Please bear in mind that compact cameras are light and small, but that comes at a price; the built-in lenses usually have a range of 24-70mm and are not the best at capturing light. Even though you can capture nice images, don’t expect the same quality and capabilities as with a standard DSLR/mirrorless camera mounted with a fast lens.

These are the best point and shoot cameras for Milky Way photography:

  • Sony rx100 VII: For many reasons, this is the best compact camera to shoot the Milky Way. If you make the most of this camera, you can get even better results than with some entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, the first version of this camera (Sony rx100) could also work as a compact camera for stars photography. (Just don’t expect the same quality results, especially in terms of detail and digital noise levels).

  • Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II: This Canon point and shoot camera can also capture nice images of the Milky Way. It includes a built-in star mode, perfect for shooting stars and general night photography.

Best Milky Way camera lenses

Your camera doesn’t really matter if you don’t use the best Milky Way camera lens.

A good Milky Way lens will allow you to make the most of your camera features, something you really need because of the challenging conditions of shooting the Milky Way.

Lenses for Milky Way photography

Having a bright and fast lens is key in Milky Way photography. Photo taken with Nikkor 14 mm f/2.8

Using a wide-angle lens for Milky Way photography is important since the galactic center spreads in a line across a great portion of the sky. For this, you can use both prime lenses and wide-angle zoom lenses.

Although prime lenses provide higher quality, I personally prefer zoom lenses because they offer more versatility.

However, the most important feature in a good lens for shooting the Milky Way is the brightness, since the short exposure time and high ISO necessary to shoot the Milky Way requires using the fastest possible lens.

You can shoot stars using lenses at f 4.5 or even narrower apertures, but you’ll see the best results shooting with lenses at f 2.8 or below.

Below, you’ll find the best lenses for shooting the Milky Way:

Best full-frame lenses for Milky Way photography

Best prime lenses for shooting the Milky Way (Full-frame)

Prime lenses are the best and fastest lenses for photographing the Milky Way.

  • Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM: Probably the best general lens to photograph the Milky Way. It offers the two most important features in any lens for night photography: it’s wide and very fast. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony and Canon full-frame cameras.
  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.8: This is the best quality-price lens for Milky Way photography. It’s wide, light, fast, doesn’t have a strong comma in the corners, and the best thing: it’s very cheap. The only cons is the lack of autofocus, but shooting the Milky Way is always better to use the manual focus as I explain on the focus section of this Milky Way photography guide. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony, Canon, Fuji, Pentax.
  • Venus Laowa 15mm f/2: One of the best lenses for Milky Way photography in mirrorless cameras. It’s designed specifically for night and low light photography, and very compact and light. Compatible with: Sony, Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras.
  • Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone: Even though Irix is a relatively new brand, its Blackstone must be included as one of the best quality-price lenses for shooting the Milky Way. Compatible with: Nikon and Canon Full-frame DSLR models and Pentax.
Best wide-angle zoom lenses for shooting the Milky Way (Full-frame)

If you’re also looking for versatility and a lens suitable for general night/landscape photography, any of this two could be a good fit:

  • Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM: Probably the best general wide-angle zoom to shoot the Milky Way. It’s robust, sharp, and built with impressive quality. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony and Canon full-frame cameras.
  • Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USDAnother good lens for night photography. It offers a top image quality across its entire focal length, which is the most common downside in ultra-wide-angle lenses. Compatible with: Nikon, Canon, and Sony full-frame DSLR cameras.

Best APS-C lenses for Milky Way photography

Best prime lenses for shooting the Milky Way (APS-C)
Best wide-angle zoom lenses for shooting the Milky Way (APS-C)
  • Sony – FE 12-24mm F4 G: This is the best wide-angle Milky Way lens to pair with Sony crop-sensor models. It’s not f/2.8, but it’s wide and versatile. Compatible with: Sony.

Best Nikon Lens for Milky Way Photography

Talking specifically about the best Nikon lens for shooting the Milky Way, you’ll find:

  • Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8G ED: This is the lens I’ve been using all these years to photograph the Milky Way. It’s versatile, sharp, and fast. Today, however, there are new lenses offering better functions and results for a lower price, like the Sigma 14-24 f/2.8.
  • Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED: The best Nikon prime lens for shooting the Milky Way. You won’t capture the best quality at 1.4, but you’ll have the chance to use a short exposure time and capture more light.

Best Sony lens for Milky Way photography

  • Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8: This is the most versatile and the best sony wide-angle zoom lens for shooting night scenes and the Milky Way.
  • Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM: Even though it’s not as versatile, this is also a very good sony lens to photograph the Milky Way, especially for its brightness.

Best Canon lens for Milky Way

  • Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM: This is probably the best Canon lens for shooting the Milky Way. It’s wide and fast enough to capture sharp stars and the Milky Way in a few seconds.

Best tripod for photographing the Milky Way

A good tripod for night photography is key. Even though shooting the Milky Way doesn’t require super long exposures, your camera needs to be steady for at least 15-30 seconds.

To me, these are the best tripods for shooting the Milky Way that I’ve been using over the last years.

  • Sirui T-1205X: I like traveling light, and this Sirui carbon fiber tripod has proved to be one of the best for traveling light and compact. It’s sturdy and stable, and you can add weight to the center column to make it even more stable. Pair ball head for Milky Way recommendation: Sirui K-10X
  • Sunwayfoto T2C40C: I’ve been using this carbon fiber tripod from the Sunwayfoto brand over the last year. It’s slightly bigger than the Sirui but offers much more stability, and it’s built with more quality materials. Pair ball head for night photography recommendation: FB-36IIDL

Other Milky Way photography Gear

To complete this guide on the best gear for shooting the Milky Way, you should also consider these following accessories:

  • Headlamp: Probably the most fundamental accessory for night and Milky Way photography. Make sure it’s light, reliable, and you can use a red-light mode. I love this headlamp, and it’s the one I always use on my Milky Way sessions.
  • Photography gloves: The Heat Company gloves are the best gloves for night photography. They design gloves specifically for photographers, so your hands and fingers can work at cold temperatures. You can see here the Heat Company review of the gloves I use.
  • Remote shutter: I normally use the remote shutter built-in my camera, but if your camera doesn’t include this mode or if you want to shoot a Milky Way timelapse, it’s convenient to have a Remote shutter for Milky Way like this.

Night Photography equipment rental

That is all! As you can see, shooting with the best camera and lenses for Milky Way is key for getting quality images.

Remember that it doesn’t matter your budget or skills; there is a good camera to photograph the Milky Way for you.

And, if you cannot afford the camera you would like to have, you can also rent the night photography equipment in the USA for that particular trip.

In my case, my photo gear is great for night and Milky Way photography. However, when I take safaris or wildlife trips, I always rent a specific telephoto lens with Lensrental; It’s cheap and straightforward. Besides, if you rent your equipment through this link and use the promo code ATLAS15, you will get a 15% discount.

Night photography gear camera and lenses rental

For example, the one-week rental of a Full Frame DSLR Camera (Nikon D850) + a wide-angle and bright lens (Nikon 14-24 f2.8) cost $394. If you decide to buy this equipment, it would cost $4500.

I hope this guide helps you choose the best Milky Way gear according to your needs. If you aren’t sure if you can shoot the Milky Way with your camera or lens, don’t hesitate to ask in the comments section 😉

Text and Photography by Dan Zafra - Capture the Atlas Photography Blog

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