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Best camera for Milky Way photography in 2021

Choosing the best camera for photographing the Milky Way can be overwhelming.

I’ve been testing and comparing different models and, in a nutshell, these are the best digital cameras for Milky Way photography:

1. Sony A7SIII
2. Canon EOS Ra
3. Nikon Z7II
4. Sony A7RIV
5. Nikon D850
6. Canon 5d Mark IV
7. Pentax K-1 Mark II

  

System

MPX

Native ISO

LCD

Price

1. Sony A7SIII

Sony A7SIII

Mirrorless

12

80-102400

Fully articulated

$3500

2. Canon EOS Ra

Canon Eos Ra Astrophotography

Mirrorless

30

100-40000

Fully articulated

$2500

3. Nikon Z7II

Nikon Z7 II FX

Mirrorless

46

64-25600

Tilting

$3000

4. Sony A7RIV

Sony A7RIV

Mirrorless

61

100-32000

Tilting

$3000

5. Nikon D850

Nikon D850 shooting the Milky Way

DSLR

45

64-25600

Tilting

$2700

6. Canon 5d Mark IV

Best Canon camera for photographing the Milky Way

DSLR

30

100-32000

Fixed

$2300

7. Pentax K-1 Mark II

Pentax K-1 Mark II

DSLR

36

100-819200

Tilting

$1800

BEST CAMERAS FOR MILKY WAY PHOTOGRAPHY

Besides having a good camera, using the best Milky Way camera settings is key to shooting our galaxy. Also, don’t forget that lenses are as important as cameras in night photography, so I highly recommend pairing your camera with one of the best lenses for Milky Way photography.

Best camera for Milky Way photography

Having a good camera for Milky Way photography is fundamental. Image taken with a Sony A7RIV

This winning list of the best cameras for Milky Way only includes Full-Frame cameras since these are the best to photograph the Milky Way with more quality and less digital noise.

However, throughout this article, you’ll find a breakdown of the best cameras to take pictures of the Milky Way according to your budget and preferences. I’ve included APS-C cameras, Micro 4/3, compact cameras, and the best Milky Way camera models on a budget.

Ready to find the best camera for Milky Way?

Note: I didn’t split the article into Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras. Check out our guide on that topic if you still don’t know which system is best for you.

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You'll also receive our PDF guide to photographing the Milky Way!

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These are the best digital cameras for Milky Way photography:

1. Sony A7S III (Mirrorless)

The Sony A7S series are specifically designed for low-light video and photography. On the latest A7S III, you can set an impressive range of ISO 80-102400, opening up a world of possibilities for shooting our galaxy. This is not only the best mirrorless camera for Milky Way photography, but also one of the best cameras for Milky Way video and timelapses. Recommended lens: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.

2. Canon EOS Ra (Mirrorless)

This is the first full-frame mirrorless camera dedicated to astrophotography and the best Canon camera for Milky Way. This camera has a special infrared filter that allows you to capture 4x the detail and color in the Milky Way nebulae compared to standard cameras. If you’re interested in doing some deep-sky astrophotography, this is the best Milky Way camera for you. Suggested lens pairing: Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 L.

3. Nikon Z7 II (Mirrorless)

This is the latest Nikon camera model, and it’s the best Nikon camera for Milky Way photography. The huge dynamic range and low-light performance of this camera can take your Milky Way images to the next level. This is also a great camera in terms of battery life, weather sealing, and even autofocus in low-light conditions. Recommended lensNikkor Z 14-24 f/2.8 S.

4. Sony A7RIV (Mirrorless)

This is one of the best Sony cameras for Milky Way photography. The A7RIV is all you need to take high-resolution Milky Way images, and it’s also a superb camera for landscape photography in general. This is the camera that I’m currently using for my Milky Way photography and, if you use the right Milky Way settings, you can take otherworldly images of our galaxy. (Highly) Recommended lens: Sony 20 mm f/1.8 G.

5. Nikon D850 (DSLR)

The D850 offers a huge dynamic range. It also has one of the most durable bodies and a super-efficient battery life, making this the best DSLR camera for photographing the Milky Way. If I had to choose a new Nikon camera, I’d go for one of the new Nikon Z models, but this is still an interesting option if you prefer a DSLR vs a mirrorless camera. Suggested lens pairing: Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art DG HSM.

6. Canon 5d Mark IV (DSLR)

This is the best DSLR Canon camera for Milky Way photography. Like the previous models, it offers incredible quality in low-light conditions. This camera model is 5 years old, so you can get it at a lower price compared to other high-end full-frame models. Recommended lens: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L.

7. Pentax K-1 Mark II (DSLR)

Usually eclipsed by other brands, not many people talk today about Pentax these days, but they have one of the best DSLR cameras for Milky Way photography on the market. This model includes a ton of features for astrophotography, like a night vision LCD screen, and a function called “Astrotracer,” which allows the sensor to track the stars and take super high-quality images of the Milky Way. Recommended lens: Pentax 15-30 mm f/2.8 ED.

Best APS-C cameras for shooting the Milky Way

Any crop-sensor (APS-C) camera can capture the Milky Way, but most of them can’t capture the same quality as full-frame cameras.

These cameras usually struggle in low-light conditions and won’t let you set a high ISO without creating a considerable amount of digital noise in your photographs. They’re usually cheaper and, with a few exceptions, are aimed at beginners and intermediate photographers.

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

  • Fujifilm XT-4 (Mirrorless): Based on its price and performance, this camera is aimed at enthusiasts/semi-professionals, and, without a doubt, it’s 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 in your low-light photographs. Recommended lens: Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4.
  • Sony a6600 (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 array of lenses. Suggested lens pairing: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0.

Best cheap camera for Milky Way

If you’re looking for the best value for money, these are the best cameras for shooting the Milky Way on a budget: 

  • Sony Alpha a6000 (Mirrorless)For around $500, you can get a good mirrorless camera for shooting the Milky Way. Together with the Rokinon 12 mm f/2, you’ll have the best cheap camera setup for Milky Way pictures. Recommended lens: Rokinon 12 mm f/2
  • Nikon D750 (DSLR): This is one of the most well-rounded and quality-priced DSLR cameras ever made. Pair it with a lens like the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8, and for less than $1800, you’ll have an awesome Milky Way camera setup. Recommended lens: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8

Best Micro 4/3 Cameras for Milky Way

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

Nevertheless, some 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 the Milky Way. However, if this camera system is your top choice, this is the best micro 4/3 camera for Milky WayRecommended lens: Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8.

Best compact camera for Milky Way Photography

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

*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 Milky Way (Just don’t expect the same quality results, especially in terms of detail and digital noise).

  • 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.

Basic camera requirements for Milky Way

To help you decide on your next camera for taking pictures of the Milky Way, I want to highlight a few basics that you should look at regardless of the camera model.

While looking for a good camera to shoot the Milky Way, make sure that it meets the following basic requirements:

  • Shooting RAW files: Shooting in RAW is key to making the most of your camera and extracting as much detail as possible.
Best Milky Way camera

Shooting RAW files in manual mode is key in any camera for Milky Way Photography.

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

Some other things to consider when buying a digital camera for Milky Way photography are:

  • Low megapixel count in the largest possible sensor to capture light more efficiently.
  • The battery life is important, especially during long Milky Way nights.
  • Focus peaking in mirrorless cameras makes focusing much easier.
  • Having the opportunity to charge the camera with an external USB is useful for timelapse.
  • Having a fully articulated or tilted LCD screen is very convenient in some types of shoots.

The camera sensor is the most important feature in a Milky Way camera, so I highly recommend you read my guide on the best camera sensor size to see why a big sensor with bigger pixels makes a difference in Milky Way photography!

Conclusion

That’s all! As you can see, shooting with one of the top Milky Way cameras is key for getting the best Milky Way images.

Remember that it doesn’t matter what your budget or skills are; you’ll find a good camera to photograph the Milky Way , and the only thing you need once you have the right camera is to know the best techniques and settings for photographing the Milky Way.

Also, don’t forget that the lens is just as important as the camera you use. You can also check out my guide to the best lenses for Milky Way photography so you can make the most out of your camera.

Best cameras for Milky Way photography

Get a good camera for Milky Way, pair it with a good lens, and you’ll be all set! Image taken with a Sony A7RIV

My last tip before purchasing any camera for Milky Way is to test it out. These cameras are designed for working in low-light conditions and are usually more expensive, so I always recommend giving them a try first.

I personally like to rent a second camera for taking Milky Way time-lapses and video when I take a night photography trip. I always rent with Lensrentals. They operate in the US., and their rentals are affordable and straightforward. Plus, if you rent your equipment through this link and use the Lensrental 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 Sony a7RIV + a wide-angle fast lens like the Sony 24 mm f/1.4  costs $248. If you decide to buy this equipment, it would cost $4.400.

You can also check out other camera and lens rental companiesnear you.

I hope this guide helps you choose the best Milky Way camera for your needs. If you aren’t sure if you can shoot the Milky Way with your current camera or you’re hesitant about different models, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help! 😉

Happy Captures and clear skies!

GET THE CALENDAR WITH THE BEST DATES TO PHOTOGRAPH THE MILKY WAY IN 2021

You'll also receive our PDF guide to photographing the Milky Way!

milky way calendar 2021

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COFOUNDER & PHOTO TOUR LEADER

Dan is a professional nature and landscape photographer, photography educator, and co-founder of Capture the Atlas. His base camp is in Philadelphia, USA, but he spends long periods of time exploring and photographing new locations around the world.

Apart from shooting the Milky Way, the Northern Lights, and any landscape that can stir powerful emotions, he enjoys leading photo tours to some of the most remote places on Earth.

You can find more about Dan here.

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10 thoughts on “Best camera for Milky Way photography in 2021

  1. Eduardo Farinha says:

    Hi Dan,
    Thank you very much for sharing your opinion.
    I have a Canon 7D, and the night photos have too much noise, and that is way, I am considering to change to a Canon 5D mark IV , R5 or R6, or Nikon D850 or Z7.
    According with your article, “the Nikon D850 offers an otherworldly dynamic range, making it, probably the best camera for photographing the Milky Way”.
    Can you help me on this ?

    Thanks

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Eduardo,

      Most of the models you mention are great for Milky Way photography.

      The Dynamic range of the D850 is superb, but so it is the one of the Z7. Nikon is also releasing new mirrorless cameras so those will be even better.

      For Canon a good option is the Canon EOS RA, a specific camera for night photography which can capture a wider gammut of details and colors of the night sky.

      As regards Sony, I’d go for a Sony A73 if you’re planning to shoot a lot of night photography.

      Hope this helps and please let me know if you have any questions.

      Happy shooting,
      Dan

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Rod,

      In your case, I’d probably rent a faster lens. you can take images of the Milky Way with a Kit lens but it’s much more challenging!

      Best,
      Dan

  2. Scott You g says:

    Great article!
    I’m trying to decide between Sony A7R3 and A7R4. My concern is that the A7R4 has so many pixels that they are smaller and not as efficient as the lower pixeled A7R3. Considering that, do you think A7R4 can produce as good or better night sky images as the A7R3? The cost Difference is not major consideration for me.

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Scott,

      If night photography is going to be one of the main genres to shoot, I’d go for the A7R3. More than resolution, you need the biggest pixel pitch, and the 7R4 has so many pixels that these are smaller and won’t provide the same performance in low-light. That said, the 7R4 is generally the best camera in the market and perfectly cable of taking stunning night images, so if you’re planning to do general landscape or other genres I’d definitely go for the R4.

      Regardless of the model, both are just terrific cameras for Milky Way photography!

  3. Endika says:

    Great article!
    Just wondering if there is a reason why you do not consider Pentax K1 Mark II on the list

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Endika,

      Thanks for your message!

      There are many great cameras and lenses to photograph the Milky Way that we couldn’t include in the list, mainly because we haven’t tested or because would make the article too long. The Pentax Mark II is a good example, but there are also other brands that could be mentioned like some Leica models.

      Happy shooting!
      Dan

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