If you don’t have the best Milky Way camera lens, it doesn’t really matter which camera you’re using.
I’ve been testing and comparing different camera lenses and, in short, these are the best lenses to photograph the Milky Way:
1. Sony 20 mm f/1.8
2. Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM
3. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
4. Venus Laowa 15mm f/2
5. Nikkor Z 20mm f/1.8 S
6. Canon RF 15-35 mm f/2.8
7. Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG
8. Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
9. Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone
10. Zeiss 18mm Batis f/2.8
In addition to having a good lens, using the best settings to shoot the Milky Way is crucial to take the best possible images. Also, don’t forget that the camera is fundamental in night photography, so make sure you use your lens with one of the best cameras for Milky Way photography.
This winning list of the best lenses for Milky Way photography only includes wide-angle lenses for the Milky Way since these are the best to capture our galaxy. Also, these lenses are specifically designed for Full-Frame cameras.
However, throughout this article, you’ll find a list of the best lenses to take pictures of the Milky Way according to your budget and preferences. I’ve included some of the best prime and zoom APS-C lenses and the best Nikon, Sony, and Canon lenses for Milky Way photography.
If you need buying advice, I’ve added a section with some key things to consider when buying a Milky Way lens.
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1. Sony 20mm f/1.8 G – The best lens for Milky Way photography
The Sony 20 mm f/1.8 is the best lens for shooting the Milky Way. The quality in low-light photography is stunning. It’s fast and sharp even in the corners, with no deformations, aberrations, and other issues common in other Milky Way lenses. It’s also light and compact, and the price is affordable compared to other quality prime lenses.
As soon as I tested it, it became my absolute favorite lens for shooting the Milky Way, and after two years I’m still using this lens in almost all my night shootings. You can see some examples of the images I’ve taken with this lens in my Milky Way photography guide.
2. Sigma 14mm f/1.8 – best wide-angle lens for Milky Way
This is probably the best general wide-angle lens to photograph the Milky Way. It offers the two most important features in any lens for night photography; a wide-angle field of view and speed. The only cons are its price and size/weight. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony, and Canon full-frame cameras.
*If you are a Sony shooter, I’d recommend the Sony 14 mm f/1.8 GM instead for the reasons explained below.
3. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 – Best cheap lens for Milky way photography
This is the best quality-priced lens for Milky Way photography. It’s wide, light, fast, it doesn’t have a strong coma in the corners, and the best thing is that it’s very cheap. The only con is the lack of autofocus, but it’s always better to use the manual focus when shooting the Milky Way, as I explain in the focus section of my Milky Way photography guide. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony, Canon, Fuji, Pentax.
4. Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 – best third-party Milky Way lens
This is one of the best 3rd party lenses for Milky Way photography in mirrorless cameras. It’s designed specifically for night and low-light photography, and it’s very compact and light. It doesn’t require special filters, which is also something to consider if you plan to use it as a general landscape lens. Compatible with: Sony, Nikon, and Canon mirrorless cameras.
A wider version of Laowa for Milky Way photography is the Laowa 12 mm f/2.8
5. NIKKOR Z 20 MM F/1.8 – Best Nikon lens for the Milky Way
If you’re shooting with any of the Nikon Z mirrorless models, this is your lens for Milky Way photography. It’s very fast, reliable, and offers excellent performance even when shooting wide open. I’ve tested this lens on many occasions with our Capture the Atlas Photo Tour students and I think that it should be mandatory on any Nikon Shooter Astro bag.
6. Canon RF 15-35 mm f/2.8 L – Best Canon lens for Milky Way
This is Canon’s fastest ultra-wide-angle zoom, and it’s designed to work with their mirrorless R models. It’s wide, fast, and the most versatile lens for Milky Way if you’re a Canon shooter. Pair this lens with the Canon EOS Ra Astro camera, and you’ll see the best results.
7. Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG – Best Wide-angle zoom lens
This is a good wide-angle lens for Milky way photography. The image quality is superb across its entire focal length range, which is difficult to find in other ultra-wide-angle lenses. It’s a bit bulky compared to other fast wide-angle zoom lenses. Compatible with: Nikon, Canon, and Sony full-frame cameras.
9. Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone – Best cheap lens for DSLR
10. ZEISS 18 mm BATIS F/2.8 – An alternative for Sony E-mount
All Sony users talk about this lens in all Astrophotography forums for a good reason. It has an excellent resolution, contrast, and colors. The body is robust and weatherproof, and it includes an innovative OLED display to check the focus and depth of field. The main con is that it’s only available for Sony Full-Frame E-mount cameras.
Best APS-C lenses for Milky Way photography
APS-C sensors are not the best at gathering light, so pairing your crop-sensor camera with a fast and quality lens is crucial if you want to get the best Milky Way images.
Best prime lenses for shooting the Milky Way (APS-C)
- Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 x-mount: The best all-around lens for photographing the Milky Way on APS-C mirrorless cameras. It’s light, sharp, fast, and highly affordable. Compatible with: Sony, Fuji, Canon, Olympus, and Panasonic.
- Rokinon 10 mm f/2.8 ED: A similar option to the previous one, but also available for Nikon and Canon APS-C DSLR cameras.
- Sigma 16mm 1.4 DC DN: If you’re looking for a lens with autofocus and some weather sealing, this is a good option. Compatible with: Sony E mounts and Micro 4/3 cameras.
Best wide-angle zoom lenses for shooting the Milky Way (APS-C)
- Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX: In terms of value for the money, this is the best wide-angle lens for Milky Way photography on APS-C cameras. Compatible with: Nikon and Canon APS-C DSLR cameras.
- 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 Sony lenses for Milky Way photography
Sony has some of the best lenses to shoot the Milky Way. Apart from the Sony 20 mm f/1.8 mentioned above, these are my top 3 picks:
- Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM: One of the most awaited lenses by Sony shooters, it was finally released last year (2021), and it’s the best option if you want a fast ultra wide-angle lens for Milky Way. It’s also a fantastic lens for Northern Lights, and even though it’s more expensive than the Sigma 14mm 1.8 commented above, this model offers more quality and a significant reduction in size/weight (1 lb/460 gr vs. the 2.5 lb/1170 gr of the bulky Sigma 14 f/1.8).
- Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM: The 24 mm G Master model is more expensive, especially for being a prime lens, but it’s widely considered as the best Sony Milky Way lens in terms of image quality and performance. It’s also a good lens for filming the Milky Way, thanks to its f/1.4.
- Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 GM: Wide-angle scenes, details, time-lapse… this is a very versatile lens to shoot the Milky Way. I’ve been using it in the field for a long time, and it’s my main go-to lens not only for the Milky Way but also for other night shootings like Northern Lights photography. It’s extremely sharp across the entire range with outstanding image quality. To me, it’s the best Sony wide-angle zoom lens for shooting the Milky Way.
- Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM: This is the fastest and most versatile ultra-wide-angle zoom for Milky Way photography. It’s heavier, bulkier, and more expensive than other Sony Milky Way lenses, but the possibilities are endless. It’s also the perfect option for shooting Milky Way panoramas and time-lapses.
Best Nikon Lenses for Milky Way Photography
Talking specifically about the best Nikon lenses for shooting the Milky Way, apart from the Nikkor Z 20 f/1.8, you’ll find these lenses for full-frame cameras:
- Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 S: This is the flagship wide-angle lens for Nikon mirrorless cameras. It’s the lightest f/2.8 wide-angle zoom lens in the market, and the design keeps light-point sources like the stars round and sharp.
- Nikkor Z 24 mm f/1.8 S: If 20 mm feels too wide for you, a better option could be this model. It offers very similar specs as the Nikkor Z 20 f/1.8 but with a longer focal length. Good for general Milky Way photography and for stitching panoramas with no distortion.
- Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8G ED: This is the lens I used for years to photograph the Milky Way. It’s versatile, sharp, and fast. If you’re shooting with a Nikon DSLR, it’s still a great lens, and you can get it at a lower price. However, new lenses offer better functions and results, such as the Sigma 14-24 f/2.8.
- Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED: The best Nikon DSLR prime lens for shooting the Milky Way. This lens allows you to use a shorter shutter speed while capturing more light. The difference between f/1.4 and f/2.8 in night-sky photography is huge, so if you shoot with a Nikon DSLR this is a very good option to consider
Best Canon lenses for Milky Way photography
We are still missing some specific mirrorless Canon prime lenses for Milky Way, since the only good option is the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 at this moment. If you’re looking for the top Canon lenses to shoot the Milky Way, any of these 2 primes for Canon DSLR can be a nice addition to your kit:
- 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.
- Canon EF Wide-Angle 24mm f/1.4 II USM: It’s not the widest, but it is the fastest Canon prime lens to shoot the Milky Way and a very good option if you shoot Canon.
What makes a good Milky Way camera lens?
There are some key things to consider when buying lenses for Milky Way photography. Some of the most important are:
Prime lenses are the best lenses in Milky Way photography. They offer the highest possible quality for a specific focal length, and they’re faster than zoom lenses. Also, they’re generally cheaper. Their main disadvantage is that they’re less versatile.
Zoom lenses are more versatile, allowing you to shoot at different focal lengths. On the flip side, they are bulkier, heavier, more expensive, and can’t match the quality of a good prime lens for a specific focal length.
Wide-angle lenses are the most popular option for shooting the Milky Way. Shooting the Milky Way with these lenses tend to be easier since they can gather more light and you can use a longer shutter speed. They also allow you to capture the Milky Way along with a great area of the scene, perfect for shooting Milky Way astrolandscapes.
Medium range and long focal lengths are usually aimed at capturing details of the Milky Way. Using a focal length like 50 mm or longer, you can focus on specific nebulae and regions of the Milky Way.
This is the most important feature in a good lens for shooting the Milky Way. The short shutter speed and high ISO necessary to shoot the Milky Way requires using the fastest possible lens. You can shoot the 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.
To put it simply, this refers to how blurry your image looks in the corners of the frame. High-quality lenses with low coma can capture rounded stars as sharp points of light in the entire frame, while low-quality lenses with heavy coma can capture sharp stars in the center but blurry stars in the corners.
A large aperture is another key factor in getting images with more coma.
The wider and lower-quality the lens, the more distortion tends to be in Milky Way shots. This is an important thing to consider when choosing a lens for Milky Way photography; if you shoot panoramas, try not to use ultra-wide-angles or the stitching/proportion will be more challenging to adjust.
Some cheap Milky Way lenses capture images with a strong vignetting in the corners. This is something you can fix in post-processing to a certain extent, but, generally, the less vignetting in a Milky Way lens, the better.
These recommendations also apply for lenses to shoot other night photography genres like star trails photography
Choosing the best camera lens for Milky Way photography is not easy, but it’s fundamental if you want to capture the best possible images.
Some Milky Way lenses are expensive, so a good tip is to rent a Milky Way photography lens for your trip. This is also a good option for testing a lens before purchasing.
In my case, I always rent my Milky Way photography lenses with Lensrentals, which operates in the US. Their rentals are cheap and straightforward. Plus, if you rent your equipment through this link and use the Lensrental promo code ATLAS15, you will get a 15% discount.
For example, the one-week rental of the Sony 12-24 f/2.8 GM is $93, while the full price of this lens is $2,998.
You can check other camera rental companies in your location in our guide to Camera lens rental.
I hope this guide helps you choose the best Milky Way lens according to your needs. If you aren’t sure if you can shoot the Milky Way with your lens, or if you have any other questions, feel free to reach out in the comments 😉
Happy Captures and clear skies!
GET THE CALENDAR WITH THE BEST DATES TO PHOTOGRAPH THE MILKY WAY IN 2022
You'll also receive our PDF guide to photographing the Milky Way!