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Astrophotography Cameras 2021: which are the best?

Which cameras are best for astrophotography and what type should you buy? We'll guide you through the different types and the best cameras on the market.

Astrophotography is the art of capturing what you see in the night sky to produce beautiful images of the cosmos, showing planets, stars, galaxies, nebulae, or even starry nightscapes of the Milky Way stretching up from the horizon. But choosing which astrophotography camera to buy can be the hardest part of the whole process.

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The type of astrophotography camera you need depends ultimately on what you want to take photographs of, but of course both your budget and level of experience will come into play.

camera tripod
Credit: iStock

The main consideration when selecting what sort of camera you need for astrophotography is whether you wish to pursue wide-field, planetary, or deep-sky imaging. Typically, any device used for night-sky imaging will need to perform long exposures, have remote shutter capability and ISO control (to alter sensitivity to light).

Here we’re going to run through the most popular cameras for astro imaging, pointing out strengths and considerations, starting with type of camera that many people will have with them most of the time.

Scroll down further for our guide to the best cameras for astrophotography.

Which camera should you buy for astrophotography?

Smartphones

The smartphone you carry every day can be used to capture a range of night-sky objects. Credit: iStock
The smartphone you carry every day can be used to capture a range of night-sky objects. Credit: iStock

Many smartphones can perform entry-level astrophotography, while some offer the ability to take long exposures, meaning you can pick up Milky Way details or star trails.

You can also hold smartphones up to a telescope eyepiece to take pictures, or use a smartphone adaptor (more on this below). This enables lunar and planetary imaging, but it’s difficult to get sharp images.

Andromeda taken using 1.55x zoom. Exposure: 16
Andromeda captured on the Google Pixel 4 smartphone using its ‘Night Sight’ mode. Credit: Paul Money

Although some smartphones have multiple cameras installed, these are tricky to line up to eyepieces. In a nutshell, smartphones are not dedicated astrophotography products and don’t offer the exposure control of a DSLR camera.

For more on smartphone astrophotography, read our top tips for photographing the night sky with a smartphone, or the best smartphone astrophotography gadgets.

Best suited for Star trails, Milky Way and general wide-field imaging

Limitations Deep-sky photography

Ideal accessories Tripod, telescope adaptor

DSLRs

Canon EOS M100 camera review
Canon EOS M100 DSLR camera

DSLRs (Digital single-lens reflex cameras) are good all-rounders. Because you can alter the ISO level and manage exposure lengths, these cameras are easily adapted for many astronomy targets.

Increasing the ISO setting ensures a DSLR can pick up details from deep-sky objects, including nebulae, but if this is coupled with a long exposure time there can be an issue with noise (unwanted artefacts) creeping in, which can be because the ISO is too high (the best ISO varies between cameras) or because the exposure time is causing the sensor to warm up.

The Andromeda Galaxy Tom Howard, Isle of Wight/Crawley, December 2018 and August 2020. Equipment: Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, TS-Optics 65mm quadruplet refractor, Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount
The Andromeda Galaxy, captured by Tom Howard  with a Nikon D7000 DSLR camera, TS-Optics 65mm quadruplet refractor and Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount.

DSLRs with ‘Live View’ or video capability can be used for planetary imaging, although they’re less efficient at cutting through atmospheric distortion than a planetary camera. For more on this, read our guide to astronomical seeing.

Some astro imagers modify a DSLR by removing the infrared (IR) filter, which makes it more sensitive to nebulae. A modified DSLR also allows narrowband filters to be used, which improve image details.

Keep your camera in pristine condition with our guide on how to clean a DSLR camera. Get more out of your camera with our DSLR guide.

Best suited for Wide-field, lunar and deep-sky imaging

Limitations Exposures lasting over ~5 minutes, planetary imaging

Ideal accessories Tracking mount, intervalometer (remote shutter release cable)

Planetary cameras and webcams

If you're a planetary imager, make sure your laptop and software are ready for a new season of astronomy. Credit: Steve Marsh
Planetary and web cams require a laptop and the latest software. Credit: Steve Marsh

Planetary imaging requires a telescope and you’ll find that reflectors are most suitable because of their long focal lengths.

If a planetary camera is also coupled with a 2x Barlow lens you’ll be able to achieve the magnification required for planetary detail, while the camera’s high frame rate will allow you to cut through atmospheric turbulence.

You’ll require a laptop to run these cameras and, as you’re viewing an object up close, a solid tracking telescope mount is also needed, which allows you to keep the planet central in the field of view.

01 - Moon mosaic Craig Towell, Bristol, 21 September 2019 Equipment: Altair Astro GPCAM3 290M mono camera, Fullerscope 8.75
A mosaic of the Moon captured by Craig Towell from Bristol, UK, using a an Altair Astro GPCAM3 290M mono camera, Fullerscope 8.75″ f/7.5 Newtonian and Sky-Watcher EQ6 mount.

When it comes to deep-sky imaging, planetary cameras have small sensors, which means they’re not always suited.

It’s also possible to modify an off-the-shelf webcam for planetary imaging, so that it fits into the eyepiece holder of your telescope (see below for more details).

Best suited for Lunar and planetary imaging

Limitations Deep-sky objects and wide-field imaging

Ideal accessories Laptop, 2x Barlow lens, processing software (eg RegiStax)

CMOS & CCD cameras

QHYCCD QHY 168C CMOS colour camera. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine
QHYCCD QHY 168C CMOS colour camera. Credit: BBC Sky at Night Magazine

CMOS and CCDs are ‘dedicated astrocams’ designed to be fitted to a telescope. Each comes in ‘colour’ – for RGB (Red, Green and Blue) imaging – or ‘mono’ variants. Mono cameras require the use of colour or narrowband filters.

CCD (charge-coupled device) cameras are suited for long-exposure astrophotography (10-plus minutes per frame) because they have ‘set-point’ cooling systems that keep the sensor temperature constant, which is known as ‘active’ camera cooling.

CMOS sensors perform better with shorter exposures and come as either actively or ‘passively’ cooled.

Southern Pinwheel Galaxy Rogerio Alonso, Minas Gerais, Brazil, 19 August 2018. Equipment: ZWO Optical ASI1600MM CMOS camera, SkyWatcher 200/1000mm Newtonian, SkyWatcher AZ-EQ6 GT mount
The Southern Pinwheel Galaxy captured by Rogerio Alonso, Minas Gerais, Brazil, with a ZWO Optical ASI1600MM CMOS camera, Sky-Watcher 200/1000mm Newtonian and SkyWatcher AZ-EQ6 GT mount.

Laptops are needed to run either device. To maximise CCD exposure times, additional accessories – including guiding equipment and software – are often required. Using these cameras can be a steep learning curve, so it’s best to build up to it gradually.

There are adaptors available that fit these ‘astro cams’ to DSLR camera lenses, which allows you to use them for wide-field deep-sky imaging.

For more on CCDs, read our guide to the best CCD cameras for astrophotography or our beginner’s guide to CMOS astrophotography.

Best suited for Deep-sky imaging

Limitations Milky Way and wide-field imaging

Accessories Laptop, telescope, guide equipment and software

How to connect a camera to your telescope

telescope smartphone holder
A smartphone adaptor will let you line up your phones camera with your telescope eyepiece.

You can go far with astrophotography by using a DSLR and lenses, but for a deep-sky object or planetary photography the addition of a telescope to your setup will widen your options. Your target will appear larger, allowing more detail.

Smartphones can be fitted to a telescope eyepiece holder via an adaptor: you just need the right one for your model. If you fancy making your own, read our DIY guide to making a smartphone adaptor for your telescope.

To attach a DSLR you will need a T-ring and nosepiece. The T-ring fits to the camera like a lens. For example, if you are using a Canon DSLR, you’ll need a Canon-fit T ring. The nosepiece is either 2-inch or 1.25-inch and you’ll find that most telescopes take either diameter.

If you are using a webcam, you’ll need to consider modifying it to fit to the scope’s eyepiece holder. This often involves stripping the webcam down to rehouse it in suitable casing. How difficult and effective this is will depend on the model.

If you are using a 2x or 3x Barlow lens and a reflector, you’ll pop the Barlow into the eyepiece barrel before attaching your webcam.

Designated planetary cameras, CCD and CMOS devices, come with a nosepiece attachment that fits to your scope.

Research thoroughly so you know what sort of astrophotography camera is best for what you want to capture. Credit: Misato Nomura / EyeEm / Getty Images
Research thoroughly so you know what sort of astrophotography camera is best for what you want to capture. Credit: Misato Nomura / EyeEm / Getty Images

We’ve reviewed a lot of astro imaging cameras over the years at BBC Sky at Night Magazine, from value models that provide reliable quality for those on a lower budget, to more high-end cameras for professionals or those who want to take their astrophotography to the next step.

If you want more information about buying astrophotography cameras, browse all of our camera reviews. And for help using your camera to capture images of the night sky or deep-sky targets, we have numerous astrophotography guides written by our team of experienced experts.

And don’t forget to send us your astrophotos. We always love to see them, and they could end up appearing in print in a future edition of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.

18 of the best cameras for astrophotography

1

Canon EOS 1000D DSLR

Canon EOS 1000D D-SLR camera. Credit: Credit: Digital Camera Magazine / Getty Images
Credit: Digital Camera Magazine / Getty Images
4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £199

The Canon EOS 1000D is an older model in camera terms, but as such it makes a great entry-level DSLR camera for those starting out in astrophotography. Compare it, for example, with Canon’s EOS Ra astrophotography camera further down this list and you’ll see what we mean.

For astrophotography the 1000D is perfectly capable of producing excellent astrophotos. It boasts excellent noise handling even at high ISO settings and the controls are very easy to operate in the dark. If you’re starting out in astrophotography and want to take your first steps using a DSLR, you should be able to pick one up cheaply by looking online or buying one second hand.

If you do opt for the latter, read our guide to buying secondhand astronomy equipment for advice on how to do so successfully.

Read our full Canon EOS 1000D DSLR review.

Where to buy:

 

2

Bresser full HD deep-sky camera

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £231

The Bresser full HD is aimed capturing images of planets, the Moon and also some basic deep-sky imaging. It uses Sony’s IMX290 colour sensor, which is highly sensitive to faint light and has extremely low read noise. The camera comes with a guide port so can also be used for autoguiding, and also includes a 1.25-inch nosepiece, ST4 guide cable, USB 2.0 cable and a software CD.

We found good detail on our targets, including M27, the Moon and Jupiter. This is a decent camera that will enable astrophotographers to capture a range of targets including the Sun, our Moon and deep-sky objects.

Read our full Bresser HD deep-sky camera review.

Where to buy:

 

3

Altair GPCAM2 327C

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £269

The GPCAM2 327C is simple to set up and get going, making it a good choice for those who need to make the most of gaps in clouds. Once the drivers are installed, you plug it in and the software recognises it immediately, enabling you to slew your scope to your target and set exposure length and gain.

The camera is particularly good for electronically assisted astronomy, with live video that can be displayed on a laptop for outreach events or showing off to friends. The camera uses the Sony IMX327 STARVIS sensor, with 2.9micron pixels in 1920×1080 format. At full resolution in 12-bit mode, speeds of up to 18 frames per second (fps) can be achieved.

Read our full Altair GPCAM2 327C review.

Where to buy:

 

4

ZWO ASI224 high frame rate colour camera

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £299

The IMX224 sensor in the ASI224 has excellent infrared sensitivity, which means it can be used for proper infrared imaging when a suitable infrared-pass filter is fitted, for example the bright planets. Try Jupiter and Saturn with speciality filters such as methane (CH4), which is centred on 889nm.

The excellent RGB sensitivity is great for Solar System targets, but also brighter deep-sky objects: exposure range runs from 32 microseconds to 1,000 seconds. With a 4-inch, f/9 telescope we were able to photograph the Orion Nebula‘s core with sub-second exposures. This is an exciting camera to use.

Read our full ZWO ASI224 high frame rate colour review.

Where to buy:

 

5

Nikon D700

Nikon D700 camera review
4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £350

Like Canon’s EOS 1000D, the Nikon D700 is an older model and as such, a great budget option for those looking for a reliable camera that won’t stretch the bank balance. As an astrophotography camera, there’s a lot to shout about, such as its default ISO range from 200-6400 and the ability to extend this further to 100-26600. High ISO increases sensitivity, enabling you to catch more detail.

It has vignette control to reduce the ‘shading’ effect at the edge of frame that can be produced by some optics. We also love that it has an intervalometer, allowing you to program the camera to take a sequence of exposures automatically. This makes it great for capturing a time-lapse of the stars or for photographing meteor showers.

Read our full Nikon D700 review.

Where to buy:

 

6

Canon EOS M100 camera review

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £449

Canon’s EOS M100 is an entry-level, mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera that’s highly portable, and upon experimentation with a telescope, ended up being a decent camera for astrophotography.

Canon’s M-series models are designed to take EF-M lenses, but you can still use EF/EF-S lenses on the EOS M100 with the help of an optional adaptor. This allows you to connect the camera to a telescope via an EF-T mount adaptor.

Shutter speed can be set to take exposures lasting 1/4,000th of a second to 30 seconds, or even longer with bulb mode. ISO extends from 100-25,600, but we managed great results with 1,600-3,200. We were encouraged, using the EOS M100 with a telescope. It’s not perfect, but it’s flexible, easy to use, portable and capable of taking some great astronomy shots.

Read our full Canon EOS M100 review.

Where to buy:

 

7

Altair Hypercam 183M V2 mono astronomy imaging camera

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £665

The Hypercam 183M is a compact camera that pairs well with short focal length refractors or camera lenses. It has a built-in filter that blocks infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths. Set-up is easy. Just download and install the driver package and then plug in the camera.

The camera is aimed at deep-sky imaging, although with user-defined Region of Interest settings, lunar, solar or planetary imaging are possible because the camera will record video files that can be processed and stacked. At a decent price and simple to use, this Hypercam is a great option for deep-sky imaging, including narrowband objects.

Read our full Altair Hypercam 183M V2 review.

Where to buy:

Teleskop Express

 

8

Atik Infinity monochrome CCD camera

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £795

The Atik Infinity is controlled by a Windows-based program also called Infinity, which is well-designed and simple to use. The controls enable you to adjust exposure and binning. A ‘finder’ mode lets the camera perform a short exposure, high-binned loop, perfect for locating faint objects.

In video mode the camera exposes in a continuous loop, sending two or three full frames to the computer every second. Its software analyses image quality and adds it to a stacked result to produce a cleaner image. We loved watching the spiral arms of the Whirlpool Galaxy become better defined after just a few stacked images.

The software interface is easy to get to grips with and is great for outreach sessions where you might be using the camera for live public viewing.

Read our full Atik Infinity monochrome CCD camera review.

Where to buy:

 

9

ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £1,026

The ASI294MC Pro contains Sony’s IMX294 CJK back-illuminated 3/4-inch sensor, comes with 256MB DDR3 (double data rate type three) memory installed and a two-stage TEC cooling system that cools to between –35°C and –45°C below ambient temperature.

When the camera is in ROI mode, the frame rate can run up to 120fps. High gain conversion mode is engaged when gain goes over 120 and this helps keep the dynamic range constant. The camera produces a fine image on screen and capture is very easy. We only needed about 200 frames and to stack 50 to produce a decent image of the Moon. It performed well as a planetary imager, too, even under poor conditions.

Read our full ZWO ASI294MC Pro camera review.

Where to buy:

10

Atik Horizon CMOS

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £1,219

The Atik CMOS is available in two formats: one-shot colour (OCS) and monochrome. We reviewed the former. It comes with a full software suite, including Artemis Capture imaging software and offers adjustable gain setting. Download speed from camera to our laptop was fast, which helped smooth out the framing and focussing. The Horizon is a well-built, capable imaging device offering low read noise and adjustable sensitivity.

Read our full Atik CMOS camera review.

Where to buy:

 

11

QHYCCD QHY 168C CMOS

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £1,399

The QHY 168C is a one-shot colour astrophotography camera that boast an APS-C sized sensor. This is a size format frequently found in non-full-frame DSLRs. In fact, the QHY 168C uses a Sony IMX071 colour CMOS sensor, which is the same that Nikon uses in many of its DSLRs. Yet despite this, the camera offers far greater functionality than a regular DSLR.

Exposure times range from 30 microseconds to 1 hour (3,600 seconds), and the 168C also offers region of interest (ROI) definition. This camera is really a jack of all trades in terms of its ability to be used for wide-field deep-sky imaging and capturing the planets too.

Read our full QHYCCD QHY 168C CMOS review.

Where to buy:

 

12

ZWO ASI 1600GT M

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £1,785

The ASI 1600GT M is a bit bigger than what you would expect from a ZWO camera. It’s stylish, has a heatsink back case, two cooling fans and two handles and is finished in anodised red. On the bottom you’ll find a USB 3.0 and two USB 2.0 sockets, as well as a ‘power in’ socket and a new ‘power out’ socket that can carry 12V to other devices.

The ASI 1600GT features a Panasonic MN34230 sensor, which many will know has a great track record in the field of astrophotography. This is a great camera that performs very well and is perfect for anyone searching for a mono camera that’s easy to use.

Read our full ZWO ASI 1600GT M review.

Where to buy:

 

13

Altair Hypercam 26C APS-C colour 16-bit camera

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £1,799

An upgrade and improvement over previous models, the Hypercam 26C has a large APS-C-sized sensor with 512MB of built-in DDR memory. The camera produces full colour 26MB images and is well suited for long exposure deep-sky astrophotography. However, it’s not ideal for planetary imaging and in full-frame mode the captured file sizes quickly fill up disk space.

But this is a fantastic camera and features an IMX571 sensor with true 16-bit capability, allowing for the capture of over 65,000 levels of intensity within an image. The back-lit Sony sensor keeps noise to a minimum and allows higher gain settings to be used for speedier shooting The camera produced top-quality full colour photographs at the upper limit of what our equipment and sky quality permitted.

Read our full Altair Hypercam 26C APS-C review.

Where to buy:

 

14

Sony α7S Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera

5.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £2,049

The α7S is a type of camera known as an MILC: a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera. These are similar to DSLRs because you can change the lenses and attach them to telescopes using an adaptor, but they don’t have a reflex flip mirror for observing what’s coming through the lens. Instead, they dispay this on a rear screen or electronic viewfinder.

The α7S boasts a full frame (35mm) sensor offering 12.2 megapixels. Many high-end cameras break the 20-megapixel barrier, so you could be forgiven for thinking the α7S is tame, but this is a good thing where astro imaging is concerned. Lower pixel density means individual light collecting photosites are larger.

Our tests with low to mid-range ISOs were extremely encouraging, and we saw plenty of detail with low noise. This is a very impressive camera for astrophotography, particularly when it comes to meteor showers, aurorae and wife-field Milky Way shots.

Read our full Sony α7S review.

Where to buy:

15

Explore Scientific Deep Sky Astro Camera 7.1MP

4.0 out of 5 star rating

Price £2,099

The Explore Scientific Deep Sky 7.1MP comes in a tough black plastic case and includes accessories such as a software disc to install all the drivers and software. It’s made from lightweight aluminium anodised in blue and has a nice, solid feel.

After a night’s imaging, our processed results revealed hardly any noise or unwanted artefacts. Considering exposure time, we could see plenty of detail. This is down to the low noise Sony Exmor IMX428 CMOS 7.1MP colour sensor offering resolution of 3,200 x 2,200 pixels and a size of 14.4mm x 9.9mm. The sensor is very sensitive to faint targets so you can captured deep-sky targets very speedily. This makes it a pleasure to use.

Read our full Explore Scientific Deep Sky Astro Camera 7.1MP review.

Where to buy:

 

16

Atik ACIS 7.1 CMOS mono camera

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £2,099

The first thing you notice about the ACIS 7.1 is its very impressive build quality, which you might expect from a camera designed for pros. No rough edges or flimsy settings: this is a solid, stylish and chunky little unit. It’s controlled using Atik’s imaging software: either Artemis Capture or Dusk.

Ultimately the Atik ACIS 7.1 is one of those high-performing cameras that bridges the gap between being speedy enough for planetary imaging and oozing the quality required for capturing deep-sky targets.

Read our full Atik ACIS 7.1 CMOS review.

Where to buy:

 

17

Starlight Xpress Trius Pro 694 mono CCD camera bundle

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £2,550

This astrophotography bundle includes a foam-lined case, Lodestar X2 off-axis guide camera and SXMFW-1T mini filter wheel. The camera’s sensor is a medium-format, high-resolution EXview CCD chip, with 6,050,000 x 4.54µm square pixels in a 15.98mm diagonal array.

We were very impressed with the quality of design. It’s solid and with a nice coat of paint and the threads screw together nicely. The sensor boasts improved lower noise reading (3 electrons), which is a reduction from the original Trius SX-694 (4–4.5 electrons). What’s more, image download time is 2.5 seconds at full resolution. We found the camera could capture high-quality frames, meaning less processing work was required to produce outstanding images.

Read our full Starlight Xpress Trius Pro 694 review.

Where to buy:

 

18

Canon EOS Ra astrophotography camera

4.5 out of 5 star rating

Price £2599.99

The EOS Ra operates much the same as a regular Canon DSLR camera, albeit a high-end one! This makes it easy to get to know, and if you are familiar with Canon cameras, you should find it very easy to use. You can connect it to a telescope using a Canon T-ring and EF to EOS R adaptor. Bulb mode is accessed in the mode-wheel to enable long exposures. We loved the Ra’s Wi-Fi and Bluetooth provisions, which enable connection to smart devices using the Canon Connect app.

We used the Ra to capture a Milky Way panorama and found the camera’s dexterity really shone through. Imaging with moderate low-level light pollution at 15mm, nebulosity in and around Cygnus was quite visible.

Read our full Canon EOS Ra review.

Where to buy:

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Have we missed any models? Do you have an astrophotography camera that you think should be included on our list? Let us know by emailing contactus@skyatnightmagazine.com.