Would you love to start imaging the night sky, but have no idea which camera you should buy? There are hundreds and hundreds of options out there, and it can be very confusing for a beginner to find what will become their main tool in their astrophotography journey.
In this post, we will discuss our suggestions as to what camera you should get if you are starting Astrophotography.
Whichever camera you decide to purchase, it will quickly become your best friend under the stars. It will allow you to capture astronomical objects millions of light years away from where you are standing, even if you do not own a telescope.
That's right, you do not need a telescope to photograph galaxies and nebulae, we have a video that proves it if you'd like to take a look.
Below, we will tell you what we think are the best cameras to buy to start in this hobby. Even though it is very likely that you'll be starting out with a DSLR camera, we'll also quickly go over cooled astrophotography-dedicated cameras just in case you'd like to make the jump straight away, or upgrade from your current DSLR camera.
Let's get started!
DSLR Cameras under $900
These cameras are both affordable and are nice for beginner astrophotographers on a budget, like us when we started!
When we first got into the hobby, we decided to buy a used Canon t3i, which is one of the older cameras in Canon's "TXi" series.
We bought it for under $400 at the time, and for the price, it was really great! You can see what we got with it from Episodes #1 through #4. If we were to start over today, we would happily get the latest Txi camera -- the T7i at the time of making this post.
The Nikon D7500 is similar will also yield excellent results for the price. Note that both of these cameras have a really nice feature, a tilt-LCD display. This can be very useful when checking your frames while the camera is attached to the telescope.
These two cameras are great options for imaging the night sky without spending too much money.
DSLR Cameras between $900 and $1,500
These intermediate level cameras have a low readout noise and a high dynamic range, which is crucial for Astrophotography.
The Canon EOS 80D, the Nikon D500 and the Canon 7D Mark II are well known to amateur astrophotographers, and are some of the most popular cameras you'll find attached to telescopes.
You will see a noticeable difference in quality when imaging deep sky objects between these and the ones from the cheaper group. We have upgraded from our Canon T3i to the Canon 7D Mark II and the improvement was insane! Of course, if you already own one of the latest Txi series, you should probably not spend money to upgrade just yet.
DSLR Cameras above $2,000
Are you 100% certain that you will fall in love with astrophotography as soon as you take your first shot, and want to go for it and get one of the high end cameras straight away?
The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is pricy, but it yields incredible results when doing astrophotography. We have tried this camera once doing Milky Way photography, and the results blew our mind! Even a single, unprocessed frame of our Milky Way band from a Bortle 4 zone was jaw dropping.
On the other hand… Nikon (recently followed by Canon) came up with a DSLR camera entirely dedicated to Astrophotography, the D810A.
These products were built specifically to image galaxies, nebulae, and other deep sky objects. Their sensor is optimized to be more sensitive to Hydrogen Alpha gas and should both be excellent for emission nebulae. Each also have their own Astrophotography features as an added extra.
COOLED ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY CAMERAS
Would you prefer to start with a cooled astrophotography camera right from the beginning? Or maybe you already own a DSLR camera and feel ready to upgrade?
We have only imaged with cameras from the company ZWO and QHYCCD, and really love their products! We will not pretend like we are familiar with every kind of cameras out there from the many companies that produce them, and decided to show you guys the ones we suggest from ZWO AND QHY. We will edit this post in the future if we have the chance to try cameras from more different companies and like them better than the ones listed below.
ONE SHOT COLOR Cameras:
If you want a cooled camera that works in a similar way as a DSLR camera, does not require a filter wheel and yields data that is easier to process than a monochrome camera, get yourself a One-Shot-Color cooled camera (OSC). Here are what we believe are the best three options:
The ASI 071MC is not the cheapest of the cooled color camera from ZWO, but it is one of the best options if you are looking for an APS-C size CMOS camera that has low read noise and a high dynamic range. We have tried this camera ourselves for deep sky imaging and were really impressed by the quality of the results we were able to achieve.
The ASI 2600MC was released in 2020, and the company made sure to fix one common flaw seen in some of their previous cameras: Amp glow. If you're not sure what amp glow, it is an artifact that looks like a reflection from a very bright star that would be sitting just out of the frame. It can sometimes be difficult to remove and is often a pain for beginner astrophotographers.
The ASI 2600MC costs just about $2,000 and is likely to become one of ZWO's most popular One Shot Color cameras out there.
The QHY600C is our favorite one shot color camera. It is a 16-bit full frame 60 Megapixels camera, which is huge! It also has very little noise, as we demonstrated in our Galactic Experiment 1 video: Stacking 1 vs 10 vs 25 vs 75 frames and comparing the results. We absolutely love this camera and although expensive, believe that it will stay at the top of its category for years to come. Do know that ZWO released an almost identical version which is the ASI6200MC.
Monochrome cameras might have a steeper learning curve than their OSC counterparts, but they usually are the ones that allow you to get the highest possible quality in term of data.
The ZWO ASI 1600MM is probably the most popular monochrome astrophotography camera on the market. Pricy yet affordable for people in this hobby, the ASI 1600MM can yield incredible results and can be fully controlled either through a laptop, or by WiFi on your phone or tablet with the use of the ASIAir.
This is currently our main camera, and we are extremely happy with the images we managed to capture with it.
Newly released for 2021 is the QHY268M. The color version of this camera, the QHY268C, has been a fan favorite for months, and QHY customers have been asking for a monochrome version of that camera since its release. The company heard their calls and decided to make the QHY268 Monochrome! With a very low read noise and 26 megapixels, this is one of the best cropped sensor monochrome cameras available for the price this year.
This camera, released in 2020, is definitely on our wish list! It has a 64MP full frame sensor and can shoot 8K videos for planetary or lunar imaging! We can't wait until we are able to try this camera out, and will definitely let you know our thoughts on it. It is pretty expensive at $4,000 especially since you will need to add the cost of the filter wheel and the filter you'll need. The QHYCCD version of this camera is the QHY600M which is also incredible.
If you are just starting Astrophotography and money is tight, you might be asking yourself if you should buy a full cheap set up or a great camera and get the rest later.
Want to learn all aspects of astrophotography in the most efficient way possible?
The Galactic Course includes a LIFETIME membership that gives you unlimited access to all current and upcoming astrophotography content. Step into an ever-growing realm of knowledge and learn at your own pace. Make life-long friends and connections with other members, and get tips from instructors that truly care about your journey and progress under the night sky.
We 100% recommend that you spend money on a great camera, and leave the telescope, mounts and other accessories for the future. If you are able to, you can also get an affordable sky tracker, which will greatly improve your images and further your learning about long exposure times.
Barnard's Loop with our Canon 7D Mark II while tracking the sky
All you need is a camera and a tripod to start astrophotography. If you are new to astronomy, it is actually way better if you don't over-complicate your life and focus on one thing at a time. With just a camera, you can captures several of the most iconic objects in the night sky like the Andromeda Galaxy, the Orion Nebula or even the planets.
Watch our video about photographing deep sky objects with just a cheap DSLR camera and a tripod to convince yourself! Also read our tutorial post about the 15 easiest astrophotography targets without a telescope.
We also have a quick post and video about our favorite DSLR camera lenses for wide field astrophotography.
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