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Beginner DSLR Astrophotography Equipment - A Complete Guide

Updated: Jun 5, 2023

Beginner DSLR astrophotography can be intimidating when you don't know the basic equipment you need. In this article, we'll share every piece of equipment needed to start astrophotography the right way. Below we suggest several cameras, telescopes, mounts, and accessories that may fit your budget. Continue reading to find ideas on how to build your perfect Astrophotography rig.


Beginner DSLR Astrophotography Equipment, a complete guide, with cameras, telescopes, mounts, accessories, softwares and all you need to start imaging the stars

Table of Contents:

  • DSLR Cameras for Astrophotography

  • Modifying a camera for Astrophotography

  • Camera Lenses for Astrophotography

  • Camera Tripods and Star Trackers

  • DSLR Camera Accessories

  • Beginner Telescopes

  • Motorized Equatorial Mounts

  • Power

  • T-Rings, Coma Correctors and Field Flatteners, and T-Mount Adapters

  • Auto-guiding

  • Accessories to Make Your Life Easier

  • Softwares

  • Alternatives for Astrophotography without Equipment


Astrophotography is, in our opinion, the most rewarding photography-based hobby of all! It is one of the most difficult niches to get into and can become quite expensive. Nowadays it's much easier to find online sources with thousands of tutorials, videos, and articles to help beginner astrophotographers get started.


Believe it or not, you can get decent photos of the night sky, including deep-sky objects, without spending thousands of dollars on gear. If you read our "Astronomy as a Couple" post, you may know that we started out with an old Point & Shoot camera and binoculars. We went through the wringer, but we don't recommend starting this way because your smartphone probably captures better images than our Point & Shoot camera ever did.

Shortly after that phase, we upgraded to a DSLR camera and a tripod. That was how we got our first great images of the night sky and the best place to start if you're interested!


Which leads us to the first question, "Which DSLR camera should you buy?"


Make sure to check out our complete guide on how to start Astrophotography! You can also join the Galactic Course for lifetime access to lessons about all aspects of Astrophotography!

 

DSLR Cameras for Astrophotography


Suggested Beginner Camera - Under $900



These cameras have a relatively low price and are great for beginner DSLR astrophotographers on a tight budget, or those who are unsure they want to dive headfirst into the hobby.


We started with the "TXi" series for our first DSLR camera. It was a used Canon T3i, which we bought for under $400 at the time. If you follow our YouTube channel, refer to Episodes #1 through #4 to see the T3i's potential.


This cropped-sensor camera yielded excellent results for the price we paid and we appreciated the tilt-screen feature, which you can find in the newer Canon T8i as well.



The Nikon D7500 is similar and also has a tilt-LCD display. At the time of updating this blog, we saw a price reduction for it so keep an eye out. This camera is a great option for imaging the night sky without spending too much money.



Suggested Intermediate Cameras - $900 - $1500




These intermediate-level cameras are well known to amateur astrophotographers, as they have great low-readout noise and a high dynamic range. This feature is helpful when imaging deep-sky objects and the night sky in general, but comes at a higher price than the two previous cameras. In our opinion, it is worth the investment for devoted astrophotographers.



We used the Canon 7D Mark II as our main DSLR camera for years time until switching to the Canon Ra (now discontinued). We never regretted that purchase and have gotten magnificent images with very low noise.

If you are interested in filming with your camera, the Canon 7D Mark II also has great video capabilities. In fact, it is what we use to record our episodes!





Suggested Pro Cameras - $2000 and above



If you are willing or able to splurge on astrophotography equipment for the long term, consider purchasing a high-end DSLR camera with excellent low-light capabilities, such as the Canon 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D810A. We were able to try out the 5D Mark IV once for Milky Way photography and it blew our minds! The noise level was extremely low, even at a very high ISO, and the Milky Way looked incredible after just a single 25-second exposure at f/2.8.


On the other hand… Nikon's D810A is the only DSLR camera dedicated to Astrophotography. This product was built to capture galaxies, nebulae, and other deep-sky objects. It even has an optimized sensor that is 4 times more sensitive to Hydrogen Alpha gas than other DSLR cameras! Nikon also advertises the D810A as an excellent camera for wide-field astrophotography, and has a feature dedicated to Star Trail photography!


During the holiday season of 2019, Canon decided to compete with Nikon's D810A and released the Canon EOS Ra, a mirrorless camera also build specifically for Astrophotography. Mirrorless cameras are getting more and more popular these days due to their smaller size and weight.


 

If you are in the same position we were in when we first started, you can only splurge for a quality camera, and that's it - but don't worry! You do not need a telescope (and all the accessories that go with it) to do Astrophotography.


Actually, it's better to start imaging the night sky with just a DSLR and a tripod rather than complicate your newfound hobby by trying to learn too many things at once and give up.


With the right lens and an affordable camera tripod, you can photograph the Milky Way, as well as some of the most famous objects in space, like the Andromeda Galaxy or the Orion Nebula. Sounds too good to be true? Check out our post about photographing deep sky objects with just a cheap DSLR camera and a tripod to convince you!

You may also want to read our tutorial post about the 15 easiest astrophotography targets without a telescope.


Spending a few months imaging the sky with a DSLR camera and tripod will teach you important skills for Astrophotography. You will not only learn how to use your camera, but also how to focus, how to find your target, how to use an intervalometer, and how the sky changes each season.


In order to get great results and stay motivated, you will need a lens fitted for nighttime imaging. Please note that if your camera has already come with a lens (usually the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 "kit zoom lens"), you do not necessarily need to buy a new one. The kit lens can yield great results, especially for wide-field imaging, and is often the lens most beginner DSLR astrophotographers start with!


Eventually, you will want to get a faster lens (f/1.4 to f/2.8) for your desired focal length or purchase a telephoto lens to get a closer photograph of deep-sky objects.


 

Modifying a Camera for Astrophotography


If you like the simplicity that DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer, and do not plan to upgrade to a cooled astronomy camera anytime soon, consider investing in a modified camera!

Astro-converted cameras will capture more data, especially in the hydrogen-alpha wavelength, and so are much better than stock cameras when imaging most deep-sky objects, especially emission nebulae.


The company we recommend, if you are interested in getting a modded camera, is Astrogear. We have tried a camera from them and were blown away!

You can either send your current DSLR or mirrorless camera to a professional for modding, or you can purchase a pre-modded camera.


Below is a picture of Barnard's Loop showing a comparison between a stock camera (left) and a modified camera (right).

Barnard's Loop with a stock camera and with a modded camera

We have a full guide about astro-modified cameras that you should read if you want to learn more!


 

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.


 

Camera Lenses for Wide-Field Astrophotography


Suggested Wide Angle lenses for Astrophotography


Wide-angle lenses are best used to photograph the Milky Way, for star trail imaging, or to capture meteor showers.


Milky Way Astrophotography with a 10mm Rokinon Lens on a Canon 7D Mark II DSLR Camera, Las Vegas Nevada wide field Astrophotography
The Milky Way with the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 lens

Canon:

Nikon:

Other:

  • Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 - This is the lens we use when shooting the Milky Way. It is fully manual (meaning you cannot autofocus or change the aperture through the menus) but is easy to use and yields great results for the price!

  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8





Suggested regular lenses for Astrophotography


These lenses can be used to get a closer look at the Milky Way band, photograph the constellations, and take landscape astrophotography.




Canon:

Nikon:


Suggested Telephoto lenses for Astrophotography


Telephoto lenses are often big and heavy but can zoom in well. This makes them really useful for imaging galaxies, nebulae, or clusters. If you can afford it, choose a lens that is as fast as possible, meaning it has a low f/ number - for example, an f/2 is faster than an f/5. What is the f/number exactly? It is the ratio of the focal length to the aperture diameter, which is how fast the lens collects light.




Canon:

Nikon:

Other:


At this point, you should have an idea for your camera and a choice of lens(es). Next and last, is the most crucial piece of equipment you need to be able to start Astrophotography, a tripod!


 

Camera Tripods and Star Trackers


Suggested Camera Tripods for Astrophotography


Tripods come in all sizes and prices, but we recommend avoiding the cheap and easy options.

Your tripod will serve you for years to come. It is necessary to have a reliable piece of equipment in the dark because you may bump into it and conditions change depending on where you photograph from! A sturdy tripod will make your life much easier when setting up and taking long exposure shots. It also helps to have a tripod that can support a heavy camera body and lens.


We have owned 4 or 5 tripods since starting our beginner DSLR astrophotography journey, and so far, there are only three that were worth the investment. From left to right, find out more about them below.



  • Orion Paragon-Plus XHD Extra Heavy-Duty Tripod

We purchased this tripod when we had our heavy 20x80 Orion Binoculars. This was back when we were just discovering the night sky and before we ever considered buying a DSLR camera. We had no idea it would become our main tripod when shooting the Milky Way, taking time-lapses and star trails!

At one point, we even attached a star tracker to the top of it, so it handled the tracker, a camera, and a heavy 75-300mm telephoto lens like a champ! We highly recommend investing in this tripod and we know we'll continue using it for many years. This is now our primary tripod for filming our videos.


The Orion Paragon-Plus XHD Extra Heavy-Duty Tripod has a weight rating of 10 lbs (although it seems it can handle more in our opinion) and can reach a height of 68 inches. It costs $149.99.


  • JOBY Gorilla Pod 3K


This may come as a surprise, but this tiny, flexible tripod is actually very sturdy! We often attach our Canon 7D Mark II + lens to the top of it and place it anywhere we like.

Of course, due to its size, you will be limited in terms of angles if doing landscape astrophotography.



You could place this setup on a sturdy branch or on top of your car to get more height, but it might make more sense to invest in the heavy-duty tripod instead.


The JOBY Gorilla Pod 3K tripod can hold up to 6.6 lbs and costs $69.95.

You can upgrade to the 5K kit if you prefer, which can hold 11 lbs, but costs $109.95.



  • Carbon Fiber Tripod

This is our main tripod for wide-field astrophotography! It has about the same size as the Paragon one but is significantly lighter thanks to the carbon fiber design. It's also faster to deploy and it can handle more weight.


We use this tripod whenever we shoot the Milky Way, and have no issue using our star tracker on it. We compare this Radian tripod with the Paragon tripod on our YouTube channel. We also give our first impressions of it and show you its features!


The Apertura Tripod can hold up to 110 lbs and costs $349.



Suggested Star Trackers for Astrophotography


Sky Trackers (or Star Trackers) are excellent for people who don't plan to image with a full telescope rig (yet). Star Trackers are lightweight, easy to use, and simple to mount making them perfect for wide-field astrophotography using a camera and lens. Some star trackers can also be used with a small telescope, but we recommend sticking with just a camera and lens when imaging with a tracker.



Pictured above are three star trackers we recommend:


Note: The SkyWatcher tracker is by far the most expensive of the three, mostly because it is an updated version of the original Star Adventurer. We believe you can find a basic Star Adventurer Pro (1st gen) for much cheaper and it'll do the job. We still use it to this day and we never have an issue with it. Try not to be tempted by the new versions if it doesn't work for your budget.


Milky Way arch over Joshua Tree. Widefield Astrophotography

If you decide to go with the Star Adventurer, we suggest joining the Galactic Course! Season 2 contains a ton of information on capturing the Milky Way using a star tracker.

The image above was taken during the course with the Star Adventurer, so you should also be able to capture something like this once you've finished the lesson! And when you are ready to upgrade to a telescope setup, go through Season 1 to learn all about DSLR astrophotography (and other cameras) with a telescope.

 

DSLR Camera Accessories


Whether you plan to do wide-field astrophotography with your DSLR/Mirrorless camera and tripod or deep sky imaging with a telescope, consider getting one or two of the accessories below for your DSLR. Truthfully, if you can afford it, these accessories will make your life much easier in the long run and will save you a tremendous amount of frustration and time.


INTERVALOMETERS


This one is a no-brainer. If you were only going to add one accessory to your equipment, make it an intervalometer. This device will help you to take long exposures, add a delay, set intervals, and control exposure times. Some newer DSLR cameras may now have a built-in intervalometer, but they are often limited in what you can do.



Intervalometers can either be wired or wireless and are inexpensive. We have owned two wired intervalometers and although it can be a nuisance because it's dangling from our telescope, it has never failed us! Wired intervalometers also consume very little power, so you won't have to change your batteries for months.


The intervalometers shown here are examples of Canon and Nikon cameras. Be sure to order one that is fit for the model of DSLR camera you own!


Fits Canon EOS 7D, 5D Series, 1D, 6D, 50D, 40D, 30D, 20D & 10D

Fits Canon 700D/T5i, 650D/T4i, 550D/T2i, 500D/T1i, 350D/XT, 400D/XTi, 1000D/XS, 450D/XSi, 60D, 100D, & Pentax

Fits Canon EOS M6 Mark II, 90D R, 80D, 77D, 70D, 60D, 800D, 200D, 7D Series, 5D Series, T7, T6i, T6s, & T5i

Fits Nikon D750, D610, D600, D7200, D7500, D7100, D7000, D5600, D5500, D5300, D5200, D5100, D5000, D3300, D3200, D3100, Df Z7, Z6 & P1000

Fits Nikon D3100, D3200, D3300, D5000, D5100, D5200, D5300 D5500, D90, D7000, D7100, D7200, D600, D610 & D750


BATTERY GRIPS


We purchased a battery grip for our Canon 7D Mark II, and we can honestly say that we wish we got one sooner!