Astrophotography is a photographic discipline that is accessible to almost everyone with a camera and kit lens. While kit lenses are useful, most astrophotographers find that soon after getting started they want to upgrade. So to get decent results you’ll need to invest in a fast, bright lens with good optical clarity.
Once you’re ready for a new lens, apertures of f2.8 and wider are what you’re looking for, to let as much light reach your camera’s sensor as possible. If you’re serious about the hobby, investing in one of the best cameras for astrophotography is also a no-brainer — when you’re set up with a good body and a solid lens, you’ll see some serious improvements in your images.
There are plenty of other astro accessories worth throwing in your kit bag too, from small things like lens heaters and intervalometers to larger bits of kit like star trackers. However, you’ll notice a huge difference once you upgrade to high-quality glass, so this is the best place to start.
Third-party lens manufacturers such as Sigma come into their own when you’re looking for astrophotography lenses, as not only are their lenses often cheaper, but they tend to create lenses that fill niches overlooked by the camera manufacturers. Whether primes or zoom lenses, there’s an astro lens to fit every sort of budget. In fact, some of the cheaper manual-focus lenses can outclass their more sophisticated competition, as you don’t necessarily need AF when focusing on the stars.
The first thing we noticed during our Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art review was just how heavy it is. At 2.58 lbs it’s on the weightier side, but with heft in the hand comes heft in terms of optical quality, too. The build quality is exceptional and the lens is also weather-sealed, but this isn’t much of a concern for the astrophotographer because inclement weather means bad night sky imaging. The fixed focal length and extra-wide field of view are also ideal for capturing expansive vistas of the landscape and night sky.
Performance in the field is nothing short of stunning. Stars appear pin-sharp, even when the aperture is opened up to its impressive f/1.8 maximum, although stopping down the aperture a little will improve the coma that appears towards the corners of the image frame at its widest opening. Chromatic aberration (color fringing) is well controlled when shooting at wide apertures and image distortion is handled equally well — not something you will find with all ultra-wide lenses.
It’s worth noting that the lens doesn’t have a filter thread due to the bulbous nature of its front element. This may not be a deal-breaker for astrophotography, but it’s a consideration to keep in mind if you also plan to use this lens for daytime shoots. For an ultra-wide lens, the performance of the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art is top class.
The Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM is another lens from Sigma’s ‘Art’ range, well known for its optical quality and high-class engineering. When we reviewed the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM we couldn’t help but notice more than a passing resemblance to the fixed 14mm focal length of Sigma’s 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art. But the f/2.8 has the added benefit of boasting a zoom range from 14mm through to 24mm. There is always a trade-off when using zoom lenses for astrophotography and it comes in the shape of a reduced maximum aperture size of f/2.8.
Sure, at f/2.8 it won’t soak in as many photons as its 14mm f/1.8 cousin, but the benefit of shooting with a zoom lens is the versatility it gives for composing at multiple focal lengths, reducing the need to move the camera as much.
The lens is optimized for full-frame cameras and has a typically solid Sigma construction. Zoom and focus rings operate smoothly and the lens has rapid and almost silent autofocus – handy if you wish to use the lens for daytime use. Image distortion is minimal and stars appear sharp throughout most of the image frame with little to no chromatic aberration, even at the widest aperture setting. This lens is available in Canon and Nikon mount options but the Canon version can also be used on the Sony E-Mount system when using Sigma’s MC-11 mount converter.
This lens is quite simply one of the best lenses on the market today for astrophotography.
Astrophotography can be an expensive hobby, not least because this genre of photography demands the use of expensive lenses that have wide maximum apertures. Fortunately, there are some excellent budget-friendly options available, too, like the Rokinon/Samyang 14mm f/2.8. Although this South Korean-made lens is one of the cheapest models in this round-up, we gave it 4/5 stars in our Rokinon/Samyang 14mm f/2.8 review and feel it deserves to be listed as one of the best lenses for astrophotography.
There are reasons why this lens is cheaper than other ultra-wide lenses and that is primarily because this lens is fully manual – both the focus and aperture are controlled manually. As the focus is usually set manually in astrophotography anyway, this doesn’t present a problem. Similarly, setting the aperture using the manual adjustment ring near the base of the lens is not a huge issue. It does, however, mean that there’s no electronic connection between the lens and the camera attached to it, so no image data will be relayed with your images. The construction of the lens body, although plastic, is fairly solid and lightweight.
Star sharpness is generally very good on the Rokinon/Samyang but there is deteriorating sharpness towards the corners at f/2.8, with some evidence of coma and chromatic aberrations. The distortion and vignetting are heavy with this lens but both of these can be corrected in post-processing.
In summary, this is a very capable and affordable ultra-wide lens that is ideal for newcomers to astrophotography or those with a smaller budget.
Released in 2015, the Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX has now been replaced by the Tokina atx-i 11-20mm f/2.8 CF, but the older AF Pro DX listed here is still worthy of a place in the camera bag.
Despite its retro aesthetics, Tokina has built a tough, sharp lens with a fast aperture of f/2.8 which is constant throughout the zoom range; perfect for astrophotography. The Tokina has been specifically manufactured for crop sensor cameras that have an APS-C sensor and offers mount options for both Canon and Nikon users.
Both Canon and Nikon have competing ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses for APS-C cameras, however, only the Tokina offers a constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range. The lens is provided with a removable lens hood, which is a handy addition and helps to keep dew from forming on the glass element during humid nights under the stars. When the hood is removed, there’s an option of using the 82mm thread to attach filters such as noise pollution or star glow filter to enhance your night images. Auto-focus is a little slow and noisy on the Tokina, although this is unlikely to be of concern when shooting the night sky because manual focusing is the order of the day.
Optically, the Tokina produces excellent results with sharp images even when shot wide open at an aperture of f/2.8. Coma is well controlled. Overall, this lens represents fantastic value for money and is probably the best ultra-wide-angle zoom lens for photographers using a crop sensor, APS-C Canon or Nikon camera.
The Sony FE 12-24mm f/2.8 GM is from Sony’s line of best-quality lenses, the ‘G-Master’ range, and is the most expensive lens on the list. This lens has a solid build, is compact and relatively light at just 1.87 lbs — quite a feat for an f/2.8 aperture lens with such a wide viewing angle. The combination of a large aperture and extra-wide viewing angle means that the front glass element is large and bulbous by design. A petal-shaped integrated hood protects the glass, however, this also means there’s no option to use a front filter without investing in an adapted filter system. The good news is that there’s a slot in the rear of the lens for gel filters.
Image quality is nothing less than spectacular. Stars appear extremely sharp in the center of the image and still very sharp in the corners throughout the full focal length range, even at the widest aperture of f/2.8. The shortest focal length of 12mm gives a whopping viewing angle of 122 degrees — perfect for capturing huge portions of the Milky Way and landscape, which can only be achieved by taking panoramas with many other lenses.
This classy lens is ideal for astrophotography if you’re a Sony shooter and want only the best quality astro images. Sure, this lens is expensive but it’s also of the highest caliber and it may just be the only wide-field astro lens you ever need.
This bright, ultra-wide 14mm prime lens is Sony’s answer to Sigma’s 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art lens. Both lenses offer the same fixed focal length and maximum aperture but there’s a marked difference between the two. The Sony FE 14mm F1.8 GM has been designed specifically for its mirrorless system, which means Sony have been able to engineer a much smaller and lighter lens. For comparison, the Sony weighs in at 1.02 lbs and the Sigma tips the scales at a chunky 2.6 lbs. This translates into a much better balance when the native Sony lens is fitted to a Sony camera.
The Sony FE 14mm f/1.8 GM is the widest Sony prime lens and it has the usual high-resolution, weather seals and smooth focusing like all the lenses in Sony’s G-Master range. The lens also incorporates a dedicated aperture control ring for manual control, which is a handy feature for quick exposure changes. The front element is fluorine-coated to repel moisture and is protected by an integrated lens hood. With minimal distortion and vignetting, star sharpness is maintained throughout the frame and towards the corners.
At a similar price to the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM, it’s hard to see why a Sony user would choose something else for an ultra-wide astrophotography lens.
Touted by Nikon as the world’s shortest full-frame f/2.8 ultra-wide-angle zoom, this fully sealed lens slots into the trinity of Nikon’s professional mirrorless zoom lenses. At just 1 lb 7oz in weight the Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S has a compact and lightweight construction, despite its wide aperture and ultra-wide viewing angle at the shortest end of the focal range. Build quality is excellent and the front element is noticeably less bulbous than similar lenses from other brands. This allows the option of attaching 112mm filters to the front of the lens using the supplied lens hood. However, this is of limited appeal for astrophotography and 112mm threaded filters are costly. The inclusion of a customizable Lens Function (L-fn) button gives the user the ability to further modify settings instantly without having to scroll through menus.
The Nikkor has exceptional image quality with little distortion and vignetting. More importantly, coma and other aberrations are largely absent from the far corners of the image frame. The lens sports a programmable lens control ring which, although not very useful for astrophotography, may be beneficial for daytime photography. However, astrophotographers will probably be more interested in the handy LCD display on the lens which lets them see and make changes in the dark without having to switch on a headlamp.
In summary, this is an ideal astrophotography lens for the Nikon mirrorless system, even if it’s a little pricey.
The Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 ED has been around since 2008 and is a part of the ‘holy trinity’ of Nikon FX lenses, along with the 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8. A favorite among astrophotographers, we gave it a hair’s breadth off full marks on our Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8 ED review.
No lens is bomb-proof but the construction of this lens means it is built to last and it deals with whatever conditions are thrown at it, including the occasional knock. Its simple but effective design means the lens is easy to handle, even on cold nights while wearing gloves. The integral petal-shaped lens hood protecting the front element means that a costly third-party filter adapter is needed to attach filters, although this is only likely to be an issue if you plan to use the lens during the daytime. The focus ring is comfortable to grip and the movement is smooth.
At f/2.8, the lens delivers crisp, clear images with small pinpoint stars, a characteristic of this type of lens. There is a slight amount of barrel distortion, but it is easily corrected with a simple click in the lens profile section in post-processing software.
Full frame Nikon users will love the versatility and quality of images this lens delivers but now there are newer alternatives on the market, such as the Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art, which offers full weather sealing and fluorine-coated optics. That being said, the Nikorr is a superlative ultra-wide zoom for astrophotography, provided you are happy to carry around the extra weight.
The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM uses Canon’s highest quality L-series glass and is beautifully crafted, with a clean uncluttered design. Exposure controls can be assigned to the customizable control ring via an RF camera body and the lens has smooth, silent focus and zoom rings. The lens boasts 5 stops of optical stabilization which, although not relevant in astrophotography, is a huge bonus when shooting handheld in other low light situations. When reviewing the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM we connected it to a compatible RF body to boost IS to an impressive 8 stops.
At 15mm, the lens has a 1mm wider viewing angle than the existing 16-35mm incarnations from Canon’s DSLR range of lenses and the design of the front lens element is such that filters can be attached via the 82mm thread when the detachable hood is removed. Images are razor sharp throughout but there is some edge sharpness drop-off when shooting wide open at f/2.8. A decrease in edge sharpness is exhibited in many lenses but then the Canon isn’t cheap, which is mildly disappointing, but certainly not a deal-breaker.
In comparison to other ultra-wide zoom lenses featured on this list, the 15-35mm covers a broader and more useful focal range, enabling you to crop images more tightly, which is simply not possible with other lenses. The Milky Way core can be seen at 35mm in glorious detail.
This lens is a wonderful, high-performing tool for astrophotography and extremely capable. But this is more than just an astrophotography lens — its versatility means the lens is also perfect for landscape and architecture photography. Sure, it’s an expensive lens, but the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM one of the best lenses Canon has made and is highly recommended for EOS R-series owners.
Canon 16-35mm L lenses have a reputation for quality so it’s unsurprising that amateurs and professionals use them so widely. A very popular lens, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM replaces the previous Mk II and in doing so addresses the flaws of its predecessor.
Upon reviewing the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, the latest iteration of this lens builds upon the quality of the Mkii and introduces improvements to the autofocus system, diaphragm and optics, leading to sharper images at the image periphery when shooting at its widest aperture settings and focal range. Image stabilization was unfortunately dropped from this latest version, but this would need to be switched off for long exposures at night anyway.
The useful constant aperture of f/2.8 is ideal for astrophotography, as is the focal range, allowing the user 20mm of flexibility to play within the field. The lens handles nicely with solid build quality and the high-speed USM autofocus system is rapid and accurate. Focusing manually is the norm when shooting images of the night sky but this is a handy feature to have on a versatile lens that can also be used for more applications than just nightscapes. The lens is also compatible with filters due to the inclusion of an 82mm thread.
The lens has been designed to correct chromatic aberration and distortion, although there is some very slight distortion at the corners at close examination. However, this distortion only becomes apparent when examining the entire image at very high magnification.
Although expensive, this lens produces excellent results when it comes to shooting wide-field images of the night sky.
How we test the best lenses for astrophotography
In order to guarantee you’re getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best lenses to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every camera lens through a rigorous review to fully test each product. Each lens is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.
Each lens is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each lens and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 150-600mm superzoom telephoto lens suitable for a full-frame camera to a sleek little wide-angle prime destined for a crop sensor wouldn’t be appropriate, though each lens might be the best performing product in its own class.
We look at how easy each lens is to operate, whether it contains the latest up-to-date imaging technology and look at its weight and portability. We’ll also make suggestions if a particular lens would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best viewing experience possible.
With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on camera lenses, whether you should purchase one or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.
Prime lenses vs Zoom lenses for astrophotography
Some photographers prefer using fixed focal length prime lenses for astrophotography and others prefer zoom lenses, but which lens is the right astrophotography lens for you? It will come down to a balance between versatility, cost, personal preference and which camera system you use.
In general, prime lenses exhibit less distortion and perform better in low light. Alternatively, zoom lenses are more versatile and offer a larger range of focal lengths, but at the expense of a slightly smaller maximum aperture and reduced light-gathering ability.
If you’re looking for one lens to do the job, a wide-angle zoom option is a great choice as it allows you to work across a range of focal lengths in one convenient package. If, on the other hand, your priority is maximum light collection and you don’t mind a fixed focal length, go with one of the bright and extremely fast f/1.8 options we’ve listed here. These are excellent for photographers without star trackers, when exposure times are limited. Alternatively, if you’re just starting out on your astrophotography journey and don’t want to spend a fortune just yet, it’s hard to look past the very affordable Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 which is excellent value for money.