Best Lens for Night Sky Photography – Our Complete Guide

Photographing the night sky and the Milky Way is not as easy as photographing a sunny landscape, but with the right gear it is definitely achievable! If you are on this page, I suppose you already have a DSLR and a good tripod, and you are looking for the best lens for night sky photography you can get today.

Many guides out there were created years ago and are simply outdated, that’s why I decided to publish this updated selection of 6 lenses that are great for astrophotography or Milky Way photography. Within this selection of 6 lenses, I indicate which ones I think are the best if you have a full frame camera or an APS-C camera.

After the individual lens reviews, I put together a guide that highlights the factors to take in consideration to make your choice and pick the lens that is just right for you; and I will answer a few questions you might have about the lenses shown here.

Without further ado, let’s dive in!

The 6 Best Lenses for Night Sky Photography of 2018

Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 LensOur Top Pick | Full Frame

Already one of my top picks for landscape photography, the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 is a really great lens for night sky and milky way photography because it combines an ultra wide angle and a very large aperture – which is exactly what we are looking for.

On top of these great features, another fantastic aspect is its very affordable price (around $300), making night sky photography accessible for everyone. For this price, you have very good optics quality, sharp images, but no autofocus. This is a fully manual lens but for night sky photography there is nothing difficult – just set the focus to infinity and you are good to go!

I have this lens and it makes wonders with my Canon 6D for night photography, I highly recommend it.

This lens is my top pick for full frame cameras, as you can fully enjoy the 14 mm super wide angle, but it will work on an APS-C camera as well.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.43 x 3.78 in / 8.7 x 9.6 cm
  • Weight: 1.22 lb / 553 g
  • Focal length range: 14 mm fixed
  • Max. aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon AE, Pentax K, Sony Alpha + Mirrorless camera versions
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Ultra wide angle
  • Durable build quality
  • Great optics
  • Good max. aperture for night sky
  • Strong lens hood
  • Fits full frame and APS-C

Cons

  • Manual focus

Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 Art DC HSM Lens

With an amazing f/1.8 maximum aperture, it’s easy to see why this lens is a great option for night sky photography! Sigma is a well-known player in the world of quality lenses, and this lens is available for the main camera brands. However, it was designed for APS-C cameras only and gives the equivalent of a 27-52.5 mm lens, which I admit is not the widest angle (but an advantage of this is less distortion).

It is contructed with solid, quality materials and features a good autofocus system. If you can live without an ultra wide angle, the f/1.8 aperture can really be a game changer in your starry sky photography.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.07 x 4.76 in / 7.8 x 12.1 cm
  • Weight: 1.79 lb / 812 g
  • Focal length range: 18-35 mm
  • Aperture range: f/1.8 – f/16
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF-S, Sony Alpha, Nikon F (DX)
  • Compatible format: APS-C

Pros

  • Strong build quality
  • Amazing f/1.8 maximum aperture
  • Good autofocus

Cons

  • Not the widest angle on APS-C
  • No image stabilization
  • A little heavy
  • A little expensive

Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II LensOur Top Pick | APS-C

The Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 has long been a very popular lens for astrophotography for APS-C cameras. What’s not to love about this lens? Great image quality, true wide angle on APS-C (equivalent of a 16-24 mm lens), and a very large aperture of f/2.8 perfectly suitable for the night sky.

Compact, lightweight and made of durable materials, this lens also features a pretty good autofocus system and delivers sharp, clear images.

In my opinion, this lens has all the features you need for astrophotography and if you are using an APS-C camera, it offers a great value for money and it’s the one you should get.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.3 x 3.5 in / 8.4 x 8.9 cm
  • Weight: 1.21 lb / 550 g
  • Focal length range: 11-16 mm
  • Max. aperture: f/2.8 – f/22
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A
  • Compatible format: APS-C

Pros

  • Wide angle
  • Good f/2.8 aperture
  • Autofocus
  • Quality build
  • Sharp images

Cons

  • Can be subject to chromatic aberration and lens flare
  • Autofocus is a little noisy

Canon EF 24 mm f/1.4L II USM Lens

Just looking at the title above is enough to understand why this prime lens can be a fantastic option for night sky photography: 24 mm wide angle (even if we definitely have seen wider), and more importantly an outstanding f/1.4 maximum aperture that can capture the dim light from the stars more easily than other lenses.

This lens is part of Canon’s reknowned L series, a sign of superior quality build and optics. The USM autofocus system is fast and effective, and delivers a perfect sharpness in your images.

As you may expect, these impressive specs come at a high price, and that’s the big negative point of this lens. If you have the budget (and a Canon DSLR) however, it would be too bad to not consider this lens!

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.43 x 3.7 in / 8.7 x 9.4 cm
  • Weight: 1.43 lb / 648 g
  • Focal length range: 24 mm fixed
  • Aperture range: f/1.4 – f/22
  • Compatible mount: Canon EF
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Very large f/1.4 aperture
  • L-series quality
  • Wide angle
  • Good autofocus
  • Fits full frame and APS-C

Cons

  • Expensive

Rokinon 16 mm f/2 Lens

This lens is very much similar to the 14 mm f/2.8 reviewed near the top of the page, except it is specifically designed for APS-C cameras (it actually works on full frame cameras as well but strong vignetting will be visible). As a result, on APS-C it actually offers the equivalent of a 24 mm lens, which is still a reasonably wide angle. But of course, the big advantage is the f/2 aperture that can once again capture extremely well the details of the Milky Way.

This lens is made of strong materials and does not feel fragile (just like all Rokinon lenses), and the optics quality is again very satisfying resulting in beautiful, clear, very sharp images that can truly rival some of the expensive lenses.

Like most Rokinon prime lenses, it is affordable and offers a good value for money, but it is fully manual (there is no autofocus). Don’t let that scare you away though, most of the time focusing on infinity is all you need!

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.27 x 3.5 in / 8.3 x 8.9 cm
  • Weight: 1.29 lb / 585 g
  • Focal length range: 16 mm fixed
  • Aperture range: f/2 – f/22
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon DX, Sony Alpha, Pentax + Mirrorless camera versions
  • Compatible format: APS-C

Pros

  • Quality optics and build
  • Wide angle
  • Great f/2 aperture
  • Minimized distortion & chromatic aberration

Cons

  • Manual focus

Sigma 14 mm f/1.8 Art DG HSM Lens

If you have enough budget, this lens is most definitely worth your consideration! This recent addition to Sigma’s Art series is the only lens in the world to offer such a wide angle with an amazing f/1.8 aperture. If you want to shoot outstanding pictures of a starry sky, these are dream specifications!

On top of that, the lens offers a sophisticated autofocus, and a very satisfying image quality and sharpness. It is built with strong and high quality materials and will not wear out, but it heavier than other lenses reviewed here. For travel, it can be a concern.

In any case, the Sigma 14 mm f/1.8 is a beautiful lens and it could have been a top pick if it was more affordable.

 Quick Specifications

  • Size: 3.74 x 4.96 in / 9.5 x 12.6 cm
  • Weight: 2.58 lbs / 1.17 kg
  • Focal length range: 14 mm fixed
  • Aperture range: f/1.8 – f/16
  • Compatible mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F
  • Compatible formats: Full frame, APS-C

Pros

  • Ultra wide angle
  • Fantastic f/1.8 aperture
  • Good autofocus
  • Durable build quality

Cons

  • Expensive
  • A little bulkier and heavier than others

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are The Factors to Consider Before Choosing My Lens?

Night sky photography is a type of photography that really pushes the limits of the equipment and you need a lens that is perfectly adapted to low light. Let’s see what are the most important factors to consider when you are choosing an astrophotography lens:

Compatible formats: I will evacuate this obvious one quickly. Some lenses are compatible with full frame cameras or only APS-C cameras (crop sensors). Make sure you double-check that the lens you are about to buy is works with your camera!

Focal length: The focal length determines how wide the angle is. For night sky photography, we often like to include and element of landscape with a large portion of starry sky. As a result, just like for simple landscape photography, it is best to choose a wide angle lens.

Remember that when you are using an APS-C camera you need to take the crop factor in consideration (around 1.5x) and the field of view will actually be smaller.

Maximum aperture: This is a crucial point for astrophotography. Since it obviously takes place in very low light conditions, the more light your lens can let in to hit the sensor, the better. An aperture of f/2.8 is good and anything larger than that (smaller f-numbers) is excellent.

Other “large” apertures such as f/3.5 or f/4 may be OK for general low light conditions, but they are not enough for astrophotography. All lenses listed here have an aperture of at least f/2.8 and are well suited for night sky photography. You can see the next question for more information about aperture.

Optics quality: This is extremely important as well, because night sky photography you will be using your lens at its largest aperture and it needs to be good enough to maintain a good image quality and a good sharpness even at that large aperture. You need to also make sure your future lens is not subject to chromatic aberration or flare.

Autofocus: For night sky photography, this is not a crucial factor in my opinion. The autofocus systems struggle to detect and focus the very low light of the stars, and you are better off using manual focus and just set your lens to focus on infinity to be sure the stars (and the landscape) are sharp.

Image Stabilization: Same thing, this is not a factor I would consider for astrophotography because it involves long exposures on a tripod that needs to be 100% stable and this should result in sharp images whether you have stabilization or not.

 

f/2.8 vs. f/2 vs. f/1.8 vs. f/1.4 – Does It Make a Big Difference?

Well, yes, kind of.

These numbers represent the maximum aperture of the lens: how much light it can let in. Aperture is measured in “f-stops” and goes from f/1.4 to f/2, to f/2.8, to f/4, and so on. The smaller the number the larger the aperture. You noticed that I skipped f/1.8, it is only 2/3 of a stop larger than f/1.4.

So how does it work? The principle is that from an f-number to the following (one full stop of light) the amount of light that is captured by the lens is doubled. So a lens open at f/2 is twice as bright as a lens open at f/2.8. And an aperture of f/1.4 is again twice as large as f/2. So the difference is truly significant!

In practice, it is advantageous to have larger apertures because you can afford using a faster shutter speed and a lower ISO to get the same exposure. In astrophotography, the most relevant advantage is about ISO.

In order to take a picture of the very dim light of the stars, we often need to use very high ISO such as 3200 or 6400. Depending on the camera you are using, this results in more noisy images – which is of course something we want to avoid. A larger aperture allows us to use a lower ISO setting and preserving image quality.

That said, some lenses with extremely large apertures get a little soft (in the focus) when fully opened. And well, even if the brighter the better, I think that any aperture from f/2.8 and larger are just fine for night sky photography. Any lens selected on this page is just fine. I would definitely not go for a smaller aperture than f/2.8 though.

 

Why Don’t You Show Clear Prices for The Lenses?

Because prices vary all the time and it would be virtually impossible to keep them up to date on this page. Since I am not too keen on showing you potentially outdated and erroneous information, I prefer to provide you with a link to easily check the latest price of the lens you are interested in.

 

How Did You Select Your Top Pick?

It is always a little delicate to choose a top pick. You may or may not agree with me on what is the best lens on the list, so I want to explain here how I go about selecting the top picks.

My goal is not necessarily to find the absolute best lens no matter how much it costs, or, on the opposite, find the absolute cheapest price possible. My goal is to find the best value for money. My top picks can be rather cheap or rather expensive, but what matters is that they offer great features and great quality for a fair and justified price.

Here, I have selected the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 because first of all I personally love this lens, and I think it has the major features we are looking for here: a quite rare 14 mm focal length (meaning an ultra wide angle), and a very large aperture of f/2.8. Moreover, the optics of this lens are really high quality and delivers beautiful, very sharp images. And this performance comes at a very affordable price. This is an amazing value for money.

Same thing for the Tokina 11-16 mm f/2.8 – for an APS-C camera, that’s a great focal length with a large aperture in a good quality lens, coming again at an affordable price.

Of course, this is my personal opinion and that’s why I am presenting you 6 great lenses here so you can make your own choice depending on your camera and your budget.

Final Thoughts

There are many great lenses out there, but I believe that the best lenses for night sky photography you can get today in 2018 are in this list. Whether you have a limited budget or a more comfortable one, you found here various great option.

I really hope that the information on this page was valuable to you and that this guide was helpful for you to decide what astrophotgraphy lens you should buy.

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