When it comes to astrophotography, most camera companies make great products these days, but there is a bit of a competition going on in the industry for the best camera for astrophotography. The main players right now are Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm and Sony with a few remaining Pentax users. I won’t really talk about Pentax because I don’t think their software or lens lineup is robust enough to consider over the other three main companies.
If you count by sheer number of lenses, ignore Fuji completely and go with Nikon or Canon. Both companies for all intents and purposes are the same in terms of number, but Canon has the upper hand with their excellent RF to EF lens adapter system that sacrifices very little, if any, image quality while retaining good autofocus speed and chip data for the lens. Nikon also has an adapter, but from what I see online the RF adapter seems to be just a bit better. Both companies have virtually identical lens lineups at the lower end offering outstanding value in the wider angles in terms of aperture and focal length. Still, Rokinon/Samyang produces the 14mm F/2.8 and the 12mm F/2 which are fan favorites and compatible with every company I’ll mention today.
Sony is catching up quick, but for a few reasons I’ll outline later, I don’t think they should be considered for astrophotography either unless you are already in the ecosystem. If you are, their lens lineup is getting better every year and continues to produce some excellent lenses. The G Master line of lenses has some real gems in it with outstanding sharpness and aberration properties. I know the 12-24mm F/4 is a popular choice, though a little dark for me for astrophotography without a tracking mount.
Fuji is a bit of an odd duck out on this front. They don’t really have a ton of lenses to their lineup, but what they do have is very good. The 10-24 is fantastic, they make a 14mm F/2.8 which is great, a 16mm and even the basic 16-50 kit lens has served me well for milky way images. Full disclosure, I use the Fuji system and love it so I am biased, but I’ve owned Canon and Nikon cameras as well and enjoyed them so I do have context for these systems. Fuji cameras have a bit of an ace up their sleeve in this race though that is often overlooked but extremely important to distinguish. In any event, great lens lineup albeit a small one, with notable third party lens options coming and out from companies like Viltrox.
For astrophotography’s purposes, these cameras almost all fall in the same general plane of image quality. The Canon, Nikon and Sony cameras are all really full frame oriented at this point while the Fuji system is sticking to APS-C and medium format at the high end. Some people like to scoff at APS-C cameras these days with full frame being so prevalent, but honestly having used both, I think I’d rather have the APS-C camera. Here’s why. First, APS-C cameras are smaller, lighter and require both smaller and lighter lenses. Second, the quality of Fuji’s APS-C sensors for photography has been good enough that I don’t find myself wanting more. Fuji cameras don’t have a price advantage over Canon cameras, but they do if you compare them feature for feature. The video settings, color options in the film simulations etc. all add up to, in my opinion, a great value.
But, earlier I said the Fuji cameras had an ace up their sleeve and this is what it is: Hydrogen Alpha response.
Almost every other camera manufacturer puts multiple filters in front of their sensor that cuts out the band of light Ha passes through, Fuji has filters, but they lets more light in. They don’t use what’s called a low pass filter or an anti aliasing filter which helps give them a boost for astrophotography. The results are noticeable boost in reds when shooting nebulae and galaxies which can be huge for all sorts of astrophotography. In my opinion, this outweighs the noise benefits of a full frame sensor. This is of course a subjective opinion, but it’s one I’ve personally looked at and found that because of stacking, noise isn’t enough of an issue to warrant a reduction in Ha transmission.
Overall though, you could buy a camera from any of these brands with confidence.
Here’s where things start to fall apart for Fuji and Sony really. Nikon and Canon have long histories in the astrophotography space and therefore have great software support for their cameras. Programs like Backyard EOS, APT, NINA, SGP etc. all support both companies but not Sony and Nikon (although Sony has been picking up some attention so I wouldn’t be surprised if this changes). There is some interest from Fuji users due to that Ha response, but it isn’t enough for developers to really put time into making it work.
This is a massive edge for Nikon and Canon so if you want this to be your main astro camera for deep sky using something like a laptop, ignore Fuji and Sony.
Models to look for
So now you may be wondering what specific model of camera you should get. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what to get specifically, what I can do is guide you to what works best for you.
If you like the Canon ecosystem best, I would look for two things. First, if you have an unlimited budget, get the new EOS Ra which is an Eos R but modified for Ha response. If budget matters a lot there’s a couple things you can do. You can buy a used modified camera which can be very affordable, I got my astro modified 600D for $125 and it worked great for me for almost a year and half before I sold it actually at a profit. You can also go for something like the Canon 60Da which is the in between point from the T3i to the Eos Ra.
If you’re in the Nikon space, you’ll probably end up spending more money as their astro cameras are a bit more rare in the wild. Things like the D810a are out there, but they are more expensive than I think they present in value. If you can find a good deal on a Nikon modified camera, go for it, they’re great cameras. Honestly though, once you get above $500-$600 the value proposition of astro modified DSLRs drops considerably since you get into the realm of cooled cameras.
For Fuji, any of their recent models is good. They don’t make a modified model, but the XT1-4 are all great as well as the X0 series. Their medium format cameras may be a bit too big and heavy for some focusers as well as being hilariously expensive to use as an astro camera unless you solely focus on landscape photography. They are available at all price points though so Fuji presents a good value option if you want something to double as a main shooter for everyday photography.
For Sony, literally any recently made full frame or aps-c camera will be a good choice. In my experience, Sony simply doesn’t make a bad camera these days and recommending a model would entirely depend on your budget. The A7s series of cameras has some crazy low light performance which makes it one of the best options for astro on the market, but it’s expensive.
The reality is that when picking one of these cameras, you need to remember that dedicated, cooled astrophotography cameras are available well under $1000 especially if you look used. DSLRs are user friendly and can double as an everyday camera, but lack the same level of performance and versatility for astrophotography.
If you can afford to get both a DSLR and dedicated astro camera, that’s probably ideal to cover everything you’d want to do. If you have less than around $500 to spend, go with a modified Canon DSLR on the used market as a general rule of thumb, I promise the results will not disappoint. Anything you pick nowadays is going to be relatively good so don’t worry too much about what particular model you pick.