Astrophotography Gear Guide: Essential Equipment
Space has always been a bit of an intriguing place for humans. We love to look at the stars and wonder what lies beyond our own world. Beyond merely gazing, though, is a passion for photographing Earth’s neighborhood - a passion shared by an ever-growing number of photographers.
Advancements in technology have made astrophotography something that is no longer reserved for astronomers, NASA scientists, and professional photographers with a huge budget for gear. In fact, any everyday Joe with a few essentials can create stunning photos of the sky like the one above.
Without further ado, here’s our guide to the essential gear you need to create long exposures and time-lapses of the night sky.
Like any other type of photography, astrophotography is dependent upon your camera being able to gather available light. When shooting in the middle of the night, light is hard to come by, so having a camera with a large sensor - like full frame cameras do - will be advantageous. The larger the sensor, the more light the camera can collect. The more light it can collect, the more detailed and crisp the image will be.
There are several options that would make an ideal choice. The Canon EOS 5DS is considered one of the best cameras currently on the market and has the highest resolution of any full frame camera at 50.6 megapixels. The Nikon D810 is no slouch either, and though the resolution doesn’t compare to the 5DS, the D810 has a far better battery life.
Both cameras are pricey, however. If you want decent results on a smaller budget, crop sensor cameras are worth a look. The Nikon D500 gets high praise for having high-end features packed into a smaller and more rugged body for those long, cold nights photographing the stars. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II isn’t a bad choice either, with a body that’s as tough as the D500’s and plenty of features borrowed from its full frame cousin, the EOS-1D X Mark II.
When you select a camera, it's light-capturing abilities are an important factor. The same holds true for the lens you select - it needs to allow as much light as possible to pass through it to the camera’s sensor. As a result, fast lenses are ideal for astrophotography. In a perfect world, you should look for a lens that’s at least an f/2.8, though decent results can be had with an f/4 lens. The problem, of course, is that the faster the lens, the larger its price tag.
Don’t be afraid to go off-brand here. Nikon and Canon make excellent lenses, but they are often pricier than those offered by third-party manufacturers. The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Ultra Wide Angle Fixed Lens for Nikon are both solid choices for Canon and Nikon owners, respectively. These and other off-brand lenses are well-built, offer incredible sharpness, and can be found for hundreds of dollars less.
Other considerations: find a lens with manual focusing, and keep it in the ultra-wide-angle range. Many astrophotographers use a 14mm lens, though you can go up to a 24mm lens and get similar results.
Tripod & Mount
It goes without saying that you need a tripod to maximize your ability to take photos of the night sky. Whether it’s a time-lapse or a long exposure, you’ll need a solid base on which your camera can sit.
Additionally, having a specialized astrophotography mount will make your life much easier - and your photos that much better. The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer Motorized Mount fits the bill for aspiring (and experienced!) astrophotographers. This modular tracking platform is easy to use and integrates with almost any tripod, allowing you to photograph the moon, sun (with filter), and the Milky Way with ease. The mount has a time-lapse mode with pre-programmed intervals that are automatically adjusted to fit the shooting mode you select.
What’s more, the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer has a DC servo motor with an 86mm diameter, 144-tooth aluminum alloy wheel gear and a 13mm diameter brass Worm gear for smooth motion. There are numerous speed options, including 0.5, 2x, 6x, and 12x tracking speed as well. With northern and southern hemisphere compatibility, you can create the astrophotography images you dream of, regardless of your location on planet Earth.
That’s it! All you need is a decent camera, a good set of glass, a tripod, and an easy-to-use astrophotography mount in order to join the ranks of being an astrophotographer. There are technical and compositional considerations to be made as well, but with this gear, you’ll be set on the right path for success in photographing the wonders of the night sky.