The Best Lenses for Photographing the Stars & Milkyway

Star Photography

Full Frame Prime Lens Options

★ Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Watch my video review - $1599.00 (autofocus)

Good
  • Widest aperture lens at this focal length (allows for shorter exposures and or exposures with low ISO shooting the stars, Milky Way and Aurora Borealis
  • Sharp, minimal distortion
  • Autofocus (versatile during the daytime)

Bad

  • Expensive
  • Some Coma on brighter stars, wide open
  • Heavy with bulbous front end

Despite some Coma wide open, this is the BEST lens you can buy for shooting the stars - nothing else is this sharp, this fast. Watch my video review for more information and sample images. 

★ Irix Firefly 15mm f/2.4Watch my video review - $400 (manual focus)

  • Sharp, minimal distortion
  • Locking focus ring
  • Glowing Lens markings for night time shooting
  • Focus click at infinity
  • Customizable focus

Bad

  • Uses 95mm filters

I struggle to come up with anything bad to say about this lens. Sure it uses 95mm Filters and all but the thinnest filters will add some vignetting but it is one of the only lenses on this list that even takes screw on filters. It is very easy to work with in the dark, the locking focus ring and the click stop at infinity focus are helpful when shooting the stars. It is as sharp as the Sigma too! All of this for just $400!

★ Rokinon 24mm f/1.4$429 (Manual Focus) 

Good
  • Faster Aperture
  • Full Frame compatible
  • Takes Filters
  • Lovely walk around focal length for general photography

Bad

  • On crop 24 = 36mm, less exciting for wide starry skies
  • Manual focus only

On a full frame, 24mm is often plenty wide enough for a nice starry sky or milky way shot. At f/1.4 this is a fast lens, is useful for daytime landscape shots with a normal filter size of 77mm but manual focus only does limit the versatility of this lens and it isn't the sharpest option here.

Samyang 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS CS Lens$429 (Best Option for Crop DSLRs)

Good
  • 16mm on Crop - nice and wide

Bad

  • Crop Only
  • No filter threads - Costly filter system for daytime use

The widest & best option for crop users on the list (I don't love the fisheye look for stars or milky way photos) This small, light and affordable lens is hard to beat but the slightly faster IRIX firefly is sharper and offer some nice features that make it worth the sacrifice of a few mm.

★ Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 HD Fisheye Lens with Removable Hood$232 - $299

Good
  • This lens is VERY wide with the typical fisheye look
  • Very affordable.

Bad

  • Crop Only
  • No filters
  • f/3.5
  • Fisheye even more limited in use.

I don't love the look from a fisheye lens for the stars or milky way shots but if you do this would be the lens to grab.  The good news, it is super affordable!

★ Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS$299 - $399 (Best for Mirrorless APS-C or smaller)

Good
  • Very portable
  • Takes filters
  • Fast f/2.0

Bad

This tiny lens is great for mirrorless crop sensor photographers shooting Sony, Fuji, Panasonic or Olympus. It takes filters, is very affordable and lightweight, not quite as sharp and offers a little more distortion than the IRIX or Sigma but excellent still.

Ultra Wide Angle Zooms

(see linked video below)

★ Tokina 11-16 f/2.8$430 Best value ultra wide angle zoom for crop sensors

Good
  • Versatile lens
  • Excellent Value
  • Accepts 77mm Filters

Bad

  • Some distortion and Chromatic abberation
  • Not as sharp as the primes listed

The Tokina 11-16 for Canon and Nikon is one of the best value lenses on this list. It's not the sharpest and certainly has more distortion than the primes but it is a versatile lens with a good range and offer autofocus along with filter use making it possible to tackle a variety of situations.

Additional Lenses to Consider - 

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens - Sharp, fast and relatively little distortion for an ultra-wide zoom lens and accepts regular filters AND is travel-friendly. - B&H Photo for $1,999.00Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD - One of the few ultra wide full frame lenses that offer stabilization. If you are careful you can handhold this at almost a second exposure. Not really helpful for stars/Milkyway but still useful. More distortion and not as sharp as the Canon listed above or the Nikon listed below but still a versatile lens . though be aware it's HEAVY - B&H Photo for $1,099.00Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED Lens - The gold standard for ultra wide angle zooms.Incredibly sharp and useful though it is big and heavy - B&H Photo for $1,896.95

 

Related Videos

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8An3dzcgCWE

Affordable Ultra Wide Angle Zooms for Crop Cameras

Canon 10-18 vs Canon 10-22 vs Tokina 11-16Learn more about the Tokina 11-16 vs the Canon 10-18 and Canon 10-22

Gear Talk - Wide Angle Lenses and Travel Friendly Systems

First Impressions of the Canon 6D Mark II, Fuji X-T2, Irix 15mm f/2.4, Sigma 14mm f/1.8, Samyang 14mm f/2.8, Rokinon 35mm f/1.8, DJI Spark and a discussion of the best travel camera system. Which of these items are you most interested in hear/seeing a full review about?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwoprlMPzsESee a complete list of the gear I am taking to Joshua Tree for Star Photography - https://kit.com/photorectoby/joshua-tree-adventure

Rokinon 14mm - Best Budget Lens for Astrophotography!

Hands-on review with the budget-friendly Rokinon 14mm full frame lens - Is this the BEST budget lens for shooting the night sky full of stars? And you all have suggested some great alternatives I listed below.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_TSrFKLzsrQUPDATE SEPT- 2017 The IRIX Firefly is sharper with better features for Full Frame astrophotographers and is now my pick for budget astrophotography lens.Watch this updated video and learn more Buy the IRIX Firefly from B&H Photo $400.00Using my links for purchase or shopping of ANYTHING helps support the work we do here.

 Alternative options

Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 (manual focus)  $429 - Buy from B&H Photo

Good

  • Faster Aperture
  • Full Frame compatible
  • Takes Filters
  • Lovely walk around focal length for general photography

Bad

  • On crop 24 = 36mm, less exciting for wide starry skies

Samyang 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS CS Lens $429 - Buy from B&H Photo (best option for crop DSLRS)

Good

  • 16mm on Crop - nice and wide

Bad

  • Crop Only
  • Still no filter threads

Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 HD Fisheye Lens with Removable Hood - $232 - $299 - Buy from B&H Photo

Good

  • WIDEEEEEE!
  • CHEAP!!!!

Bad

  • Crop Only
  • No filters
  • f/3.5
  • Fish eye even more limited in use.

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS $299  - $399 - Buy from B&H Photo (my pick for MIRRORLESS crop alternative)

Good

  • Very portable
  • Takes filters
  • Fast f/2.0

Bad

  • Not available for DSLRS- only mirrorless

Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 $351 - $380 - Buy from B&H Photo (decent alternative - just not very wide)

Good

  • Takes filters
  • Fast f/2.0

Bad

  • Crop only
  • Barely wider than kit lens

 Learn more about the Tokina 11-16 vs the Canon 10-18 and Canon 10-22Learn more about the more expensive full frame wide angle lens options- Canon 16-35, Tamron 15-30 

Super Moon? Super Crop!

Scroll down for general moon photography tips.supermoonA few times a year we hear that the next full moon is a SUPER MOON. The media loves to talk this up with the SUPER MOON headlines everywhere and while the size difference isn't THAT impressive - More info here about the size (the Moon will appear up to 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than an average full moon).Super Moon or not -any full moon is a great opportunity to get out and shoot the moon. Few of us have zoom lenses large enough to capture the stunning shots but we can get close enough with some cropping to at least impress your friends. The image below was shot with a 200mm zoom on a full frame sensor and then heavily cropped.moonrealMore recently I snapped this image at 400mm on Full frame and cropped.https://instagram.com/p/6ynfH4NMOR/ 

Moon Photography Tips:

1) Plan - what time is the moon rising in your area? Setting? http://www.timeanddate.com/worldclock/moonrise.html?obj=moon-- You can certainly capture the moon in the sky but it will often look small and unimpressive.  Better shots often incorporate some of the scenery so if you can capture it closer to the horizon the better.2) Knowing where the moon will break the horizon and travel as it rises is important - the http://photoephemeris.com/ offers apps that track the path of celestial objects including the moon.   I also use this app to plan for sunrise and sunset shoots and during wedding work.3) Get off AUTO mode.  When shooting a small bright object on a very dark sky your camera is going to be easily confused and often the moon will be captured as a featureless white blob.    Better is to shoot MANUAL and good starting values  ISO 200, Aperture f/8 and shutter speed 1/125 to 1/250 of a second.  These are just starting values, depending on the conditions in your area - city lights, clouds, you may need to adjust. If you are photographing a thin crescent moon your shutter speed may be much slower - a second or even two.NOTE: Eclipsed Moon is much less bright - You are going to need to open the aperture wider, slow your shutter speed and adjust ISO accordingly.4) Tripod and manual focus.  If you are using a longer zoom lens you will need a tripod to steady and either use center focus point or even better is to use manual focus and zoom live view to check focus.5) Review your shots as you take them, again zoom in on the images when you review to check focus and exposure levels.  I have been fooled in the past thinking I was capturing sharp images of the moon and only once I looked at them on the computer realized they were all a little soft.I'd love to see some full moon shots on my Facebook page or Instagram tag me!