Shooting pinpoint light sources across a wide field if stars is the most difficult test possible for a camera lens. Camera lenses, however, can still be used for shooting the stars! In most cases they must be stopped down a stop or two from wide open to improve coma, astigmatism and chromatic aberrations enough to produce usable stars. Even lenses that work very well wide open will get sharper if they’re stopped down one or two stops. For astrophotography, investment in a faster lens will tend to show the most tangible benefits in image quality versus a camera body upgrade. Here’s a list of some of the best lenses for astrophotography for building out a landscape astrophotography kit for your DSLR or mirrorless camera.
Super Wide Angle
The super wide angle is the workhorse lens for landscape astrophotography composition. With fields-of-view exceeding 90 degrees from corner to corner, a super wide angle lens is the best lens for astrophotography for most photographers looking to upgrade from their kit lens. The extra wide angle view helps tremendously with composition, especially when the plane of the Milky Way is high in the sky. Super wide angles from Beachcamera.com range from about 8mm to 10mm on m4/3 cameras, 10mm to 14mm for APS-C cameras and 14mm to 20mm on full-frame cameras. Most super wide angle lenses that are considered the best lenses for astrophotography generally have an f/number of f/2.8 or lower. Sigma holds the absolute record for fastest super wide angle lens with the ridiculously bright Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art from Beachcamera.com.
Wide Angle Lens
A fast wide angle is the lens for pure low-light performance. With apertures of f/1.4 to f/2, a fast wide angle will gather two to eight times more light than the typical kit lens, making for the most tangible increase in image quality straight out of the camera. Use a fast wide angle to capture ultra-low noise landscapes. Fast wide angles, like this Nikon lens for night sky photography, range from about 12mm to 16mm on m4/3 cameras, 16mm to 24mm for APS-C cameras and 24mm to 35mm on full-frame cameras.
Standard Prime Lens
The standard prime, like this Nikon lens for night sky photography, with a f/number of f/1.8 or lower is another choice when looking for the best lens for night sky photography. They have larger apertures when compared to most wide angle lenses. As a result, they gather more light, allowing them to capture even more fine detail in the night sky, even when stopped down to f/2.8. The narrower field of view you get with a prime Nikon lens for night sky photography allows it to be used for making high resolution panorama stitches of the night sky.
Many DSLR cameras come with a very inexpensive zoom lens. These lenses usually perform ok for daytime work, but generally don’t perform as well as fixed-focal length lenses, especially for astrophotography. They contain more elements in more complicated optical designs, and are usually slower in terms of their focal ratios. Some of the latest zoom lenses, in particular the best Canon lens for night sky photography, the Canon L series, can perform fairly well, but are very expensive. The best Nikon lens for night sky photography, the Nikon ED series, falls under this same category of a more expensive choice. Both of these high-end lenses provide very fast maximum apertures. Surprisingly, short focal length “kit” zoom lenses that are supplied with many DSLR cameras these days, such as the 18 – 55mm f/3.5 – f/5.6, are usually pretty good inexpensive lenses for astrophotography even when used wide open.
If you’re looking for a great upgrade for your camera, a gift for your photographer friends or if you want to start building the best kit available for astrophotography on your current camera system, look no further than this list of the best lenses for astrophotography.