It’s safe to say that as long as human beings have been around, we have been staring at the night sky. Once photography was invented, it made sense to capture these beautiful nighttime scenes, and thus. astrophotography was born. Fast forward a few years and those who specialize in this area now look specifically for lenses for astrophotography.
Like most areas of photography, once you go down the rabbit hole of astrophotography, there are many considerations with choice of lens. A wide focal length, usually under 24mm, provides enough width to capture a good degree of sky real estate, along with low shutter speeds. A wide and fast aperture is also needed to let in as much light as possible. Apertures of at least f/2.8 are usually a good start point.
One other piece necessary of equipment for your astrophotography kit is a solid and sturdy tripod. No matter how steady you can hold a camera in normal use, the long exposure times of astrophotography require a solid base.
Then there is the consideration of buying a lens that displays the least amount of lens anomalies. This means factors such as chromatic aberration, which usually show up as purple and blue fringing, should be as low as possible. There’s no point in capturing a beautiful shot of the Milky Way if high contrast areas display a weird halo of colors.
In total, there are quite a few considerations needed when buying lenses for astrophotography. These we have compiled for you in the list below.
1. Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Overall Winner)
Choosing the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for our top spot was a close call. We mainly based our decision on the fast aperture, availability in a range of camera mounts, and the overall sharpness levels.
This lens consists of an optical arrangement of 15 elements in 11 groups, plus two aspherical elements, three FLD and four SLD glass elements. A Super Multi-Layer coating has also been applied to all lens elements to reduce the likes of ghosting in flaring. Internally, a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) covers autofocusing duties, while a nine-blade rounded diaphragm is featured for superior bokeh effects.
The lens may not be fully weatherproofed, but it is made from a rock-solid Thermally Stable Composite (TSC), which is robust enough for most applications.
The f/1.4 aperture is fast and wide enough for twilight images, with excellent center sharpness. Chromatic aberration is low and still in the acceptable region at f/1.4.
Vignetting is present, but this is completely reduced by f/4. For the most depth of field at f/8, this lens is wonderfully sharp and images come out clean as a whistle.
This lens is much cheaper than some of the same-brand lenses for astrophotography, and it comes with the same level of optical performance. The Sigma represents the best deal, when you consider the optical quality and overall performance.
The Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM is a solid choice for the Canon platform, especially if this is your first step into lenses for astrophotography. This lens consists of a wide f/2 aperture, one aspheric lens element, a seven-blade rounded diaphragm. and a built-in stepping motor.
Although this lens suffers from slight softness at f/2, images sharpen up nicely by f/2.8 and are tack sharp by f/5.6. The compact design makes this lens very lightweight and a possible choice for applications such as street photography.
On the whole, the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM represents good value for the money, while also delivering respectable optics. Basically, this is a great first step lens for astrophotography applications.
The inclusion of the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED is not just to show a good quality lens for astrophotography, but it’s also a good zoom lens option. This lens isn’t exactly cheap and is only for the Nikon platform, but it also represents excellent optics and a versatile focal range.
The 14-24mm f/2.8G ED can be used on both FX and DX format cameras, with the latter providing a 21-36mm equivalent focal length. The optics comprise of three aspherical and two extra-low dispersion elements, plus a Nano Crystal coating to reduce lens anomalies. The autofocus, Silent Wave Motor has full manual override and is also quiet enough for video applications.
Although the aperture on this lens may not go as wide as some of the prime lens offerings, it’s wonderfully sharp at f/2.8, with extremely low lens anomalies. While the Nikon isn’t exactly a budget option, the quality of optics more than justifies the price point.
Sticking with the zoom lens and high-quality optics options, comes the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. Just like the Nikon lens above, this isn’t a budget option, but rather a high-end offering which also features image stabilization. Although the system offers 4.5 stops of compensation, it’s not always a needed factor in lenses for astrophotography, as cameras are usually tripod mounted.
This lens features a wide and bright f/2.8 aperture, with three low dispersion (LD) elements, two glass-molded aspherical, and one eXpanded Glass Molded Aspherical (XGM) element. The lens also has a moisture-resistant construction, and a fluorine coating added to the front element to keep away dirt and fingerprints.
Usually every millimeter counts with astrophotography. The 15mm wide focal length provides enough width without too much barrel distortion. The lens is also wonderfully sharp at f/2.8, with the sharpest results coming in after f/4.
On the whole, the Tamron provides much versatility throughout its zoom range and the addition of vibration reduction means this lens can be used in many wide-angle photography scenarios.
If money is no matter, then the ZEISS Milvus 18mm f/2.8 ZE is an excellent option. This is a manual focus only lens, with the renowned ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating.
The lens features a fully weather-resistant design, a fast f/2.8 aperture, and a floating elements system for superior optics. There is no faulting the resolving power of this lens, with sharp and detailed images throughout the aperture range.
It would be very easy to write an essay on the full capabilities of this lens. But, needless to say, the optics deliver superior images. If you can justify the price point, this lens is an excellent choice for astrophotography and as a wide-angle prime lens.
6. Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC (Budget Winner)
The Samyang 14mm f/2.8 ED AS IF UMC may be a manual focusing only lens, but in the world of astrophotography, this is the main way to focus for tack sharp results. A 14mm focal length is roughly as wide as a lens can go before hitting fisheye lens territory, at least in this price range.
The f/2.8 aperture is reasonably wide, with the optics comprising of two aspherical elements, three high refractive index elements, and two extra-low dispersion elements. An ultra multi-coating has been applied to reduce the likes of lens flares and ghosting.
The lens is surprisingly sharp when the aperture is wide open, with only slight softening in the corners. Stopping down to f/4 provides the sharpest results, with very little sign of artifacts such as chromatic aberration.
Overall, the lens is not as sharp as some of the offerings above, but considering the price point, this is an excellent value lens for the money.
Night-Time Viewing of the Best Lenses for Astrophotography
The shortlist of lenses for astrophotography will give you a good selection of apertures and focal lengths at a variety of price points. All of the offerings above provide good optical quality and with reasonably wide apertures that will fit low-light conditions.
If you’re undecided about same-brand offerings in this department, then the third party lenses above provide equal quality in many areas. The debate between the qualities between prime and zoom lenses is endless, but with either of the options above, each lens offering will provide excellent images of the vast night-time canopy we have above us.