From cameras, lenses, down jackets, flashlights, headlamps, etc. I’ve put my blood, sweat, and fears into the gear list below, as well as consumed massive amounts of coffee staying up nights testing it all. If the list below helps you in any way, please consider using the affiliate links to purchase your new equipment. The links DO NOT cost you extra, but help to support our work, allowing us to keep the list updated… and buy more coffee.
How to Select a Camera for Night Photography
Selecting the right camera body for night photography can be a daunting task. During all my time and investment photographing the night sky, I’ve never found the ‘perfect’ camera body or lens. Don’t let this discourage you because this limitation doesn’t have to stop you from creating great photos. When I began photographing in 2011, I shot with a Nikon D700 and had to use 36 seconds of exposure to successfully capture the distant details of the Milky Way. A lot has changed since then and camera technology has rapidly improved with high ISO quality, dynamic range, and an increase in megapixels. Nowadays, you can find a full-frame camera and lens setup, perfectly capable of capturing the night sky, for ~$1,200.00. But how do you go about doing this? Well, I will start by stating: there is no perfect right or wrong answer.
In my humble opinion, you can’t go wrong selecting a camera from Nikon, Sony, or Canon. I’ve used all three camera bodies at some point in my career and each company offers a slightly different experience than the next. Nikon and Canon were the go-to, full-frame DSLR manufacturers for many years. However, in 2013, Sony brought the first full-frame, ‘mirrorless camera’ to the market and has been one of the leading innovators since. Sony had issues with battery life, lack of lens choices, and an unfriendly user interface in their previous models, but addressed many of their ‘customer complaints’ with each new version. Nikon has been my go-to for many years, primarily because of the incredible performance from my favorite lens for night photography: Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. This lens alone persuaded me to buy into the Nikon system in 2011, and I haven’t found the need to look around much for upgrades since then. Additionally, I also used a Canon 5D Mark III for a number of years and it was an exceptional camera body and workhorse. With all this experience and data supporting me, what camera do I recommend at this point?
Now, knowing what I know about each camera and manufacturer, including the type of art I wish to produce, my camera selections are based upon the following performances: High ISO vs Noise, Dynamic Range, and Pricing. To successfully photograph the night sky, your camera needs to be able to handle long exposures with very high ISO levels. To put this bluntly, these settings will still create noise in your images. The images above show some of the best cameras available from each manufacturer at varying levels of high ISO. Do you notice how noise increases with the higher amount of ISO? In this example, you can see the Sony α7R III is the winner when using 12,800 ISO. However, notice how the Nikon D750, considered an affordable, entry-level DSLR, is close to second place.
How to Select a Lens for Night Photography
Selecting a proper lens for night photography can also be a challenge primarily because each individual is producing a different medium than the next. For example, I’m focusing my work on the production of a 4K, time-lapse film and large prints. Therefore, I want to make sure the lens I’m using has adequate sharpness from the center of the image all the way to the outer edges. I also make sure the lens has lens aberration and includes a large aperture of f/2.8 or greater. The focal length of my lens varies based upon my subject. When I focus on landscapes and the night sky, I prefer a wide-angle lens of 14mm so I can incorporate both elements of land and sky. What about you? If you plan to share your images exclusively online (social media outlets, websites, etc), then your level of expectations from a lens may be much different than mine. You might be perfectly happy with a very affordable Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens. This lens was not sharp enough for the work I was producing, but certainly meets the ‘online only’ criteria.
What is the best camera and lens for night photography?
I’ve included the best camera bodies and lenses from each manufacturer in the following pages: