How to Select the Best Lens for Astrophotography

Last Updated on

This is the second article in my miniseries dedicated to helping photographers put together the right astrophotography kit.

The goal of today’s article is to find the best lens for astrophotography to complete your night photography kit.

Best Lenses for Astrophotography

Before we start comparing different lens models, let’s define the most important characteristics of a good astrophotography lens.

Focal Length

The wide angle of view is even more critical in astrophotography. One of the main subjects and attractions of night sky photography is the Milky Way, which is vast and covers the entire sky. To capture its core and include a point of interest in the foreground, you have to go as wide as possible with your capture.

For APS-C cameras, the perfect range is between 10mm and 14mm, up to 16mm. For Micro 4/3 cameras, the perfect range is between 7mm and 9mm with an upper limit of 12mm.

Speed

Lenses for photographing the night sky must be fast. Because of the Earth’s rotation, your choice of shutter speed is limited between 20 and 30 seconds. If you go beyond that, you will get soft, blurry stars and star trails.

Generally speaking, you need a lens that is at least f/2.8 or faster. The f/4 is not enough to cover all the scenarios of astrophotography.

the Milky Way shot with the ultrawide lens

Optical Performance

You absolutely need a lens with a good optical performance. If you can get away with using subpar or kit lenses when there is an abundance of light, that is not the case with night photography. The long exposures of 20 to 30 seconds will amplify all the shortcomings of your lenses.

But guess what? The combination of a fast, wide-angle lens with good optical performance always meant extremely high prices.

For a long time, the price of quality lenses for astrophotography was a prohibitive factor for newcomers.

But there is good news! In recent years, we are seeing new lens models from Eastern Asia that are exceptionally built and reasonably priced.

the Milky Way core shot with the wide angle lens

Samyang

The most important lens company for astrophotographers is Samyang, which sells lenses under a few different names—Samyang, Rokinon, and Bowens.

Since you do not need autofocus or in-body stabilization when shooting stars, Samyang lenses have become increasingly popular among astrophotographers. Even if you have a lens with autofocus, you always switch to manual mode and in-lens image stabilization is not effective at such long exposures.

There’s more good news—Samyang has exceptional, ultra-wide models for both Full Frame and APS-C cameras.

Selecting the Best Lens for Astrophotography

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0

My recommendation starts with the mirrorless APS-C lenses because I shoot exclusively with cropped sensor cameras and I have more experience with lenses designed specifically for APS-C cameras like the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0.

Rokinon 12mm F2.0 NCS CS Ultra Wide Angle Lens for Fuji X Mount Digital Cameras (Black) (RK12M-FX) - Fixed

I consider the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 to be a very unique lens. First, it is the lens that was designed specifically for mirrorless cameras. It is tiny, which is extremely rare for ultrawide, fast lenses. The minimum focusing distance is 20 cm (7.87”), which makes it more than a landscape lens and allows us to create interesting bokeh effects. It has an amazing optical performance and it is affordable.

I used the Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 with my Sony APS-C setup. After switching to Fujifilm, this was the first lens I bought. In my collection, it is dedicated exclusively to astrophotography.

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

Rokinon FE14M-C 14mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Lens for Canon (Black)

The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is a manual focus lens that is available in most camera mounts: Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony Alpha, and Sony E-mount. It is also available for the Fujifilm X-Mount and Micro Four-Thirds cameras, but I do not recommend such a huge lens for these compact systems. I suggest getting a compact APS-C version 12mm f/2 lens instead.

Have I mentioned this before? The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is cheap!

It makes an ideal first full-frame lens for astrophotography.

Now, I will give you a few recommendations for different camera mounts.

Fujifilm

Rokinon 12mm f/2
BEST BUDGET MANUAL LENS

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: 67mm, Dimensions: 2.85 x 2.33″, Weight: 8.6 oz / 245 g
Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4
BEST AUTOFOCUS LENS

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/16, Autofocus, Filter: 67mm, Dimensions: 2.89 x 2.87″, Weight: 13.2oz / 375g
Fujinon XF14mm f/2.8
Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: 58mm, Dimensions: 2.56 x 2.30″, Weight: 0.52lb / 235g

Canon Full Frame

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
BEST BUDGET MANUAL LENS

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.43 x 3.78″, Weight: 1.2lb / 550g
Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE ZOOM

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.87 x 5.61″, Weight: 2.4lb /1100 g
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L
BEST ULTRAWIDE PRIME

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: nine, Dimensions: 3.15 x 3.70″, Weight: 1.4lb / 645g

When Tamron introduced the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 model, it surprised the photography community because they managed to overpass native lenses from Canon and Nikon in terms of quality and at a lower price point. It is a highly versatile zoom lens with unmatched optical performance.

Of course, I also included the tried and true Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L , which many astrophotographers used for years. In my opinion, if you only need a dedicated lens for astrophotography, the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is the optimal choice.

Canon EF-S APS-C

Rokinon 10mm f/2.8
BEST BUDGET MANUAL LENS

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.43 x 4.08″, Weight: 1.3lb / 580g
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE ZOOM

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: 77mm, Dimensions: 3.31 x 3.51″, Weight: 1.2lb / 550g

The Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 is an older model that was first introduced in 2000. Since then, it’s been the ultrawide zoom lens of choice for many APS-C camera shooters. It has a unique combination of optical quality, a useful zoom, a fast and constant aperture of f/2.8, and it is affordable. The model is still one of the most popular lenses among landscape photographers shooting with APS-C cameras.

And for the budget option, there is ultrawide manual Rokinon 10mm f//2.8 model.

Nikon Full Frame

Rokinon 14mm f//2.8
BEST BUDGET MANUAL LENS

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.43 x 3.78″, Weight: 1.2lb / 550g
Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE ZOOM

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.87 x 5.61″, Weight: 2.4lb /1100 g
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
BEST ALL AROUND

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.80 x 5.32″, Weight: 40.6oz / 1150g

As you can see, my selection of Nikon full frame lenses is similar to Canon. The Rokinon 14mm f//2.8 is still the best budget option for a dedicated astrophotography lens. The Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 is the lens of choice for a fast, ultra-wide zoom that you can use for all types of photography. And, of course, you cannot go wrong with the but be ready to pay a much higher price tag.

Nikon DX APS-C

Rokinon 10mm/2.8
BEST BUDGET MODEL

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Manual Focus, Dimensions: 3.43 x 4.08″, Weight: 1.3 lb / 580 g
Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE ZOOM

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: 77mm, Dimensions: 3.31 x 3.51″, Weight: 1.2lb / 550g

I think the selection of Nikon DX lenses for star photography comes down to if you are looking for a dedicated astrophotography lens (Rokinon 12mm f/2) or if you need something more versatile (Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8).

Olympus and Panasonic Micro 4/3 Mirrorless

Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE ZOOM

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Autofocus, Dimensions: 3.11 x 4.17″, Weight: 1.2lb / 534g
Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux
BEST ULTRAWIDE PRIME

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/16, Autofocus, Dimensions: 2.76 x 2.76″, 1.2 lb / 335g
Rokinon 12mm f/2
BEST BUDGET MODEL

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: 67mm, Dimensions: 2.85 x 2.33″, Weight: 8.6 oz / 245 g

There is a Rokinon 12mm f/2 model for the Micro 4/3 mount, but it is not an ideal option because of the crop factor. It is not wide enough for astrophotography, but it is still the best choice in terms of budget.

Sony FE-Mount Full Frame

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
BEST BUDGET MANUAL LENS

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: none, Dimensions: 3.43 x 3.78″, Weight: 1.2lb / 550g
Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE ZOOM

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: 82mm, Dimensions: 3.48 x 4.79″, Weight: 1.5lb / 680g
Venus Laowa 15mm f/2
BEST ULTRAWIDE PRIME

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Autofocus, Filter: 72mm, Dimensions: 2.60 x 3.23″, Weight: 1.1lb / 500g

Sony produces exceptional lenses that always come with a high price. If you are looking for a budget-friendly astrophotography lens, the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 is your best choice. But if you want a more versatile lens with autofocus and zoom, the Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8 G lens is the best for zoom and the Venus Laowa 15mm f/2 is the best for autofocus.

Sony E APS-C Mirrorless

Rokinon 12mm f/2
BEST BUDGET MODEL

Aperture Range: f/2.0 to f/22, Manual focus, Filter: 67mm, Dimensions: 2.85 x 2.33″, Weight: 8.6oz / 245g
Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8
BEST ULTRAWIDE AUTOFOCUS PROME

Aperture Range: f/2.8 to f/22, Autofocus, Dimensions: 3.46 x 2.68″, 9.2oz / 260g

For a long time, Sony neglected the APS-C line by not producing very many lenses for the cropped mount. As a result, the options of astrophotography lenses are limited. On the other hand, you probably do not need anything other than the Rokinon 12mm f/2.

Final Thoughts

Buying the right lens for astrophotography has always been a complex and expensive proposition. But, thanks to nontraditional lens manufacturers from Eastern Asia entering the market, aspiring photographers are now a little less stressed about their lens options and the affordability of shooting the night sky.

What to Read Next:

>