A beginner’s guide to astrophotography gear
Equipment-wise, all you need to start with astro photography is a modern DSLR or mirrorless camera with good low light capabilities, a fast (small minimum aperture value) lens, and a good sturdy tripod. When it comes to cameras, a camera with interchangeable lenses and manual controls is your best option. So if you would rent even an entry-level DSLR camera or mirrorless body in combination with the right lens - you can already create great shots. It is best to use a wide angle lens - ideally, a fast lens, meaning with a low aperture value (at least f/2.8 or lower) is best, but you can still achieve good results with a lens that is less fast.
When it comes to ensuring stability - in astrophotography, a tripod
is not an option, it is a must! If you don’t have one, it’s good to know that you can rent one! Without using a tripod, you risk ruining your entire composition.
Astrophotography: which DSLR, lens and accessories?
Most entry level DSLR
or mirrorless cameras
come with an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom lens which are usually good for astrophotography but certainly not the best. Remember, first start with what you have, and if you consider making astrophotography your hobby, you can experiment further and rent better lenses while you go. You will love fast lenses which are able to gather a lot of light to be transferred to the camera’s image sensor. What’s perhaps even more important is to use a (ultra) wide angle lens, such as a 14mm or 17mm focal length. This allows you to capture a large part of the night sky.
There are a few astrophotography-dedicated cameras available on the market. The ones from Canon
are the most well-known when it comes to astrophotography but also Nikon
have some interesting models. Canon has released adjusted versions of a few popular models such as the Canon EOS 60Da and more recently the Canon EOS Ra. The letter ‘a’ stands for astrophotography. This means that Canon has made the camera more sensitive to infrared light thanks to a modified optical low-pass filter that sits in front of its imaging sensor.
There are a few accessories you’ll need such as a remote release
and a T-ring adapter. When it comes to choosing the lens, ideally you want a wide-angle zoom
lens or wide angle prime
and it's best to work in a focal range of around 14-20mm (in fullframe equivalent terms).
What are the best camera settings for astrophotography?
When it comes to aperture settings for astrophotography - you need as much light to pass through the lens and hit the sensor as possible, so it is best to shoot at your lens maximum aperture. By setting a high ISO, your camera will be able to pick up more detail than the naked eye can see - which is the goal of astrophotography. Of course you can also use lower ISO with a longer shutter speed but this increases the risk of getting blurry images (remember that the earth’s rotation will continue during the time that your camera shutter is open!)
Astrophotography with a telescope
If you want to take this passion a step further, you can use a camera in combination with a telescope. This will allow you to take images from objects much further away in the sky - also called ‘deep-sky imaging. Objects such as nebulas, far-away planets and star clusters can then be seen and photographed.
There are lots of different telescopes available. For beginners, a really small telescope like a 65mm or 80mm refractor is best. The two most important pieces of equipment for astrophotography are the mount and tripod
- so make sure to rent these before you begin! To connect a camera to the telescope, you also must remember to rent a T-mount adapter.
More tips for an astrophotograper
Anyone can point a camera to the sky and with the help of the right settings take an okay picture of the night sky. The difference between an okay picture and a great one is composition, so make sure you pay attention to that. Another important thing to remember is to shoot in RAW file format. When using software like Photoshop or Lightroom, the RAW files will offer you a wider dynamic range and a lot more image data in the photos. This will allow you to make a lot more adjustments and draw a lot more details from the image data. This will yield much better results.
As with most things in life - practice makes perfect, so when it comes to astrophotography, make sure you really take your time to practice and learn from your mistakes.