Choosing the best DSLR for astrophotography can be a tough choice - there are so many options and it can be confusing to pick the right equipment. Do you use want to modify an existing camera or buy a DSLR that is more suited for astronomy?
This guide is suited for those that want to buy a non-modded DSLR perfect for astronomy. Having a DSLR is an excellent choice for taking pictures of the night sky. Why? Because you can also use the camera to shoot normal photos (like your fellow human beings!). This makes it easy to justify buying a top end camera for astrophotography. Our experts sat down and asked astrophotography geeks what cameras were the best, and this is our list:
1) Canon EOS 5D Mark II
If you want to invest in a top notch camera for astronomy, look no further than the Canon EOS 5D Mark II. We asked many astronomy geeks what camera, regardless of price would be ideal for astronomy, and almost everyone responded with the EOS 5D Mark II. It's hard not to see why when we look at all the features.
First off, the Canon EOS Mark II is pretty solidly built, and a bit heavy for those not used to these high end DSLRs. It features a big, bright screen with quick, easy access to most settings. For a camera of this high price range, you'd expect an expert to able to access all those settings, but Canon really designed the interface to be friendly for all types of users.
The image quality is fantastic and will exceed your expectations from the moment you take your first photo. In our tests, it constantly delivers sharper photos with less noise than other DSLRs by a long shot, even in high resolutions. This is exactly what you need in astrophotography: low noise and high sensitivity.
We took several photos of star clusters, and galaxies with the Mark II, and they all looked marvelous in the final output.
The 5D Mark II also features the ability to use live view, which comes in handy when taking images of planets. The zoom and magnification using live view are extremely convenient in zooming into the object you want to shoot. Any camera without live view in our opinion is not suited for astrophotography.
In an older release of the EOS 5d Mark II, there was a black dot issue where certain images had black dot artifacts, such as when shooting bright stars. Canon responded quickly with new firmware that addresses this issue, and when we took photos of bright stars, we no longer saw any black dot artifacts.
The only bad points about the 5D is its bulky weight. But all around, if you're looking the best DSLR for astrophotography, everyone agrees: get the Canon EOS 5d Mark II.
2) Canon EOS Rebel XSi
The Rebel XSi (EOS 450D in other parts of the world) is a solid mid-range camera for astrophotography. It's certainly more inexpensive than the Mark II above.
The XSi, when you first hold feels really light. This is because it replaces the alloy body with plastic. Nonetheless, it still is very sturdy and has a comfortable grip.
The XSi features 3 inch LCD screen with live view, which as we mentioned is essential for astrophotography. We took the XSi for a test drive one night and took a hundred or so photos of planets, star clusters and nebulae, and they all turned out fantastic. We primarily used the live view mode, and we paired the XSi with a Canon 75-300mm lens set to 280mm, with an ISO of 800-1600 with autofocus off.
Images of non-space objects are just as impressive. We think the XSi delivers the best in class image quality. We do recommend increasing the sharpness setting a little higher than usual though. All our images though turned out sharp, with accurate colors, and even exposures. No complaints in the image quality category.
The shooting speed for the XSi beats more competitors. Power to photo speed is just under .2 seconds - excellent by any standards. The shutter lag is .5 seconds, a bit slower then average, and 1.2 seconds for dim light. Shot to shot is an impressive .4 seconds for both JPEG and RAW, and .7 seconds when enabling flash. Burst mode is 3.7 frames per second. It's not the fastest burst speed, but you're shooting inanimate objects here (unless we're talking about shooting comets)
We think the XSi is a solid purchase for astrophotography fans. It's a great camera for an ambitious newbie, so you're not buying a very specialized camera just for astrophotography. It's the best option for someone who can't afford the Mark II, yet wants the best possible images of stars, nebulae, and the planets.
3) Canon EOS 40D
The EOS 40D is another favorite mid-range DSLR for astrophotographers that is quite similar in performance and image quality to the Rebel XSi.
The EOS 40D like the other 2 cameras mentioned has a live view mode. We must admit, live view mode is pretty well implemented in the 40D, and is pretty quiet too. With live view, it lets you get a preview of what image will be coming into the camera before you take your shot. Again, we don't recommend buying any DSLR for astrophotography that doesn't have a solid live view. It's just essential for getting a good sharp focus.
There's some cool features the 40D has that makes it suitable for astrophotography. One is the timer-mode, and ability to set your mirror to pre-fire. With this, there is very little motion when you take your shot. Some people even use a timer-remote. Just turn the camera into manual mode, turn on the 10-second timer, and set the remote to 10 seconds, and wait for your shot.
The pictures we took of star clusters and planets all turned out excellent with clear detail, little noise, and accurate vivid colors. We had no complaints at all. Of course, it depends on the skill of the photographer, but this is a great camera to test your shooting skills, and what better way to do that than to take pictures of the galaxies?
The 40D is pretty quick. Power on to first shot is just .3 seconds, and focus to shoot is just .4 seconds. Burst mode is 6.3 frames per second, though you can also choose a slower burst mode which is 3.1 frames per second.
The image quality is solid with the 40D. We spotted little to no noise even using an ISO as high as 800. Even at ISO 1600, the noise level is not distracting at all. It maxes out at ISO 3200, which is still usable.
All in all, we think the 40D is a sleek, fun to use camera with excellent live view implementation that produces great photos of outer space when you take the time to learn how to use it. We suggest getting a timer remote to make shooting easier and more fun too.