Nikon are one of the best camera manufacturers in the world, but what is the best Nikon for astrophotography? In this article, we look at what Nikon camera models were used in images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year in the past two years and recommend your best options.
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Best Nikon Cameras For Astrophotography
Best Nikon Camera for Astrophotography 
June 15, 2021 by Anthony Robinson
Overall, our findings show that the Nikon D750 is the best Nikon for astrophotography. Read to find out more.
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Make & ModelNikon D750Nikon D850Nikon D810ATypeDSLRDSLRDSLRSensorFull-frameFull-frameFull-frameCheck pricesCheck pricesCheck pricesCheck prices
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What Nikon cameras are used by successful astrophotographers?
In our research to find the best camera for astrophotography, we analyzed the 252 images that were shortlisted in the past two years for the world’s most prestigious annual astrophotography competition – Royal Museums Greenwich Astronomy Photographer of the Year.
From this we can see that Nikon have the most shortlisted images of any manufacturer
Obviously this tells us that that Nikon cameras can be excellent for astrophotography. But which models are best?
Let’s look at the data by camera models then (Nikon only)
This shows that the D750 is the most successfully used Nikon camera, followed by the D850 and then the D810A.
Let’s look now at each of these three cameras.
Based on our findings, the best Nikon for astrophotography is the Nikon D750.
It is a full-frame DSLR that is perfect for amateur astrophotography and landing milky way shots.
It falls in the mid-range price bracket and that likely accounts for some of its popularity – the other two cameras outlined below are in the more premium price bracket (at least when bought new). Yet, the D750 can clearly perform for astrophotography and is being used today by some of the best astrophotographers in the world.
For us, this camera can perform as well as any for astrophotography and is perfect if you don’t want to limited by your camera but also have a budget that won’t stretch for the professional level models (like the D850).
What’s awesome, is that given that this camera is more than a few years old, you can easily find used models on sale on site like KEH (see links below).Check prices for the Nikon D750
The Nikon D850 is the second most successfully used Nikon camera in our findings.
This is a professional-level full-frame DSLR in a slightly higher price bracket. Compared to the D750 it is more versatile and better suited for things like video.
Despite being in a premium price range, it is also not a new camera (it was released in 2017) and so there are often good deals to be found. Click the button below to check the price and availability at different retailers.Check prices for the Nikon D850
The D810A was the last Nikon camera specifically optimized for astrophotography (the “A” is for astrophotography).
This means that it has had its sensor adjusted so that it doesn’t filter out specific types of light that are emitted by objects in deep space – any normal DSLR filters this out. The result is that astrophotography images taken with this camera
The only other mass market camera tailored for astrophotography available to buy currently is the Canon EOS Ra (where, again, the “A” stands for “astrophotography”).
It’s very hard to find new models on sale anymore but you can find used ones for sale (click the button below to check).Check prices for the Nikon D810A
Other Nikon cameras for astrophotography
The remaining ten Nikon cameras outside the top three that were used for images shortlisted for Astronomy Photographer of the Year were:
- Nikon D810 – This is the non-astrophotography tweaked version of the D810A covered above. It’s a premium full-frame DSLR.
- Nikon D610 – A versatile full-frame DSLR in the mid-range price bracket.
- Nikon D600 – An older mid-range DSLR that was superseded by the D610 above.
- Nikon D3400 – An entry-level DSLR that would suit those with lower budgets.
- Nikon D5300 – A beginners-level Nikon DSLR that has superseded by the versatile D5600
- Nikon D800 – An older full-frame DSLR that was updated by the D850.
- Nikon Z7 – This is Nikon’s premium full-frame sensor mirrorless camera.
- Nikon D7100 – A entry-level/mid-range DSLR with an APS-C sensor that has been upgraded by the D7500
- Nikon D800E – Like the D800, this is an older camera superseded by the D850.
- Nikon Z6 – Nikon’s mid-range mirrorless camera. Released in 2018.
Just to quickly note some things about these findings – being higher on the list does not necessarily mean it is a better camera for astrophotography, it just means it has been more frequently used.
These findings, therefore, balance what is just the “best” camera with value for money.
For example, the D850 is a more expensive and higher bracket camera than the D750, yet the D750 is higher in these findings. It is likely that more people own the D750 as it’s cheaper and it can obviously perform for astrophotography.
This leads us on to the more recent Nikon mirrorless cameras.
Best Nikon mirrorless camera for astrophotography
In recent years, Nikon has started producing some top-of-the-range interchangeable lens, full-frame mirrorless cameras – for example, the Z6 and the Z7.
These newer mirrorless models are likely lower on the list given that they are so new to the market yet are exceptional cameras and are likely to rise up the list and be more commonly used in future years.
There’s a fantastic hands-on review of the Z6 for astrophotography on the Amazing Sky website.
Final Word – What’s the Best Nikon Camera for Astrophotography?
So the best Nikon camera for astrophotography for you depends on what you are looking for:
- If you just want something specifically for astrophotography, then the D750 might be the best option, and there are real bargains to be found if you are happy to buy a used model.
- If you want a camera that is the best at everything (for example, video as well as all-round photography), then the D850 might be for you.
- If you want a premium Nikon DSLR that has been optimized just for astrophotography, then see if you can find a D810a for sale (it might be hard).
Note that these are all full-frame sensor cameras (as opposed to crop/APS-C sensor cameras) as these are generally what is best for landscape astrophotography (i.e. shots of the milky way above the earth). This is due to their better low-light performance and capacity to capture wider expanses of the sky (a crop sensor camera will literally crop the image). See more about this in our article on the best cameras for astrophotography.
For us, the D750 is a perfect option for most amateur astrophotographers and the model that I use myself.
However, it’s also worth noting that the Nikon D780 was released in 2020 as the upgraded model to the D750, and so you may want to consider that if you want the newest model.
If buying new now I might consider the D780 or go for the mirrorless Z6, but I am currently very happy with my D750 and think that will remain the case for at least a few more years.
Recommended Cameras for Astrophotography
Best Cameras for a Specific Purpose
- Scenics, Nightscapes, Panoramas, Time Lapses
- Deep Sky
- Red Ha Nebulae
- High-Resolution Planets
- Real-Time Aurora
Best Cameras by Budget and Experience Level
- Budget Beginner
Picking a Camera
Best Cameras for Scenics, Nightscapes, Panoramas, and Time Lapses
- Nikon Z6 II
- Nikon Z6
- Canon EOS R6
Scenic astrophotography would include wide-angle shots such as the crescent Moon setting in the twilight or the Milky Way. This category doesn’t have strict definitions, but pretty much anything you can shoot on a fixed tripod with a relatively short exposure of about 30 seconds or less.
Best Cameras for Deep Sky
- Nikon Z6
- Nikon Z6 II
- Canon EOS R6
Deep-sky astrophotography includes the real jewels of the night sky – star clusters, nebulae and galaxies. These objects require long-exposures and low-noise cameras with long-focal-length lenses or telescopes and a polar-aligned tracking mount.
Best Cameras for Hydrogen Alpha Emission Nebulae
- Canon EOS Ra
- Nikon D810a
Red hydrogen-alpha emission nebulae are some of the most beautiful nebulae in the sky, and they can also be very large. But some are very faint. Normal stock DSLR and Mirrorless camera filter out most of these long red wavelengths because the eye is not sensitive to them and camera makers want color out of the camera to represent normal human color vision. Camera sensors are sensitive to these wavelengths, but a filter prevents them from reaching the sensor. In specialty astro-cameras, such as the Nikon D810a and the Canon Ra, these filters are replaced with ones that transmit much more red hydrogen-alpha wavelengths at 656.28 nanometers.
It is also possible to have your current camera, or other regular stock non-astro cameras, modified to replace the long-wavelength filter and record more red Ha wavelengths by companies like Life Pixel and Kolari Vision. In some cases it may even be less expensive than buying an “a” model astrophotography camera. But modifying the camera will void the manufacturers warranty, and require the use of a custom white balance.
Best Cameras for High-Resolution Planetary
- ZWO ASI or QHY
High-resolution planetary photography records fine details on the Sun, Moon, and planets of the solar system. Planetary photography requires larger apertures to pick out tiny details on planets such as Jupiter and Mars, as well as small craters on the Moon and details in sunspots. These objects are bright, so exposure is not the problem, but good “seeing” or atmospheric steadiness is critical.
Cameras with small pixels and high frame rates that can output uncompressed high-bit raw video are the best. You don’t need a large sensor for high-resolution planetary photography because the planets are small even when magnified to the correct sampling for the size of the pixels in the camera.
Certain DSLRs can also be used for high-resolution planetary imaging such as the Canon T2i (550D), 60D, and 60Da. These cameras have a special “Movie Crop Mode” that gives 1:1 pixel resolution at 640 x 480 pixels off the sensor at 60 frames per second, recording directly to the memory card in the camera, so you do not need a computer at the scope. Other cameras can be used, typically by capturing Live View at 5x magnification to get to 1:1 pixel resolution, but you must use a computer at the scope to use this trick.
The latest cameras with high-definition video might also be able to be used if a video mode can be found that outputs 1:1 pixel resolution that is not interpolated or decimated. Some of these cameras can also output raw, uncompressed video to an external recorder.
All of the images below were captured with DSLRs.
Best Cameras for Real-Time Aurora Videos
- Sony A7 III
- Sony A7S III
Auroras can be bright or faint. Sometimes they are bright enough to be seen changing in real time. To record this, you need to use video and a sensitive camera with low noise.
The problem is that normal video records individual still frames for the video at 24 or 30 frames per second. That means the shortest exposure is 1/24th or 1/30th of a second. Even at high ISOs, that is not enough exposure to record aurora in real time. For that, you need more exposure in each individual frame. You can do this by slowing down the framing rate and increasing the exposure time. This is called “dragging the shutter”.
Between Canon, Sony, and Nikon, Sonys are the only DSLR or Mirrorless cameras that I know of that allow slowing down the framing rate to 4 frames per second, so you can use 1/4 second exposures, with 3 stops more exposure in each frame for the aurora.
Recommended Beginner Cameras
- Canon T7i (800D) body only ($650)
- Nikon D5600 body only ($600)
Both Nikon and Canon have entry-level camera models that are the least expensive bodies they sell. However, these models usually lack some feature that is important for astrophotography. Some can not be controlled externally by a remote release or computer. Some do not have tilt LCD screens on the back. So we start out recommendations at the > level up.
Here I suggest the two very inexpensive camera models that, while no longer in production, can be found used with very attractive prices.
The Canon T7i and Nikon D5600 both have a tiltable LCD screen on the back, a feature that is really nice for astrophotographers when you need to focus with the camera or lens pointed overhead.
Refurbished models usually come with a 90-day manufacturer’s warranty and are basically new cameras that have been returned for one reason or another but that can’t be sold as new. I have purchased many refurbished cameras from Canon without any problems.
Used models can also be considered for significant savings. I’ve bought used cameras and lenses from KEH and always been pleasantly surprised at how the cameras were always in better shape then their used ratings.
For those on an extremely limited budget, you can buy a used Nikon D5300 for $300 to $350 with an Excellent rating at KEH. This camera is an older model of the D5600, but with the same sensor. I still own and use a Nikon D5300.
Recommended Intermediate Cameras
- Nikon D7500 body only ($1,000)
- Canon 90D body only ($850)
The Canon 90D and Nikon D7500 are both in the middle of Canon and Nikon’s technological tier, aimed at what they call “prosumers” – photographers who may be good enough to be professionals but are still consumers, and advanced amateurs. Both have a tiltable LCD screen on the back, a feature that is really nice for astrophotographers when you need to focus with the camera or lens pointed overhead. Both cameras by Canon and Nikon and will be great for intermediate photographers at reasonable prices.
Recommended High-End Cameras
- Canon EOS R6 ($2,500)
- Nikon Z6 II ($2,000)
The Canon EOS R and Nikon Z6 II are both the latest generation of cameras with the best noise characteristics and will be great for advanced astrophotographers. Both of these cameras are what is called “ISO-less”. This means they have extremely low readout noise throughout their ISO range which gives them a very high dynamic range. For astrophotography, you don’t need to shoot any anything much higher than ISO 200 or ISO 400, even for faint objects.
These mirrorless camera bodies will use the latest excellent lens designs, both from the original manufacturers of Nikon and Canon, but also from third party manufacturers such as Sigma.
Recommended Astrophotography-Specific Cameras
- Nikon D810a DSLR body only ($3,800)
- Canon EOS Ra Mirrorless body only ($2,500)
The Nikon D810a DSLR and Canon EOS Ra are both special purpose astrophotography cameras that have their red long-wavelength filters modified by the manufacturer to pass more of the Hydrogen-alpha emission wavelengths that make red nebulae so beautiful. These are recent generations of cameras with the great noise characteristics and will be great for advanced astrophotographers.
Note that the Nikon D810a is a DSLR camera and the Canon Ra is a Mirrorless camera. These astro-specific cameras have their white balance adjusted so they can be used for normal daytime imaging without additional filters for non-professional purposes.
Other Cameras Worth Noting
There are some real bargains out there in older DSLR cameras, especially now that all of the major manufacturers are moving to mirrorless cameras.
- Canon 6D ($500 – $700) – The 6D is a well-respected and tested full-frame body that has excellent noise characteristics. The only down side is that it does not have a tilt LCD screen on the back like its replacement 6D II model which costs $1,400 new.
- Canon 7D Mark II ($1,400) – The 7D Mark II is an APS-C sized sensor with very low thermal signal and low pattern noise has excellent autofocus if you also like to shoot sports or wildlife.
- Nikon D500 ($1,500) – The D500 is an APS-C sized sensor, also with very low noise.
- Canon T2i (550D) – ($100 used) – this is the bargain of the century. It’s an old camera, so it has a good bit of thermal signal and noise, and it doesn’t have a tilt LCD screen, but you can shoot Deep Sky with an intervalometer AND high-resolution planetary with a special 640×480 Movie Crop Mode, both without a computer at the scope!
Picking a Camera
There are 4 main things to consider when picking a camera.
1. Camera Type – Mirrorless or DSLR
- Digital DSLR cameras have been around for more than 20 years. You can pick up some real bargains in used DSLR cameras.
- Mirrorless cameras are where all of the manufacturers research and development money is going now and in the future.There are two main benefits to a mirrorless camera:
- You see exactly what the image will look like with exposure and adjustments applied in the electronic viewfinder (EVF) or on the LCD screen on the back of the camera before you take the picture (except for faint Deep Sky objects).
- Mirrorless cameras are designed with the sensor much closer to the lens mount, allowing for new lens designs with much better performance, primarily in wide-angle lenses. Older DSLR lenses can usually be used with an adapter.
2. Sensor Size – Full Frame or APS-C
- Larger sensors can collect more photons and produce better signal-to-noise ratios at the same f/number, field-of-view, and exposure compared to smaller sensor.
- But, larger sensors are more expensive and require more expensive lenses and telescopes to produce the well-corrected larger star fields needed to cover the full frame.
- If you already have a large investment in a lens system, then certainly think about that brand first.
- Canon and Sony have the best selection of new mirrorless lenses.
- Nikon’s mirrorless lenses are excellent, and Nikon has a huge selection of older very good DSLR lenses.
- Other companies like Sigma and Tokina, are making excellent mirrorless lenses for Sony, and more recently, Canon. But, not Nikon so far.
- You can use DSLR lenses on new mirrorless bodies with adapters.
- You can not use new mirrorless lenses on old DSLR bodies.
- Don’t forget to budget for lenses and other accessories you may need, such as a tripod.
- Cameras that are one generation older than the latest and greatest most recently released models are usually the sweet spot in terms of the price-performance ratio.
- The latest camera you are lusting after today will much cheaper in a year or two when new models come out.
- Newer cameras are almost always better than older cameras, so get the most recent model you can afford. But, that does not mean you can’t find an older camera that will do exactly what you need for less cost.
- Here is a chart of Canon and Nikon cameras listed by date of manufacture.
Other Considerations When Picking a Camera
What do you want to use your camera for?
If you are like me (mostly lazy), you will use your Smartphone for most of your daytime photography. And if you have a recent one, you may even be able to use it for some very basic smart-phone astrophotography if you have a dark enough location.
But what about the stuff you really are passionate about and want to take really good images of so you can make big prints? What kind of camera should you get?
Honestly, almost any recent camera is going to produce great images for almost everything. But if you want to push the limits to get the absolute best at one particular specialized area, some cameras will work better than others because all cameras have certain quirks.
Think seriously about these subjects before you decide which camera to buy. The best camera for you depends on the answers to these questions!
- What kind of pictures do you want to take?
- What is the best kind of camera to take them with?
- How much do you want to spend?
- How deep do you want to get into it?
In any event, you will be best served by not rushing out and buying the first telescope or camera that you see at the nearest discount store. Join an astronomy club, meet the members, and go to a star party and use their telescopes. See what kinds of cameras they are using and what kinds of results they are getting. Find out which kind of astronomical objects you are most interested in photographing, and then research which cameras and scopes are best at that specialty. If you don’t live near a club, then get on the internet and see what people are shooting.
What’s the Best Kind of Camera to Take Them With?
All of the images above were taken with DSLR and Mirrorless cameras!
A DSLR or Mirrorless camera is truly a jack of all trades. Not only can you use them for scenic shots, planetary, and long-exposure deep-sky astrophotography, you can also use them for normal daytime pictures of your family or nature or sports. You can also use them to shoot high-definition video with sound for these same daytime subjects!
This is not to say that DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras are the absolute best at planetary and deep-sky imaging, but they are pretty good. High-resolution planetary imaging is best done with a camera that can shoot hundreds of frames per second with small pixels and a computer system that can handle the bandwidth required for that many images. Long-exposure deep-sky imaging is best done with a cooled CMOS or CCD monochrome camera which requires a filter wheel and various filters to record color, and a computer to run everything.
Note that while Canon cameras can be used for the “lucky” imaging required for high-resolution planetary imaging, as of the date of the writing of this article, Nikon cameras could not because their Live View video feed was too low resolution. Hopefully that will change in the future.
If you have been in the hobby of astronomy for some time, you may have an interest in one of these particular areas and want to specialize in it. If you do know, then get the kind of camera that is best for that particular type of astrophotography. If you don’t know, or want to try them all out as well has have a camera that you can use for normal daytime photography, then a DSLR camera would be a good choice.
No matter what kind of astrophotos you want to take, spend some time on the internet and with the popular astronomy magazines looking at the best astrophotography to see what kind of camera they were taken with. You will find that the same names keep coming up again and again, both in the photographers that excel in these realms, and also in the equipment that they use.
How Deep Do You Want to Get Into Astrophotography?
How much time to you want to devote to this hobby? If you just want to go out and take some snapshots in the twilight, then all you will need is an inexpensive camera and tripod. You might even be able to use your cell phone for this.
If you already have a telescope and all you want to do is hook up the camera you have now and shoot some pictures of the moon, all you’ll need is an adapter to connect your camera to the scope. You can even do this with your Smartphone’s camera.
If you are really in love with the pictures you see in magazines of galaxies and nebulae, and you want to take these kinds of pictures, you are going to have to commit yourself to spending time and effort on the long learning curve. If you want to pursue excellence, you are going to have to work at it and develop your expertise. You are also going to have to have the financial resources to buy equipment that is good enough to let you accomplish this goal.
A lot of it also depends on what kind of astrophotography you want to do. For example, high-resolution planetary imaging will require a very different scope and camera than long-exposure deep-sky.
Honestly though, if you haven’t even used a telescope yet but want to buy a camera and telescope to take astrophotos, I would strongly advise against just going out and buying them for the holidays. Find a local astronomy club and go out observing with them when they have a “star party” and look through a lot of different scopes and ask a lot of questions.
A lot of it will depend on how critical you want to be, and how deep into the hobby of astrophotography you want to get.
You might not be interested in being the absolute best in the world at whatever you decide to specialize in, or you might not want to specialize at all. You can still be happy and find it tremendously rewarding to just take pretty pictures and do it was well as you can do it.
For long-exposure deep-sky work, DSLR and Mirrorless cameras offer an extremely attractive alternative to expensive dedicated cooled astronomical CCD cameras. They offer a much wider field of view at the same resolution, at a much more reasonable price. Their biggest advantage is that they can also be used for normal daytime photography, so you can tell your mate that you will also be able to take great family pictures with it!
The final choice as to which particular type of camera is best will depend on what specific type of object the astrophotographer is most interested in shooting, the degree of excellence he or she wants to pursue in their imaging, and the amount of cost and effort they are willing to put into it.
No matter what kind of camera is used, quite a bit of expertise, dedication and work is required to utilize them to their maximum potential.
All in all, the cost, convenience, utility and quality of DSLR and Mirrorless cameras make them an excellent choice for most amateur astrophotographers.
How Much Do You Want to Spend?
Pick a budget and stick to it. Don’t forget to include money in your budget for things such as camera-to-telescope adapters. You’ll need a camera and adapter at least to get started. If you get into deep-sky astrophotography seriously, you’ll almost certainly also want focusing accessories, remote release timers, software, and possibly a laptop computer for use in the field. You can get by on a reasonably frugal budget to get started, but this is not a hobby like chess where you have virtually no expenses for the equipment needed for it.
Even with an unlimited budget, it still requires dedication and expertise to excel. Be prepared to invest your time in learning the craft of astrophotography.
As the DSLR market matures, real bargains are now available in previous generation models that are still being manufactured. Great astrophotography DSLR camera models can also still be found for sale used on Cloudy Nights, Astromart and at reputable camera stores like B&H, Adorama and KEH.
Note that the older models that were manufactured before about 2004 were relatively high noise. Be careful about early generation cameras, such as the Canon 10D, which use USB1 which takes a really long time to download images. These cameras will also have higher thermal noise and worse amp glow. Check out this camera comparison list to see camera features and manufacture dates.