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What Lens for Astrophotography & Aurora?

It seems I can’t go a day without seeing this question at least asked once on a Facebook page or in a forum, so I thought I’d create the go to ‘list’¬†for lenses that are best suited for shooting the night sky and Aurora’s.

Of course there are many factors to consider when purchasing a lens so I have limited the list below to common lenses used and proven in the field. I have structured the list based on the angle of view and the type of body it will be used on either a full frame or crop. I am only focusing on Canon and Nikon, however brand like Samyang are universal, and can be purchased with mounts for Sony and others.

If you are looking for a lens for your camera this list would be a good starting point.

Lenses with a ‘B’ have a bulbous front element and standard 4×6 filters will not fit.

 Full Frame BodyCrop Body
Ultra WideSamyang 14mm f2.8 B
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 B
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 B
Canon 16-35mm II f2.8
Canon 14mm f2.8 B
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 B
Nikon 16-35mm f4.0
Sigma 15mm f2.8 (fisheye)
Zeiss 15mm f2.8
Samyang 8mm f2.8 B
Tokina 11-16mm f2.8
WideSamyang 24mm f1.4
Canon 24mm f1.4
Samyang 14mm f2.8 B
Samyang 16mm f2.0
Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 B
Sigma 18-35mm f1.8
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 B
Canon 16-35mm II f2.8
Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 B
Nikon 16-35mm f4.0
StandardSigma 35mm f1.4
Samyang 35mm f1.4
Samyang 50mm f1.4
Canon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Nikon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Samyang 24mm f1.4
Sigma 35mm f1.4
Samyang 35mm f1.4
Telephoto*Samyang 85mm f1.4Samyang 50mm f1.4
Canon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Nikon 50mm f1.4 / f1.8
Samyang 85mm f1.4

*Normally deeper space work or stitching involved requiring motorised mounts.

Should I use a UV Filter?

Yes, I’m going to go there…

In my opinion UV filters are a camera stores best revenue earner, for every lens or camera package they sell there is a better than even chance they can sell the purchaser a UV filter, or 2.

But are they worth it?

Here are a few of the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • It may protect the lens from damage if dropped.
  • It may protect the lens for dirt, dust and other marks.
  • It filters out UV light.

Cons:

  • If it breaks the glass shards may damage my front element, or coating, or the ring could get jammed on my lens.
  • It’s another layer of glass, and it may introduce flares and other artifacts into the image.

Well if you use a digital camera you can rule out the UV filtering being a benefit because digital sensors already have a UV filter. The filter has just as much chance of causing damage to a lens than protecting it. Saying “I dropped my lens and the UV filter smashed, thus saving my lens”, is a far call from reality, it most likely would have been fine anyhow. The amount of horror stories I have read about the UV filter causing problems once broken seems to be more of a problem than dropped broken lenses (Glass shards scratching lenses, filters getting stuck and needing to be removed by professionals etc). The UV filter itself offers next to no structural strength to the lens, and then you have the problem of image quality. It’s a known fact that UV filters introduce flares and ghosting (well documented).

For me the introduced artifacts and the probability of the UV filter doing more damage than good makes it not worth it. Sure it may stop the occasional finger print of smudge, but these are easily removed.

So why do it?

Well most people do it because they get sold the idea that it’s an investment to protect their lenses. Some UV filters can retail for as much as a kit lens, the easier solution would be to replace the lens if it did get damaged, which the UV filter would most likely have not protected in the first place.

 

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