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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.

Sony A7R II Long Exposure Tests.

A7R II is the buzz word at the moment in the photography circles, with most reviews holding it in extremely high regard. So naturally I had to test the sensor for long exposure noise.

The results can be seen on the long exposure sensor testing page, and here are my thoughts:

There is no doubt, the A7RII is very impressive, considering the size of the sensor it’s delivering much better results than the D810 or the 5Ds(r). It’s performance is generally much better than the older model (A7R) and it’s results are almost identical to the Canon 6D, keeping in mind the 6D is only 20MP one can’t but help be impressed.

One of the reasons I started my long exposure testing was because no one was doing long exposures at high ISO. All the low light tests performed I could find were at best a second, and in most cases much shorter than a second, in some cases as fast as the body could shoot (1/8000th). But sensor behaviour for longer exposures is not consistent, and in some cases it’s not very linear. What is good for sport is not good for astrophotography.

The A7RII’s sensor behaviour is a very clear example of why this test is important. There is no doubt for general low light work or sport this camera is going to be a killer, but what about longer exposures? At 30 seconds the A7RII is holding it’s own, but starting to loose the edge it had at 1 second, and by 5 minutes significant noise has been introduced into the shot, and it looses it edge to many other models. There is no doubt that Long exposure NR enabled would fix some of this, but not all.

So my conclusion is, it’s going to be an awesome camera killing other models for shorter long exposures (1-10 secs), it is going to match the high end models in the 10-30sec range having the benefit of more MP, but for longer exposures other models start to win out including the 5Ds(r), I’ll be very interested to see how this one goes in the field and I think there is the possibility of further testing to understand the ISO to time relationship, for example higher ISO’s for shorter periods could yield better results than lower ISO for longer periods.

Please keep in mind my tests do not take into consideration other factors such as dynamic range (DR) or how linear the ISO relationship is (ISO-less or not). I am purely interested in the noise (floor) and what you will have to deal with in post.

Sigma 16-20mm f2, Yes Please.

The rumor of the Sigma 16-20mm f2 ART lens has been circulating for over a year now, and it’s looking less likely that we will see it, for a number of reasons:

  • It was reported that if the lens were to be released it would have been announced last year.
  • A 16mm lens at f2, particularly to ART standard would be expensive, very expensive, and it would house some seriously big pieces of Glass. Even a 20mm f2 lens would rival others like Nikon’s 20mm f1.8 which is an expensive prime.
  • The 16-20mm may be considered to be a very short zoom range, and by it’s nature seem impractical. It’s understandable that the market for this lens may be small. If it was considered to be unprofitable I guess that would not produce it.

Well, the issues aside I personally would love to see f2 @ 16mm. I admit given it’s likely price tag it will have a very small market, mainly to those that shoot landscapes where there is little light. As a person who regularly shoots the night sky and the Aurora Australis I would love to see this lens.

So Sigma, if your reading this PLEASE produce this lens and if you need someone to test it I’m here waiting. 🙂 I’d be more than happy to shoot the southern sky and tell of it’s greatness; because lets face it, if it’s going to be an ART lens it’s going to be awesome.

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