Astrophotography Lens Guide – What to Look For

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or an experienced astrophotographer – the right lens will make or break your photo. Okay, maybe that’s a little bit dramatic, but getting the perfect lens for your camera is something that all serious photographers should be ultimately searching. Many people assume that you need an expensive lens, telescope, tripod and a whole host of other equipment to partake in astrophotography.

The reality is that you don’t necessarily need a telescope to get awesome pictures of the night sky. Whilst it does help, if you want to get good pictures of a wider perspective, then getting a good lens will become increasingly important. Using the wrong lens can be the difference between a good photograph and a great one.

Of course, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, a different lens may prove to be better for each individual task. Some people will tell you that you need to go out and spend a fortune on an expensive lens, but this isn’t the case. The majority of DSLR cameras will come with a good enough lens that you can use for daytime photography, but they’re not optimal for taking pictures of the night sky. So, lets have a look at what you should be looking for in a lens.

Best Astrophotography Lens for Beginners

When you’re just starting out, in my opinion you should be looking at getting yourself a Rokinon 14mm for landscape photography and a cheap 50mm lens like the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm. These are both relatively inexpensive if you compare them to other camera lenses that are available, though it should be said astrophotography isn’t for the poor (though if you’re broke, you can still take good astrophotography pictures with your iPhone!).

Why do you need two lenses? Well, each of these lenses are going to be more suitable for different things. Whilst the 14mm is going to prove better for taking wide shots of the night sky, whilst the 50mm lens is going to prove a better option for more narrow shots of the Milkyway. If you’re only going to choose one of these lenses, then it’s undoubtedly a better choice to opt for the 50mm as with this, you’ll still be able to take pictures of the Milkyway too.

Another reason why I recommend opting for the Nikkor is that it’s probably the best bet for beginners not only for astrophotography, but for regular photography too. For beginners, a 50mm is one of the most cost effective ways to get maximum aperture.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm

As I’ve said, every photographer should have a 50mm lens in their inventory. I particularly like the Nikkor 50mm  as I originally bought it for my D3400, probably one of the better entry level cameras for newbie photographers. It has a maximum aperture of f/1.8, but I commonly use it at a stop down from this for astrophotography.

One thing that you will want to consider with this lens is that you need to pay attention to whether it’s AF-S, of just AF. Of course, AF stands for Auto Focus – pretty clear. And you also might have guessed that the S stands for silent.

But what you might not be aware of is why there’s a 50% premium in price from the AF to the AF-S – why is it more expensive? Well, that’s because the autofocus of the AF is not compatible with all Nikon cameras. However with the AF-S, the autofocus is actually in the lens, so this doesn’t really matter. Of course, you might not need autofocus for your lens if you’re just using it for astrophotography. But if you want to use it for a variety of different things, then it might be worth opting for the AF-S as opposed to the AF, even if it is a bit more expensive.

What size lens should I get?

Deciding what size lens you should get is an important thing. Ideally, you’ll have a variety of different lenses as a photographer, but if you’re just starting out, I recommend getting a 50mm.

The reason that I recommend a 50mm lens is that usually, you can find them at a really good price. A 50mm is one of the most popular lenses on the market, and there’s an abundance of different brands that you can consider. Remember that if you’re using an APS-C camera, then your actual equivalent focal length with a 50mm lens will be 75-80mm due to the Full Frame to APS-C conversion. This means that an good 35mm lens can work well too, like the Fujinon XF35mm .

If you’re looking to take more wide angle photos then you may want to opt for a smaller lens than 50mm. I would also consider getting a 14-24mm lens as well, especially towards the lower end which makes for an awesome landscape photos.

Zoom Lens vs Prime Lens

One of the most common confusions from beginners about lenses is understanding the difference between zoom lenses and prime lenses. When you’re reading about ‘prime lenses’ and you have no experience in astrophotography, then this can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, it really isn’t that difficult to understand.

The difference is that whilst you have the capabilities to zoom with a zoom lens (the clue is in the name!), a prime lens is not able to do this. A prime lens is a fixed length, so you might also see them referred to as ‘fixed length’ lenses.

For astrophotography, prime lenses are considered to be a much better choice than zoom lenses. Though there are zoom lenses out there that are awesome too, they typically don’t perform as well as a prime lens.

Comatic Abberations (Comas)

Simply put, an abberation is a flaw or imperfection with the way that your lens focusses light. This is a common issue with cheap reflecting telescopes, whilst a common issue with refracting telescopes in chromatic abberation. It’s important not to get the two confused.

In astrophotography particularly, comas tend to be more of an issue. This is because whilst you might be able to get away with a coma in a standard picture, there’s a high contrast between the stars and the dark sky background. This makes any imperfections more noticeable, and ultimately has a big effect on the resulting photograph.

The conundrum we have as astrophotographers is that whilst we want to use a maximum aperture to try and show as much light as we can from the stars, this makes us more exposed to comas. So, you’ll need to find a balance between the two to work about how you can minimize the comatic abberation whilst still getting the stars to pop vibrantly.

A good lens will minimize the possibility of dealing with comas, though even with some of the more expensive lenses that I’ve used I’ve had issues with comatic abberation – especially around the edges of the photograph.

Conclusion

Overall, the best option for beginners is to get the lens that they’re going to use the most. That’s why I advise getting something that you can also use for regular photography, as then you can kill two birds with one stone. Lenses can be particularly expensive, and often the cost of all your lenses together will end up surpassing the cost of the camera itself. Shopping around for used lenses is a good idea, or you can actually rent lenses too to get a feel of whether they’re going to be right for you.

Although you do need to get the right lens for astrophotography, for beginners there are other factors which are going to have a greater effect – the weather being the the most important thing. As long as the weather is right and you have a half decent camera, you should be able to get some awesome shots of the night sky.

Last update on 2018-12-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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