A Beginner Astrophotography Kit


Let’s talk about the bare minimum of what you will need to photograph the Milky Way.

Astrophotography doesn’t require all that much equipment and it’s likely that you already have most of the items in this list. I usually only pack these select few items in my camera bag when I go out to photograph the Milky Way and rarely bring anything extra. The simpler the kit, the less you will need to worry about. So here are the essentials with some of my recommendations to those just starting out:

1. Digital SLR or Interchangeable Lens Camera Body


Most people reading this article will probably already have a digital SLR or some other interchangeable lens camera. Luckily a camera is the most expensive thing you need for astrophotography aside from a lens. The very best bang for the buck will be a digital SLR with a 4/3, APS-C or full frame sensor size.

The choice of brand really doesn’t matter all that much. If you’re just starting out, I almost always suggest the two biggest brands: Canon or Nikon. Both of these companies make excellent cameras and each has huge swaths of devoted users and expansive online communities to help you along. That said, any of the other major brands are excellent. Sony, Pentax, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, or Samsung: they all make great cameras and pretty much any of them will work great.

When picking a camera, I particularly prefer cameras with tilting displays so that it’s easier to see the screen when using it low to the ground.

I’m currently using a Sony a7S.

Best of the Best: Sony a7S, Canon 6D, Nikon D610
Affordable Excellence: Fujifilm X-T1, Canon 70D, Canon 7D, Nikon D7100
Beginner on a Budget: Canon T5i, Nikon D5300, Sony a6000

2. Wide Angle Lens

Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 UMC Fisheye II

The Milky Way is really really big.  Like huge. The easiest way to capture it is to use a wide angle lens that will allow you to frame a large portion of the sky. On APS-C cameras, stick with a lens with a focal length of 24mm or shorter. On full frame cameras: 35mm or shorter, and on 4/3 sensors: 17mm or shorter.  The shorter the focal length, the wider the field of view.

That 18-55mm kit lens that probably came with your camera? That lens is just fine to start with. When zoomed out to 18mm, it has a pretty wide field of view and should be able to capture a significant portion of the Milky Way.

For even better results, you’ll probably want a “fast” lens with a low f/number rating. I usually recommend lenses with an f/number rating of f/2.8 or lower. The lower the number, the larger the aperture of the lens and the more light that it can collect for exposing the dim stars in the night sky. Check out my guide on how to pick a lens for milky way photography to learn more about fast lenses. My favorite lens for full frame cameras is still the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4.

Best of the Best: Sigma 18-35mm/1.8, Sigma 35mm/1.4, Rokinon 24mm/1.4, Nikon 14-24mm/2.8
Affordable Excellence: Tokina 11-18mm/2.8, Rokinon 12mm/2.0, Rokinon 10mm/2.8Rokinon 16mm/2.0, Rokinon 35mm f/1.4
Beginner on a Budget: Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye, Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye II

3. Tripod


Anyone thoroughly interested in photography should invest in a decent tripod. For astrophotography it’s essential. You only need one, and it’s likely that a good tripod will outlast all of your other camera gear.

There are probably a million tripods to choose from, but there are a few things you should look for when choosing one for astrophotography:

First, I recommend tripods paired with a ballhead. Avoid tripods with panheads at all cost, they’re a pain to frame your shot and have a more limited range of motion than a ballhead.

Secondly, the tripod should be stiff and stable. Make sure that you’re not too close to exceeding the recommended load capacity of the tripod and consider one made of carbon fiber rather than aluminum. Carbon fiber is stiffer and lighter than aluminum so it’s a great material for tripods. Carbon tripods have also come down in price drastically and are now rather affordable.

Finally, make sure it’s not too heavy. This is the last but arguably the most important consideration in a tripod. If you’re buying your first tripod, I recommend keeping it lighter than 5 pounds. Seriously. Anything heavier will likely be too big and heavy to carry. You should have no hesitation to bring your tripod with you everywhere you go. The lighter the better. I currently use the tiny Sirui T-025X which weighs less than 2 pounds.

Best of the Best: Anything from Really Right Stuff
Beginner on a Budget: Dolica Proline, Dolica Carbon
Compact Ultralight: Sirui T-025XManfrotto BeFree Carbon

4. Headlamp


You’ll need your hands free to handle your camera in dark conditions, so definitely pick up a headlamp. You’ll use it to help with focusing, you’ll use it to help find buttons on the camera, and you’ll need it to avoid tripping over bushes and rocks and critters at night.

Make sure your headlamp has a red “night vision” mode. Once you are initially set up, the red mode will help you retain your night vision for seeing in the dark better and won’t interfere with other stargazers in your group.

I wholeheartedly recommend Petzl Headlamps. I have had headlamps from both Black Diamond and Energizer fail on me at night but I have never had a Petzl fail, knock on wood. They’re weatherproof, bright, efficient, and comfortable. It’s possible to switch directly into red mode on most of their headlamps so you don’t blind yourself when turning it back on and they all have amazing battery life. When they’re batteries run low, they warn you with an indicator light and they automatically switch into a power saving mode to keep the light going for additional reserve hours. I personally use an older version, the Tikka XP2 for all of my astrophotography shoots.

Best of the Best: Petzl Tikka RXP
Affordable Luminosity: Petzl Tikka XP
Beginner on a Budget: Petzl Tikka +

Optional Items

The items above are all you need to start making astrophotos, but there are a couple extra things that can help you out:


An intervalometer is a remote timer that plugs into your camera. It lets you do two things: make exposures longer than 30 seconds and shoot timelapse sequences. They’re cheap at around $20 and can come in handy with astrophotography.

Cheap and Reliable: Neewer Intervalometer

Star Chart App

As you’re getting started with astrophotography, I recommend using a smartphone app like Stellarium or Sky Guide to help you find the Milky Way. If you’re in a dark enough area, it should be easy to find with your eyes, but an app will make it a much simpler a task.

iOS: Sky Guide, PhotoPills, Stellarium
Android: Stellarium

A Final Check

Make sure your camera battery is charged, your headlamp has some fresh batteries, and you have a couple memory cards handy.

Let’s Get Started!

Once your kit is together, you’re ready to shoot!

Head on over to Astrophotography 101 for lessons on exposure, processing and other astrophotography tips and techniques.
First Time? Check out the How to Photograph the Milky Way lesson.


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Thanks so much for being a part of our astrophotography adventure.


Back to Astrophotography 101

94 Responses

  1. KIM August 20, 2017 / 8:07 pm

    Ian, I recently bought a Canon T6 and I was wondering if you could recommend the best Intervalometer for it

  2. HT May 2, 2017 / 12:38 am

    Hi Ian, I am new to photography and interested to talk photos of star trails and the milky way. Are the newer versions of the beginner cameras recommended as some shops do not carry these models any more, for example Nikon D5600 instead of D5300? Thanks.


    • Alex July 8, 2017 / 1:36 am

      I suggest you none of them but take the D5500. (AS BEGINNER) cause it coast less than D5600 and it has small features more than D5300 (not in terms of sensor cuase the processor, and the Image quality is exactly the same), and same fatures of D5600 which is pure marketing in answer to the Canon 1300D, thety just add bluethoot, ISO sensitivity, Image quaity, Dynamic range, color depth are exactly the same in D5300, D5500 and D5600 so you won’t notice differences. nikon in all Aps-C boyd outperform canon to then be the same in top quality range in FF. the Aps-C Nikon has the sensor slightly larger than CAnon, not such a big deal but enough to be a picky in the astrophotography cause it has less noise and bigger sensor fotodiods
      A final important remark, in all these Aps-C Camera do not expect to get astonishing milky way, but it is necessary take practice with post production to increase the image rendering.
      In a APS-C body The lens I mostly reccomend are two in terms of Incredible image quality and costs. Samyang 10mm 2.8 (the best for APS-C cause it is wide)or the Samyang 14mm 2.8, usually used on Ful frame but 14mm on APS-C are still good enough. if you want all in one (but slightly less sharp than the previous prime lenses which are superb) I suggest the Tokina 11-20 2.8.So you have a zoom lens of verygood quality and make everything from astrophoto, to other landscape and why not close portrait (as 24mm on FF, a focal range I love) cause it more versatile.
      The remarkable features I mentioned above on D5500 more than D5300 is the presence of exposure smothness in the timelapse which is bloody useful if you intend make timelapse.
      The ISO sensitivity in these entry level bodu from D5300 to D5600 does not change at all. just on chart but the difference are not visible in real shooting cause as matter of fact they are ENTRY LEVEL, nonetheless good enough to take real good practice and amazing images. So take practice with this and trust me you’ll get astonishing results.

  3. Denis February 12, 2017 / 6:10 am

    Hello. I would like to purchase a new camera and try to get into astrophotography.

    Which camera would give me the best buck for my money?
    – Nikon D7200
    – Canon 7D mark ii
    – Canon 80D

    Thank you!

  4. Ben January 4, 2017 / 2:10 pm

    I have recently gotten into night photography. Mostly been photographing the moon so far but when the milky way season comes I want to dedicate my time to capturing it.

    I currently have a Olympus OM-D EM5 but I will be buying a new camera soon. So the question is how much better images of the milk way can one take with a full frame vs a MFT camera. I have been looking at the Sony A7Rii and the new Olympus OM-D EM1ii. I realize the Sony will produce better images. Question becomes if the difference is that huge that it’d be worth changing system. I also like wild life photography and the Olympus cameras aren’t bad for that, especially with the pro tele lenses.

    If the difference is not huge I would prefer the Olympus as that is the system I have lenses for today and the overall offering of glass is better.


  5. Joshua Ratten December 29, 2016 / 12:14 am

    Hi Ian, thanks for everything you contribute to the photography community. Just got a quick question about tripods. I am looking at buying a new tripod for while I am hiking and camping, so weight and compactness are important. I like the look of the Sirui T-025x, however, would you have any concerns mounting a Canon 70D with something like a Samyang prime on it? I do not intend to use it at its full height, therefore is there any reason to pay the $100USD extra for the carbon fibre version over the aluminium version (T-005x)? (Or should I look at something like the Sirui T-004x and sacrifice a bit of weight and space saving?) I am willing to pay for good gear, however, I am on a student budget and have to factor in the USD to AUD conversion. Cheers, Josh

  6. Daniel July 31, 2016 / 2:56 am

    Hi Ian,

    Awesome breakdown for an astrophotography kit. I was wondering if you recommend the Nikon D500 as an astrophotgraphy camera. I currently have a Nikon D7000 and I’m looking to upgrade to another DX body (too many lenses to switch systems now).


  7. Alisa July 21, 2016 / 9:25 pm

    Hi Ian,

    I currently have a Canon 7D and have been abel to get great shots with your articles.
    I’m currently thinking about switching to a Sony a6000 to have something more light in weight for traveling. It seems in this article you may be saying that the Canon 7D is better in performance than the Sony a6000. I wanted to confirm with you on this. It was my thinking that the Sony a6000 is better by far in ISO capabilities and other specs based on this comparison: http://cameradecision.com/compare/Canon-EOS-7D-vs-Sony-Alpha-a6000

    Would you be able to make a short note on this? Would you expect the a6000 to offer same or better results than the Canon 7D?

    Thank you!

  8. Dominick June 12, 2016 / 2:24 pm

    As a beginner just getting into astrophotography (photography in general), would you recommend spending the extra money for the X-T10 over the A6000?

    • Ian Norman June 12, 2016 / 2:28 pm

      They are both very good cameras. That’s a hard question to answer. I think it comes down more to how one likes the form factor.

  9. David Fukuda June 9, 2016 / 9:32 pm

    Did my first try at Astrophotography at Joshua Tree National Park, all I can say is Amazing and I think I am hooked. I was just curious if you have used filters like the UV/IR Cut or any other filters that might enhance the Milky Way and in your opinion if it is worth it. I know Nikon has the 810A which I think lets in more red wavelength or something like that. Right now I am only using a Sony RX100 and I want to upgrade to a bigger sensor, In your opinion is there that much difference between a Full Frame sensors like the Sony A7 series versus a APS-C sensor like the Sony A6300/6000 when it comes to image and noise quality? By the way, excellent web site, very informative.

    • Ian Norman June 12, 2016 / 2:35 pm

      I personally use a Hoya brand Red Intensifier Filter.

      Full frame will typically give you one stop advantage over APS-C if the same f/number is used.

      It’ still possible to get cleaner results with an APS-C camera if the lens used is proportionally faster (lower f/number).

      At the end of the day, using some of the stacking or panorama techniques that I talk about in lonelyspeck.com/astrophotography-101 can level the playing field no matter the equipment.

  10. Shaibal Saha May 5, 2016 / 10:48 pm

    Hi Ian, it is a great website you got here, spent the whole day roaming around. I got the Nikon D5300 today but I am really confused about the lens. Confused among Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 ($319), Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 AT-X116 Pro DX II ($449) and Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ($351) . Which one would you pick ? Thanks in advance.

  11. John kei April 8, 2016 / 8:49 am

    Ian, I was read your web recently.. I m interested for sony a7 and will buy this stuff next week, but still confused to choose between sony fe 16-35 or voigtlander heliar III 15/4.5..

    What is your sugestion lens I should buy?

    I wondering one lens for Landscape and astrphoto, Portability and weight is important for me..

  12. Dennis April 4, 2016 / 1:32 am

    Hi Ian,
    thanks a lot for the effort you put into your web page. I am an entry-level photographer and like to start learning astrophotography. I have a Sony NEX-6 but no dedicated fast wide angle lens. But I own a old 50mm F1.4 lens which I use with an adapter. Due to the large aperture I would like to give it a try to take multiple images, like in panorama shooting, and stitch them together. My question: Do you, or someone from the community, think that this is worth a try at all? Does anybody have experience with shooting astrophotographs with lenses of comparable angle of view?

  13. [email protected] January 28, 2016 / 11:25 am

    Ian ,
    I am going to buy a Sony a6000. My main interests would be landscape photography and night photography. Could you recommend a sense that would suit both my needs? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  14. Alisa October 15, 2015 / 1:31 pm

    Thank you for such a detailed article! This helps a lot. I was wondering if you had any advice on using a 24-70mm f/4 L lens on a canon 7D? I have a Rokinon 10mm on it’s way in the mail, and I’m deciding which other lens to get for night landscape/astrophotography. I have my eye on the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens. But I’m pulled to the 24-70mm for the versatility in zoom. I am not quite sure what f/4 means however, and if that means it’s not good for astrophotography. I’m preparing to make the best of it in Iceland soon. Would you have any suggestions or an opinion on a second lens for my 7D? I would appreciate the help. Thank you, again.

  15. Ani September 3, 2015 / 12:46 am

    Hey Ian!

    I wanted to get your thoughts on a comparison between the X-T1 and the a6000. You have put the X-T1 in a bracket above, and I am curious as to why. Thanks!

    • Ian Norman April 12, 2016 / 10:45 am

      The X-T1 produces cleaner pictures straight out of the camera versus the a6000.

  16. Bryan July 22, 2015 / 8:27 am

    Hi Ian, huge fan and been following your site for months now. Question, i see you like the rokinon 24mm 1.4 paired with the a7 bodies – does the e-mount version work well with the full frame a7 bodies? Or do you get the A-mount version + adapter to get the lens to work with the camera? My understanding is that e-mount lens’ will only work in crop mode for FF a7 bodies.

    • Ian Norman July 22, 2015 / 11:45 pm

      The E mount version works perfectly on Full Frame! That said, there’s no issue using another version with an adapter, which is actually what I do.

  17. Armin July 15, 2015 / 9:08 am

    Hey Ian,

    i want to buy a new camera, which of the following would you recommend the most: Nikon D5500, Nikon D5300, Sony Alpha A6000?

    Thanks in advance. 🙂

    • Armin July 15, 2015 / 10:10 am

      Yes, I ll use it for astrophotography, please keep that in mind for your recommendation. 🙂

  18. Anton May 26, 2015 / 1:40 pm

    Hello Ian !

    I like very much your articles about night shooting , i make landscapes photos , but i want to try night photo shooting too … i have an nikon df and as lens samyang 14mm f2.8 and tamron 24-70mm f2.8 … i have seen in your articles that you consider samyang 24mm f1.4 for stars shooting … i.m considering too nikon 21mm f1.8 because has autofocus and i can use it for other purpose too … what is your opinion between this two lens ?

  19. Charlie Dickerson May 12, 2015 / 7:54 pm

    Hey Ian,

    I’m thinking about getting an a7 (mark 1) at some point soon. I have a 7d right now with a Rokinon 16mm f/2 and was wondering if you knew of any adapters for the a7 that I could use. It’s weird because it uses EF mount but on aps-c so I haven’t came across one yet. If there are none out there, which rokinon lens would you suggest? I’ve read a ton of your articles and know you’ll probably say the 24/1.4 but I don’t have tons of money to spend so I’d like it to be in the $300-400 range.

    Thanks Ian


  20. John Ledesma May 6, 2015 / 10:40 am

    Only a few months into photography and hooked LOL.

    I would like to try and photograph the Milky Way with my Sony a6000. So the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 is a good choice for this camera I take it?


    • Ian Norman May 6, 2015 / 11:01 am

      My favorite lens for astrophotography on a mirrorless APS-C camera like the a6000 is the Rokinon 12mm f/2!

    • John Ledesma May 7, 2015 / 3:13 pm

      Thank you, I will look for that lens!

  21. Dave May 3, 2015 / 7:57 am

    Love the site, any chance you could review the Nikon 1 j5 please ?

    • Ian Norman May 6, 2015 / 11:01 am

      I’ll see if I can get my hands on it.

  22. Andrew April 24, 2015 / 12:38 pm

    Hello Ian, can you give me a advice which camera will be better, Nikon d750 or Canon 6D?

    • Ian Norman May 6, 2015 / 11:02 am

      The Nikon d750 by far has the better sensor and overall better design. It’s significantly newer than the Canon 6D and so it’s got a few extra of years of development behind it.

  23. Tony Fernandez February 23, 2015 / 8:41 am

    Didn’t plan on buying anything this morning but thanks for the headlamp suggestions. A great read this morning!

  24. Charlie Dickerson February 20, 2015 / 11:32 pm

    Hey Ian,
    I’ve been starting to get used to astrophotography a little more (thanks to your website and advice) and I’ve got a 7d and a Rokinon 16mm f/2 lens. I currently have two tripods. One is pretty light but is aluminum and pretty much useless for longer exposures (more than a second or so) and the other is from like 1972 (my uncle gave it to me) and weighs about as much as a small elephant, but is pretty sturdy. I’ve been doing a lot of camping and hiking and also some ocean photography, so I’d really like to get a light, sturdy tripod. I was in Sequoia last weekend and really realized how bad my aluminum tripod is. So, I looked at the Sirui tripod you recommended and it seems like a great option. The only thing I’m concerned about is that the 7d with the Rokinon lens on it is pretty heavy, so do you think it would be an issue with this tripod? If so, do you know of any other good options? I would like to keep it around $250 or less. I really appreciate all that you’ve done with this website to help me and tons of other photographers. I’m 14 and you’ve helped me find this passion early, so thank you for that.

    -Charlie D.

  25. Josh February 19, 2015 / 7:48 am

    Hey Ian my name is Josh! I’ve got me a Sony a6000 I’m just wondering when I’m buying a lenses for it do I get the one that says its for a Sony e mount or the one that’s says Sony alpha? -thanks!

  26. Gaspar H. January 11, 2015 / 8:24 am

    Great stuff!! I’m taking a ‘night photo trip’ a month for now, and I can’t wait to try this!!

    I have a question about shutter speed though: what’s the ‘point of no return’ where you start to see star trails?

    Thanks a lot!!

    • Ian Norman January 12, 2015 / 2:31 am

      Gaspar, star trailing depends on a lot of things including your camera sensor’s pixel density, your lens focal length, where you are pointing in the sky and of course shutter speed. In general, with the most common focal lengths, anything above 20 seconds will usually show star trails.

  27. Chris Richards December 26, 2014 / 4:49 pm

    I just completed by first pictures of the Milky Way. I took pictures as Joshua Tree using advice from your web site. I used my 7D with the 10-22mm so I wasn’t expecting the best results, but I was still pleased with the results. I want to improve my results, and I’m not sure which way to go. I know I need a better lens and I’m torn on which way to go. I’m considering the Tokina 11-18 f2.8 for the 7D, or use my A6000 and get the Rokina 12mm f2.0.

    I’m leaning toward using the A6000 because it has less noise at high ISO, but I’d be interested in what others think.

    • Sid February 3, 2015 / 9:55 pm

      My a6000 is in the mail, so I’ll be VERY curious to the response to your question! I bought it due to the overwhelming response to it’s very good astro capabilities for people on a budget!

    • Ian Norman February 5, 2015 / 5:06 pm

      I would personally opt for the a6000 and the 12mm/2.0, it’s an overall better combo for nightscapes the extra stop of speed on the 12mm versus most other lenses is reason enough to choose it.

  28. Jesus Ortiz December 13, 2014 / 7:42 am

    Hello Ian! I have recently discovered your web page and I am learning a lot. Thanks for putting all this information in a way that is very easy to understand.
    I have been doing lots of night photography with my Rebel T3i for the last 2 years (mainly cities, bridges, structures) and I think is time to explore more possibilities like astro photography (and obviously you are an expert in this category).

    I don’t like to carry lots of weight and for that reason Sony’s A series seems like a go fit. The A7 had a good price reduction after the launch of the A7ii. Have you tried the A7 for Astrophotography ? Thanks!

    (I know A7s is way better for this but the tag price is very high).

    • Ian Norman December 21, 2014 / 11:21 pm

      I have not personally tried the a7. That said, Sony’s sensors are incredible. All the best cameras from Nikon, Fujifilm and Sony alike all use Sony sensors so performance will be on par with the best Nikon full-frame cameras like the D750. For the price, I think the a7 is now the best deal for a full frame camera, better even than Canon’s aging EOS 6D. Pair it with a decent lens and I’m sure it will perform excellently.

  29. Jonny December 3, 2014 / 1:03 pm

    Hey ian, getting the Sony A7 for Christmas hopefully, whats a good lens and Intervalometer for it? also is it worth getting lots of spare batteries for it? ive heard the Sony’s arnt good with battery life
    thanks Jonny

    • Ian Norman December 4, 2014 / 11:23 am

      The 16-35/4 and 55mm/1.8 are excellent. For astro, I am also currently using the Rokinon 24mm/1.4 and 14mm/2.8 bit they’re a little large for walkaround stuff.

    • Jonny December 5, 2014 / 1:36 pm

      Alrght Cheers mate thanks 😀

    • Ian Norman December 5, 2014 / 5:20 pm

      If you have a Canon EF or EF-S mount camera then, no, you do not need an adapter.

  30. BrunoYamazaky November 15, 2014 / 10:22 am

    hey! thanks for the breakdown Ian!
    Just a question, from the 3 beginner on a budget lens (Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 Fisheye, Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye II), which of these do you recommend the best?

    Thank you 🙂

    • Ian Norman November 15, 2014 / 10:28 pm

      Start with the 14mm. It’s the easiest to work with. The fisheyes are fun but it’s much more of a specialty lens. The 14mm is more universal for sure and that’s where you should start.

  31. Catherine November 1, 2014 / 12:51 pm

    Hi Ian,

    I have been thoroughly enjoying your articles and videos the last few days. I really want to attempt photographying the Milky way. I live in OC and am going to try your Palos Verdes location for that shot.

    Couple questions:

    I would like to upgrade my camera but I have an Canon Rebel XTi that’s been sitting in the closet. Will this camera work with a maximum ISO of 1600?

    I have found a Rokinon 8mm Fisheye lens for $200. Wont the images be distorted cause its a fish eye?

    Do you know any other locations within 50 miles of LA or Orannge County for good milky way shots? I eventually want to go into the Joshua Tree/Death Valley locations but I need to be more comforable with my equipment and when I upgrade.

    I am learning everyday something new so I apologize for the stupid questions. Thanks again!!

    • Ian Norman November 1, 2014 / 4:13 pm

      Catherine. My first recommendation for anyone just starting out is to definitely stick with the gear you have and try out some night sky shots with that. The Rokinon Fisheye is usually around $230 new. It’s a good lens but maybe not the best for someone just getting into it. It has tons of distortion. I correct my fisheye lenses with the method here: lonelyspeck.com/defish

      As far as locations, perhaps check out Mt. Baldy, Big Bear etc. The Santa Monica mountains are OK and the mountains near Santa Clarita are also OK. Super dark skies are a little farther but worth the trip: Death Valley National Park and Joshua Tree National Park are both spectacular. Be sure to check out: darksitefinder.com

  32. Bruno Marín October 3, 2014 / 7:52 pm

    Hey Ian! Just found this web and it is very instructive! thanks for it. I think I’m gonna sell my Canon 6D and go for the Sony a7s with a metabones adapter (mostly because of the ISO performance). Do you think it is a good change? I mean, in terms of video I know it is a good change, but what about pictures? Do you think that I will miss anything in the a7s compared with the 6D? I want it for landscapes mostly, nightscapes and maybe some portrait, but you think the quality is similar right? Thanks a lot man! take care.

    • Ian Norman October 4, 2014 / 1:00 pm

      Overall picture quality is probably a toss up. It will be very slightly better than the 6D at the ISOs that we typically recommend for astro shooting. The big thing that I like about the a7S is the ability to see the milky way in real-time. It makes framing the shot super easy. As far as what I miss from the 6D when using the a7S: the ergonomics (bigger grip and easier to use buttons layout). Some photographers really miss the extra megapixels which I personally don’t mind.

  33. MIDNIGHT_SNAPPER September 29, 2014 / 4:54 am

    Hi again Ian,
    Just read up on this article and again, wow, very interesting stuff. Thank you!
    Unfortunately I already purchased my equipment over the last couple of months, before reading this article.
    So quick question: In beginners on a budget you advise the Sony A6000. I bought the Sony NEX-5t, is it good enough for astrophotography (APS-C, ISO [email protected] 1013, 16MP)?
    I am satisfied with image quality though, but what does the A6000 have to offer that beats this?
    Will it give me more second steps, ISO steps?
    Is 24MP better advised for night shooting than 16MP? I actually thought the opposite was true…
    So put simply: Is it good enough to stick to my NEX-5t or should I swap it for the A6000?
    Originally made my purchase based on budget, size, quality and 180° flip-screen that’s very functional for me…
    Thanks in advance Ian! =)
    You rock!

    • Ian Norman September 29, 2014 / 8:34 am

      The Nex-5 should be just fine. My recommendation for the a6000 is because it is the current generation camera. You are right about the pixels. 16MP has the possibility of providing lower noise photos due to the slightly larger pixel size.

      A lens makes much more of a difference than a camera body at the end of the day.

    • MIDNIGHT_SNAPPER September 29, 2014 / 2:25 pm

      Thank you very much, Ian!
      I can now feel good about my purchase again.
      Btw, my Samyang 12mm 2.0 is on its way…

    • Ian Norman October 4, 2014 / 1:02 pm

      The 12mm/2.0 is just awesome.

  34. Paul September 6, 2014 / 4:00 am

    any suggestions on good ballheads that won’t break the bank?

    • Ian Norman September 6, 2014 / 10:39 am

      Paul, there are tons of options out there for ballheads to that’s a particularly tough call for me as I have only limited experience and haven’t done a thorough comparison. That said, I have had a lot of trouble with some of the cheap ballheads available on Amazon for less than $50 so I would tend to avoid those. (High friction, poor quality, etc.)

      On a tighter budget I have had good luck with some of the more well known budget brands: Benro, Induro, and Sirui. All of them make excellent gear and offer some really good ballheads for much less than the competition.

      If you are willing to spend more, Really Right Stuff is usually my first recommendation.

    • Paul September 6, 2014 / 1:51 pm

      thanks Ian, I’ll check those out.

  35. Nathan Remington August 27, 2014 / 11:37 am

    Another great article. One suggestion for your site. Is it possible to create a link at the top of your site that would bring you to affiliate links? That would make it easier to just come here before placing an amazon order (verses digging through an article). Unless you have to buy something from your direct link to it, but from what I understand that should not be the case (at least with what I’ve heard on how amazon deals with the links).


    • Ian Norman September 1, 2014 / 9:18 pm

      Nathan, Thanks for the suggestion. I was thinking that I might make a quick access gear guide. Currently working on a panorama article so once I get that together I’ll try to throw the gear guide together.

  36. Tim August 25, 2014 / 3:38 pm

    Ian- if you had a few thousand dollars to start a kit for mostly landscape with occasional astro photography , what would you purchase. Would you lean to the XT1 or A7s?

    • Ian Norman September 1, 2014 / 9:16 pm

      Tim, that’s a really tough question. I think there are two different arguments for each. As a native system, the Fujifilm X-T1 has a bit of a step up on the a7S. The Fujifilm lens selection is more complete so the system as a whole feels more well-rounded at the moment. The XF 14mm, XF 23mm, XF 35mm are all excellent lenses.

      The a7S has no native FE lenses that are particularly fast for astrophotography. (Yet) Of course, it can be paired with some of the faster manual third party lenses like the Rokinon lenses I typically recommend but they’re larger and heavier, making the system feel a bit imbalanced. That said, paired with a fast prime (like the 24mm/1.4) the a7S is very nice for astrophotography, it’s much easier to frame and images are just a tad cleaner.

      I wish I had a more clear cut answer between the two. Frankly, they’re both great cameras.

      Finally, if I was considering “mostly landscape” I would also consider the a7R just for the extra sensor resolution.

    • Bruce Paterson September 2, 2014 / 4:25 am

      I know it hasn’t been mentioned in this question, but don’t rule out the EOS6D either.

  37. Gabriel Baard August 24, 2014 / 8:34 am

    I have found that an app that you can get onandriod and apple as well as your computer that is really useful is the photographers ephemeris. Also one other thing is what program would you suggest for creating a panorama outside your camera.

    • Gabriel Baard August 24, 2014 / 8:36 am

      And also great blog with one question in mind. How do you light up a subject without overexposing it and getting a natural light that doesn’t make it look fake?

    • Ian Norman August 25, 2014 / 12:49 am

      The Photographer’s Ephemeris is definitely super helpful! Thanks for sharing Gabriel. I use Photoshop to create my panoramas. I’ll also be covering how I assemble panoramas in the next lesson I will publish. As far as painting a subject with light, it’s often best to “bounce” the light off of something outside of the frame. This will help diffuse and dim the light and usually the dimmer and more diffuse, the better, especially if you’re matching the brightness of the milky way.

  38. Bruce Paterson August 17, 2014 / 1:29 am

    Hi Ian,
    Yet another kiwi from down under, Wellington NZ this time.
    Fantastic website, I’ve been watching for a while now and learning a lot, not to mention spending more money on kit…
    Skies here are not quite as dark as what Jono would get in Tekapo, but pretty good none the less. First real clear skies here tonight for a couple of weeks so I’m off to try some Milky Way time-lapses after I finish work at 11pm, definitely one of the bonuses of shift work.
    Heading in your direction (sort of) at the end of October, with a few nights in Monument Valley and Moab. While it may not be the best time of the year for the Milky Way hopefully I will get some nice photos.

    • Ian Norman August 17, 2014 / 1:36 am

      Bruce, shoot me an email at [email protected]. There’s the possibility of me shooting in the American Southwest around that time frame if you would like to meet up.

    • Bruce Paterson October 22, 2014 / 7:05 am

      Sent you an email Ian, just in case you are back down in the South West.

  39. Hadley Johnson August 15, 2014 / 11:03 pm

    Jonas and Ian, thanks for the feedback. Very helpful.

  40. Jono Manning August 15, 2014 / 3:20 pm

    Greetings from Christchurch New Zealand Ian! Only three hours drive from the best International Dark Sky reserve in this area. lol.
    I first came across your website in early April of this year and your information and lessons have been my guiding light. I am totally addicted to this genre and can’t get enough of it.
    My first lens was a Sigma 24mm 1.8 and that got me totally hooked.
    At the moment I am still using my Sony A57 but managed to score both the Samyang 14mm & then the Samyang 24mm within a month of each other. Both used but in great condition.
    I DO love the Sony’s and am upgrading to an A99 before the end of the year.

    Having a beginner kit has made me be more creative and thoughtful about my composition, technical approach and also in post which I know will serve me in good stead when I finally progress to a full frame. I can never be lazy and just point the thing at the sky and allow the wide angle of view to do all the work. But having good quality and suitable glass on the front does make a big difference.
    I am spreading the word about your website to all my friends and those in my little Facebook group called ‘The AstroAms’.
    Thanks again for such a well crafted, inspiring and incredibly practical website.
    Jono Manning.

    • Ian Norman August 15, 2014 / 4:02 pm

      Jono! I’m always so enthralled by photographs that come out of your home country, what a spectacular setting for such a dramatic view of the night sky! New Zealand is surely on Lonely Speck’s radar to visit, I personally can’t wait to travel there. Thanks for spreading the word!

  41. Jonas August 15, 2014 / 2:43 pm

    I’ve found the ‘dslr remote’ app on android to be a nice companion. It can act both as a remote and intervalometer. It works with the builtin IR blaster in my Galaxy S5. Oh and thanks for your articles, I’m looking forward to the next ones! 🙂

    • Ian Norman August 15, 2014 / 3:58 pm

      Good suggestion Jonas! Thanks for the shout out, we’re having a lot of fun making the articles.

  42. Hadley Johnson August 15, 2014 / 1:01 pm

    I have a Nikon D5100 and from time-to-time I have thought about buying a full frame camera, in part because of my astrophotography. But, I’ve wondered whether it would make a significant difference in the technical aspects of my night photography. For example, would there be significant reduction in noise? Would there be a significant increase in the number of stars that I could capture in the image? And by “significant” I mean that I would readily notice a difference in image quality. I would be interested in your thoughts on this issue. Thanks.

    • Jonas August 15, 2014 / 2:51 pm

      I’m not an expert but:

      For example, would there be significant reduction in noise?
      Yes, ISO 6400 on a APS-C is very roughly like 3200 on a comparable full frame (due to the roughly 2x bigger sensor area). But if the depth of field is an issue for you (like in some astro landscapes), you loose most of that because you’ll need to step down more.

      Would there be a significant increase in the number of stars that I could capture in the image?
      I doubt it.

      In practice you would probably get a bigger increase in image quality by using a tracker which allows you to use much longer exposures without star trails (but it can be a pain with terrain).

    • Ian Norman August 15, 2014 / 3:56 pm

      Hadley, In my experience the answer is generally no. As long as all other things are perfectly equal, APS-C cameras tend to shoot images that are just as clean as a full frame sensor. If someone were to ask me, “Should I upgrade to full frame or get a better lens?”, I will usually suggest getting a better lens instead of upgrading to full frame because the improvement in the quality of astrophotos can be much more substantial with a lens that’s faster.

      Where full frame sensors gain an advantage (assuming the same exact lens) is almost purely in field of view. For astrophotography, the larger field of view can help us use a slightly longer shutter speed (about 1.5 time longer) with minimal star trails but overall that’s only a one half stop advantage. It’s not even a true one half stop advantage because sensor noise also increases with exposure time.

      For comparison, aligning and stacking just 4 separate (but identical) exposures together gives roughly the equivalent of a full stop of light. It’s a lot cheaper to just take a few more photos than to upgrade to a whole new camera.

      I’ve been trying to test out lots of cameras lately, especially some Sony stuff lately including their full frame a7S and their APS-C a6000. All told, they both make amazing photographs, regardless of sensor size.

      Jonas has a good point about using a tracker like the Vixen Polarie and that’s something that I may write about eventually. I, however, tend to like to “cheat” a little bit when it comes to adding extra complexity to my kit so I would often rather opt out of not using the Vixen Polarie and instead stack a few extra exposures for noise reduction.

  43. Corrado August 15, 2014 / 10:25 am

    Thanks for this neat breakdown. I would just add that the most important thing in your “kit” when doing this kind of photography is a dark sky… it’s such a pity that here around is very difficult to find a real dark sky.

    Have you ever found an headlamp that is usb rechargeable AND has dimmable (or low power) red light? Otherwise it should be easy enough to hack something together on that Petzl body!

    • Corrado August 15, 2014 / 10:28 am

      Replying to myself, from the Amazon link it was not clear, but on the manufacturer website it is clear that it has a red led. Sweet.

    • Ian Norman August 15, 2014 / 10:40 am

      Dark sky, definitely! Yeah the new Tikka RXP should meet those needs.

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