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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Learn Astrophotography

Astrophotography 101 is completely free for everyone. All of the lessons are available on the Lonely Speck Astrophotography 101 page for you to access at any time. Enter your email and whenever we post a new lesson you’ll receive it in your inbox. We won’t spam you and your email will stay secure. Furthermore, updates will be sent out only periodically, usually less than once per week.


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Believe it or not, Lonely Speck is my full-time job. It’s been an amazing experience for us to see a community develop around learning astrophotography and we’re so happy to be a small part of it. I have learned that amazing things happen when you ask for help so remember that we are always here for you. If you have any questions about photography or just want to share a story, contact us! If you find the articles here helpful, consider helping us out with a donation.

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100 Replies to “A Beginner Astrophotography Kit”

  1. 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.


  2. 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

  3. 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).


  4. 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!

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

    1. 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.

  6. 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.

    1. 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.

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