Best Lenses for Milky Way Photography: Canon Astrophotographers

The most common question asked on Lonely Speck answered for Canon shooters!

What is the best lens for astrophotography? The one that collects the most light.

Below is a list of the highest scoring lenses for untracked nightscape photography and astrophotography. The score is a direct representation of light gathering capabilities based on the formula:

Score = (aperture area) × (angular area) × (suggested shutter speed)

Where the shutter speed is the longest suggested shutter speed in seconds based on the “500 Rule” (500/focal length). Aperture area is the surface area calculation of the clear aperture of the lens and the angular area is the angular field of view in square radians. This score is a mathematical calculation based purely on some simple physics. It doesn’t account for other considerations like the lens’s build quality or optical aberrations but it’s a good gauge of overall light gathering capability.  You can also see the complete list of scores here, complete with calculations and further explanation.

All of the lenses listed here are my personal suggestions for photographers looking to get the absolute best astrophotography results with their camera. If using the given camera mount, these are the lenses that I would use. Most of these lenses are manual focus lenses by Rokinon which also tend to be much more affordable than their autofocus Canon counterparts. Additionally, most of the Rokinon lenses are sharper and tend to exhibit less coma aberration than their Canon counterparts. If you’re willing to learn how to use manual focus, Rokinon lenses are spectacular performers.

If you would like to know more about the thoughts that went into creating this list, please read my article on how to pick a lens for Milky Way photography.

EF Mount (Full Frame and APS-C)

Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC
The Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC is the best full-frame lens for astrophotography.

24mm/1.4: Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC ( Amazon / B&H )

 

  • The best night photography and astrophotography lens you can buy. Excellently sharp, especially when stopped to f/2. Manual focus.
  • My full review of the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4
  • Score: 2869
  • This is my go-to lens for astrophotography on a full-frame DSLR. It’s fast, wide and shows very little aberration problems. Still my personal favorite for Canon full frame DSLRs like the 6D, 5D Mark III and 5DS/R cameras.
  • Sample from the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4:
rokinon-24m-f14-mt-shasta
Made with the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4

35mm/1.4: Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 US UMC ( Amazon / B&H )
or Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Amazon / B&H )

  • Standard wide angle for tighter landscapes or stitching multiple exposures into larger panoramas. Rokinon is manual focus, Sigma is autofocus.
  • Score: 2084

14mm/2.8: Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC ( Amazon / B&H )

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 Review
The Rokinon 14mm f/2.8. Lots of glass for the money.
  • Essential ultra-wide angle for large sweeping landscapes. Manual focus. One of the most affordable full frame nightscape lenses.
  • My full review of the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
  • Score: 1032
  • Sample image from the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8:
Canon-EOS-6D-Review-6
Made with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

 

EF-S Mount (APS-C Only)

Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 AS UMC CS
The Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 offers the best combination of wide field of view and large aperture for astrophotography with APS-C DSLRs.

16mm/2.0: Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC CS ( Amazon / B&H )

  • The best combination of wide angle and large aperture. Manual focus.
  • Score: 1875

10mm/2.8: Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS CS B&H )

  • APS-C alternative to the Rokinon 14mm/2.8. Excellent for ultra-wide angle landscapes. Manual focus.
  • Score: 1184

11mm/2.8: Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 AT-X PRO DX II ( Amazon / B&H )

  • Covers the same range as the two previous lenses combined. Excellent super wide angle zoom with autofocus.
  • Score: 1149 (at 11mm)

EF-M Mount (APS-C Mirrorless)

12mm/2.0: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS ( Amazon / B&H )

Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS on Canon EOS M
The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 my favorite lens for astrophotography on a mirrorless system. It’s both fast and wide and it’s very lightweight and compact in size.

 

  • Best lens for astrophotography on a mirrorless system. Nice and compact, best combination of super-wide field of view and large aperture.
  • Score: 2176
  • Sample image from the Rokinon 12mm f/2:
Rokinon-12mm-f2-NCS-CS-Review-Thumb-24
Made with the Rokinon 12mm f/2

22mm/2.0: Canon EF-M 22mm f/2.0 STM ( Amazon / B&H )

Canon EOS M
Canon EOS M and Canon EF-M 22mm f/2.0 lens
  • Surprisingly sharp and extremely compact lens. Also very cheap. Standard wide angle view makes it good for panorama stitches.
  • Score: 1505
  • Sample image from the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM:
IMG_9682-Edit2-2
Made with the Canon EF-M 22mm f/2 STM

8mm/2.8: Rokinon 8mm/2.8 Fisheye II ( Amazon / B&H )

    • Ultra wide angle fisheye that both fast and extremely wide. Fisheye distortion requires you to keep the horizon in the center of the frame unless you want a curved horizon.
    • Excellent when defished.
    • Score: 1237
    • Sample image from the Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye:
Alabama Hills Workshop
Made with the Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye

235 Replies to “Best Lenses for Milky Way Photography: Canon Astrophotographers”

  1. hi Ian,
    I recently switched from a Canon 5DM3 to an A7RII. I am loving the sharpness on my 55 1.8 lens. I’m also a night/astro/landscape/timelapse photographer and was thinking of getting the 16-35 lens. Since I owned a Rokinon 14 f/2.8 with my Canon, the results were just too amazing (for both daylight landscape and astrophotography). What’s yours thoughts on using the Sony FE 16-35 f4 instead to fill in for the Rokinon 14 f2.8? The other setup I was thinking of getting was the Sony 24-70 f4 + Rokinon 14 f2.8 as well.

    1. I think the FE 16-35mm would be fine. It’s only f/4 but the a7RII is one of the best low-light stills cameras out there so it should handle the slower lens just fine.

  2. Hi. I try to shoot the milky way with a Canon eos 7D + EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6, how I can calculate the Untracked Astrophoto Ratings of this camera-lens combination? And how I can improve my pics with this combination? I’ve used very combinations of shutter speed, aperture and ISO and I can’t reach success in my attempts. Thank you.

    1. Hi there
      I also own a EF-S 10-18 with my Canon 600d. The biggest problem with this lens is that focusing ring has no sign and turns endlessly. Since the autofocus doesn’t work at night it is really difficult to make a good focusing point. Also maximum aperture that the lens can reach is not enough for astrophotography with the highest clear ISO that a crop camera can reach. So I would like to hear some recommendations as well.

    2. i used this lens with 7D mark 2 what i did was set the HYPERFOCAL DISTANCE by in auto shot somethink at 3 feet then change to manual and tape it so it stays there and every think will be in focus from 3 feet to infinity ISO 2000+20 sec exposure at the widest f number and go from their not the greatest milky way lens you need the Tokina 11-16 f2.8

    3. I have the 10-18 too – its is poor for star / mway photos however.
      I’ve bought the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 and it is a must for the money. Literally 10x better than the Canon 10-18

  3. Hi there
    I’m planing to buy Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 AS IF UMC Lens for Nikon F with AE Chip.
    So do you have any review about this product. Basically, I’m purchasing this to do the
    nightscape, milky way,landscape, portrait photography.

    What do you reckon then? Does it work for me or not? Please reply your kind words. Besides being is it wide-angle lens?

    Many thanks..

    1. 85mm is not a landscape/Nightscape ideal/recommended lens nor it’s a wide-angle lens. However it is a very good portrait lens.

  4. Hi Ian,

    Thanks very much for your article series, which are very helpful.

    I think I’ve identified an error in your scoring spreadsheet. See if you agree…

    The calculation for “angular area” is hardcoded for a 26×14 mm sensor, which is the Nikon APS-C sensor size. This causes two problems with the calculated score:

    1. The score mixes the “angular area” for an APS-C sensor and the “suggested exposure time” for a Full Frame sensor, so it is neither the score for an APS-C or a FF sensor.

    2. The dimensions of a Canon APS-C sensor, relevant to this article, is 22.3 x 14.9 mm.

    I’m don’t think that would change the ranking of the lenses, but haven’t recalculated the spreadsheet to confirm.

    Cheers.

  5. hello. I have canon 6d and no idea what setup i need. Sigma art 35 mm 1.4 + samyang 14 mm 2.8 or sigma art 20mm 1.4 + any lens 50 mm

    1. That depends on your need, please specify what kind of photography you are mostly interested in?
      Out of the ones you mentioned,
      Samyang/Rokinon 14 mm 2.8 (For Landscape/NightScape/Astrophotography)
      Sigma 50mm F1.4 (For portraits)
      is a good mix of lens.

  6. Pingback: Best Canon Lens Photography | Quality Photos For You And Me

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