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 have read this post 10 times or more trying to figure out what lenses should I buy.

    Am Just starting with photography and am considering the following lenses to go with a T6i:

    1 – Canon 17-55mm 2.8
    2 – Sigma 18-35mm 1.8
    3- Tokina 11-16mm 2.8

    I wont buy the Kit camera, just the body, so this will be my first lense.

    My primary use will be indoor videos and astrophotography.

    Could you rank these three lenses in order?

    I was leaning towards the Sigma, but I read a lot about AF issues and considering they do not have support in my country, I started looking further.

    I got to the 17-55 2.8 Canon but was wondering if the 2.8 would be a huge loss compared to the 1.8.

    The Tokina would be my third prefered option just because is to “specific” to have as my first lense, but I like it very much.

    I do not know if you still reply to this thread in 2016, but lets hope you do.

    Thank you for this wonderful article.

    1. the Tokina 11-16 is the way to go with a non FF camera i use a 6D a and use Samyang 14 f2.8 with good results and have used the Tokina at 16mm and its fine at that focal distance

    2. Get Sigma 18-35mm 1.8 & Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 for now.

      Sigma 18-35mm will cover all your in door photography needs and at 18mm you
      can also do some wide angle shoots. This Lens is amazing and a must have. Very sharp and
      a quality build.

      Tokina has a newer model 11-20mm for a maybe $100 more, you should consider
      that one as well. If price is an issue then go for 11-16mm.

  2. Inspired by your article, I have so enjoyed getting out there for star shots. I have a Canon 6D and a 17-40 mm lens and did get some quite nice results. But, I don’t seem to be able to get the lens to stay in Manual when it’s dark. My other zoom lenses do, but not the wide angle. With it set on Manual, I had to focus on a distant light, using the 10 second delay, and rushing to compose the shot.

  3. Hi Ian.
    I have a Canon 600D and I’m torn between the Tokina 11-16mm and Rokinon 10mm . What would be the best? With Tokina would be able to panoramic views of the Milky Way all at once or would have to rotate the machine vertically and make a second time?

  4. HI Ian,

    Interesting read. I’ve mostly been using my 50mm f1.8 and stacking the images. Doesn’t give me a wide view but I’ve found that it works well enough considering i have a ton of trees around me in the city.
    I’m thinking of getting a prime sigma 70mm f2.8 dg macro ex lens. This may seem like a dumb question but I’ve read that you can use this lens for limited astrophotography as it can be used as a landscape lens. The only reason I’m thinking of getting this lens is because I can get it second hand for the equivalent of $200. I can’t find a specific review of someone using this lens for astro pics. Can you give me some recommendations?
    My camera is a canon 700d

    W

    1. You can take this question down. I instead got a 70-200mm f4 and a samyang 16mm f2 for night skies.

      The samyang lens is probably the sharpest lens in my kit, it works bets at around f4 and up with the sweetspot at f5.6

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