Best Lenses for Milky Way Photography: Nikon Astrophotographers

If you shoot with a Nikon camera and you want to improve your astrophotography, these are the best lenses for the job.

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

This 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 Nikon counterparts. Additionally, most of the Rokinon lenses are sharper and tend to exhibit less coma aberration than their Nikon counterparts. The Rokinon lenses also available with Nikon’s focus confirmation and auto aperture. 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.

FX (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

  • The best night photography and astrophotography lens you can buy. Excellently sharp, even wide open at f/1.4. Manual focus.
  • Score: 2869

35mm/1.4: Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 US UMC or Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

  • 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 or Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED AF

DX (APS-C Only)

Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC
The Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 offers the best combination of wide angle and large aperture for astrophotography with APS-C sensor cameras.

16mm/2.0: Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC

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

10mm/2.8: Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 ED AS NCS

  • 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 PRO DX II

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

Other Systems

Best Lenses for Milky Way Photography on Canon Cameras

Best Lenses for Milky Way Photography on Fujifilm Cameras

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121 Replies to “Best Lenses for Milky Way Photography: Nikon Astrophotographers”

  1. Please forgive me I’m fairly new to astrophotography & a little bit confused. My question is in reference to the FX (Full Frame and APS-C) section. Are you saying those lenses fit both full frame & Dx I guess the APS-C with full frame is confusing me. I have a DX CMOS sensors (i believe? in my nikons) specifically a Nikon D5000 & Nikon D7000 & I also have a canon T2i which I believe has a slightly different one? but I usually use the nikons at night. Can the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC be used on either of the nikons or only the 16mm/2.0: Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ED AS UMC ?? Or basically which lens is best to use with either of the nikons for night shooting? Thank You & I’m sorry if it’s obvious where I have DX formats I’m just not sure :/ Thank You Very Much.

    1. Kristi,

      The lenses in the FX(Full-Frame and APS-C) section shows lenses that fit both full-frame (FX) and APS-C (DX) cameras.

      Your D5000 and D7000 both have APS-C (DX) sensors to any of the lenses listed here will work with your cameras.

      The 24mm/1.4 will work on both your Nikons and will also work if you upgrade later to an FX body like the D610 or D810.

      The Rokinon 16mm/2.0 can only be used on APS-C (DX) bodies like your current cameras.

      I think the best overall lens for APS-C cameras like yours is probably the Rokinon 16mm f/2.0. It’s very good in low light (f/2.0) and it’s got a fairly wide angle field of view which is great for capturing a large amount of the night sky. However, if you want something that extremely wide angle, the Rokinon 10mm/2.8 or the Tokina 11-6mm are great lenses that capture a lot of the foreground along with a huge amount of the sky.

  2. Thank you for your great information. I am a bit overwhelmed as I leave for
    the Sierra Nevada range backpacking in 48 hours and am not sure which lens to take for night shots. I have a Nikon D7000 camera. For lenses I have: a AF-S Nikkor 18-55mm 1:3.5-5.6G, a Nikon AF-S 35mm 1:1.8G and a nikon 50mm 1:1.8D. Which of these lenses would you recommend? From what I am reading I think the 35mm but am so new I’m virtually clueless. Any suggestions will be most appreciated. Thank you in advance

    1. Erin, the 18-55mm would probably be the best all around choice for the backpacking trip. It has the best zoom range and it’s the widest lens. It’s not super fast but just keep it at 18mm and f/3.5 and it should be OK.

      That said, the 35mm/1.8 will do a really job but it’s a narrower lens on the D7000 so you’ll be limited to a smaller portion of the sky. This can be constraining but can also work great if you take multiple exposure to stitch together. If you have the room, take the 35mm along for sure. My next lesson on astrophotography 101 will be how to stitch panoramas.

    2. Thank you. I have 5 nights and start 2 nights after the new moon. I’ll take both to experiment. :). Thank you. I’ll look forward to your next chpt.

    1. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I recommend making sure you use at least a 30 second shutter speed or even better: use Bulb mode and an intervalometer or remote trigger to make up to a 30-60 second exposure. The extra light from the extended exposure should give you a slightly cleaner photograph.

  3. Thanks so much for getting back to me so fast! I’m going to New Zealand in a month and want to make a decision fast on what new lens to buy.
    I just read your full review on the 14mm/2.8 and I think i’ll go with that one, it is affordable and seems to be great!
    I have a Nikon D7000, will I need to buy an adaptor to fit this lens on?
    Thanks again.

  4. Hi there! Great article.
    Just wondering, do you think that the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens performs best for both astrophotography AND landscape photography, or am I better off getting the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 for use for both?
    Thanks!

    1. Sarah, I think that they’re such different lenses that compliment each other. I have both a 14/2.8 and 24/1.4. The 14mm/2.8 is the first lens I recommend to most people because it’s so wide, opening up a whole new kind of photograph for the user. I prefer it to the 24mm for landscapes because of this.

      The 24mm/1.4, however is the best at gathering light at night so the cleanliness of the photos is usually higher. The field of view is a lot narrower than the 14mm but still considered a wide angle lens.

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