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. Hi Ian

    To start with I love your blog, super helpful especially the Astrophotography rating spreadsheet and the calculator. Even after combining all of what I have read and seen I need the advice to make a decision.

    I have D7100 a& D5500, interested in night cityscapes and astro. Which one of the below would you recommend
    Tokina 11-18 2.8 – Advantage is autofocus
    Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 – Fixed, manual and has great review about astro
    Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 – Wide enough and f/2.0 best among the 2 above

    Each one of the lenses has its own advantage but, given a choice in my situation which one would you buy, considering I love Astro, cityscapes, and landscapes

    1. Hi Siddhesh,

      I have the D5500 combined with Rokinon 16mm f/2.0. The results i get are good but they are far behind of a full frame DSLR. I am curiousto know how much better is the D7100 than D5500 in night photography ? I am thinking to upgrade but i don’t know which direction to follow. A semi pro DX format like D7200, D7500 or full frame D610.

      I would also like to ask Ian if he is planning to test the Tokina 14-20 F/2.0 and the Nikon 16-80 F/2.8 ED VR. It would be interesting to see the results of a comparison between those two and the rokinon 16mm F/2.

  2. Hello Ian.

    I really enjoy your site, with all the great advice and generous amount of information you provide.

    I just listened to your B&H podcast and really enjoyed it. I notice that you said you try to recommend astro lenses that work well, but don’t cost a lot, like the Rokinon. I understand that, but am willing to spend more to get a better lens.

    Given that, I’m trying to decide on the best lens for astrophotography/Milky Way photos. I have a Canon 6D. So far, I’ve compared the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 DG to a Canon TS-24mm f/3.5 lens I have. The Sigma is a beautiful lens, but has significant coma in the corners (unless I’m just too much of a pixel peeper). The TS-24mm is quite sharp, but is slow at f/3.5.

    I ordered a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, but the focus ring would not turn. I sent it back and got another. Its focus ring has some play in it. I’ve tested it for decentering and it seems fine. I haven’t had a chance to take star pictures yet, but am interested to see how it compares to the other two lenses. I realize I may have to try several to get a good one.

    I notice that you said” The Nikon 14-24mm/2.8 is arguably one of the best super-wide angle lenses that you can get for astrophotography period. Use that for sure, it’s a great lens, arguably better than the Samyang/Rokinon 14/2.8.”

    When you say “arguably better,” what exactly do you mean? “one of the best”? What are the other lenses that would be considered in this class? Should I try the Nikon? I know it is 3-4 times more expensive, but what I’m looking for is high quality. Is there another lens I should try in the Nikon price range?

    Thanks for putting all this work into your site. I hope to attend one of your workshops, perhaps next summer. The Trona pinnacles are a great spot for Milky Way pictures.

    1. Hi Mark,
      I concur with much of your comments and questions to Ian … I’d love to know what you have come up with and/or gone with (re: astrophotography lenses) since? I have the Sony a7rii and am also willing to buy quality above economy… cheers

  3. Hi
    What is your openion about sigma 24 f/1.4 for astrophotography? Between sigma 24 f/1.4 and Rokinon 24 f/1.4 which is the best for both Astro and landscape? Thanks

  4. Hi – I’m glad I found your website, so much knowledge! I have Nikon D750 and I recently photographed Milky Way with my Sigma 14mm/2.8 lense. The results were OK, but I suppose with lense that wide I didn’t really take care of corners abd some unwanted trees got in. I see you didn’t mention the Sigma 14mm lense here. Did you not test it, or you didn’t like it? It has similar spec as Rokinon and Nikkor 14 mm, but unlike Rokinon it has autofocus (quite good). With me being short signted, I didn’t want to risk Rokinon, and Nikkor was too expensive 🙁
    What do you think about Sigma 14 mm 2.8?

  5. Ian
    Thanks for this most informative article and a great page overall!
    I have a variant on the very first question asked of you on this post back in June 2014..Your answer to that post is very helpful but does not fully address my question. I am also trying to choose between the Rokinon 14/2.8 and the Rokinon 24/1.4.
    I want this lens primarily for star photography and have moved to full frame for the first time. What is complicating my choice is that have a D750 with the 24-120/f4 kit lens.
    Since my main goal for the new lens is the best quality star photos I can get, would you recommend the Rokinon 24/1.4 despite the focal length overlap with the kit lens or would you recommend the 14/2.8 to add a wider focal length and thus versatility say for daytime landscaps and still get decent star pictures? I am in all this, still new to star photography having achieved acceptable results previously w a d7100 and the Rokinon 14/2.8 both of which were sadly ruined in a recent river mishap.

    1. I’m in the exact same situation. Did you ever make your decision?

      The 24mm overlap with the kit lens makes it difficult to want to pay more for that lens vs the 14mm; but if it’s truly (and noticably) the *BEST*, I’d have to go with the 24mm.

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