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

lonely-speck-logo-icon-16px

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

  1. Hello there, I have been reading your awesome articles and I have to say they got me hooked to astrophotography and taught me what I know about it. I am traveling India right now and my lens choices became limited due to lack of availability. I settled with the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 Pro DX II for my Nikon D5200. How’s the lens and Would It be able to capture the Milkyway? I am fairly new in this field so this might actually be tons of help. Thanks for the wonderful articles.

  2. Hello. First, I love your work–absolutely stunning and your advice and tips are greatly appreciated. Second, I have a Nikon D90 and want to purchase a wide angle lens for trying out astrophotography (I covet my 50, but know it won’t due). I don’t want to spend much until I get a feel for this area. I found a vintage Rokinon Auto SC 28mm 2.8. I know they were usually made for Pentax mounts, but would it mount to my body? It does not state the mount type.
    Thank you so much,
    Mare

  3. Hi Ian,

    I just recently got into astrophotography and I was wondering what lens you would recommend more for a first purchase for an APS-C sensor camera (Nikon D3300), the 16mm f/2.0 or the 10 mm f/2.8? I’m leaning more towards the 16mm as it seems to be a better balance of aperture and angle of view. Have you ever used that lens, and if so, what do you think of it?

    Also, can the Rokinon versions of these lenses be set at stops finer than a single increment, say at 1/2 stop or 1/3 stop increments?

    By the way, I love the website. It is definitely the single best source of information for a beginner astrophotographer like myself.

    1. I tend to recommend the shorter lenses when picking between two different focal lengths. This recommendation is usually because the extra field of view makes framing the Milky Way much easier. It really is super big in the sky so the wider field of view always tends to help. That said, the 16mm will produce a slightly less noisy image because of the faster aperture. I think if you want the best, cleanest results, the 16mm is the better choice. If you want a wider field of view with that lens, you could always use panorama stitching!

      Most of the Rokinon lenses can be set at 1/2 stop increments.

      Thanks for the complement!

    2. Thanks for the quick reply! I’ll be going with the 16mm f/2.0 as a first purchase, and my next will be the 10mm f/2.8.

      From a fellow structural engineer, thanks!

  4. Hello from New Zealand. Just discovered your website and finding it very interesting.
    I only have a small sensor Nikon V1 along with a very good wide angle zoom, namely the Nikon 1 6.7-13mm (18-35mm eq). Just wondering if you or any of your readers would have experience with these?. I’m hoping I can still get acceptable images from this combination. Can’t justify another camera purchase at the moment. Thanks.

  5. Great article Ian

    How about a Nikon 10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye for APS-C users? I’m planning on buying one and I think it would be suitable for astrophotography, especially if I coud correct the distortions in post, but correct me if I’m wrong : )

  6. I have 24/1.4 G, 14-24/2.8 G, ZF.2 21/2.8.
    How do each of these lenses compare to your Samyang 14 and 24 primes and are each of these good enough? Which one is the best?

    1. 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.

      I’m not super familiar with the Zeiss 21/2.8, it’s the only lens you mentioned that I’ve never used. I did, however had a previous workshop attendee that used that lens (on a Canon 5D Mark II) to great effect but it’s possible that the 14-24mm at 21mm might be a better option.

      In the realm of the 24mm, the Roki/Samyang 24/1.4 performs a bit better than the Nikon 24/1.4. The Nikon shows higher levels of lens aberrations in the corners when shooting wider open at f/1.4 and doesn’t improve as much until about f/2.8 and higher. The Samyang performs very well at f/1.4 and only gets better at f/2.0

      The Rokinon/Samyang 24mm/1.4 is still my favorite overall for full-frame cameras.

    2. Thanks Ian for your helpful response!
      I will probably go with my 14-24G and 24/1.4G for right now and see how bad the 24G is in the corners and then think sbout the Rokinon 24. I have the Rokinon 85/1.4 and it has a lot of bang for the buck!

    3. The Rokinon 85 is designed to perform well wide open. Better than 85L mk2 at f1.4.
      I read your astro stitching post and now want to try one using my Zeiss Otus 55/1.4. It is so sharp and has great clarity wide open. Have not seen any astro photos with that lens yet.Have stitched quite a few landscape shots but never any astro ones. I like your Trona Pinnacles image, very well done!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.