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,
    I am an absolute beginner at this and wanted to buy a lens for astrophotography. I use a crop sensor Nikon D3200. I am confused between the 16mm f/2.o and the 10mm f/2.8. I am more inclined towards the 10mm since I have an APS-C sensor, and wouldn’t want to further reduce the field of view with the 16mm. But then the score for the 16mm is so much higher.

    P.S. Your site is brilliant… for someone like me who is totally new to this field, this was a treasure trove of knowledge. And your photographs are stunning…

    1. I wrestled with the same problems a few months ago, but ultimately decided to go with the 16mm. The 16mm is definitely wide-enough for capturing great landscapes. Additionally, you can stitch a few images together to get the same field of view as the 10mm. Here’s some results I’ve gotten with the 16mm lens.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/saxman1089/

  2. As a Nikon D7000 user and currently living in New Zealand, I’ve been looking to improve my photography and take advantage of the amazing stars and the Milky Way. So much so after reading this article which I enjoyed, I purchased a Samyang 10mm F2.8 whilst in Sydney (much cheaper than in NZ). Reading the instructions/forums, I believe I should set the lens to F22 and then be able to use the P,A,S and M functions to adjust the aperture, and shutter speed. However the lens seems to only work whilst in Auto mode and gives the FEE error whilst in any other mode or aperture. I had a quick look on youtube and saw a video that required a plastic switch to be turned by attaching the non-Nikon lens to the camera. However this would mean that either sending it Nikon for a new metal mount, or attempting DIY and fitting it myself. Can you please advise if I’m doing something wrong, or if the body needs a new lens mount? Many thanks for your help.

    1. I’m using a D7000 also. What you need to do is set the lens to F22 and then go into the setup menu and create a setting for your “non-cpu” lens. Once you specify your focal length and aperture, you should be able to either go full manual (M) or use aperture priority (A) to have the camera choose your exposure. I don’t think P and S will work with your lens, but you shouldn’t need them. Good luck!!!

    2. Many thanks for the replies Ian and Dave. I finally got round to taking the lens out again and took some urban night shots with the method you suggested…next stop will be to take some star fields. I can’t wait! Thanks again for your help.

  3. I have an older D-90. I use it with a Celestron 8 in SCT. Do you have any suggestions for settings for best results. I put it directly in to rear of scope with an adapter and no lens. Thanks for your time! Jeff Kelly

  4. Hi Ian,

    Just wondering, I noticed that you have the Sony A6000 in your gear bag, but, doesn’t have any lens recommendation. Is there a reason for that? Also, why is the Tokina 16-28 f2.8 isn’t in any of your reviews,?

    Btw, thanks for the inspiration.

  5. Hi Ian,

    First, thank you very much for your different articles/tutorials and all the great information you have on your website! I have learnt a lot from them and have taken my first steps in night sky photography.

    I currently have a Nikon D3300 and am shooting with a 18-250 f/3.5-5.6 mm lens. I am looking to get a better lens and am extremely confused between the Rokinon 16mm f/2.0, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 DX II and the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8. I am trying to get a lens that not only helps me in night sky photography but also in general landscape photography (I love shooting landscapes). Which one do you suggest I go with? Or should I take into consideration the Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 and Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 also, even though I am not looking to upgrade to full frame any time soon.

    Any help would be much appreciated!

    Thanks

    1. I have been using the Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 on my Nikon D3300 for a few months now, and I’ve gotten great results with it. Most of the photos on my Flickr account ( https://www.flickr.com/photos/saxman1089/ ) were taken using that lens. I decided to go with that lens over the others because it had the best lens score for a DX lens and was not super wide.

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