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. Would the extra f-stop on the Rokinon 16mm f/2.0 ED vs the Rokinon 10mm f/2.8 make a considerable difference when photographing the milky way on a crop-sensor?

    1. Yes and no. The extra stop on the 16mm help take in more light, but the 10mm’s wider field of view also allows you to make slightly long exposures without seeing star trails so they sort of even out.

  2. Hello everyone,

    I’m confused now there are so many lenses out there and need some advise. I’m looking at getting the Nikon 24mm f1.8 lens and wonder if that lens is good for hobby astro, milkyway landscape and general (alrounder) photography. I’m only a hobby photographer, no professional stuff, just for fun.
    thanks for any advise.

    1. Hi Robby,

      I have not personally used or tested the Nikon 24mm/1.8 but I would expect it to be fine for Astro work. Might need to be stopped down to f/2.5 for the sharpest results but that’s pretty typical of fast primes.

      Ian

  3. Hey, awesome article! I’m so glad I ran across this page today, and I’ve been soaking up all the info I can. After taking my daughter camping this weekend and taking some nice shots with the Nikon D5500 kit lens (18-55mm), I’ve been researching how to produce even better results.

    Here’s my dilemma: I’ve been juggling with the 3 DX recommendations. However, I just noticed that Tokina has a new 14-20mm f2.0 lens, which looks very enticing as well. I can’t find any reviews on it yet, but would you recommend that over the other 3? Another thing to consider is that at $899 MSRP, I could probably buy 2 of the recommended lenses for the price of that one.

    Thank you again for this awesome site!

  4. I’ve made a post on your Photokina toys page on the introduction of the Nikon 20mm f/1.8. I won’t re-post it all here but I am pretty disappointed with that lens’s coma on my D750 at full frame. It’s a great lens for daytime use, and DX users might be happy, but it’s not great on FX. I’m trying to decide whether to try the Samyang (=Rokinon in the UK) 14mm or the Sigma Art 35mm next as all the 20mm seem to be problematic.

  5. Hi Ian,

    First great website!!

    Will soon be purchasing the Nikon D750 and am looking for a lens for Astro stuff for a visit we have planned to Europes largest designated dark sky site so want to make sure I choose the best for the job.

    Could you recommend one for this camera, not sure we get Rokinin in the UK unless it’s sold under another name… Would love to hear your thoughts on a lens.

    Thanks

    1. I am also in the UK and I have seen on ebay (UK based sellers) selling what looks to be identical Rokinin lens but with a Samyang badge

    2. Samyang is the manufacturer of Rokinon, Bower, and several other name brands. The Rokinon brand is just the USA name for the Samyang lenses. They are all identical in everything but name.

  6. Hi Ian, great site, really enjoyed looking through your articles and bringing new life to some of my older night sky photographs and getting new ideas. Good high ISO performance for night photography was what led me to replace my Nikon D300 sigma 10-20mm/4-5.6 with a D600 and nikon 17-35mm/2.8. What a difference!

    Unfortunately I’m now in the most cloudy place on the planet, no stars in months, Bird Island, South Georgia, fortunately Albatrosses and Penguins make up for that. I am thinking of getting the 24mm/1.4 Rokinon/Samyang and wondered whether you had tried the 20mm/1.8 Sigma art lens or the 20mm/1.8 Nikon or have an idea of their relative performance? Keep up the excellent work.
    Thanks.

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