Best DSLR or ILC for Night Sky Imaging?

Started Nov 8, 2017 | Questions thread
Astrophotographer 10 Forum Pro • Posts: 13,013
Re: Best DSLR or ILC for Night Sky Imaging?

landscaper1 wrote:

Let's suppose someone is interested in doing night sky photography (sky plus landscape foreground) and he/she is not predisposed or otherwise committed to using any specific brand of camera or lenses.

Which make/model of DSLR or mirrorless camera body would provide "the Best" image capture with a minimum of noise?

Which make/model of DSLR or mirrorless camera body would be "2nd Best," and why is it only 2nd Best?

Please submit your recommendations and the reason(s) for them.

A hot question as it can tangle with brand loyalties.

I have used a Nikon D70, Canon 20D, 40D, Nikon D800e, Sony A&r, Sony A7r2, Sony Nex 6, Fuji XE1, XT1, XT2.

Of those my favourite is the A7r2 despite the star eater which does not seem to impact in my use of it. I am running an earlier V3.2 firmware. A7r was good as well. Perhaps in some ways its better than the A7r2 but overall I think the A7r2 is a bit better. A7r2 has a bit of amp glow which I don't recall on my A7r. A7r electronic viewfinder is cleaner at ISO6400 for focusing.

The D800e was also good. Again perhaps the better as it has a nicer noise pattern than the Sonys which can get wormy. D800 is about as large as you would want for a small tracker like Vixen Polarie. Perhaps it would be better matched with a heavier mount.

Fuji cameras do very well. Very low noise. My earlier Canons were very nice. I did telescope imaging with them.

Some criteria to judge the various cameras by:

1. High ISO noise. These days I don't think that is too much of an issue with any brand.

2. Size of sensor. I still see quite an improvement in nightscape type images from a full frame over APSc.

3. Amp glow. Amp glow is a magenta coloured area of the long exposure image that affects some cameras and some more than others. It usually is along one side or in the corners or along the bottom.

My Nikon D70 had it, Sony A7r2 has it slightly, Fuji XE1 had some, XT2 does not seem to have it. My Canons seemed pretty free of it.

4. Features that make life easier like tilting rear LCD screen, built in intervalometer, built in time lapse, allowing longer than 30 second exposures incamera, an evf. Also the lens focusing mechanism - mechanical or fly by wire.

5. Availability of suitable lenses.

6. Size, weight and cost.

7. Another point would be sensitivity. Some sensors are more sensitive than others to light

8. Other issues like sensor reflections, poor RAW converters, battery life, banding and excess noise in shadows, whether the sensor is ISO less or not (can you boost in post a lower ISO image and get the same level of noise or not?). Do you need to use an adapter for your camera or not ( no adapter is better). Software support for tethering etc.

9. For telescope astrophotography there are other factors that come into play which are probably not relevant for this thread.

For me Sony A7r2 is the best so far because its ultra sensitive (QE of around 70% or something ridiculously high), low noise, great ergonomics for this type of work (tilting screen, EVF for easy focusing, small and light). Downside is the star eater noise suppression filter you can't turn off and some minor amp glow. EVF is very noisy at ISO6400 for star focusing but easily useable still. It can use any lens. The camera is ISOless and low noise in shadows and images have a lot of processing latitude. Time lapse app available.

A7r3 is probably better but in some ways mainly better EVF. IQ may be much the same but I am curious if the new pixel shift system could be used for nightscapes. It may well work well on a tracked camera giving better colour than other cameras.

Fuji XT2 is an excellent astro camera. If you use the DPR comparison tool you will see the XT2 is one of the lowest noise APSc cameras. The Xtrans colour filter array is designed to reduce luminance noise by using a bigger block of pixels for creating an individual image pixel and its features are fabulous. Dual axis tilting screen, a cleaner EVF at high ISO for focusing, small and light and cheaper, it can use any lens (non Fuji need adapters), It has a built in intervalometer. It allows exposures up to 15minutes without having to use an external intervalometer. The Samyang 12mm F2 is cheap and wonderful for widefield nightscapes. Hard to fault this camera. Poor battery life is one negative. Same with Sony unless its A7r3. A7s to me has poor colour output, suffers from the star eater issue the most due to the larger pixels and is not really that useful for day photography with the lack of resolution. So Sony made a nightscape camera and then crippled it with poorly thought out noise suppression firmware.

Nikon D810a would also be a great choice but its extremely expensive, its large and heavy really requiring a larger and more expensive mount ( although I did use my D800e on a Vixen Polarie but you had to really tighten the mounting screws if you did a panned time lapse). Nikon seems to have tweaked the camera more than simply a different low pass filter. It also does not have an AA filter which simply reduces sharpness these days.

Its ISOless and has a builtin intervalometer and time lapse which outputs a movie file which is handy. Good battery life.

Canons have great software support for tethering but so does Nikon now. XT2 and Sony A7xx are controllable by smartphone (smartphones also give off a lot of light!).

I did not mention Pentax but they have that clever built in astro tracker system that leverages the IBIS stabilisation and GPS to track the stars. Its seems to work quite well but perhaps not as well as a separate tracker but still.

It also has that wonderful Sony 36mp full frame sensor, the same as in the D800X and Sony 7R. Its also very cheap.

The main weakness is lens choices.

Canon 5DIV seems to be good. 5D3 and below suffer from banding in shadows at higher ISO and excessive shadow noise. The sensors are not ISOless either. 6D seems the best pick even today. 5D2 is the minimum as it gets noisy at ISO3200 compared to the cleaner later models but I have still seen lots of great 5D2 nightscapes. I can't really comment on Canon's APSc models. They are prolific in the astro world The Canon 350D modified was an extremely popular astro camera and is cheap as chips. The 1100D seems also to be popular. If I were getting a Canon I think the 6D is still the Canon of choice despite the ergonomic issues (no tilt screen which would be a pain). I have read the 600D was not so good but can't really confirm it (a bit noisy). Roger often says the 7D2 is superior and I am sure it is but its a very expensive APSc camera being primarily targeted and built for the birds in flight market and so has an advanced AF system.

The Magic Lantern hack for Canon may add some functionality like built in intervalometer. I am not 100% sure what it offers.

So that is my take on camera choices.


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