As most people ask when starting astrophotography as a hobby, we wonder what kind of camera we can use that will be the cheapest and easiest to use. Later on, when we become more knowledgeable and experienced we may upgrade to something more expensive. In this article, I’ll give you the benefit of my first couple of years of experience in using different cameras and the results I’ve had so far.
The best cheap camera for astrophotography is an older DSLR such as a Canon or Nikon. It is very cheap to buy one of these new or second-hand. You may have a DSLR camera already, in which case no need to buy anything expensive. Another alternative is to use your phone, although this is not ideal.
If you are looking to get into astrophotography and are looking to buy something cheap, to begin with, then there are many important things to understand before you get something. And if you already have a camera it is a good idea to find out if this will be suitable or not. In order to point you in the right direction, so that you can make a choice that will help you to begin in the best and easiest way possible, I’ll try to explain what I have learned in the last few years since I started, and what exactly you need to think about before jumping in.
Do You Need an Expensive Camera for Astrophotography?
The answer is no. There are some really good astrophotographers using cheaper equipment, but, on the other hand there are some average or poor astrophographers using expensive equipment. It is not necessary to spend thousands of dollars, especially at the beginning.
The best option, in my opinion, is to use a cheaper, older DSLR either second hand, refurbished or one you already have. Using a mobile phone is clunky at best. It can be done but why?
In my experience, it is best to start astrophotography with a cheaper camera. You won’t be able to use a more expensive model properly anyway until you have experience and acquire an understanding of astrophotography, so it’s best to start simply.
When I started astrophotography I spent a few hundred dollars on a Canon 600D and I got great results. Later I got the camera astromodified and have been using this camera for more than two years.
Only now have I decided to upgrade to something more expensive to try to improve my results. I can now choose my equipment with greater care and knowing what I need. This hobby is best followed in small steps, each building on the last.
What are Some Good Cheap Cameras for Astrophotography?
First let’s take a look at DSLRs which are often used and are inexpensive yet good for astrophotography:
- Nikon D7500 – $1000
- Canon EOS 6D Mk. II – Here’s a video that talks about how good this camera is for astrophotography and backs it up with data to prove the point. If you’re considering this camera, you should definitely watch this video. It is possible to get one of these cameras for about $500 or less.
- Sony A6600 – $1200 but second hand it will be much cheaper.
- Canon 800D – $650
- Canon 600D – New $600 second hand approximately $300. This is the camera I have used for the last two years or so. It does the job.
Now let’s take a look at dedicated astronomy cameras which are used specifically for astrophotography:
- SVBony 305 – this is a dedicated astronomy camera which needs to be connected to a PC or laptop but is cheap at about $150. It can be used for planetary, deep sky or as a guide camera. I have one of these and can testify that it is great for photographing the moon, or taking video of planets to image them or as a guiding camera.
- ZWO ASI224 MC – CMOS astrophotography camera which is approximately $199. It can cope with some deep sky imaging plus planetary photography but it is not cooled, hence the cheaper price. You need a PC or laptop to use this though.
As you can see from above the cameras listed do require that you determine how much or little you would like to spend. Dedicated astronomy cameras can ONLY be used for astrophotography whereas a DSLR can also be used for normal photography as well.
Dedicated astronomy cameras are more complicated to use and are not normally favoured by beginners so if you are dipping your feet into astrophotography it’s probably best to go the DSLR route.
Budget Cameras for Night Sky Photography
So far we have mainly considered cameras that can be used for planetary and deep sky astrophotography, but now let’s consider a very popular form of photography, night landscape photography including shots of the Milky Way or other celestial objects such as comets or meteors. This kind of photography requires more widefield lenses to be used and normally does not involve the use of a telescope.
- Sony Alpha A6000 Mirrorless. Fantastic camera at a price (new) of $650.
- Fujifilm X-T20 – This is a mirrorless camera and new is about $899. Is that cheap? Depends on you but it is good value!
- Canon EOS 6D is a camera that many top astrophotgraphers use to photograph Milky Way and night Lanscapes including Alyn Wallace and many others. You can get this one for less money than either of the above two cameras and if I was trying to get into this hobby now, I’d look into this camera as it comes with a long history of great photos taken of these kind of night time shots.
We’ve seen how cheap is open to your interpretation, but I consider that less than about $500-600 for a camera is relatively cheap for astrophotography. For night time photography we need a good range of quality specs from either a DSLR from one of the big brands or you could opt for an astronomy camera from ZWO without cooling or from SVBony who make quality products at cheaper prices.
You’ll find that although you can use almost any DSLR for astrophotography it is best to choose one that has a good record as you will certainly become more knowledgable about photography and any limitations that your camera has. Just spending a small amount more can actually make good sense as you are likely to use the camera for longer. You may outgrow a very cheap camera quickly.
The moral of this is that you should choose your camera wisely and take time to work out what you need and how much you are willing to spend. There’s lots of advice to be had on this website and elsewhere online so be sure to do your research well before buying any astrophotography equipment!