Milky Way Photography gear guide (2023)
Ever wanted to know what photography gear is the best for capturing stunning images of the Milky Way and our night skies? Well, look no further. This list may not be the best gear for everyone, but after spending the last five years doing this professionally, this is the gear that works best for me.
So what camera and lenses do I use, and what additional gear for my imaging?
Below is my gear breakdown:
The best camera for Milky Way photography
The camera – Canon EOS R. If you are a Canon shooter, then you are in luck – I am a Canon shooter, and I believe they make the best cameras for Milky Way photography (and astrophotography in general)
Why do I believe Canon is the best? There are two things: first, the colors are unbeatable. Secondly, Canon doesn’t have built-in noise reduction that can’t be turned off, and eats stars assuming they are noise. On the flip side, most of Canon’s don’t perform as well in dynamic range. The ISO range are variants to higher ISO values. That said, assuming you have the right model the noise should be fairly good and if you expose it correctly dynamic range shouldn’t be an issue.
Another advantage to Canon is if you’re using a mirrorless system (like myself) you can get a drop-in filter adapter. Now you can drop a Light Pollution filter and Narrowband filters, and those are game changers for astrophotography.
I know, I know, there are other, newer, Canon models out there. But, I came to the conclusion that the Canon EOS R is the best in the mirrorless lineup of Canon’s latest cameras. I excluded other cameras for certain reasons as follows:
- The Canon EOS R5 is too high in megapixels, and high-megapixel cameras tend to create more noise in low light and long exposure photography.
- The Canon EOS R6 would have been a perfect candidate, but sadly I didn’t like the layout of the camera. They removed stuff that came on the cheaper model, the R, and it has an issue called Amplifier Glow, which is a pinkish light from the readout circuitry of the imaging chip that appears on the edges of images in long exposures.
- The Canon RP has a different battery, and it doesn’t last very long, which is a no go in Astro.
- The Canon EOS R3 is overpriced and too bulky.
- The Canon Ra was an Astro-modified camera from Canon itself, and while this sounds great, in reality, it isn’t perfect.
- The EOS R6mk2 could be great, but no one seems to have tested it, and it is pricy.
- Mirrorless crop sensors, well they are crop and not full frame, and I prefer to use a full-frame camera for my Milky Way photography.
To sum it up, the Canon R is a midpoint camera with a full set of features like the canon R5. It only has a lower megapixel account minus the filming advantages like the R5, but that doesn’t matter because our objective is to take only photos in low light.
My Canon R happens to be Astro modified by the best technician in Europe in my opinion Markus Meel.
The best lenses for Milky Way photography
I use a variety of lenses, and I have tested almost everything out there. Here are my favorite lenses for Milky Way Photography:
All of these lenses are excellent when it comes to Milky Way & Astro Photography, the key to having a good lens, is a fast aperture with superior optics that have very little or close to no coma or aberrations on the edges of the images.
The best tripod for Milky Way photography
The tripod is the most crucial part once you nail your camera and lens. This is the foundation of your imaging and your set-up. Your results are highly dependent on this. Do not be cheap and try to get away with a tripod that is unstable and unreliable, in doing so you can ruin your images, and even worse, damage your camera. I often work in rough conditions with wind or currents in the water, and stability is key to my images being dead-sharp.
I have tried many tripods out there from top brands and marks but ended up with a lineup of tripods I truly believe to be one of the best tripod companies out there, their name is Sunway Foto. The quality of their gear is outstanding, and they have carefully thought through their gear when creating them. They are stronger, lighter, easier to use, practical, and more compact than any other tripod I have ever used.
My two favorite models from them are the:
- T3640 CM (for heavier loads and ultimate stability which is also travel-friendly)
- T2840 CK (also handles heavy loads but isn’t as strong as the bigger model and is super travel-friendly.)
Additionally, I use other accessories from Sunway Foto too. They are such beautifully machined and well-made products.
I use the EB-44 Ball head, which is perfect for any load, heavy or small, and very smooth to use. It’s strong and reliable. It’s also lightweight and can handle a heavy payload.
I also use their IRC-64 Panning base, which is a perfect tool for panoramas due to its click-in-degrees function.
Another tool I am using for panoramas is the DT-03 alongside the Z Plate from MSM & Alyn Wallace, in my video, you can see how I use these pieces together to make the ultimate Milky Way panorama set-up.
Going back to the foundation, I also always use a leveling base to level my whole set-up, the DYH-68 from Sunway Foto, this is key to perfect images, especially when working on uneven surfaces.
All of their gear can be found in this link: (tip: use the code BARAKAT10 for 8% off)
The tracking mount
The next level up after all of this is star trackers, which are devices that turn and compensate for the rotation of the earth once aligned to the celestial pole. These devices allow us to expose longer than what we are normally limited to, in doing so we can reduce the ISO and slow down the aperture to have sharper and overall cleaner images.
My two favourite trackers are the:
- Optron Skytracker Pro (very small and reliable)
- iOptron Skyguider Pro (slightly bigger, allows bigger payloads and is extremely reliable)
Both of these trackers are easy to use for beginners and advanced enough for astro photographers with an experience like me. I’ve tried all the other brands and when it comes down to it, iOptron is the best for portable star trackers.
An intervalometer is also highly recommended for setting multiple exposures or intervals for time lapses and so on. The main reason I use one is to avoid camera shake by touching the shutter button to take an exposure. If you use Canon like me, the TC-80N3 from Canon is a great choice.
To put an end to it, with all this gear, I must need a bag to fit it all inside. My favorite photography bag of all time is the Tilopa 50L from f-stop, in the video, you can see the Shinn 80L from f-stop, which is also an excellent bag. I only use it on longer trips though.
If you need any more information on gear or want to learn how to capture stunning images of the Milky Way and our night sky then please check out my website and contact me.
Benjamin Barakat is an astrophotographer who hosts seminars, workshops & photography expeditions internationally worldwide. He is based out of Switzerland, where he is also a researcher at the highest observatory in Europe, the Sphinx Observatory on top of Jungfraujoch, 3571 meters above sea level. His work has been featured by National Geographic, CNN, BBC, Forbes, Guardian, Vice, and many more.