When it comes to Astrophotography, the lens can often times end up being more important than the camera. Good lenses allow you to get sharp images at wide apertures, with little chromatic aberration, astigmatisms, or coma.
In this article we are going to go over my picks for the top of the line of the best Lenses for modern Full frame DSLR cameras available today.
It should be noted that the title of this article could easily be swapped for “My Favorite Lenses for Astrophotography” since a lot of this will be based primarily off of my experience and preferences, and I would highly recommend getting more than one opinion.
The best of the best:
#1 Sigma 14–24 F2.8
#3 Nikkor 14–24 F2.8
#5 Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8
When it comes to Astrophotography there are a lot of options. In all honesty I have not yet had the opportunity to test every available lens for Astrophotography, however I have had some hands on experience with some of the lenses many would consider to be the golden standard like the Nikkor 14–24 2.8.
For the most part when you are doing Single exposures you want to stick to wide angle lenses because anything that is zoomed in too far will make star trailing a lot more evident. Depending on your megapixel count you may be able to go up to 50mm 1.8 if you are shooting shorter exposures. I’m going to keep it simple and stick with wide angles for this article.
Usually wide angle tends to refer to a lens that is wider than 50–25mm. I like ton consider any lens that is wider than 35mm a wide angle. For full frame cameras, most wide angles are somewhere in the 14–30mm range, with anything wider than 14mm generally being considered a “fish eye”. There are a few excellent fish eye lenses out there but It wouldn’t be my first choice for any kind of astrophotography due to the extreme distortion.
I personally would recommend something in that 14–30mm range. I personally have the Tamron 15–30 and though sometimes I do wish I had that extra 1mm, the extended range to 30mm actually comes in handy quite often.
The Sigma 14–24 is the direct rival to the Nikkor 14–24, which has been considered by many to be the king of wide angle lenses for landscape and astro landscape photography. Being quite a few years newer than the Nikkor, it does have some small improvements in corner sharpness, chromatic aberration and vignette. Though you probably wouldn’t be able to tell unless you compared them side by side.
Slightly better performance than the Nikkor 14–24
Standard 14–24mm giving you that range of focal lengths
Incredibly sharp at F2.8
Cheaper by several hundred than the Nikkor
Available for Canon, Nikon, Sony & Leica
Excellent Coma, Chromatic aberration and corner sharpness
Barely less wide than the Nikkor at 14mm
As I mentioned above it does appear that the Nikkor 14–24 has a slightly wider version of 14mm by something less than 1mm but still if you need the absolute widest, then the Nikkor might be for you. I generally consider this lens to be the winner because it not only delivers the much desired 14–24mm with some quality improvements over the longstanding king (the Nikkor) but it is also available for Canon, Sony and Leica which makes it more versatile as a product.
I am hoping to do a head to head battle between this and the Nikkor someday but until then there are several other photographers who have already done so and you can find their videos here:
Also a little personal preference I prefer the Sigmas sunstars to the Nikkors. This may not matter to you or you may prefer the Nikkor sunstars but if you are planning to be doing any of that, you will want to take that into consideration.
The Tamron 15–30 has quickly become my favorite lens. I do not currently own the Sigma 14–24 (though in the future I would love to have one in the bag) . However I have had the Tamron 15–30 for several years now, and it has been my primary go too workhorse for most of my landscape and astro images.
Excellent performance at F2.8
Excellent corner sharpness
manageable & Very acceptable Chromatic Aberration
Cheaper by Several Hundred than the Nikkor
Added Focal range to 30mm
Appears to be indestructible (in my experience)
Superior color cast to the Nikkor (opinion)
Arguably performs better than the Nikkor in some areas
Available for Canon, Nikon & Sony
15mm instead of 14mm
Bulky (kinda bulky and heavy but not by much)
Most of the time the only Two lenses I carry are the Tamron and the Nikkor 70–300 F4 (Which I would replace with the Tamron equivalent in a heart beat). And 90% of the time I am using the Tamron. In all honesty I even find myself trying to change my composition to use the Tamron over the Nikkor because I find its performance far superior.
In many of my images I tend to notice that switching to the nikkor 70–300 brings a warmer, greener cast to it. I know this isn’t a very scientific comparison as it is two lenses of completely different focal lengths, however I do find that I am always getting more natural and easier found tonal balances consistently in the Tamron. You may already know that color correcting an image that is too cool is much easier than correcting and image that is too warm, and the Tamron tends to consistently be much cooler making the RAWs much much easier to correct in post.
Is this just my imagination?? well even if it is I have found the Tamron to be tack sharp at F2.8 ALWAYS. After years of heavy use and abuse, I still trust it to be tack sharp at its widest aperture, something I absolutely cannot say about the Nikkor 70–300 (again comparing apples to oranges) . Yet It is still impressive.
After several years of non stop use and absolute minimal care (cleaning dust and water spots) . This lens performs at an absolutely acceptable level. I really wish I had tally marks on the thing for how many 6 foot drops onto solid rock in the deserts of southern Utah this thing has survived.
Just to put it in perspective, I once had my camera and lens on my tripod, raised to my eye level at a set of falls located inside of a slot canyon near Zion national Park (you know which ones ;) ). Well I had gone up to this location at something like 6 am to avoid the hoards of college students who flock to this location, and thinking I was totally alone, someone behind me threw a large boulder into the water to make a splash not knowing I was ahead of them around the corner. They did this right as I was dismounting the camera from the tripod to put it back in my dry bag, and the sound startled me into dropping the camera at full height onto the gravel like rock of the river bed. The 1nch or less water in that specific spot (or maybe the drop I’m still not sure) killed my Nikon D810, however the lens was without a scratch.
On another occasion in 2018 I was set up, Again with my tripod at eye level, at a well known bridge near the court of the patriarchs in Zion National Park. This time I was swapping lenses with the camera on the tripod while standing in the river. Well I slipped just when I had the lens up to the camera with the cap off to mount it and it fell right onto the exposed rock in front of me and bounced. The lens hood cracked just a little, and the exterior got a few narly scratches… YET SOMEHOW, the beast keeps on trudging. I honestly would not expect any lens to survive a fall like that, and I thought for sure I had doomed my favorite lens that night. However I was actually able to just pick it up (lucky that it didn’t land in the water and wash away) throw it on, and take my shots with no noticeable loss in quality.
Tamron has not endorsed or sponsored me in any way as of this article (though I am hoping to work with them in the near future as soon as I get my lazy ass back out to shoot again) I simply feel that when someone creates an excellent product, it deserves to be recognized. Of the lenses I have had the opportunity to shoot with so far, I could not be happier with the reliability and outstanding performance of the Tamron. This is why I have been happy using it almost exclusively for the past 3 years.
Being several hundred dollars cheaper than the Nikkor… I can’t really see much reason to recommend the Nikkor to you over this. In some cases people have argued the Tamron has identical or superior performance to the Nikkor so, just something to take into consideration.
Again, not really related to night photography but I prefer the sunstars created by the Tamron significantly, this is personal preference but… just something to consider.
Tamron 15–30 F2.8 on Amazon:
For Sony A
#3 The Nikkor 14–24 F2.8
Nikkor 14–24 F2.8 on Amazon:
The Nikkor is the longstanding ring champion and is still used and trusted some of the greatest landscape and astro landscape photographers in the world. If you are looking for a lens with a longstanding proven history of being on of the all time best and trusted by some of the greatest photographers alive.. this is definitely your lens.
However, with a market of newer and more innovative lenses on the market I simply could not place this lens in first. It has been more than a decade since Nikon released this lens and it is slowly meeting its competition.
Excellent performance in low light
Excellent performance at wide angle and low aperture
Widest of all the options
Long standing trusted reputation by some of the greatest photographers alive
Outstanding wide angle corner sharpness and more active lens calibration software based around this lens
Most expensive of the list
Older than the others
Strange sunstars (opinion)
Nikkor color cast (opinion)
Nikon F mount Only
Don’t get me wrong if you already have the Nikkor it is still an excellent lens, one of the absolute best on the market.. but if you are looking to add a new lens to your bag, I don’t see much reason to pick the Nikkor when you can get the sigma with improved performance for cheaper, or the Tamron with similar performance for cheaper. This lens is still an Excellent choice for Astrophotography, I just think that Nikon needs to update it in order for it to remain competitive with the Sigma and Tamron.
The ultimate lens for Aurora Photography.
This first of its kind, the Sigma 14mm 1.8 offers extreme aperture at extremely wide fields of view. This lens is one of the most ideal choices for photographers who plan on photographing the northern lights primarily.
Due to its wider aperture, you can capture shorter, less blurred exposures of the aurora with less noise. This is what I estimate to be the area where this lens really shines.
Extreme wide aperture F1.8
Wide angle 14mm combined with wider aperture range
available for Nikon, Canon and Sony
Excellent performance at extreme apertures
Slight Astigmatisms caused by the extreme aperture
Coma caused by wide apertures
In the end I think this is potentially the greatest lens available for Aurora photography specifically. However for astrophotography in general F1.8 is great! but I find 2.8 completely sufficient and even prefer it for its sharpness and quality benefits.
When using a lens with an aperture as extreme as this, there are definitely going to be some sacrifices in quality. The Sigma keeps these to a bare minimum for a lens this wide which is excellent, this is just something you should consider when looking into the 14mm 1.8.
#4 Zeiss Batis 18mm F2.8
Zeiss Batis 18mm F2.8 on Amazon:
Admittedly I have no experience with this lens. I have only heard quite a bit about it. This lens appears to be another very Solid option when it comes to picking a wide angle, and it always appears on astrophotography forums for Sony Users.
Medium Wide focal length
Nice F2.8 aperture
Great alternative option for Sony users
Reputation of quality lenses
Sony Users only
Not as wide as the others
One focal length
To avoid misinforming you I won’t speculate on this lens too much. From what I know about it is a very reasonable choice for astrophotography. As always I would advise seeing what other opinions on it you can find.
#5 The Rokinon 14mm F2.8
Rokinon 14mm F2.8 on Amazon:
If you are on a tight budget, this is going to be my very first recommendation to you. Don’t be discouraged seeing this lens here at the bottom of the list, this is a list of the greatest lenses (in my opinion) of all time for astrophotography. The fact you can get into that market at a price like this is incredible, and having this lens doesn’t make you any less of a photographer just because of a few numbers on a tag.
The Rokinon is exceptionally capable for what you pay for it. I think it should be noted that with some post processing work, 99% of people would never notice the difference of images created with this lens and the Sigma 14–24mm when viewed online.
Cheapest option on the list by far
Very high quality for the money
Sharp at F2.8
Small and easy to pack
Available for Canon, Sony & Nikon
Slight issues with focus in some models
Coma is more heavy
A little more chromatic aberration and quality issues
In the end, if you want into the astrophotographers elitist gear club and just don’t want to fork out the cash for the very expensive pieces of glass up above.. well this is certainly and excellent option for you.
Especially for someone who is just starting out, in all honesty this is more than sufficient and many people would consider this to be a totally acceptable level of performance. That will be up to you to decide based on where you plan to take your images.
Please note that all of the lenses I have reviewed here are for Full frame cameras, and that this is only the opinions and research of a single photographer. I would always recommend getting more than one opinion, however I can assure you that the top three on this list will always be in the top tier of greatest wide angles available today.
If you feel I missed something or didn’t mention a lens, please comment below so we can all learn and grow together! I will do my best to respond too and follow the comments on these articles so that we can all stay up to date.
About the Author
Derek Sturman is a Utah-based astro and landscape photographer. You can find more of Derek’s images on his website and follow him on Facebook and Instagram. This article was also published here and is shared with permission.