The Canon EOS Ra Announced

Canon EOS Ra

On November 5, 2019, the Canon EOS Ra was announced and is now available for pre-order at various retailers including B&H. This is a 30.3 MP full-frame mirrorless camera designed specifically for astrophotography. 

The Canon EOS Ra shares nearly all aspects of the EOS R camera body, with 2 key differences for astrophotography. Increased sensitivity to the 656nm (h-alpha) emission line, and a 30X live view focus mode.

For a niche hobby like astrophotography, the Canon EOS Ra has sure attracted a lot of attention from the photography world. I pleaded my case to my contact at Canon for an early unit to review but was not successful in my efforts (and I’m not even bitter about it).

Update: Canon USA reached out to me in December asking if I would try out the Canon EOS Ra and let them know what I think of it. Here is a short video showing one of my first experiences with this camera and an RF-mount lens:

Thankfully, some new and exciting example images have already surfaced from those that were granted early access to this camera body, and from Canon themselves.

canon astrophotography camera

In this article, I’ve put together all of the information I can find about the EOS Ra, and included the limited number of example images shared thus far. To see the full slideshow of images shared by Canon with this camera, see this article by Todd Vorenkamp of B&H. 

The Canon EOS Ra

The CMOS sensor found inside of the Canon EOS Ra is 4x more sensitive to the hydrogen-alpha wavelength, which is extremely useful for astrophotography. As many of you know, some of the absolute best deep-sky nebula in the night emit a strong red signal in the 656 nm wavelength.

Historically, amateur astrophotographers that wanted to collect the powerful deep reds found in many emission nebulae with their generic DSLR cameras had to remove the stock internal IR cut filter. This is called modifying your camera for astrophotography and is offered professional from several vendors. 

Canon began offering “pre-modified” DSLR cameras from the factory for astrophotography use in 2005 with the revolutionary EOS 20Da. The Canon EOS 60Da followed in 2012, and now, the mirrorless EOS Ra in 2019. 

The first example photos I saw using the Canon EOS Ra were courtesy of fellow Canadian, Alan Dyer. He posted the following example images using the EOS Ra on Twitter late Tuesday night:

Canon EOS Ra astrophotography examples

Images shot using the Canon EOS Ra by Alan Dyer (Read his review here)

This camera is aimed at landscape astrophotography enthusiasts (such as wide-angle Milky Way photography), and deep-sky imagers using an equatorial telescope mount. The mirrorless design of the EOS Ra is a massive change from Canon’s last astrophotography camera. Not only is it a different style of camera mechanically, but it also accepts Canon RF Lenses. 

The 30.3 MP full-frame CMOS sensor found inside of the RA is beneficial for amateur astrophotographers that use wide-angle lenses. If you own Canon EF mount lenses as I do, you’ll need to buy the EF-mount adapter to attach your lens. 

I must admit, it will be hard to justify purchasing the “a” version of the Canon EOS R for many multi-discipline photographers that take photos in the daytime as well as night. This camera has some impressive specs for photography and videography including shooting 4K at 30p with Canon Log. 

I have always shot my videos with Canon DSLR cameras (most recently the Canon EOS 6D Mark II), and am a little confused as to how I would fully utilize the video features of the EOS Ra. As Canon has stated numerous times about their “a-series” cameras, they are not suitable for daytime photography. In my tests with the 60Da, the colors are slightly off and create unappealing daytime images without serious adjustments in post. 

Canon EOS Ra

Increased Sensitivity to Hydrogen-Alpha

If you are new to Canon’s astrophotography camera line-up, you may be wondering what the difference between the EOS R and Ra is. 

The reason this version of the camera has an “a” in the name is simply due to the specialized infrared-cutting filter that sits in front of the CMOS sensor. Canon lists that this change allows a transmission in the hydrogen-alpha (Hα) wavelength that is approximately 4 times greater than a regular Canon EOS R camera. 

The example images from Canon USA illustrate this capability on the North America Nebula. I found it very interesting to note that Canon’s engineers report an even greater sensitivity to Hα in the EOS Ra than previously achieved in the 20Da and 60Da camera bodies. 

EOS Ra vs. R

Essentially, the Canon EOS Ra is a modified version of the EOS R for amateur astrophotographers that want to collect more signal in the important Hα emission line. For the same reason I invested in the Canon 60Da, I like the idea of Canon handling the astro-modification and not voiding the warranty with a third-party service. 

The infrared-cutting filter (positioned immediately in front of the CMOS imaging sensor) is modified to permit approximately 4x as much transmission of hydrogen-alpha rays at the 656nm wavelength, vs. standard EOS R cameras. This modification allows much higher transmission of deep red infrared rays emitted by nebulae, without requiring any other specialized optics or accessories.

30X Live-View Magnification

If you’ve experienced what it is like to focus a camera at night, you’ll know how important the live-view zoom feature is. The best way to focus your camera lens or telescope with a DSLR or mirrorless camera attached is to zoom-in on a bright star and magnify it. Traditionally, this would be at a magnification of 10X, but Canon has upped the ante. 

The Ra features Canon’s first-ever 30x magnification, and it can be done on both the LCD screen and viewfinder. Because the EOS Ra is a mirrorless camera system, the electronic eye-level viewfinder is able to provide the magnification feature. As a DSLR shooter, this would feel very strange to me and I doubt it would be a useful as the much larger LCD screen.

Speaking of the LCD screen on the back of the camera, it’s a vari-angle design. This is extremely useful for astrophotographers, as we regularly point the camera in all sorts of awkward angles. 

ISO Performance

Any amateur astrophotographer with experience using DSLR cameras will tell you that the amount of noise in your image will increase as you bump up the ISO. This creates a challenging trade-off, as we often want to collect as much light in a single exposure as possible. 

However, modern cameras have got a lot better and keeping noise at bay using higher ISO settings, and the Canon EOS Ra is no exception. 

In this video from B&H, the host states:

“high ISO noise is extremely well-controlled, particularly at the high ISO’s that are common in astrophotography”

It’s impossible to tell exactly how well “controlled” the noise is from the example photo shared (below). The same vague statement was said about the Canon 60Da, and I found it to be true when shooting at an aggressive ISO 6400 on warm nights in the summer. 

sample photo

Sample image from Canon USA. Canon EF 400mm F/2.8L IS III USM Lens.

Canon EOS Ra Core Specifications

  • Format: Full-Frame
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Sensor Size: 36 x 24mm
  • Pixel Size: 5.36 microns
  • Max. Resolution: 6720 x 4480
  • ISO Sensitivity: 100 – 40000
  • Lens Mount: Canon RF
  • Video Modes: 4K up to 30p, HD up to 60p
  • Memory Card: Single SD
  • Weight: 1.45 lbs.

The following video released by B&H and Canon USA covers many of the core specifications of the Ra, and what separates it from a regular mirrorless camera. I appreciate the improved battery performance of this camera over the previous models. Canon states that the battery will last for 7 hours of bulb exposure time, although I expect this to time to diminish on a cold night. 

Canon’s Astrophotography Timeline:

The EOS Ra is the third installment (not the 4th, as I have seen a non-existent “6Da” reported) in Canon’s line of dedicated cameras for astrophotography.

  • Canon EOS 20Da (2005)
  • Canon EOS 60Da (2012)
  • Canon EOS Ra (2019)

Let’s not forget Nikon’s contribution to the astrophotography community. The Nikon D810A is a fantastic DSLR for astrophotography and was the first full-frame camera body built specifically for night photography. I would not be surprised if Nikon (and Sony) release dedicated mirrorless camera bodies for astrophotography in the future.

Just like in the daytime photography world, the number of lenses you own in a particular brand is a big deciding factor when upgrading your camera body. 

Final Thoughts

The Canon EOS Ra is clearly a big step up from the last astrophotography camera released, the 60Da. More megapixels, bigger pixel size, better ISO performance, more sensitive to Hα, a better viewfinder, a mirrorless body – so what’s not to love? 

In my eyes, there are two reasons why an amateur astrophotographer will look elsewhere for their next camera. The first one is that there are many practical dedicated (CMOS) astronomy cameras available now, ones that offer cooling and sensitive monochrome sensors. 

The other is that modifying an older Canon DSLR is still a very practical way to collect impressive astrophotography images for a fraction of the price.

RF lens mount

The Ra accepts Canon RF lenses (full-frame mirrorless)

However, I think there are many people that enjoy the familiarity of a DSLR/mirrorless camera system. If you travel a lot for astrophotography, a mirrorless camera and lens are much more practical than a dedicated astronomy camera and software to run it. 

Another great point that has been brought to my attention about this camera is the file types created and their compatibility with stacking software.

The Canon mirrorless cameras create CR3 file format images, which are currently not supported in software such as DeepSkyStacker (at the time of writing). This might be a great reason to hold off on the EOS Ra until these applications catch up with the technology.

Another big change is the opportunity to use filters between the camera body and lens via the Canon Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter (EF-EOS R). Daytime photographers use this attractive feature for drop-in variable ND filters, but perhaps the astronomy companies will begin to manufacturer astrophotography filters for this configuration. 

I think this would big a much better option over the clip-in style filters currently offered for full-frame DSLR’s.

EOS R Ef mount adapter

The Canon EF-EOS R Drop-In Filter Mount Adapter.

The big question is, will I be ordering the Canon EOS Ra for astrophotography in the backyard? Probably.

At the time of writing, the price tag for the body only is $2,499 USD, and it will be released on December 19, 2019. I order my photographer gear on Amazon almost exclusively, and the package offered by Canon includes a battery charger, strap, and a few extras.

whats included

I am interested in testing the camera from both a hobbyist perspective and to provide useful information to amateur astrophotographers looking to purchase this camera. The interesting thing is, if I do purchase the Ra, it will be my first mirrorless camera.

As an ambassador of the hobby, I feel obligated to share my experiences with the latest official astrophotography camera from my favorite brand, and yes, you can go ahead and label me a Canon fanboy.

Here is an image I managed to capture in just 10 minutes using the EOS Ra and 85mm F/1.2 lens.

Canon 85mm F/1.2 astrophotography

The Heart and Soul Nebula in Cassiopeia using the Canon EOS Ra and 85mm F/1.2 Lens.

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  1. May be this is a dumb question, but if an astro-modified DSLR isn’t supposed to work well for general daylight photography, can’t this just be fixed with a filter? After all, it is a filter that has been removed to make it an astro-camera in the first place.

    1. I believe there are “corrective” filters available to restore the original IR cut depending on the type of modification done. For example, my T3i has the “naked sensor” mod where the stock IR was removed and nothing else. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend trying to use your astro-camera for daytime photography too. In that scenario, I’d rather leave the camera stock and sacrifice a little red in my AP images. Just my two cents!

  2. The Internet insists (because the Internet is always right) that a modified camera can be used in daylight using a custom white balance. I’ve tried this with my modified T3i and it seems to work. This camera looks fantastic and I’m only a little bitter since I just purchased a 6D Mark II about six weeks ago. I would be extremely bitter if I had purchased the R.

    My question is…why would I buy this camera instead of a purpose built AP camera? I’m not sure what the value proposition is especially if you can’t use it for daytime.

    I can’t believe they didn’t’ give you one to review! Don’t the know who you are? 🙂

    Thanks for everything you do Trevor…keep it up.

    1. Chris – so funny, I also JUST purchased a 6D Mark II about a month ago. Although that one will be used for filming purposes nearly exclusively. I think the EOS Ra is a good option for more traditional type photographers that are not interested in running the camera with new software and/or mini computer. I think experienced astrophotographers forget what learning how to use a dedicated astronomy camera would feel like to a beginner. But they are comfortable with DSLR’s/mirrorless with big LCD displays and options to control on the body itself. For deep-sky imagers with advanced tracking mounts in the backyard, this doesn’t make much sense over a cooled OSC. Thanks for the kind words – my goal is to one day catch the attention of Canon! Lol

  3. From the specs it looks like the sensor is the same as the current sensor in the Canon 5D4. The 5d4 is best used at iso800 for astro work as the sensor becomes iso variant from iso800 so you can lift the raw image at least two stops in post without any noise penalty and benefit from limiting blowing out the star colour. I use the 5d4 with a WO61 refractor for wide field astro and it’s very good. However comparing the 5d4 to a modern cooled cmos osc camera the noise/sensitivity is significantly better on the osc. The Ra camera may have improved Ha sensitivity but noise will still be a factor to consider. Do I want one? Yes lol. Do I want an Asi294Mc Pro cooled cmos camera Yes lol

    Keep up the great work Trevor, your site is one of my first ports of call when thinking about new hardware.


    1. Thank you for the useful insight on the 5D Mark IV! I wouldn’t be surprised if ISO 800 was the magic number to hit with the Ra 😉 Thanks very much for the kind words as well!

  4. Just do not see the point of paying such a premium for only a larger view modification, granted anyone can have the std ir filter removed from a regular r model for 200$, let alone the option to get a rp model instead with the same sensor for about 1000$!!

    1. Yes, and I know that there are many other imagers that would agree with you. It’s a big $$$ for a potentially minimal gain (if any depending on your current system!) But, it’s such a COOL camera! lol

  5. When should one use a DSLR vs dedicated cameras from ZWO and others? Which is better for specific objects like planets vs DSOs?

  6. 30 MP and increased Ha sensitivity… choice! A month ago I pulled out the old modded T3i a after a year of only using a cooled zwo…. I havent switched back. Something about going back to DSLRs is humbling I guess.

  7. Well, I have a CANON EOS-R, and thanks to this camera I approached the world of astrophotography, Why? because I took it with me on a trip to New Zellanda, and in the middle of the night while I was traveling to catch the dawn in the Volcans, I stopped under a star-studded sky, where the Milky Way was perfectly visible, I took the EOS-R and I took pictures at ISO 1600 and 3200 of only 10 seconds with the 50mm lens at f1.8, to avoid the movement of the stars.
    The result I saw on my laptop when I returned from the trip left me open-mouth. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the information captured by the EOS-R was incredibly fantastic, and with low noise.
    after that trip I bought a tracker, and then a telescope and many other things.
    I took pictures of the deep sky and the result is stunning, at ISO 1600 the noise is very low.
    A photo of 6 seconds at ISO 25000 shows a quantity of crazy information, certainly with so much noise but allows you to immediately identify what you want to capture.

    I was waiting for this change to EOS-R to get it (second machine for only deep sky pictures), but honestly increasing the price by 1000 dollars to get a little more red in the picture doesn’t seem justified. I at the same price of 1500 dollars, maximum 1800 dollars I would have bought without any doubt, but at this price not really. it’s too much I’m just a worker with this new and fantastic passion.

    Trevor, thank you for all your vids and teaching that you give us, my sister and I follow you, good job! regards from Italy!

  8. the reason in wanting to buy a second EOS-R camera dedicated to astrophotography was rightly to be able to capture more chromatic and visual information, using all the necessary components that with a lot of effort and research I have already bought to be able to connect this new model of camera to the telescope.
    But the price of $ 2,500 really left me with a bitter taste.
    At less than that price there are some very new and fantastic ASI cameras, and even though I’m in love with this EOS-R I don’t think I’ll spend 2500 just for love.

  9. To be honest I think if I’m going mirrorless instead of going for a so called proper astronomy camera, then I’m more likely to buy the new M6 MK2 ok its a smaller sensor but pixel sizes in microns aren’t much smaller with the higher resolution and extra reach i don’t see there being much lost after a professional conversion and as always with lantern software I’m sure they will match if not improve on the 30 X magnification, I’m a canon user but not a lover of company’s that charge you more for a product with things left out which should make them cheaper but increases the price, prices on the 60Da were astronomical ( excuse the pun ) for a 60D with parts missing, I’ve heard the limited run theory but surely you just remove the camera sensor from the assembly line before filter and slip the camera back into the production line to be completed, this is all personal opinion of course and although a canon user since the death of Minolta I certainly don’t like being charged a premium for what is basically a hobby.

  10. In my opinion this camera will probably be very good for Milky Way landscapes, not for deep skies where you need to add many exposures. A full frame 30 megapixel sensor requires a very powerful computer or a lot of patience in the pre and post processing phase!

  11. A lot of checkpoints cleared by Canon marketing, so seems the move in the right direction. However, at this price point there are lots of options available which while less versatile will give much much better outcomes.
    As someone who started with DSLR for Deep Sky imaging and went the route of connecting to PC, ensuring adequate power to shoot long bulb sessions, I got stuck with the thermal noise pattern which , compared to dedicated cooled cameras, is abysmal and will defeat nearly everyone who is serious about this hobby.

  12. I didn’t see a comment section on the story I read about selecting the best beginner telescope for great photos.

    Thank you.

    I know you saved me a fortune getting set up. I cannot express my gratitude enough.

    Just wanted to let you know, people are quick to take the time to tell us when we don’t help them.

    I wanted to come back and say thanks to someone that did.

  13. Would it be wiser to get the regular EOS R and just add the clip in filters? The R is much cheaper and you can still use it during daytime with this setup. The only question is would the clip in transmit more or less H-alpha than Ra?? What do you think?

  14. Hi – can you please share what replacement cable you purchased? The one that comes with the camera is only 2’ long and I’m zero for three on getting a replacement cable to work with the camera. I’ve spent a lot of time on the phone with Canon and posed the question on cloudy nights, but I’ve struck out so far. Any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance for your help.

    1. I use the Amazon basics USB Type C 9 ft. cable, its nothing special but continues to work for me. Also worth mentioning is checking the camera menu to ensure the noise reduction option is disabled. That feature takes a dark after every exposure and subtracts it from the light – your camera might also be get hung up here.