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8 Nightscape Photography Tips for Amazing Astrophotography

|Image Processing|8 Comments

Nightscape photography involves capturing a landscape style image, at night. It can include the beautiful Milky Way, a starry sky, or your favorite constellation.

This is a type of astrophotography, where long exposure images are taken to reveal the beautiful light of a seemingly ‘dark’ sky. Star photography requires quality optics, and some camera lenses are better suited for it than others. 

To really make your nightscape image amazing, you’ll want to capture an interesting foreground, too. This can be snowy mountains, a waterfall, or in my case, just a dark, wooded forest.

In the video below, I capture the constellation Orion on a not-so-clear night, using my nightscape photography camera setup including a star tracker.

8 Nightscape Photography Tips for Beginners

Astrophotography has one of the steepest learning curves of any type of photography, but it’s also one of the most exciting. It may seem easier to take a great nightscape image than a high magnification deep-sky image of a galaxy or nebula, but I consider it to be much harder.

If you have a background in landscape photography, you’ll have a huge head start going in. All of the daytime photography best practices including composition and the rule of thirds can help your nightscape image stand out. 

The Milky Way

The Milky Way stretches across the night sky. Several nebulae in Cygnus are visible.

If you want to take beautiful nightscape photography images, there are a few best practices to keep in mind. I have captured many astro-landscapes using a regular DSLR camera and kit lens that absolutely blew me away, and there are a few things all of those photos had in common.

  1. Get to a dark sky location (Bortle scale class 4 or better)
  2. Use a star tracker for long exposure images (Separate images of sky and foreground)
  3. Shoot during the new moon phase (Use crescent phases to illuminate the scene)
  4. Visit your location during the day first (Plan a safe route back to your location)
  5. Choose a subject that compliments your location and time (Seasonal constellations)
  6. Frame your subject in a creative way (composition, rule of thirds, light painting)
  7. Live-view focus on a bright star (stop down your lens for better stars)
  8. Use the right settings for a clean shot (keep ISO low, and shoot long)

As simple as these tips may seem, in a real-world setting, everything must come together at once for a truly amazing nightscape image. I will now explain each of these steps in detail. 

Milky Way Photography

Get Dark

Unlike deep-sky astrophotography through a telescope, it is very difficult to calibrate wide-angle nightscape shots to remove light-pollution and gradients. 

To capture vivid star colors, defined constellations, and even faint deep-sky nebulae and galaxies within the starfield, you must get away from the city lights.

Fortunately, this lends itself well to nightscape photography. Locations that are free of light-pollution are often natural areas that include beautiful landscapes of trees, water, mountains, and more natural wonders. 

Plan your nightscape photography session using an app such as Photopills, or simply a light pollution map that reveals the darkest spots in your area. 

light pollution map

Plan your next photography trip using a light pollution map.

Even a dark sky site will usually have a glow coming from a certain direction. You can either avoid this area of the sky, or play off of the glow to add to the overall composition of the image.

In the image of the Milky Way core shown below, you’ll notice a warm glow at the bottom right of the image frame. This is light pollution from the city of Erie, Pennsylvania across Lake Erie. 

Milky Way astrophotography

Track the Motion of the Sky

A star tracker is a convenient way to capture long-exposure night sky images free of star trailing. Once polar aligned with the celestial pole, you can capture incredibly deep images of space that include areas of nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters.

It is possible to capture amazing nightscape images without a star tracker, but you’re camera settings and approach to the shot will be more limited.

For example, when your camera is tracking the motion of the night sky, you can scale back ISO and aperture settings, and let the exposure time compensate for any lack of signal. This can help collect a cleaner, sharper shot.

Because the exposures of the night sky are moving independently from the ground below, you will need to capture a separate (still) image of the foreground and merge the two together (more on this below).

star tracker for astrophotography

My Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i (star tracker). 

A star tracker must be accurately polar aligned to track the stars effectively. I use an app on my mobile phone called ‘Polar Finder’ to give me a real-time reference for the position of Polaris (the North Star).

Related: Ultimate List of Astronomy and Stargazing Apps for Your Mobile Phone

New Moon Phase

Unless you are planning to photograph a moonlit landscape (there are benefits to the moon’s light for the foreground landscape), you’ll want to plan your session during the new moon phase. 

I regularly see new astrophotographers planning trips to a dark sky location during a full moon. This defeats the purpose of finding a dark sky because the moon washes out everything except the brightest stars in the night sky.

Use a moon phase calendar to plan your trip around the week surrounding the new moon. This will give you the best chance of capturing the most amount of stars in your image as possible.

A waxing crescent moon that sets later on in the night (or waning crescent that rises late) is okay, too. The closer your trip lands to the new moon phase, the better.

Over-exposed moon

The moon is beautiful in its own right, but it is not ideal when capturing starry nightscape images. Moon photography is another type of astrophotography all together. 

A Journey in the Dark

Depending on where you are located, it may be difficult to find areas with a good mix of land and sky. Looking over a large, open body of water is great, but the foreground lacks interest because it is flat.

An area with high elevation has advantages in terms of sky transparency, and can also help you line up fascinating landscape features below the sky. A location that looks down over a valley or rocky water’s edge is a great start.

Make a trip out to your location during the day, and pay attention to features that may add interest to the shot. Like any great landscape photo location, you’ll need to make sure you can safely set up your camera equipment.

Taking photos in the dark adds another challenge to the mix. Take note of the area during the day, and any spots that will be difficult to navigate with only a headlamp to guide your way. 

The Milky Way Galaxy

The Milky Way photographed from a dark sky site away from city light pollution.

The Perfect Subject

The constellations and stars in the night sky appear to move throughout the year. This means that you can’t just choose the area of the sky you want to shoot and find it when the sky clears.

Use a planetarium app on your phone like Stellarium to get a preview of the night sky on the day of your photography trip. Not only are you limited to the constellations and stars of the season, but the ones that lie in the direction of your intended landscape. 

I like to photograph constellations as they rise in the east, so I typically look for landscape locations that include a clear open view in this direction. Capturing constellations setting in the west feels like a race against the clock, as they slowly fall deeper into the ground. 

Some of the best nightscapes are photos that tell a story about the location and time of year. An example is the constellation Orion in the winter sky, with a cold, snowy landscape below. 

star map

The Stellarium Online Star Map is a free tool to plan your night sky scene.

Framing the Scene

A wide-angle lens is a landscape photographer’s best friend, and the same is often true for nightscape photography as well. This will allow you to collect the widest possible scene that includes land and sky.

How wide is too wide? Unless a ‘fisheye’ view is the look you are going for, a lens with a focal length of about 14-18mm is great. The type of camera you’re using will change your overall field of view.

I find that my Sigma 24mm F/1.4 Art lens is great for wide-angle nightscape shots on my full-frame camera. On a crop sensor camera, this would be a little tight. If you’re using a crop-sensor (APS-C) camera, stick to a wider focal length of at least 18mm. 

A wide-angle landscape lens is ideal because you can capture a wide area of the night sky that includes multiple constellations and stars. Then, you can crop the image in post to isolate a particular area of interest. 

Achieving a Sharp Focus

Focusing a camera lens for astrophotography can be challenging. The trick is to allow as much light to reach the sensor as possible, and then use the camera’s live view setting to adjust focus in real-time.

You can then zoom in on an area of the image at the focal plane of the stars, and manually focus the lens. On Canon DSLR and mirrorless cameras, you’ll be able to magnify your image by 5X and 10X (30X with the Canon EOS Ra).

Once you have focused the lens, you can dial back the settings and take your shot. Some people like to mark the focus point on the lens with a white piece of tape. 

how to focus camera lens for nightscapes

I recommend the following camera settings to use when focusing your camera lens: 

Camera Lens Settings for Focus (Adjust After)

  • Mode: Manual/Bulb
  • Focus Mode: Manual
  • ISO: 6400 
  • F-Stop: F/2.8 (or below)
  • Exposure: 30-seconds

These settings should allow enough light in so that you can focus on a bright star. If you can find some medium-sized stars in the frame (or better yet, a cluster of varying star sizes), you can really dial in the focus.

Remember to scale back the settings like ISO, exposure, and f-stop for your long exposure images. Next, I’ll explain the camera settings I use to take nightscape photography images like the one below.

nightscape photography example

Nightscape Photography Camera Settings

For nightscape photography (and astrophotography in general), you want to maximize light transmission through the optics to the camera sensor. There is an exception to this of course when you begin to lose the quality of the stars in your image.

Photography at night requires exposures that are much longer than they would typically be during the day. This could be anywhere from 5-seconds to 3-minutes. 

If your camera lens has a maximum aperture of F/2.8, that’s a great place to start. Lenses that are even faster than that, in the F/1.8-F/2 range have an edge over the competition when it comes to astrophotography.

Milky Way Photography

The lens aperture is a critical specification to consider when choosing a camera lens for astrophotography. For nightscape photography, you will find the maximum aperture of your lens (or close to it) the most effective for your projects.

Your exposure time on each individual image will depend on the focal length of your lens, and whether you are using a star tracker or not. You can use the 500 Rule as a general rule of thumb when capturing images of the night sky on a stationary tripod.

The best ISO settings for night photography is a conversation that has been debated to death. Generally, a high ISO setting will introduce more camera noise in the image than a low one. Some cameras are ISO invariant for much of their ISO range.

The answer to this question depends on the camera you are using. For my Canon EOS Ra, ISO 1600, or ISO 3200 work well. I recommend shooting your nightscapes at ISO 800 to start. If the images appear clean, you can try bumping the ISO setting to 1600 for a brighter image.

The file type must be RAW for you to tap into the powerful features of software like Adobe Camera Raw after the image has been taken. This will allow you to change the white balance, adjust clarity and saturation, and much more. 

Here is a breakdown of the settings I use for a typical nightscape image:

Camera Settings for Nightscape Images

  • Mode: Manual/Bulb
  • Focus Mode: Manual
  • ISO: 1600 
  • White Balance: Auto/Daylight
  • F-Stop: F/3.2
  • Exposure: 90-seconds

As you can see, I have adjusted the settings from the ones used to focus the camera lens. The reason I like to lower the f-stop from F/2.8 to F/3.2 (despite losing light-gathering ability), is because this will sharpen up the image, particularly the stars at the edges of the frame.

The exposure time is also much longer (90-seconds), and this is only possible when a star tracker is used to compensate for the apparent rotation of the night sky. A separate, shorter exposure should be captured for the foreground to avoid blurring the landscape. 

To automate a sequence of exposures to fire off, I use a simple remote shutter release cable to control the camera. This allows me to choose the duration of the image, the number of images, and any delay between shots.

I typically shoot between 25-50 image exposures for a single project. Aim for at least an hour of overall exposure time to create an image with a healthy signal-to-noise ratio. I do not normally take dark calibration frames for my nightscape images as I would for a deep-sky project. 

As for choosing the right exposure, use the histogram to guide you. A well-exposed image will show the bulk of the data in the center, or just to the right of the histogram without clipping in either side. 

If you notice the highlights are clipped on the right-hand side of the histogram, you can reduce the exposure time, lower the f-stop, or dial back your ISO. I recommend lowering your ISO setting if possible. 

Below, is a typical looking histogram for one of my nightscape images. The second (left) peak of data is the shadows in the foreground portion of the image. 

histogram

A typical foreground image exposure could be 30-seconds long, enough to expose the dark landscape beneath the sky. This is where a setting or rising crescent moon can help illuminate the scene.

If you do not have a star tracker, stick to 30-second exposures. If the stars begin to trail in a 30-second exposure, scale the exposure time back until they are recorded at an acceptable level of sharpness. 

Light Painting

The concept of light painting refers to the act of shining light on a dark area to brighten it through a long exposure image. Even a subtle shine of a red headlamp can add color and light to selective areas of your image.

You simply need to take a long exposure image (eg. 10-seconds), and shine a light on the area you wish to highlight. It is very experimental, and the right settings will depend on the lighting effect you are going for. 

White light can help illuminate an otherwise dark area of the foreground, whether it is a rock, a handsome tree, or a path on the ground. Light painting allows you to add interest to the image by highlighting specific areas of the landscape.

In the image below, I used my red headlamp to draw the viewer’s eye to the crunchy snow and footprints on the ground. Painting with light can help add to a pleasing composition.

light painting

Post Processing

Processing a nightscape photography image takes time and patience. A great shot starts in the field behind the camera, but your processing skills will take it to the next level.

Adobe Photoshop is the tool of choice for most nightscape photographers. It offers the advanced processing tools needed to correct gradients, boost saturation, adjust levels, and much more. 

Some of the basic post-processing techniques applied to a nightscape image include color balancing, curves adjustments, noise reduction, saturation boost, and sharpening. 

Image Stacking

Before processing the final image, I recommend creating an intermediate file by stacking a series of exposures together. The stacking can be done manually in Photoshop, or with the help of an image stacking tool like Sequator

Seqautor is extremely easy to use and gives you some simple tools to enhance the image. This includes auto-brightness, high dynamic range, and enhance starlight. I use this tool in its simplest form, and leave all of the additional settings ‘off’ except for ‘remove dynamic noises’.

The main purpose of the tool is to build a clean image with less noise than a single exposure, and even a stack of 10 light frames will accomplish this. Make sure you use the irregular mask to select the night sky in the image without including the foreground landscape. (Here is a great tutorial by Alyn Wallace).

sequator tutorial

Sequator is a free astrophotography stacking program. 

Stacking a set of 10 image exposures or more will improve the signal-to-noise ratio, providing you with a cleaner image with plenty of depth and detail. You can still create a great image with a single exposure, but noise will creep up as you adjust levels and perform other enhancements to the image. 

To complete the image, you must merge the stationary foreground landscape with a ‘moving’ sky. The foreground will appear blurry in a tracked shot, so separating the two elements of the image using a layer mask is recommended (see below).

how to create nightscape image

Adobe Photoshop’s Select and Mask tool is a great way to carefully make your selection, and refine the edges of your landscape. Keep the foreground element of your image separate, and carefully remove the sky from the horizon upwards. 

Then, apply the foreground to the stacked image (of the night sky and blurry ground below) as a new layer on top. This way, you’ll have the benefits of a stacked sky image, with a sharp landscape below. You can move the background sky layer independently from the foreground, an experiment with different compositions.

Enhance Stars and Constellations 

If you’ve ever noticed how certain constellations, asterisms, and bright stars seem to stand out in a nightscape image, there is some magic behind this. You can carefully select these elements of the image and brighten them. You can also boost saturation. and add a subtle glow.

The easiest way to achieve this effect is during the image acquisition stage. A thin layer of high clouds in the sky (poor transparency), will naturally add a beautiful glow to the brightest stars in the sky. You never know when these conditions will occur, but it’s something to look out for.

Starglow Filter

You can also use a filter (such as the Alyn Wallace Starglow Filter), to create this effect when the skies are completely clear. A starglow filter threads externally to your camera lens and can be combined with other nightscape filters if desired. 

There are a few techniques you can try in Adobe Camera Raw to add interest to specific stars (and bright nebulae) in the night sky. The clarity and dehaze sliders can make a dramatic difference to your night sky image. You will need to experiment with these settings and adjust this enhancement to your liking.

Creating a star mask on the brightest stars of the image lets you adjust aspects such as saturation, and brightness independently from the rest of the image. This is a great way to help isolate a specific constellation or star pattern in the image.

clarity and dehaze

Use the Clarity and Dehaze sliders in Adobe Camera Raw to enhance a starry landscape. 

Top Processing Tools

The process of enhancing a nightscape image mirrors many of the techniques used for deep-sky astrophotography. If you are interested in learning the specifics of this process, consider buying my premium astrophotography image processing guide.

image processing guide

My image processing guide includes topics such as image stacking, and create a composite nightscape image in Photoshop.

Recommended Camera Equipment

It may surprise you to know that the camera equipment needed for nightscape photography is much more affordable than a deep-sky imaging rig. You do not need a robust equatorial tracking telescope mount to take great, wide-angle images of the night sky. 

Many of the same camera settings and tips that work well for deep-sky astrophotography apply to nightscapes, on a smaller scale. A large telescope with plenty of magnification is of no use for wide-field nightscape images.

For nightscapes, being portable and lightweight is of the utmost importance.

Tripod

Whenever you are taking long-exposure images (tracked or not), your tripod becomes very important. This is the stable platform that anchors your entire camera setup.

Do not skimp on your tripod, invest in a high-quality base that will reliably carry your expensive camera and lens in all sorts of outdoor situations. Choose a tripod that is strong, but also light enough to travel with for long distances.

An aluminum tripod is strong, but some are too heavy for travel. I suggest a high-quality carbon fiber tripod with a weight capacity of at least 25-30 pounds. I use a Radian Carbon Fiber tripod that is very lightweight, and very strong (50-pound payload capacity).

The best part about this tripod is its ability to unlock at the base, and rotate freely. This comes in handy when the equatorial head of the star tracker needs to be rotated during polar alignment. 

best tripod for nightscapes

Star Tracker

A star tracker will not only allow you to take long-exposure images that have sharp, round stars but will reveal deep-sky nebulae and galaxies as well. Under dark skies, a 90-second exposure will reveal faint dust, glowing nebulae, and rich star fields. 

A star tracker is essentially a simplified, portable version of a large GoTo computerized telescope mount. It does not include a computer database of deep-space targets for you to slew to, you’ll have to find objects on your own.

The iOptron SkyGuider Pro and Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer are my top choices. You can see the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer camera tracker attached to the base of the tripod in the image below. 

astrophotography equipment

Camera

Any modern DLSR or Mirrorless camera with an interchangeable lens is capable of amazing nightscapes. My first astrophotography camera was a Canon EOS Rebel XSi (450D), and I took some amazing images of constellations, aurora, and starscapes. 

A full-frame sensor has a big advantage when it comes to nightscapes. The large sensor will utilize the native focal length of a wide-angle camera lens without cropping the image. 

A DSLR/Mirrorless camera allows you to take RAW images (that can be adjusted on your computer later) and gives you complete manual control of the settings. I currently use a Canon EOS Ra mirrorless camera for nightscape photography. 

best camera

I use a Canon EOS Ra Mirrorless camera for nightscape photography. 

It features an astro-modified camera sensor that is sensitive to the h-alpha wavelength of the visible spectrum. This is handy when photographing areas that include many of the most popular nebulae in the night sky. 

You do not need a modified astrophotography camera to take stunning nightscapes. A stock camera will simply limit the amount of ‘red’ that is recorded in certain areas of nebulosity. Reflection nebulae, star clusters, and most galaxies are totally unaffected.

In my experience, light-pollution filters are not nearly as effective when used with a camera lens in a wide-angle photo. Shoot unfiltered, and get away from city lights for a natural-looking sky. 

Camera Lens

A standard kit lens will do just fine, but a camera lens with a faster f-stop is even better. My personal favorite nightscape photography lens at the moment is the Sigma 24mm F/1.4 Art series lens. 

A 24mm focal length is just wide enough to capture a large area of the night sky when used with a full-frame camera. If you are using a crop-sensor camera, you’ll want something wider for capturing nightscapes. 

Sigma 24mm F/1.4

When it comes to camera lenses for astrophotography, the most important features are a fast f-ratio, a sharp/flat field, and a chromatic aberration-free image. Some lenses cause color-fringing around the bright stars, which can be difficult to correct in post.

The Canon EF 17-40mm F/4L is a solid choice, although faster optics would help collect more light in a single shot.

Another great lens for landscape astrophotography is the Rokinon 14mm F/2.8. This lens is extremely affordable and performs exceptionally well considering the price. 

A wide-angle lens allows you to capture longer exposures without star trailing when mounted to a stationary tripod. A longer focal length lens of 50mm or more will limit your exposure times (untracked) and will make framing a landscape scene a challenge. 

There are many great camera lens options available for nightscape photography, but here are a few of my personal favorites. All of these lenses were mounted to Canon cameras.

If you use a Canon camera with the new RF mount (such as the Canon EOS Ra), you will need to buy a Canon EF – EOS R adapter to use these EF mount lenses.

The Bottom Line

A great nightscape image can include a constellation, the Milky Way, auroras, or even the moon and planets. I believe the key to a memorable nightscape image is to tell a story of the location and time of where it was taken.

Try to replicate the feeling you had in the moment, and how magical the sky appeared above your head that night.

Space is impossibly beautiful and captivating. Once you learn the basics of nightscape photography and begin to apply some of the tips outlined on this page, I think you’ll find it a lot easier to tell your story.

star photography

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My Best Images & The Gear Used

|Blog Updates|28 Comments

On this website, I do my best to share information and astrophotography tips that provide value. I could pat myself on the back about all of the great astrophotography images I took this year, but it is of little interest to anyone if I don’t explain how I took the shot. 

In this article, I’ll share my best astrophotography images of 2020, and the equipment setups used for each image. This way, you’ll have a better idea of what’s behind each image, and how you can accomplish a similar result yourself.

Capturing the images with the right set of gear is only half of the equation, of course. If you’re interested in learning how I process my deep-sky astrophotos, consider taking a look at my premium image processing guide

astrophotography equipment

The Gear Behind My Best Images of the Year

As you know, 2020 was a strange year. I spent a lot of time at home and took most of my astrophotography images from my light-polluted backyard (Bortle Scale Class 7) in the city. I tried to capture a mix of galaxies and nebulae this year using a number of different telescopes, cameras, and filters.

I’ve included links to the equipment used for each shot, from the filter to the telescope mount. You obviously don’t need to use the exact set of gear to replicate my results, but at least you’ll have a better idea of what to expect.

I have also included the software used to photograph the images with my laptop computer, and the post-processing software as well. 

For the absolute latest images, consider following AstroBackyard on Instagram and Facebook. For a behind-the-scenes look at how the images are created, you can also subscribe to my YouTube Channel

best astrophotography images

Messier 82: The Cigar Galaxy

  • Object Type: Irregular (Starburst) Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky LRGB
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

After a cloudy start to the year, I finally began my first serious astrophotography project in March. I have always wanted to photograph the Cigar Galaxy (Messier 82) with enough focal length to reveal the interesting structure of this irregular galaxy

In the past, I’ve collected light on this area of the night sky using a wider field-of-view (400mm-800mm). This allows you to create an image that features 2 distinct galaxy types in a single shot (Spiral and Irregular). 

Nearby Messier 81 always seems to get plenty of attention from the amateur astrophotography community, so I decided to give its neighbor some love. I don’t recommend photographing this galaxy on its own unless you’ve got at least 1000mm of focal length. 

Overall, I managed to collect 5 hours and 25 minutes of total integrated exposure time on this galaxy in Ursa Major. I am happy with the result (definitely my best yet), but I would have liked to capture more hydrogen-alpha data to really bring out the “fiery-looking plumes of glowing hydrogen blasting out of its central regions”. 

Messier 82 galaxy

The Cigar Galaxy in Ursa Major. 

This was an early project using the Starlight Xpress SX-42 (Trius 694 Mono) CCD camera, and I was still very new to building LRGB images in Adobe Photoshop. This camera features a 6.1 MP monochrome CCD sensor with 4.54-micron pixels. 

It is my first CCD camera, and it has provided me with some of the most incredible deep-sky images I have ever taken (including my APOD in June 2020)

Starlight Xpress Trius 694 Mono CCD

I now have an astrophotography rig better suited for photographing small galaxies (Celestron Edge HD 11), but the 6-inch refractor used for this photo is well-suited for medium-sized galaxies like M81 and M82.

Each and every exposure used for this image was 5-minutes long. 300-seconds seemed to be enough for the Ha, but I don’t think I’ll shoot my LRGB sub-exposures so long in the future.

Messier 51: The Whirlpool Galaxy

  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky LRGB
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

Soon after completing my Cigar Galaxy photograph, I pointed my telescope towards the Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. In the northern hemisphere, it’s an excellent project to take on in the springtime.

Again, I used my Astronomik LRGB filters and the Starlight Xpress monochrome CCD. With pleasing results on the Cigar Galaxy a month earlier, I decided to keep shooting 300-second sub-exposures on the Whirlpool Galaxy.

Unlike my image of Messier 81, I shot plenty of luminance data for this target (36 x 300-seconds). I believe this helped to keep the noise minimal, even after substantial stretching to the saturation and curves. 

M51 Whirlpool Galaxy

The Whirlpool Galaxy in Canes Venatici. 

The aperture of the Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 (6-inches) helps to resolve faint, detailed structures in galaxies like this. The Esprit 150 really is a dream telescope for refractor fans.

Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 APO

The Starlight Xpress filter wheel is an absolute pleasure to use with my Trius 694 mono CCD camera. After installing the ASCOM drivers on my laptop computer, I can connect to the filter wheel using Astro Photography Tool and can change filters quickly and reliably depending on the subject matter. 

It’s a 7-position wheel containing a complete set of Astronomik Luminance, Red, Green, Blue, 6nm H-Alpha, 6nm OIII, and 6nm SII 1.25″ filters. A filter wheel is a must if you plan on using a monochrome camera to build full-color images over time. 

NGC 2539: Thors Helmet

  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Deep-Sky Narrowband (HOO)
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CCD

Thor’s Helmet Nebula is a fascinating deep-sky target in Canis Major and an object that can be difficult to capture from the northern hemisphere. From my backyard, this nebula skims the trees and rooftops of the neighborhood, allowing only a short window of opportunity.

Until this photo, I had only attempted Thor’s Helmet once before, using a telescope with a short focal length (400mm). This time, I was able to get an up-close view of this dynamic emission nebula at 1050mm using the Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 APO refractor.

I photographed this nebula in HOO (Ha, OIII, OIII). This means that I mapped the hydrogen to red, and the oxygen to green and blue. For this subject, I think it creates a beautiful result. 

Thors Helmet

The Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro equatorial mount has been extremely reliable since it arrived in late 2019. This observatory-grade GoTo mount can handle a payload of up 75-pounds, yet handles like an EQ6-R Pro with an identical user-experience. 

This tracking mount has spent much of the year outside, with a Telegizmos 365 cover protecting it from the elements. It was so nice to have a deep-sky astrophotography rig already polar-aligned and ready to image when the weather allowed for it.

Sky-Watcher EQ8-R Pro

On clear nights, I will set up an additional rig (usually the more manageable Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro) to capture another deep-sky object at the same time.

NGC 6888: The Crescent Nebula

  • Object Type: Emission Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

The Crescent Nebula is an extremely popular deep-sky target for amateur astrophotographers, and for good reason. The problem is, it’s small. To capture a detailed portrait of this 25-light-year wide cosmic bubble, you need some serious reach. 

If you haven’t noticed a recurring theme in all of the images on this page up to this point, you should. Again, the incredible Sky-Watcher Esprit 150 Super APO refractor was used to create the image.

1050mm focal length is more than enough magnification for this object, but with a full-frame mirrorless sensor, you get some of the surrounding nebulosity too. 

Crescent Nebula

The Canon EOS Ra was my most-used camera of 2020, and it remains my favorite camera for astrophotography of all time. A full-frame modified sensor is something to treasure. The extremely user-friendly format of a mirrorless camera attached to the back of the telescope reminds me of how I got started in this hobby, and the joy it brings me.

Many people doubted my decision to purchase the Canon EOS Ra, and the critiques claimed it was overpriced. After nearly 30 image projects completed with this camera, I can safely recommend it to anyone looking for a reliable all-around astrophotography camera. 

Canon EOS Ra

The Radian Triad Ultra quadband filter is an incredible fit for the Canon EOS Ra, and this was the filter I used for 90% of my deep-sky shots using this configuration. 

It can be difficult to showcase the faint shell of oxygen surrounding the Crescent Nebula, and for this, I needed a little help. I applied a 25% layer of OIII data using my monochrome CCD camera to the image to really make that outer shell ‘pop’.

Comet NEOWISE

  • Object Type: Solar System (Comet)
  • Imaging Style: Broadband Wide-Field
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

Photographing Comet NEOWISE was an unforgettable experience. The tail of this evaporating iceberg in space was long and beautiful. 

There were thousands of images of Comet NEOWISE taken in July 2020, and some of them were remarkable. I did my best to capture this memorable scene from my backyard using basic equipment.

Comet photography is quite different from traditional deep-sky photography, although there are a few best practices that came in handy. I used my Rokinon 135mm F/2 lens and DSLR to photograph this comet on July 17th, 2020. 

Comet NEOWISE

The best part about photographing this comet was that it did not require an expensive deep-sky imaging rig. A portable star tracker and camera lens worked perfectly to capture this long icy snowball in the sky. 

The Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer is a dependable, battery-powered, ultra-portable star tracker that can handle up to 11-pounds of gear. I’ve used this little EQ mount with everything from a DSLR and 50mm lens, to a Radian Raptor 61 APO. 

Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i

You may be wondering why the comet is lying on its side in this image when most photos show it pointing downward. The silhouetted treeline at the bottom of the photo is actually the side of my neighbor’s tree, and I rotated the frame to capture the Comet lengthwise.

The position and timing of the comet made photographing this celestial event a challenge. It sat rather low in the sky, and there was a limited window of time to capture it in the early morning, or just after dusk. There are many things I would change if I could photograph Comet NEOWISE again, but I will have to wait until it returns to Earth in 8,786.

  • Total Exposure Time: 7 Minutes
  • Details: 32 x 14-seconds
  • Camera: Canon EOS 60Da
  • Telescope/Lens: Rokinon 135mm F/2
  • Filter: None
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
  • Guide Scope: None
  • Guide Camera: None
  • Acquisition: Remote Shutter Release Cable
  • Integration/Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

The Planet Mars

  • Object Type: Solar System (Planet)
  • Imaging Style: RGB 
  • Camera Type: Monochrome CMOS 

The Mars Opposition was another amazing celestial event that seemed to further ignite interest in astronomy in 2020. On October 13th, 2020, Mars was at its closest to Earth, and I photographed the planet shortly before this date.

Up until this year, my best photos of Mars were tiny, blurry orange orbs in the sky. I had never captured any interesting details of the planet’s rocky surface before. 

This type of astrophotography requires different acquisition software and a completely different post-processing routine as well. The results were incredible, considering I still have much to learn.

Planet Mars

High magnification planetary imaging is still quite foreign to me, although I have been photographing planets for quite some time. This time, I used a large SCT (Celestron Edge HD 11) and a dedicated astronomy camera that excels in planetary photography.

Celestron Edge HD 11

The most difficult part of the process was painstakingly removing and replacing each RGB filter in front of the camera (and re-focusing each time) to create a full-color image with my monochrome camera. This is exactly why filter wheels exist, I just did not own one at the time. 

The process becomes even more challenging as the planet slowly rotates (some, faster than others), and you realize that the rotation has created a mismatch in terms of surface details from one color to the next. 

NG 6960: The Western Veil Nebula

  • Object Type: Supernova Remnant
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: Dedicated Astronomy Camera (one-shot-color CMOS)

I took several photos with the versatile QHY268C one-shot-color astronomy camera in 2020. It was difficult to choose a favorite, as they all ended up being my best versions of each object to date. 

The Veil Nebula looked especially beautiful when captured with this camera, and I photographed it from every angle possible. The Optolong L-eXtreme filter was made for this target, and I was thrilled with my results using this combo.

The separation between the hydrogen and oxygen gases of this nebula from a light-polluted sky was impressive. If you’ve ever photographed the Veil Nebula using a broad spectrum filter, you’ll know that it can easily get buried underneath a sea of stars.

Western Veil Nebula

The sensor size of the QHY268C is APS-C (crop-sensor), which is quite large in the world of dedicated one-shot-color astronomy cameras. I thoroughly appreciated the field of view this sensor captured, in stunning high-resolution detail.

Although many of my best images of the year were captured using a monochrome camera, one-shot-color cameras continue to be a practical way to complete an image with limited time. In the case of the QHY268C, the image quality doesn’t have to suffer, either.

QHY268C Camera

Messier 31: The Andromeda Galaxy

  • Object Type: Spiral Galaxy
  • Imaging Style: Broadband RGB 
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

I rented an Airbnb under Bortle Scale Class 4 skies to photograph the Andromeda Galaxy in October 2020. This sensational broadband galaxy often looks best when photographed without the use of filters. 

Unlike most other galaxies, Andromeda is very large, and you may be surprised to find out that your current camera and telescope configuration will not fit the entire galaxy in a single frame. 

Andromeda Galaxy

This is one of the many sensational images captured using the Radian Raptor 61 apochromatic refractor telescope. This shows off the massive field of view provided at 275mm focal length. The conditions were far from ideal that night, but I am happy with how the photo turned out nevertheless. 

apochromatic refractor telescope

I used my portable Sky-Watcher EQ6-R Pro GoTo equatorial mount for this photo and took advantage of the autoguiding feature of the mount. The entire imaging rig was very manageable, and one that I will certainly bring on more adventures away from home in the future. 

As for the processing, I have shared an Andromeda Galaxy image processing tutorial in the past, and those techniques are largely unchanged today. 

The Milky Way 

  • Object Type: Milky Way Photography
  • Imaging Style: Wide-Field Nightscape
  • Camera Type: DSLR/Mirrorless (one-shot-color)

This photo was taken on a rare adventure away from home in 2020. My wife Ashley and I rented an Airbnb under Bortle Scale Class 3 skies during new moon. The night sky was jaw-droppingly gorgeous from this location.  

The core of the Milky Way was obscured by trees, but there was a large opening to the sky straight overhead on the property. Luckily, the timing was perfect as Cygnus and Cepheus are full of beautiful nebulae regions. 

The Milky Way

For this photo, I used my Canon EOS Ra mirrorless camera with a Sigma 24mm F/1.4 lens attached. This is a spectacular lens for astrophotography, particularly nightscape images like this.  Sigma 24mm F/1.4

I compensated for the apparent motion of the night sky using a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer 2i star tracker. This portable rig is so easy to set up and record wide swaths of the night sky. It is hands-down the best Milky Way Photography setup I’ve ever owned.  

I used a different stacking software for this shot, one that is more suitable for landscape astrophotography. Sequator is a simple-to-use stacking software that does a great job of reducing noise in your image to provide an impressive file to process.

  • Total Exposure Time: 14 Minutes
  • Details: 9 x 90-seconds at ISO 3200
  • Camera: Canon EOS Ra
  • Telescope/Lens: Sigma 24mm F/1.4
  • Filter: None
  • Mount: Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer
  • Guide Scope: None
  • Guide Camera: None
  • Acquisition: Remote Shutter Release Cable
  • Integration/Calibration: Sequator
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

NGC 7293: The Helix Nebula

  • Object Type: Planetary Nebula
  • Imaging Style: Multi-Bandpass Narrowband
  • Camera Type: Dedicated Astronomy Camera (one-shot-color CMOS)

The Helix Nebula is one of those deep-sky objects that remind you of why you got into astrophotography. Its iconic shape and bold colors can spark a passion for astronomy and space like few other objects can.

I photographed the Helix Nebula on several occasions in the summer of 2020, yet still didn’t manage to collect enough exposure time to truly do this object justice. This image is not technically amazing by any stretch, but it is still one of the most exciting photos I took all year. 

For this image, I took advantage of the amazing Optolong L-eXtreme filter and QHY268C color camera once more.

Helix Nebula

To achieve these colors, I had to do some selective stretching and color balancing. The outer rim of hydrogen in red/orange is pretty standard, but in my data, I had to pull the greenish/blue area in the center way up. 

The central region of this nebula was much more greenish in the “out-of-the-camera” image. The Optolong L-eXtreme does a great job of separating the important wavelengths of light associated with some of the most popular nebulae in the sky.

Optolong L-eXtreme Filter

This is quite a small target, so plenty of aperture and focal length is needed to really get a good look at the Helix Nebula. 

Final Thoughts

This was hands-down the busiest year of astrophotography I’ve ever had. There were a lot of sleepless nights, numb fingers, and long image processing sessions. My reward? The images in this article, and the countless memorable nights under a clear night sky.

I hope you have gotten some value out of the descriptions of these images, so you can tackle the job yourself. Of course, you do not need to use the exact configuration I did to achieve these results, but at least you will have a benchmark to start from. 

If you have any questions about the astrophotography equipment discussed in this article, please feel free to let me know in the comments. Until next year, clear skies!

best astrophotography images

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Why I Bought the Canon EOS Ra

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In early May 2020, I decided to purchase a Canon EOS Ra camera from B&H photo. This is Canon’s latest astrophotography camera, and it has some seriously impressive specs (like a  full-frame 30.3 MP astro-modified sensor).

For a complete rundown of the Canon EOS Ra, you can read my full review from January of this year. Essentially, it is a clone of the popular Canon EOS R mirrorless camera, with a specialized IR cut filter optimized for astrophotography.

In this article, I want to discuss why I purchased the EOS Ra, and share my results from the backyard. 

Is the Canon EOS Ra Worth it?

With a price tag of $2500 USD, you’ll want to think long and hard before taking the plunge on a niche camera like the EOS Ra. 

After all, there are plenty of affordable options available in the DSLR line-up, although these are not sensitive to hydrogen-alpha like the Ra is. 

You could modify your DSLR for astrophotography, but unless you’re comfortable dissembling your camera, that task is better left to the professionals.

I considered purchasing a professionally modified Canon EOS 6D Mark II as an upgrade to my Canon EOS Rebel T3i (and Canon EOS 60Da), but the price was not substantially less than a brand new EOS Ra. 

Canon EOS Ra body

I also wanted to “future-proof” myself to a degree, and be able to utilize Canon’s new RF lens mount lineup in the future. 

The EOS R (and RP) were attractive options, but ultimately the ability to record deep-sky images (nebulae regions) sold me on the Ra version.

Another consideration was the ability to utilize the 4K video mode of the EOS Ra. The EOS R version will capture “normal” looking colors in the daytime, while the EOS Ra will have a red cast to them due to the modified IR cut filter.

The EOS R would be a better choice if the camera was primarily to be used for filming my YouTube videos, but this camera is destined for the stars.

Milky Way Photography

The Milky Way. Canon EOS Ra with a Sigma 24mm F/1.4 lens attached. 

I can still use the EOS Ra during the day for photography and filming, but I will need to correct the white balance in post-production.

To be totally honest, I didn’t want to be left behind like I was with the EOS 60Da. This camera quickly sold out and was no longer available unless you could find one used.

I don’t think there will be any new Canon EOS Ra’s left by the end of the year, but we will see. As an example, finding a used Canon EOS 60Da is nearly impossible.

Canon EOS Ra example image

The Heart and Soul Nebula captured using the Canon EOS Ra and Radian Raptor 61 APO.

Compared to a Dedicated Astronomy Camera

Many of you may be in a situation where you are deciding whether to invest in the Canon EOS Ra or a dedicated astronomy camera. I currently shoot with all types of astrophotography cameras from a CMOS one-shot-color, to a monochrome CCD.

Each camera will have its own strengths and weaknesses, and much of the decision comes down to the user experience you are looking for.

DSLR vs. dedicated astronomy camera

For example, a nightscape photographer that is used to shooting with a DSLR or Mirrorless camera on the road will have a hard time justifying the purchase of a dedicated CMOS camera that requires a slew of new software and hardware to run.

Dedicated astronomy cameras have their place, and for many projects, I wouldn’t dream of using the Ra over my Starlight Xpress SX-42 or ZWO ASI533MC Pro.

Rather than a long list of strengths and weaknesses, I’ve highlighted the aspects of each camera (good and bad) that are unique to each one:

Canon EOS Ra 

  • Full-Frame Sensor
  • Battery Powered
  • Portable and Lightweight
  • Native Lens Mount (RF and/or EF with adapter)
  • No External Hardware Required to Take Pictures
  • Produces RAW/Jpeg files Instantly
  • Live View Display Screen
  • Framing/Focusing Can Be Done On-Camera
  • All Camera Settings Can Be Adjusted On-Camera
  • No On-Board Cooling

Dedicated Astronomy Camera

  • On-Board Cooling (TEC)
  • Back-Illuminated Sensor
  • Low Noise Images
  • Designed for Long Exposure Imaging
  • Calibration Frames Easier to Replicate/Produce
  • Full-Frame Models (Eg. ZWO ASI 6200) Are Expensive
  • Requires Additional Hardware/Software to Run (eg. PC, ASIair)
  • No On-Camera Control (Live View, Camera Settings)
  • Requires External Power Source
  • Produces FIT files that Must be Converted to Edit

In the end, I would recommend a DSLR or Mirrorless camera to a nightscape photographer who uses lenses, and a dedicated astronomy camera to someone that primarily shoots through a telescope at home.

There is a third category of imager (that I am a part of), that enjoys the DSLR/Mirrorless experience too much to stop using them for all types of astrophotography. 

Compared to the EOS 60Da?

The Canon EOS 60Da is a fantastic astrophotography camera. I’ve taken countless images through my telescope with the 60Da, and it is currently my best DSLR camera for astrophotography.

Canon EOS 60Da

The Canon EOS 60Da DSLR.

Until the Ra came along in November 2019, the 60Da was Canon’s latest official camera for night sky imaging.

However, the features and specifications of this 2012 camera have become outdated, although many of them are largely ignored for long-exposure deep-sky imaging.

For astrophotography purposes, the biggest differences between the two cameras are the size of the sensor, and the lens mounting system.

  • Canon EOS 60Da Sensor: 18 MP CMOS (APS-C)
  • Canon EOS Ra Sensor: 30.2 MP CMOS (Full-Frame)

In the end, chances are that many owners of modified DSLR cameras will not feel the need to upgrade to the Canon EOS Ra.

Make no mistake, a talented amateur astrophotographer will be able to produce results as impressive as ones taken with the Ra using an affordable, astro-modified DSLR.

Telescope setup

My wide-field deep-sky astrophotography setup.

Results Through a Telescope

I recently attached the Canon EOS Ra to my William Optics RedCat 51 refractor in the backyard. A wide-field instrument like this really utilizes the full-frame sensor of the camera.

I chose to photograph a “fool-proof” area of the night sky, the Sadr region. At a focal length of 250mm, several deep-sky nebulae objects are available. 

The image below includes 15 x 5-minute exposures at ISO 3200. The images were stacked and registered in DeepSkyStacker, and processed in Adobe Photoshop 2020.

Triad Ultra Filter test

Nebulae in Cygnus. Triad Ultra Filter and Canon EOS Ra (Click for larger image).

The Radian Telescopes Triad Ultra filter is a superb match for the EOS Ra, and I plan I using it extensively with this camera this summer. It possesses the qualities of a narrowband filter, with the added ability to create “almost” natural-looking colors (with some color correcting in post). 

When reviewing the data shot using the EOS Ra and Triad Ultra filter, the colors focus at the same point. I regularly process my images on a per-channel basis, and often have to control the star size in certain channels (usually blue). 

That is not the case when shooting with this filter as each channel looks sharp in a single RGB image. 

Triad Ultra Quad-Band Filter

Photo Details:

  • Total Exposure: 1 Hour, 15 Minutes
  • Integration: 15 x 5-minutes @ ISO 3200
  • Calibration Frames: 15 Darks, 15 Flats, 15 Bias
  • Image Acquisition: Astro Photography Tool
  • Pre-Processing: DeepSkyStacker
  • Final Editing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

Equipment List:

Tips for EOS Ra Owners

Astro Photography Tool really shines when you’re using a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The latest version recognizes the EOS Ra, and I can do important tasks like framing and focusing on my laptop.

Alternatively, you can use the beautiful articulating LCD screen on the Ra.

You may just choose to focus and frame your target directly on the camera rather than through software on your computer. Use the helpful 30x live view to really nail your focus.

I use a Canon EF to EOS R adapter (picture below) to connect my camera to the telescope. You will also need this to pair the EOS R with any existing Canon EF-mount lenses.

EF To EOS-R Adapter

The Canon EF – EOS R lens mount adapter.

An important camera setting you’ll need to use when the Canon EOS Ra is attached to a telescope is to enable the “Release Shutter W/O Lens“. The camera doesn’t recognize your telescope as a lens, so you’ll need to set this to take a picture.

Another tip I should mention is that the camera comes with a USB Type-C to Type-C cable, so if you plan on connecting the camera to your laptop, you’ll need a USB Type-C to USB 2.0 cable or an adapter.

Lastly, you’ll want to use the Adobe DNG converter to create RAW files that your pre-processing software will recognize. At the time of writing, the RAW CR3 files the camera produces are not recognized by pre-processing software such as DeepSkyStacker.

Adobe DNG converter

The Adobe DNG Converter software.

Final Thoughts

A lot of people seem to think that the EOS Ra is an odd choice considering the price tag and the fact that it’s not a dedicated Astro camera.

I totally get it, and I don’t think it is for everyone. Not even close. I think this camera was designed to meet the needs of a very specific type of amateur astrophotographer.

One that has progressed through this hobby using DSLR’S, lenses, and wide-field refractors.  

With about 10 images using the Ra under my belt now, I can confidently tell you that this camera feels like it was designed just for me.

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Canon EOS Ra Review

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The Canon EOS Ra camera is Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless camera dedicated to astrophotography. It is suitable for deep-sky imaging with a telescope, and night sky photography with a camera lens.

Based off of the extremely popular EOS R, the EOS Ra boasts unique features such as 30x magnification (viewfinder and Live View) for precise focusing, and roughly 4x more transmission sensitivity to the hydrogen-alpha (Hα) wavelength.

  • Name: Canon EOS Ra
  • Based on: Canon EOS R
  • Release Date: November 2019
  • Type: Mirrorless System
  • Resolution: 30.3 MP
  • Sensor size: Full-Frame
  • Sensor type: CMOS (specialized IR filter)
  • Lens Mount: Canon RF
  • Features: 30X Live View, Vari-angle LCD touchscreen

In the following video, I share my results using the Canon EOS Ra camera attached to a small telescope. This camera is suitable for high-resolution deep-sky astrophotography using a variety of optical instruments.

Canon EOS Ra Review

In late December 2019, Canon USA reached out to me to test their new astrophotography camera, the Canon EOS Ra. The “a” in the name of this camera stands for astrophotography.

That is because, unlike the regular Canon EOS R, this camera is 4X more sensitive to the h-alpha wavelength of the visible spectrum (656.3 nm). This helps collect the important deep red hues of many nebulae in the night sky. 

As Canon puts it, positioned in front of the CMOS imaging sensor, The EOS Ra’s infrared-cutting filter is modified to permit approximately 4x as much transmission of hydrogen-alpha rays at the 656nm wavelength, vs. standard EOS R cameras.” 

Canon EOS Ra Astrophotography

The North America Nebula. 5+ Hour Exposure Using the Canon EOS Ra.

The Canon EOS Ra also includes astrophotography-friendly features such as a unique 30X live-view mode on the vari-angle touchscreen LCD display screen. It’s a color astrophotography camera that was intended to be used for both deep-sky astrophotography, and wide-angle nightscapes.

In this article, I will review the Canon EOS Ra from the perspective of an “ordinary” amateur backyard deep-sky astrophotography enthusiast. As with every review I post, I was not compensated to endorse the product in any way. All of my opinions about this camera are my own. 

Before using the EOS Ra for astrophotography, I previously enjoyed using Canon’s last astrophotography camera, the (APS-C sensor) Canon EOS 60Da DSLR. The EOS Ra, on the other hand, is a full-frame mirrorless camera. 

Canon EOS Ra body

The Canon EOS Ra is a full-frame mirrorless astrophotography camera that is capable of producing APOD worthy astrophotography images. It is not a “one-trick-pony”, so to speak, as many of the other options available to amateurs are. Not only can the Ra take incredible deep-sky images through a telescope, but also using a wide variety of lenses, and without computer control. 

Having a camera with a long-lasting internal battery and a touchscreen display means that you are able to make adjustments to your exposures and key settings on the fly. You do not rely on third-party software to run this camera, although it can be used with popular software such as Astro Photography Tool, or Canon EOS Utilities.

The tactile experience of the EOS Ra camera body inspires you to focus on creative photography that excites you, and less on micro-adjustments and graphs on a computer screen. To be perfectly honest, the Canon EOS Ra is just more fun to use than any other astrophotography camera I’ve experienced. 

Orion Nebula using the EOS Ra

The Orion Nebula using the Canon EOS Ra (40 x 4-minutes at ISO 800).

Camera Features

At the heart of the Canon EOS Ra, is a 30.2 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor. That’s a massive 36 x 24mm sensor, an uncommonly large size in the realm of astrophotography cameras.

This translates into an extremely wide field of view when used with a compact refractor telescope. It utilizes the native focal length of the optical instrument rather than cropping the image as smaller sensors do. 

So, if you use a telescope like the Sky-Watcher Esprit 100, you are shooting at the listed focal length of 550mm. This determines the magnification of the deep-sky object and the resolution of your image. 

The EOS Ra includes all of the advanced features of the EOS R, including a self-cleaning sensor unit, dust delete data function, and an OLED color electronic viewfinder

Canon EOS Ra box

Through this viewfinder, you can monitor key camera settings including exposure information, battery level, ISO speed, histogram, white balance, and much more. 

Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity are standard features of the EOS Ra, too. Does your dedicated astronomy camera offer this? 

 The Canon EOS Ra includes Dual Pixel CMOS autofocus. This advanced focusing system found in the original EOS R will not be utilized in many astrophotography-related shoots, but for video work, AF modes like Face+Tracking are incredibly useful. 

Canon EOS Ra camera body

Specifications

  • Format: Full-Frame
  • Sensor Type: CMOS
  • Sensor Size: 36 x 24mm
  • Pixel Size: 5.36 microns
  • Max. Resolution: 6720 x 4480 (30.2 MP) 
  • 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.

When comparing the price of the Canon EOS Ra to a dedicated astronomy camera, consider the sheer amount of features this camera has that the latter does not (onboard touch-screen LCD, WiFi, 4K video, dual pixel AF, etc.). Will you use all of these advanced features for deep-sky astrophotography through a telescope? Probably not.

But the Canon EOS Ra is a multi-function camera that was designed to meet the needs of a broad range of amateur astrophotographers from wide-angle nightscape shooters to prime focus deep-sky imagers.

RF Lens Mount

The Canon EOS Ra features the new Canon RF lens mount, which allows you to use the latest RF mount lenses from Canon including the RF 85mm F/1.2L. If you already own Canon glass with the EF lens mount system, you simply need to use the EF-EOS R lens mount adapter to attach them to the EOS Ra.

Yes, the adapter is an added expense to use your existing Canon glass, but you will now be able to experience the impressive RF Lenses available. According to Canonwatch.com, the RF lenses are an improvement over their EF counterparts, as shown in the DxOMark testing (at least on the RF 50mm F/1.2L lens).  

RF - EOS R lens mount adapter

The Canon EF – EOS R lens mount adapter for EF-mount lenses. 

Canon EOS Ra review

Canon EOS Ra with RF 85mm F/1.2L lens attached.

I won’t go too into detail about the 85mm F/1.2 lens Canon included with the EOS Ra for my testing, but an 85mm prime is certainly an attractive focal length for astrophotographers. In terms of deep-sky imaging, this lens is best enjoyed under dark skies rather than an orange-zone backyard in the city.

Test Images using the 85mm F/1.2 Lens

I had a brief opportunity to test the Canon RF 85mm F/1.2 under semi-dark skies (Bortle Scale Class 5) on a moonless night. The photo I captured that night (watch the video) was really nothing special, until you realize that it was accomplished in about 10 minutes. 

Nightscape photographers with access to a dark sky site and enough time will capture amazing images with the EOS Ra this spring. Milky Way season should be very interesting. 

nightscape photography example

The Heart and Soul Nebulae, and the Double Cluster in Perseus. 10 x 30-seconds at ISO 800. 

The image quality of the photos taken using the EOS Ra and 85mm F/1.2L lens was impressive. Each exposure was 30-seconds long, and the noise was minimal despite using ISO 800. 

The following example image shows the star quality you can expect using this lens at F/1.6, and it is quite impressive if you ask me. Only the top corners show stars that are not absolute pin-points, which is admirable considering the monster-sized image sensor of this mirrorless camera. 

Image quality

Click the image for a large version of the image to inspect the star quality.

New RAW Image Format

The Canon EOS Ra shoots RAW images in .CR3 format. This slight number change (from the previous .CR2 format of Canon DSLR cameras) is actually a big deal. All of the software you use for registration, calibration, and image editing must be able to work with this new file format. 

For example, the pre-processing software I use (DeepSkyStacker) accepts .CR2 RAW image files, but not .CR3. That means that I must convert the native RAW image format from the Canon EOS Ra to a .TIF file for the application to recognize it. 

Adobe Photoshop 2020 has no trouble opening up the .CR3 files in Adobe Camera Raw or Bridge (or Lightroom for that matter), but I still use DeepSkyStacker for the registration and calibration stages of my images. 

CR3 format

The .CR3 RAW image format is not yet supported by popular stacking software like DeepSkyStacker.

This adds additional time to the processing stages of astrophotography, and I hope that the software available at the time of writing “catches up” to the new image format. PixInsight users will also need to wait for LibRaw to support CR3 files to integrate data (the PixInsight RAW format support module uses LibRaw as a back-end to support digital camera raw formats). 

A potential workaround for this matter is to register all of your exposures in Adobe Photoshop, but I am unaware of a way to calibrate images with dark frames or flat frames using this method. 

Full Frame CMOS Sensor

The full-frame CMOS hydrogen-alpha sensitive sensor is likely the biggest appeal of the camera overall. If you want to shoot using the field-of-view you are accustomed to with a crop-sensor camera body, you have the option of switching to “crop” mode in the settings. 

Until now, the only full-frame camera sensors I had ever used for astrophotography were the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. Both of these camera bodies, however, were stock. 

With the EOS Ra, I was finally able to utilize the large image circles of my apochromatic refractor telescopes like the William Optics RedCat 51 and Radian Raptor 61.

You can manually change the cropping/aspect ratio of the image in the camera settings if desired. Most photographers will simply leave the camera in “FULL” (full-frame) mode, but the option of capturing images at a 1.6X (crop-sensor), 1:1, 4:3, or even 16:9 is there.

image crop

Setting the Cropping/Aspect Ratio on-camera.

A full-frame (6720 x 4480 pixel) sensor demands a flat field and large image circle, which should be kept in mind when considering the EOS Ra. If your optical instrument does not have an image circle large enough to accommodate the large sensor, you could always manually set the crop factor on the camera as shown above.

Key Camera Settings

For those using the EOS Ra for astrophotography, there are a few essential camera settings to remember. The most important, in my opinion, is to turn off the built-in long exposure noise reduction and the high ISO noise reduction.

This is a hot topic with amateur astrophotographers and night photographers, as some nightscape shooters that process single exposures may prefer it. For deep-sky imagers that stack multiple exposures, however, you will not want the camera to do any noise reduction before you integrate the data.

If you’re looking for a reliable way to reduce noise in your astrophotos, I recommend giving the Topaz Labs DeNoise AI software a try. 

camera settings

Most astrophotographers will want to turn off long exposure noise reduction and high ISO speed NR.

The other important setting to remember is to ensure you have enabled the setting that allows the camera to take an exposure without a lens attached. When you have connected the EOS Ra to a telescope, it will not recognize that the optical tube is acting as a lens. The feature can be found in the custom settings menu, and it is called Enable Release Shutter w/o lens.

For a detailed look at all of the features this camera includes, you have the option of spending a weekend reading the EOS R Advanced User Guide

Imaging Sessions and Results

If you are like me, a typical astrophotography imaging session will vary in length depending on the amount of clear sky time available. Some sessions last less than an hour due to incoming clouds. The EOS Ra excels in these situations, as a quick setup process is one of its specialties.

The Canon EOS Ra includes a feature I have never experienced before, one that allows you to take exposures longer than 30-seconds in bulb mode. This is something amateur astrophotography enthusiasts can appreciate, especially when using this camera with a portable star tracker such as the Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer, or iOptron SkyGuider Pro. 

Being able to quickly set up the Canon EOS Ra and a wide-field lens on a small star tracker means that you can enjoy spur-of-the-moment astrophotography sessions while traveling. For me, this means being able to escape the light pollution from home and bring the kit to a dark sky site. 

Canon RF 85mm F/1.2

The Canon EOS Ra mounted to a Sky-Watcher Star Adventurer at the side of the road.

I find that camera lenses of all focal lengths are best used under dark skies. The wide-field nature of most camera lenses can create challenging image processing scenarios under light-polluted skies, especially if no light pollution filter is used.

Gradients in the night sky due to the glow of the city can make it very difficult to neutralize the background sky across large areas. That is not to say that it isn’t possible to correct harsh gradients due to light pollution in Photoshop, but it can be very time consuming to achieve a natural result. 

The best remedy for this scenario is to try and reserve your wide-field, camera lens astrophotography for dark sky excursions during the new moon phase. 

Deep-Sky Imaging Through a Telescope

If you want to watch me experience the thrill of unboxing the EOS Ra for the first time, and some backstory behind my image of the Orion Nebula shared at the top of this post, feel free to watch the following video. If my music selection or the sound of my voice annoys you to no end, read on.

For many people using the Ra for astrophotography, you will be capturing a sequence of long-exposure images through a telescope (Here are the ones I recommend). This is standard practice for creating images with a strong signal-to-noise ratio. 

But to do this, you will need to expose your images for longer than 30-seconds, and automate the process to maximize your time under the stars. You have a few options here, including a remote shutter release cable, third-party acquisition software, or using the handy standalone feature on the EOS Ra mentioned above.

The EOS Ra includes a USB Type-C input connection (this is the cable you’ll want), which allows you to control the camera from your computer if desired. You can also run a sequence of exposures using a remote shutter release cable. I was delighted to see that the remote shutter cable input was the same one used on my Canon EOS Rebel DSLR’s. 

deep sky astrophotography

Using Astro Photography Tool (APT) to run an imaging session with the Canon EOS Ra.

For my deep-sky imaging sessions attached to a telescope, I chose to use Astro Photography Tool (APT) to run my deep-sky imaging sessions with the EOS Ra. The camera was recognized by the latest edition of APT (as a Canon EOS R), which meant I could use the software to help focus the camera and telescope, present a live-view image, and set a sequence of long-exposure images. 

The CMOS sensor of the EOS Ra is so sensitive using high ISO’s, that the live-view image mirrored the experience of a dedicated astronomy camera. Dim stars, bright nebulae, and galaxies appear in real-time. This makes finding and framing deep-space targets much easier at the beginning of your session.

Focusing with 30X Live View

Focusing the Canon EOS Ra on dim stars is easier than with any DSLR I have used in the past. This is largely due to the new 30X live-view mode, which allows me to really look closely at how tight the stars are. 

When using a Bahtinov mask, the process is even more precise as you can see the subtle changes in the central diffraction spike as you focus in and out in real-time. The vari-angle display screen makes it easy to tilt the display to a comfortable angle when the telescope is pointed upwards. 

The touchscreen means that you can quickly scroll across the frame with a finger swipe to find more stars or your deep-sky target in the field. I found the focusing experience on the camera body itself to be almost as practical as feeding the information to my computer screen using camera control software. 

Wide-angle nightscapes shooters or deep-sky astrophotographers running their imaging sessions on-camera will benefit most from this feature.

focusing with a telescope

4K Video at 30 FPS

One of the features many people like to ignore when complaining about how expensive this camera is, is the 4K 30 fps video mode. That’s stunningly high-resolution video footage from a full-frame mirrorless sensor.

Is this feature much less likely to be used by astrophotography enthusiasts? Perhaps. Being somewhat of a videographer myself (I have filmed and edited over 100 videos on YouTube), I consider this to be an exciting option – and what I would put to good use.

In fact, I tested the Canon EOS Ra’s video abilities for some daytime filming for one of my videos. I was quite astonished to observe that the colors were not far off of a “normal-looking” scene despite having nearly 4x the sensitivity to H-Alpha over a standard EOS R.

Surely a natural color correction could be achieved in post, especially if the video is shot in a neutral/flat color profile. The EOS Ra includes a handy color temperature compensation feature that corrects the images/videos’ current white balance setting. The adjustment settings are a blue/amber bias, or magenta/green bias with 9 levels of control for each.

EOS Ra 4K video mode

The Canon EOS Ra is a capable video camera with impressive options.

There are a staggering amount of video recording options on this camera, maxing out at 30P shooting in 4K (ALL-I compression). The most practical choice for my style of filming and editing is to shoot in 4K at 23.97 FPS in IPB format.

Shooting at 4K in ALL-I format demands a lot of CPU power and RAM to edit.

Attaching the EOS Ra to a Telescope

For anyone that has ever attached a DSLR camera to a telescope using a t-ring and an adapter, you’ll just need the RF to EOS R lens mount adapter to connect the Ra to a telescope.

This provides the right spacing needed between the camera sensor of the Ra and your field flattener/reducer. You simply thread your existing t-ring to the EF-EOS R adapter and attach the camera as you normally would.

This was the exact configuration I used when I attached the Canon EOS Ra to the field flattener of a William Optics Fluorostar 132 refractor. As you may be able to tell from the photo, the lens mount adapter adds the exact right amount of spacing between the CMOS sensor inside of the mirrorless camera body, and the glass element of the flattener/reducer.

attach EOS Ra to telescope

The EOS Ra attached to the field flattener of my telescope using the RF-EOS-R adapter and a Canon t-ring. 

I also attached the Ra to a smaller refractor, the William Optics RedCat 51. This was a promising imaging combination for wide-field projects. This telescope offers an incredibly wide 250mm focal length and utilizes the glorious full-frame sensor of the Ra. 

My favorite aspect of this setup, however, was how simple it was to put together and start imaging. This is the type of imaging kit that would be perfect for deep-sky astrophotography while traveling. 

mirrorless camera and telescope

The Canon EOS Ra attaches to the RedCat 51 easily using the EF – EOS R adapter and Canon T-Ring.  

Using Filters with the EOS Ra

If you are planning on using a filter with the Canon EOS Ra, there are limited options available. Astronomik offers a CLS filter (city light suppression) for the Canon EOS R (and Ra) in a clip-format. I was not aware of this broadband light pollution filter until it was brought to my attention in the comments section of this article (thank you)! 

The great thing about body-mounted filters is the option of using them with a camera lens attached. It also comes in handy in telescope configurations where there is no convenient location for a threaded filter. 

Astronomik EOS Ra filter

The Astronomik CLS XL-Clip Filter for EOS R Bodies. 

For a wide variety of filter choices (such as narrowband filters), try using a 2″ round mounted filter in the t-ring adapter or field flattener if possible.

The first image I captured using this camera through a telescope did not use a filter in place of the sensor. There was no practical location for any of my 2″ filters within the imaging train. 

The second time around, however, I was able to thread a 48mm round mounted filter to the inside of the camera adapter of the William Optics RedCat 51 (Optolong L-eNhance). 

Optolong L-eNhance

Astrophotography Results

When it comes to testing cameras, I often get an overwhelming feeling of “imposter syndrome”. I am not a professional photographer by any means, and my test images often leave a lot of room for improvement. I partially blame the imaging conditions I shoot in, which regularly include high clouds and a lot of moisture, on a good night.

Regardless, I like to think that I make the most of my situation. The images I take from my Bortle Scale Class 6/7 backyard are a realistic example of what you can expect. Here is an image captured using the Canon EOS Ra and a small refractor telescope (William Optics RedCat 51).  

Canon EOS Ra example image

The Flaming Star Nebula and Tadpole Nebula in Auriga. Canon EOS Ra and 51mm refractor. 

Image Details:

  • Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 30 Minutes (50 x 3-minutes)
  • ISO: 1600
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Filter: Optolong L-eNhance
  • Telescope: William Optics RedCat 51
  • Stacking and Calibration: DeepSkyStacker
  • Processing: Adobe Photoshop 2020

The image of the Flaming Star Nebula region shown above was captured on a night of average seeing, with a 25% illuminated moon present. The filter used was a dual bandpass filter that helps isolates the light emitted in the hydrogen-alpha and oxygen wavelengths of the visible spectrum. 

You can see this image in higher resolution on AstroBin. For a complete breakdown of the way I process my astrophotography images, consider downloading my image processing guide

Noise Performance

It is no surprise that many people would like to know how the Canon EOS Ra handles noise, particularly when using higher ISO values of ISO 800 or more. This camera is not cooled, which means that it is subject to thermal noise due to a warm ambient temperature.

All of my testing with this camera took place during a Canadian winter, so the camera never really got above 5-10 degrees Celcius. However, even under these conditions, the noise performance seemed better than that of my Canon EOS 60Da.

Here is a test image for you to review up close (click on the image). You’ll notice that the noise is minimal in a single 3-minute exposure at ISO 800. Furthermore, this noise is reduced significantly through image stacking.

ISO noise performance

I do not see noise being a problem in the warmer months with this camera, as long as you stack your images to improve the signal to noise ratio. 

Alan Dyer (in this Sky and Telescope article) reported that when using the Canon EOS Ra with higher ISO levels, it exhibits noise that is as good as, if not slightly lower than Canon’s 6D MkII (despite the 6D Mark II’s larger pixels). 

Final Thoughts

The Canon EOS Ra stole my heart from the very moment I revealed the California Nebula on the astrophotography-themed box. In the past, I have professed my love for Canon’s astrophotography cameras such as the Canon EOS 60Da. 

The experience I have had with the EOS Ra was full of memorable moments under the stars. The type of astrophotography that this camera inspires reminds me of why I got into this crazy hobby in the first place.

Now, I have not experienced Nikon’s full-frame astrophotography camera (the D810A DSLR), nor have I ever used a full-frame mirrorless camera from Sony such as the popular A7. So take that for what it’s worth, this is not a detailed comparison between competing cameras in this category.

EOS R for astrophotography

The only negative aspects of the camera I have found are that the large full-frame sensor can result in substantial vignetting with certain optical systems, and the lack of compatibility in certain software to the new .CR3 file format. If you own a telescope that does not feature an image circle designed for full-frame cameras, you will need to crop your images.

Hopefully, DeepSkyStacker will update soon with the ability to stack, register, and calibrate .CR3 RAW images. Other third-party applications will need to support this file type too, for the best overall experience with the Ra.

The Adobe DNG Converter is a great workaround for the time being, as this tool converts all of the files quickly. DeepSkyStacker accepts Raw DNG files, and you can integrate your data as you normally would. 

Adobe DNG converter

Use the Adobe DNG Converter to create Raw files that DeepSkyStacker will recognize.

All in all, the EOS Ra is a monumental step up from Canon’s previous astrophotography inspired camera. Fans of the DSLR/Mirrorless camera experience (especially if you own existing Canon glass), will adore the EOS Ra. I purchased my Canon EOS Ra at B&H Photo Video

what's in the box

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Is the Canon EOS Ra Worth the Money?

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The Canon EOS Ra Announced

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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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