I am a beginner and planning to buy a mirror less camera for Night Sky Photography.

Here are some questions I have while considering what camera to buy. My max budget for body only is around $1000.

  1. Is there a reason to go with DSLR instead?
  2. Is there a huge advantage for full frame sensors over APS-C?
  3. Given that it's my first camera and will have a learning curve, are there any recommendations to go with a particular brand?
  4. I've been inclining towards sony a 7 II or sony a 6400. Should I worry about the e-mount (if i want to upgrade the camera a couple of years later)
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do you intend to photograph only the sky, or landscape photographs with a visible night sky? Do you intend to photograph a wide shot covering a large part of the sky, or do you intend to focus on smaller details in the sky? \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete
    Nov 19, 2019 at 11:17

2 Answers 2

  1. DSLR or mirrorless, either works just fine. Mirrorless will eventually displace DSLR, but then again DSLR lenses can be used for mirrorless cameras so you won't lose anything if you buy now the old technology. (Vice versa, mirrorless lenses can't be used on DSLRs.)

  2. For astrophotography, the answer is: yes! Yes! If you can afford it, full frame is really important, because it captures more than two times the amount of light. (For Canon who have a crop factor of 1.6 on their APS-C cameras, it captures over 2.5x the light.)

  3. Yes. Choose a brand that has the selection of lenses you need. I can't comment on Sony lenses, but Canon at least has a good selection of lenses. Overall, my main advice when selecting a brand would be: (1) don't switch brands unnecessarily so if you have brand X lenses, buy a brand X camera, (2) if you don't have any brand equipment yet, look at the lenses available and pick the brand that has the most suitable lens selections.

  4. If you choose Sony, do note that Sony sensors have heavy noise reduction. Such heavy noise reduction could consider stars as noise. With astrophotography, you usually want a fast lens and full frame sensor so you can choose some other ISO than the maximum ISO the camera supports. So, you want to avoid conditions where the noise appears instead of reducing it in post-processing, as noise reduction can remove some of the stars.

Overall, your plan has a fatal flaw. You did not even once mention the keyword "lens". Astrophotography is all about lenses. Typically, you want to use a wide angle fast prime. Your camera budget is around $1000 for body only, but you did not specify your lens budget.

You can compare different lenses by using the "astrophotography index", which is aperture number squared times focal length and should be as small as possible. For example, 50mm f/1.8 lens has index 1.8^2*50 = 162, and 28mm f/2.8 lens has index 2.8^2*28 = 219.52. So, in this case, 50mm allows you to capture more light because the index is smaller, but if you want a wide angle photograph, you might consider 28mm instead despite its higher index value. (However, for Canon lenses, the 50mm f/1.8 lens imperfections appear at f/1.8, so you might want to compare it at f/2.0 or f/2.2 instead.)

If you want to understand where the index comes from, light collecting ability is inversely proportional to F-number squared, and exposure time you can use without star trails appearing is inversely proportional to focal length. So, the reciprocal of the index, 1/(N^2*f) should be as high as possible to collect as much light as possible. This is equivalent for N^2*f being as small as possible.

Before buying anything, I would recommend you to read and understand all of this: https://www.lonelyspeck.com/astrophotography-101/

  • \$\begingroup\$ You assume some things that may or may not be the case for the OP: 1) That all astrophotography is wide angle 2) That no sidereal tracker will be used. There are many astrophotographers that desire narrower fields of view and use trackers. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 16, 2019 at 23:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ The "if you can afford it" part of FF vs crop I think deserves more emphasis. 2x the light is only one stop, so if going with a crop sensor enables you to afford an f/1.4 lens instead of a f/2.8 that you'd otherwise use on the FF, the crop sensor + faster lens will actually produce better results. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nate S.
    Nov 18, 2019 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ For astrophotography, you should preferably look at the T-stop or light transmission rather than the F-Stop. The F-Stop is a theoretical maximum light transmission based on the geometry of the lens. But there will be some light loss in the lens, for some lenses it can be close to one full stop of light. DxoMark lens reviews shows the lenses light transmission. \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete
    Nov 19, 2019 at 9:40

Is there a reason to go with DSLR instead?

There might be a slight one, depending on exactly what type of astrophotography you're planning on doing.

The sensor is on and energized the entire time a mirrorless cameras is turned on. This creates heat that can affect the amount of camera generated "read noise."

A DSLR's sensor is energized only when actually taking a photo (assuming one is not using Live View, which is functionally the same as using a mirrorless camera as far as astro work is concerned).

If you're taking very long exposures or long sequences of shorter exposures then there's not much difference. If you are taking fewer exposures separated buy longer periods of time in between them, there could be an advantage to using a DSLR instead of a mirrorless camera.

As with all heat related issues, there will be a greater impact in warmer environments than in very frigid environments.

Is there a huge advantage for full frame sensors over APS-C?

It all depends on how you define "huge."

Are FF sensors ten times better than APS-C sensors, or even Micro Four-Thirds sensors? No.

But FF sensors do collect 2.25-2.5 X more light than an APS-C sensors, and 4X as much light as a Micro Four-Thirds sensor.

That's pretty significant. It's an over one-stop advantage over APS-C and a two-stop advantage over Micro Four-Thirds.

Given that it's my first camera and will have a learning curve, are there any recommendations to go with a particular brand?

Not necessarily particular brands, but do pay attention to cameras with sensors that do heavy handed on-die NR that are known as "star eaters." Some (but not all) sensors made by Sony for their own cameras as well as some Nikon models have been labeled as "star eaters". Sensors that do less NR to the analog information coming off the sensor may look noisier than their counterparts that do more, but they don't mistake dim stars for noise and eliminate them before analog-to-digital conversion.

I've been inclining towards sony a 7 II or sony a 6400. Should I worry about the e-mount (if i want to upgrade the camera a couple of years later)?

I wouldn't necessarily worry about the E-mount at this point. If you decide to upgrade later to the point that the throat diameter of the lens mount makes a significant difference, you're going to be spending a lot more on lenses than what you're considering spending for your first body. So changing systems at that point won't have a huge impact on the final cost.

The throat diameter of the E-mount won't be a consideration if you plan to couple your camera with a telescope via a T-mount adapter that will have a narrower throat than your camera.

What I would worry about with the α7II is that it's one of the worst offenders as a "star eater", and of course the α6400 has an APS-C sensor.

What else have I missed?

Astrophotography is all about lenses. You haven't even mentioned what lenses you are considering. You've also not mentioned exactly what kind of astro work you want to do. There's a big difference in the types of lenses you'll need to do wide angle "milky way" or "star trails" types of photos and deep sky imaging of dim Messier objects (where you'll probably be using a telescope for your lens). Whether or not you'll need some type of tracking mount will also depend on what your intentions are.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Does the a7II eat stars when shooting RAW? I've done a little astrophotography on an a6000, and my experience is that it eats stars like crazy in JPG, but the RAW still has everything. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nate S.
    Nov 18, 2019 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah found the answer myself, and apparently it does, but they fixed it in the a7III, and the crop sensors were always fine: lonelyspeck.com/sony-star-eater-and-how-to-fix-it \$\endgroup\$
    – Nate S.
    Nov 18, 2019 at 18:35
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Some folks say they fixed it in the α7III, others including Thom Hogan say it is less severe but still there. Every time Sony introduces a new series of cameras, they'll claim it is fixed, thenn some of the leading astrophotographers using DSLRs will show that it is not. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 18, 2019 at 19:29
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The problem is with the way the Sony sensors do NR on the sensor die to the analog charges before they are digitized. It can not be turned off by the user. Further noise reduction can eliminate even more weak stars (as is the case with digital data from any camera/sensor) but can be controlled by the end user. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 18, 2019 at 19:32
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Thom Hogan's review of the Sony α7III. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 18, 2019 at 19:47

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