What is the best lens for shooting the Milky Way (2024)?

By Antoni Cladera

Do you find yourself gazing up at the night sky, captivated by the ethereal beauty of the Milky Way?

And you're wondering what the best lens for shooting the Milky Way could be...

I'm guessing you do. Are you nodding?

Well, you're in luck! By harnessing the power of a tool like PhotoPills to plan your shots, and pairing it with the right camera settings, you can capture the Milky Way's majesty just like the stunning image that I used as the cover of this guide.

Take inspiration from astrophotography enthusiasts like Dan Thompson who not only planned the cover shot above meticulously using our Milky Way photography guide but followed every tip to the letter. That's a path you'll want to tread too!

Here's a quick rundown to get you started:

  1. Plan your shot with PhotoPills.

  2. Choose the best lens to shoot the Milky Way in your camera bag.

But, selecting an excellent lens is just part of the process. You'll also need to know the best Milky Way photography settings to ensure your first shot is a keeper.

Remember, a good camera is a crucial tool in your astrophotography gear, so make sure it's well-matched with your lens choice from the best camera for Milky Way photography.

Now, let's delve into the details and find out the best lens for capturing the Milky Way's glory!

"When we gaze at a star in the Milky Way which is 50,000 light-years away from our sun, we are looking back 50,000 years in time. The idea is much too big for my little head." - Jostein Gaarder

Milky Way: The Definitive Photography Guide

Get this ebook for free now!


  1. What is the best lens for shooting the Milky Way?
  2. How to choose the best lens to shoot the Milky Way
  3. Best Nikon lens for Milky Way photography
  4. Best Sony lens for Milky Way photography
  5. Best Canon lens for Milky Way photography
  6. Best Fujifilm lens for Milky Way photography
  7. Best cheap lens for Milky Way photography
  8. Do you really need the latest gear?

1.What is the best lens for shooting the Milky Way?

illuminated man laying down inside a snow cave with the milky way rising behind in Tirol (Austria)
Canon R (astromodified) | 20mm | f/2.8 | 15s (sky), 1/5s (foreground) | ISO 6400
Photo by Nicholas Roemmelt

"OK Toni, let's get to the point... What's the best lens to capture the Milky Way?"

The best lens is the one you have, the shorter and faster the better...


To nail your Milky Way photos, make sure your lens is:

  • Very fast (f number as low as possible).
  • Short.
  • Not distorting a lot.
  • Not vignetting too much.
  • Not affected by coma.

After years testing and comparing many camera lenses these are, in my opinion, the best lenses to photograph the Milky Way:

2.How to choose the best lens to shoot the Milky Way

Orion, Mars and Andromeda below our galaxy and to the right of the world's most famous green light is the Big Dipper. Picture taken in Kilan, Lofoten Islands (Norway)
Nikon D850 | 16mm | f/2.8 (sky), f/5 (foreground) | 12s (sky), 40s (foreground) | ISO 6400 (sky), ISO 3200 (foreground)
Photo by Giulio Cobianchi

No matter how many megapixels your camera has, the quality of your lens is crucial for nailing those Milky Way shots.

If you find yourself really getting into shooting the stars, consider picking up a manual focus prime lens. It's simpler, often cheaper, and since it's optimized for a specific focal length, you'll generally get better results.

Remember, prime lenses usually let in more light because they can have wider apertures – the lower the f number, like f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8, the more light gets in. And more light means better lightness and more flexibility for tweaking your image later on.

Most of my top picks for lenses in star photography are primes and manual focus, since autofocus isn't really a big deal with this kind of photography.

What makes a good Milky Way photography lens?

Here's a quick breakdown to help you choose the best lens to shoot the Milky Way:

  • Get a prime lens. Prime lenses offer wider apertures like f/1.4 or f/1.8, crucial for capturing sharp, less noisy star shots in low light.
  • Choose a focal length of 14-24mm. For Milky Way shots, wide angles like 14mm let you capture expansive landscapes under the stars. A sweet spot for focal length is often 14-24mm, balancing sky drama and foreground detail.
  • Don't worry about distortion. While distortion can be noticeable in cityscapes, it's usually not a big deal in night sky photography and you can correct it with software like Lightroom or Photoshop.
  • Prevent vignetting. This is common when using wide apertures, darkening the photo edges. Closing down the aperture slightly can help even out the light distribution across your image.
  • Avoid coma effects. Coma distorts stars at the corners of your photos, making them appear as trails. Choose a lens with minimal coma to mitigate this issue.

Prime lens

Prime lenses are typically your best bet for Milky Way photography.

They have a fixed focal length, which means they're simpler in design but really good at what they do. Because they're not juggling different focal lengths like zoom lenses, they can have a wider aperture (the f number). A wide aperture lets in more light, which is exactly what you need for clear, detailed, and colorful Milky Way shots.

Zoom lenses are cool because they're versatile and let you switch between different focal lengths easily. But, they have a lot going on inside.

They're made up of many lenses that move around to zoom in and out while trying to keep the image quality high and autofocus fast. This complexity generally caps them at an aperture of f/2.8. Going wider would mean a heavier, bulkier lens.

Now, why do I focus so much on aperture?


The wider the aperture, the more light hits your camera's sensor. More light means less noise, which is basically the graininess you often see in darker photos. Less noise means sharper, more vibrant photos.

However, using a really wide aperture comes with its own challenges, but we'll get to that in a bit.

Wide angle lens

When chatting about snapping shots of the Milky Way, a lot of folks jump straight to asking, "What lens should I use?".

It's a valid question, but what they often mean is, "What focal length is best for capturing the Milky Way?" They're thinking about the final look of their photos – wanting that Milky Way to pop in just the right way.

So, why pick one focal length over another?

Well, if you go with something wide, like 14mm, you'll fit a whole lot of sky and foreground into your frame, which is great if you want a sweeping landscape under a star-filled sky.

But if you zoom in to something narrower, like 50mm, the Milky Way's core will look bigger and more dramatic. The trade-off? You might have to leave out some of the foreground or part of the sky to get everything to fit just right.

Some people prefer a wide lens because they want to capture both a vast expanse of the Milky Way and a rich, detailed foreground. Others might choose a narrower focus to highlight a specific foreground element against a striking part of the night sky.

To me, if you want to know what focal length is best for photographing the Milky Way, it's somewhere between 18-24mm. The sky is nice and dramatic, but you've still got room to move around a bit with your foregrounds.


Distortion happens when your lens doesn't project the images evenly across the frame.

Sometimes, the edges of a photo might look smaller than the center – that's called barrel distortion. Other times, the edges might look bigger – that's called pincushion distortion. Fisheye lenses really crank up that barrel distortion to give their unique look.

When you're shooting scenes where you expect straight lines, like cityscapes, distortion can really stand out.

But honestly, for night sky shots like the Milky Way, it's usually not a big deal. If your lens does give you some weird distortion that bugs you, no worries. You can fix it pretty easily with tools like Lightroom or Photoshop. Just a bit of tweaking and you can get your star photos looking sharp.


Vignetting occurs when the edges of your photo look darker than the center. This happens a lot when you're using the widest aperture setting on your lens.

When you close down the aperture a bit (meaning using a higher f number), the light in your photo starts to balance out more from the center to the edges.

Also, something not everyone knows is that the same aperture setting, like f/2.8, doesn't mean the same brightness across different lenses. For example, f/2.8 on a zoom lens might actually look darker than f/2.8 on a prime lens because zoom lenses tend to lose some light at the edges due to vignetting.


"Toni, what's this coma thing?"

Coma is an optical aberration that distorts the stars in the corners of the lens. This aberration has nothing to do with problems with the exposure, but because of quirks in how a lens works.

Stars appear in the image as trails instead of appearing as dots. To put it bluntly, coma ruins star points, which is exactly the opposite you want to achieve when shooting the Milky Way.

Fixing coma in your photos during the post-processing can be a real pain in the back. It's not impossible, but it takes a lot of time and effort to clone out or paint over. So it's better if you avoid it all together choosing a lens with the least possible coma.

Alternatively, you can reduce coma by stopping down the lens (using a smaller aperture or a higher f number).

3.Best Nikon lens for Milky Way photography

milky way arching above Quiver Forest, Keetmanshoop, Namibia
Nikon D800 | 14mm | f/2.2 | 30s | ISO 5000
Photo by Ulrich Wrabetz

Here is the Nikon equipment I'd recommend for someone just getting into the game of night photography:

Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED (DSLR)

The Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, launched in 2008, was a trailblazer with its ultra-wide zoom and constant aperture. Although it's become legendary, it now faces stiff competition from newer Sigma 14-24mm and Tamron 15-30mm lenses. It matches Sigma for viewing angle and slightly outdoes Tamron.

Featuring two ED elements and a Nano Crystal Coat, its durability is limited by fewer weather-seals and no fluorine coating unlike its rivals. While central sharpness is top-notch, its edge performance and distortion don't quite meet Sigma's standards, though it's on par with Tamron.

Overall, a solid choice but overshadowed by its contemporaries.


  • Wide viewing angle and fast aperture.
  • Useful zoom range.
  • Great build.


  • Vignetting and distortion at 14mm.

Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S (mirrorless)

The Nikkor Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S lens is Nikon's latest bid to win over professionals to its Z mount system.

Part of the essential trio of f/2.8 S-line zooms, it excels in delivering stellar wide-angle shots. Its optical design features 16 elements, including 3 aspherical ones, and coatings to reduce ghosting and flare.

The lens is robustly built with excellent weather sealing and a fluorine-coated front element to fend off smears. It's exceptionally sharp and durable, designed for those who expect top-notch performance, though it comes at a premium price.


  • Uncompromising optics and coatings.
  • Fast constant aperture.
  • Fully weather sealed.


  • Twice the price of Z 14-30mm f/4 S.
  • No Vibration Reduction (VR).

4.Best Sony lens for Milky Way photography

vertical milky way rising behind the Matterhorn, Switzerland
Sony a7 IV | 14mm | f/1.8 | 15s | ISO 3200
Photo by Helber Pontes

The Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens is highly recommended for photographing the night sky, making it an exceptional choice for shooting the Milky Way due to its wide aperture and high-quality performance in low-light conditions.

Its professional-grade construction combines a wide, useful 24mm focal length with an ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture, enhancing its capabilities for night sky photography, including capturing the Milky Way and northern lights.

The lens offers sharp image quality and features a fast, smooth, and quiet autofocus system powered by the Direct Drive Super Sonic wave Motor (DDSSM). It's also relatively lightweight and compact, making it easy to handle and ideal for extended shooting sessions under the stars.

Despite some moderate chromatic aberration and color blur, its performance remains impressive, particularly in challenging lighting conditions.


  • Outstanding choice for night sky photography.
  • Sharp image quality.
  • Compact, lightweight.


  • Moderate lateral chromatic aberration and color blur.
  • No aperture ring lock.

5.Best Canon lens for Milky Way photography

vertical milky way and human silhouette at the end of a sealed road somewhere in álava, spain
Canon EOS R6 | 15mm | f/2.8 | 61s (tracked) | ISO 6400
Photo by Joseba Koldobika

Fast aperture, image stabilization, low light capabilities, weather sealing and state-of-the-art Canon technology make fantastic images of constellations, stars and the Moon achievable.

Below I have selected what I consider the best Canon lens for Milky Way photography:

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM (DSLR)

The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens is known for its excellent image quality, surpassing its predecessors and many competitors in sharpness and performance, especially ideal for full-frame cameras. This lens is the third iteration, offering significant improvements in optical quality with less distortion and vignetting compared to the older versions.

Its wide f/2.8 aperture is perfect for low-light conditions and achieving a shallow depth of field, making it a top choice for shooting night skies like the Milky Way.

Notably, it does not have image stabilization (IS), which might be a concern for you, but its optical excellence compensates for this, especially in astrophotography where wide apertures are crucial.

It's built tough, suitable for professional use, and offers a focal length range that is extremely versatile for various photography genres. The cost might be on the higher side, but it's justified by the superior quality and performance it delivers.

If you're serious about astrophotography, this lens is a strong contender to consider for its clarity, build quality, and wide aperture.


  • Great image quality.
  • Weather sealing.
  • Robust structure that feels nice in the hand.
  • Fast autofocus.


  • Expensive.
  • Big and heavy.

Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM (mirrorless)

The Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM lens is highly praised for its performance, particularly in landscape photography, making it an excellent choice for shooting the Milky Way.

It boasts a wide f/2.8 aperture which is perfect for capturing images in low-light conditions, such as starry night skies. The lens offers an ultra-wide to wide zoom range, extending its utility to capture dynamic landscapes with motion even under dim lighting.

This lens is part of Canon's "trinity" of essential RF lenses, known for its versatility and image quality.

Notably, it includes image stabilization (5-stops), a feature unique in its class for an f/2.8 ultra-wide-angle lens, enhancing its capability to deliver sharp images even without a tripod. The build quality is robust, designed to withstand regular professional use, and incorporates Canon's Nano USM technology for fast, accurate, and near-silent autofocus. However, it is on the expensive side and somewhat heavy.

Given its wide aperture and effective image stabilization, the Canon RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM is a standout option for capturing expansive nightscapes along with the Milky Way, ensuring both foreground detail and vast backgrounds are crisply rendered.


  • Extremely Useful ultra-wide to wide zoom range.
  • Great image quality.
  • Professional grade.
  • Quiet optical image stabilization.
  • Strong peripheral shading.


  • Expensive.
  • Moderately heavy.

6.Best Fujifilm lens for Milky Way photography

milky way and light trails from many cars at Passo Bernina in Switzerland
GFX 100S | 23 (18 in 35)mm | f/4 | 10s (sky), 2min (foreground) | ISO 10000
Photo by Peter Kiessling

The Fujifilm XF 18mm f/1.4 R LM WR lens from Fujifilm is a stellar performer for wide-angle photography, making it a potentially great choice for capturing the Milky Way.

Its f/1.4 aperture ensures excellent low-light capability, which is crucial for astrophotography. The lens is compact and lightweight, which is ideal for travel or long nights under the stars. It features a 27mm equivalent angle of view and comes with a physical aperture ring and a powerful linear autofocus motor, offering ease of use and quick focusing.

However, it's worth noting that it is very similar to the existing Fujifilm XF 16mm f/1.4 R WR lens, almost too close in specifications, which might not justify an upgrade if you already own the 16mm version. Additionally, there are reports of an internal weird sound when the lens is powered down, which could be a concern.

Despite these minor issues, its optical performance, especially wide open, is impressive. If you're looking for a high-quality lens specifically for night sky photography, the Fujifilm XF 18mm f/1.4 R LM WR could be an excellent addition to your gear, provided you don't already have a similar lens.


  • Fast f/1.4 maximum aperture.
  • Physical aperture ring.
  • Powerful linear auto focus (AF) motor.


  • Very close in features to the XF 16mm f/1.4.

7.Best cheap lens for Milky Way photography

milky way arching over Lagos de Saliencia, Spain
Sony a7r III | 14mm | f/2.8 | 15s | ISO 3200
Photo by Jabi Sanz

The Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM Art lens is notable for being the world's first lens to merge an ultra-wide 14mm focal length with a bright f/1.8 aperture, making it especially well-suited for astrophotography.

That's why I believe it's possibly the best wide angle lens for Milky Way photography.

Designed initially for full-frame Canon and Nikon DSLRs, it's also available for Sony E and Leica L mount mirrorless cameras.

While it offers high-quality construction and impressive image quality overall, its performance does suffer from noticeable coma and astigmatism when shooting at f/1.8. This effect is more pronounced towards the corners of the frame.

Despite these drawbacks, its strengths in handling and image quality make it a compelling choice for photographers interested in capturing expansive night skies, like the Milky Way. However, it's quite bulky and heavy, which is something to consider if you prefer a lighter setup for long shooting sessions under the stars.


  • Fast auto focus (AF).
  • Fabulous sharpness, contrast and color.
  • Luxury build.


  • Big and heavy.

8.Do you really need the latest greatest gear?

So, there you go – everything you need to know to pick the best camera lens for Milky Way photography.

The lenses I've highlighted here are my top picks for 2024, designed to suit both newbies and seasoned pros looking to elevate their night sky shots.

But keep this in mind: a great lens is just part of the equation. Sure, high-quality glass is crucial and can significantly enhance your shots, but it's not the be-all and end-all.

There's more to consider, like getting your planning right, nailing your compositions, and dialing in the perfect settings for Milky Way photography.

Don't get caught up in gear acquisition syndrome, thinking a new lens will magically boost your creativity.

It won't.

What will make a difference, though, is how you use what you've got. Start with the lens you already have, grab your camera, and start planning your Milky Way adventure with PhotoPills!

Remember, the best shots come from practice and patience, not just fancy gear. So get out there and shoot the stars!


Antoni Cladera is a landscape photographer commited to the environment. Artist of the Spanish Confederation of Photography and member of the Spanish Association of Nature Photographers (AEFONA). He's part of the PhotoPills Team.

Special thanks to Sandra Vallaure, a great photographer and friend, for her tremendous help in making this article possible.

Note: Some links on this page are affiliate links. What does this mean? If you buy/rent using these links you're helping support us and it costs you nothing extra. Thank you for your support.

Milky Way: The Definitive Photography Guide

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