The Best Budget Camera for Astrophotography

With all the fanfare this past year over the latest developments in camera technology, it's easy to get caught up in gear envy. And that's completely natural. But what if there's a better camera out there that most of us have forgotten about?

With landscape astrophotography in particular, it’s easy to covet the new cameras on the horizon, in the hopes that they will be more sensitive, better performing under low-light conditions, and have higher resolutions. In doing so, we may have relegated some cameras to the trash-heap far too soon.

In this eye-opening video, astrophotographer Alyn Wallace proposes that the best budget camera for landscape astrophotography is a 10-year-old relic, the Canon 6D. Originally released in November of 2012, the 6D was Canon's budget entry into full-frame DSLRs, coming in at $1,500 less than the 5D Mark III, which had been released eight months earlier. Alyn brings up some important data from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition, which points out that the Canon 6D has been the most popular camera in the competition for at least the last three years, even beating out the most dedicated astronomy cameras! That's no small feat, considering the age of the camera and its competition. 

So, what do these professional astrophotographers know that the rest of us don't? The secret can be broken down into three parts. First, the sensor in the 6D is full frame, with a rather large pixel width of 6.55 µm, which helps its low-light performance. Second, the Canon EF range of lenses is vast, meaning photographers have a wide variety of superb optics to choose from. And thirdly, the 6D is relatively cheap, both to buy secondhand and to modify. A cursory check of eBay finds dozens of 6Ds for sale under $500. And the astro modification service Alyn mentions in the video can be done for around $200. 

I missed the boat on the 6D. I had already purchased a 5D Mark III by the time the 6D was announced, so I am one of the many who completely disregarded this camera. But if you are lucky enough to still have one or have $500 knocking about and want to get into landscape astrophotography, now may be the time. Scoop one up and go capture the stars!

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18 Comments
Mike Mendoza's picture

I was getting images of the Milky Way with my Nikon D3300 with a KIT lens when I started out. Anything is possible with a tripod and patience! :)

Paul McMurrick's picture

Thanks Mike. TBH not so sure about that. Astro is one area of photography where having the right gear makes a big difference. I think there is too much talk about the importance of gear in obtaining good photos etc, but no doubt that two things that really help in astro are a larger sensor and the right lens (wide, fast and little coma). Would love to see an objective comparison of the use of a 6D (11 year old sensor etc) vs a more modern FF or APSc sensor and see how things (may) have improved. My own efforts at astro when getting started with a cheaper lens were horrible in hind sight, lots of coma and distortion. Still not much good, but enjoying learning

Stuart C's picture

Ive been having success with my Fujifilm camera and the Samyang 12mm f2 lens.

Paul McMurrick's picture

Thanks. Very interested to hear that. I have, up till now, used a 5DSR for astro with a Samyang lens too, but now looking to shift even my astro to the XT4

Stuart C's picture

I posted a couple of shots below if you’re interested… not the Galactic core (I’m too far North and too lazy to get up at 2am) but still nice starry sky’s.

James van Scoyoc's picture

If he's in a dark sky location he could image the Milky Way with that gear, I think. But a faster lens would certainly help. With my D5600 and a 35mm f/2.0* lens I've gotten the MW from my suburban back yard, albeit with extensive stacking and Photoshop work.

*The lens goes to f/1.8, but at that setting ther is too much distortion for astro.

S M's picture

Funny I was going to bid on one on eBay based on pure nostalgia the other day.

Anyone that has shot Astro in the last 5-years knows this camera has been hyped as one of the more affordable options when getting started on full frame astro. Sure, you can probably shoot on a crop sensor body and achieve good results, but for those purists that follow the 400, 500, 600 rule or use another unit of measure to get tack sharp stars and enough information at high ISO at least considered the 6D on price alone. I couldn't believe how low they are listed, used right now.

Alyn Wallace's picture

Oh what a nice surprise, thanks for sharing!

Scott Donschikowski's picture

Great, informative video Alyn!

Robert Huerbsch's picture

I just sold my Canon 6Da and will be replacing it with a RPa or Ra. The 6D has always been great for astro, like the D750, and affordable for this purpose. But mirrorless offers significant advantages with framing and focus. + 1 If you are also shooting DSO in the sky and not just Milky Way night scapes, the articulating LCD screen is a neck saver in the dark!

This advice is coming from someone with many hundreds of hours of open shutter time under the stars.

https://www.astrobin.com/users/huerbsch/

Jared Carpenter's picture

As someone just getting into deep sky astrophotography, your work is very inspiring. Keep it up!

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

A very important thing about Astro Milky Way back in '12 there was very little info on MW's (even on the net) and there was the 400,500,600 rules for star trailing. In '15 I discovered in a Magazine but found how to find and capture on PhotoPills and Lonelyspeck site after discovering the A7s I bought in '14 was the best to use. But software even PS/Lr were no good at noise even Capture One. Software sucked at noise causing the need to stack 10 or more images and early PS blending foreground and sky. Also lenses had a lot of different types of coma where pros had to clone out or crop out. The great Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 no program even had a lens profile for a year when even today Lr only has. Photographers went ultra wide and fast even using fisheyes til panos were done but still wide lenses used. I found the Sony APS-C FE 1018 f/4 if used in full frame to be 12-18mm (18 if the lightshield removed) was great and the FE 1635 f/4 had no trailing.
In '14 I captured the MW not knowing it was there with the Canon T2i using the EF-S 10-22mm at 10mm (16mm) just pointing south But using a modern Lr, 2. '17 Before a 12mm the FE 1018 in FF 12mm A7s, 3/4. '15 The FE 1635mm f/4 A7s
Cameras and lenses are forever and software just gets better.

Bryan Phillips's picture

The 6D is my first and only FF camera. Love reading new comments about it. I haven't modded it yet. Still using it as my daily shooter. Hoping to do more astrophotography this year.

Scott Donschikowski's picture

nice shot man!

Stuart C's picture

These 2 are taken with the Fujifilm X-T2 (£450 used) and Samyang 12mm f2 (£200 brand new)... id call that pretty budget, and pretty decent image quality.

The location is 25 mins drive from my house, free to enter and deserted too which also helps:)

Martin Macbeath's picture

'Adrian, being one of the best Northern light photographers out there'.. followed by a selection of shots with severely blown out highlights?

Stuart C's picture

Say what?

giorgos karampotakis's picture

nikon d610 ,d750 and 6d are classics when it comes to make astrophotography you can take so much details when you work them properly .I have my d610 and still i love it .