DSLR for Astrophotography

A DSLR now serves as my dedicated camera for astrophotography, which may be used with typical camera lenses for wide-field shots of celestial objects, or may be mounted onto a telescope for closeup shots of galaxies and nebulas.

Canon 450D with 18-55 mm zoom lens
Canon 45D with 50 mm prime lens

Below are some wide-field images taken using only the kit lenses supplied with the camera (i.e., without a telescope). It is interesting to note that there are actually a number of astronomical objects than may be captured even without a telescope.

Image of the Milky Way galaxy taken shortly after sunset using a DSLR camera and a tracking mount. Canon 450D DSLR camera, 18-55 mm lens set at 18 mm, f/3.5, 79 sec exposure, ISO 1600, November 3, 2012, Camarines Norte, Philippines. Photo Credit: Anthony Urbano
Wide-field image of the Andromeda Galaxy taken with a Canon 450D DSLR and a 50 mm f/1.8 kit lens, ISO 1600, 12 x 30 sec exposure, on November 11, 2012 under the dark clear skies of Boso-boso, Rizal, Philippines. The Andromeda Galaxy, even at a distance of 2.2 million light-years, is still visible to the naked eye and shows up well with any DSLR kit lens. Photo Credit: Anthony Urbano
Wide-field image of the constellation Orion taken with a Canon 450D DSLR and a 50 mm f/1.8 kit lens, ISO 1600, 12 x 30 sec exposure, on November 11, 2012 under the dark clear skies of Boso-boso, Rizal, Philippines. The Barnard’s Loop, the Flame Nebula, the Orion Nebula, the Running Man Nebula, as well as the Horsehead Nebula are visible in this photo. Photo Credit: Anthony Urbano

I also use the camera with my telescope through an imaging technique called prime focus imaging. The DSLR is attached onto a telescope by means of a special type of adapter which I will illustrate below. For prime focus astrophotography, the camera lens is replaced by the telescope itself. First we remove the camera lens and expose the lens mount (consult the user’s manual).

Canon 450D with lens removed

Since each brand has a different type of lens mount (i.e., Canon lenses have different lens mounts to Nikon, and so as with Pentax, Sony, etc.), connecting it to a telescope would require a special type of camera-to-telescope adapter called a T-ring and a T-adapter. A T-ring is simply a metal adapter with one end that fits nicely to your lens mount and with the other end that attaches to any T-adapter. The T-adapter is the one that attaches any T-ring to a telescope.  The end result would be a DSLR camera with an excessively long and excessively large lens.

The DSLR, the T-ring, and T-adapter assembly
The DSLR, the T-ring, and T-adapter assembly
The DSLR, the T-ring, and T-adapter assembly ready to be attached to a telescope

Each camera brand has a specific T-ring design and varies from one brand to another. This is usually supplied by the manufacturer or a third party-supplier. The Canon EOS T-ring shown in this setup is produced by Celestron. Some telescopes however, have threaded focusers that may accept a T-ring directly, thus, eliminating the need for a T-adapter. The T-adapter is usually available in telescope shops, but being a fan of do-it-yourself (DIY) stuff, I just fabricate my own adapters.

Canon 450D body attached onto a lens (telescope) with focal length of 900 mm and a diameter of 100 mm (f/9).

Below are some images taken with a DSLR mounted on to a telescope. Note that long-exposure images of deep-sky objects require precise tracking.

Located 1500 light-years from Earth, the Orion Nebula presents a cross-section view of a galactic bubble of gas and dust. This image was taken under the dark clear skies of Basud, Camarines Norte, Philippines, using a Sky-Watcher 4-in f/9 refractor, Kenko NES mount, a Canon 450D DSLR, and a home-built autoguider. Photo Credit: Anthony Urbano
A lunar eclipse occurs during rare occasions when the moon passes through the Earth’s shadow, at times when the Sun, the Earth, and the moon form a straight line. The deep red hue of the moon is caused by sunlight refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere where most of the blue light has already been scattered, leaving only the red light to fall on to the moon’s surface. The image shows a fully-eclipsed moon during totality, taken with a 4-inch f/9 refracting telescope and a Canon 450D DSLR at ISO 1600, 2-sec exposure. This photo was featured as December 10, 2012’s Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day (AAPOD). Photo Credit: Anthony Urbano
Image of the International Space Station (ISS) as it passes 450 km above Manila at 4:59:01 am, March 15, 2012. The main body and the solar panels of the satellite are visible in this photo. Image taken with a 4-in f/9 refractor, Canon 450D, ISO 1600, 1/100 sec exposure. Photo Credit: Anthony Urbano

The camera is powered by 2 lithium cells. Using an accessory called battery grip, 6 AA rechargeable batteries may also be used. For imaging sessions in remote observing sites, the camera may be powered as well by a field battery.

For extended use, investing on extra batteries (battery grip) is recommended

For questions and queries, feel free to leave a comment. Clear skies!

Related links:
DIY Phone Camera-To-Telescope Adapter
Universal Camera Adapter
Other Types of Camera-To-Telescope Adapters (For Advanced Users)

For tutorials on how to get started with astrophotography, click here.
For DIY astronomy projects useful for astrophotography, click here.
To subscribe to this site, click here.

© Anthony Urbano (Manila, Philippines)


43 thoughts on “DSLR for Astrophotography

  1. Thanks for the simple explanation. I have been looking for some good info on how to connect my DSLR and this answered all of my questions…great article!

  2. Can you use lenses, perhaps a wide field or a 25mm, inside the t adapter with prime focus, or do you rely on digital zoom within the post processing work?

      • Thanks Eteny. I only ask because the T adapter I have has a removable 4 ” tube that fits 1.25″ lenses. I tried to use them with my dslr but I couldn’t get an image. The tube has to come off to focus an image with my reflector due to its length. I think the tube can be used to hold a barlow to reconcile the difficulty with focal length focusing with newtonian, though I haven’t had any success with the barlow.

      • The DSLR lens has to maintain a proper distance from the sensor in order to form an image (i.e., to focus). With a T-adapter in place,the lens will be moved a little farther from the sensor, and thus, will no longer be able to reach focus (the T-adapter acts as a ‘spacer’). You are right, adding a Barlow may work, but not all the time. I have tried though one setup that actually works: DSLR body + T-adapter + 2X Barlow + 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens. The Barlow multiplies the focal length by 2, essentially turning my 50 mm into a 100 mm f/3.6 lens.

  3. I’ll have to try that with the prime lens. We’ve had some pretty cloudy skies in Cleveland lately. Thanks for the info Eteny!

  4. This is great as I know nothing really about cameras or telescopes but I have both and rrally want to give astrophotography a go. Ive been searching thtough heaps of stuff trying to understand what equipment I need to attach the camera to the telescope. U just happen to have the same camera as me so made it easy to understand. Thanks so much!

  5. Hi! My son is very interested in astro imaging and we have bought the proper adapters, etc. and connected 2 different Nikon DSLR cameras to his Celestron telescope. The problem we have run in to and cannot seem to resolve is that our cameras won’t register a depth of field. We have everything set manually, but the F stop reads either F0 on our D70 or F– on our D600. Do you have any ideas on what we might be doing wrong? Your pictures are beautiful! Thank you! Cindy Hickman

    • Hi! An F0 reading in your DSLR is perfectly normal. Your DSLR thinks that you have removed the ‘kit lens’, and will report a value of F0 (to signify that no info about f-value is available). It has no way of knowing the f-value of your telescope, because telescopes do not have any electrical connection with your camera (the coupling is purely mechanical). Besides, telescopes have fixed f/values. Mine, for example, is fixed at f/9 (but my DSLR also reports f00). You, too, can check the f-value of your scope specified in its manual (or we can also compute for it).

  6. Eteny; thanks for the article, great reading, but I don’t find milky way anyhow. And I would really appreciate your help on this! I live in Norway, it is mid February, I’ve searched and searched but without any luck in finding the milky way.
    What would you do??
    I’ve been looking for it for several years but haven’t beenable to see it..
    I use a D800E with a 17-35 2.8…

  7. Can you please recommend me a DSLR camera ? I have these options which one to choose (that can work with my telescope sky-watcher 10″ dobsonian.
    1- Canon 1000d lens 80mm [slight used 250$]
    2- Canon 450D with 80mm [slight used 230$]
    What other parts would be required to connect camera to telescope?

      • Hi Shed,

        Any DSLR may be used for astrophotography, including those specific models that you’ve posted. Personally, I would prefer any model that can capture video as well (as this opens possibilities for planetary imaging) and one that has a “Live View” function or equivalent, as this will allow one to focus targets easily.

        I am using a Canon 450D DSLR. It does not have video capture function, but it has “Live View”.

        Kindly refer to the article for information on how to attach a DSLR to a telescope. Thanks!


  8. Hi I am deeply inspired by your works. I want to be an Astrophotographer just like you, and I really love everything about the universe but I don’t know what to do first. I don’t have cameras (but I’m really planning to get one. What brand or model of camera would you recommend for a beginner?) or any experiences with photography. Can you give some advices on how to start with photography? Can you recommend some photography or astrophotography classes that will help me achieve my dream? Your response will be much appreciated! :))

    • Try to invest on a decent DSLR, if your budget allows it. You’ll be needing a camera if you were to get into this hobby. You may also read some of the articles here to help you get started. Good luck!

    • For low budget , Cannon 1200d is a good choice with good results. You can also go with second hand 500/550d * (550d is a good one)
      and if you can stretch your budget , go with Cannon 600d, which have swivel screen which helps in taking pics/videos even with weird angle + it have video crop mode support as well.

  9. Sir…i would like to join u …i liked ur photo graphy..the stability and ur disection with the features of photography…sir can we use canon1200d fpr the astronomy photography..

  10. Thanks a lot for your posts! They are very helpful. I am trying to take photos of Orion nebula using my Canon 6D. I connected the 6D with the visual back of my Celestron 6SE (SCT) and connected the camera with a laptop so that I could see the images of the camera using BackyardEOS program as live view. The problem I had was that I could not see the Orion nebula probably because 1) it’s too faint, 2) I cannot find it because it’s too faint so I cannot focus on it. Do you have any suggestions? I love your Orion nebula picture and hope to take one like that myself one day!

  11. Hi I wonder if you could give me some advice, I have a canon 450d and a skywatcher 130p is it possible to take photos using this combination or are the focus problems unresolvable. Thanks for your time.

  12. HI Sir Eteny,

    I’m so thankful for your very informative and helpful blog on astrophotography.
    I have an EOS 1100D, kitlens and a 70-200/f4 lens. I was wondering how the Celestron 70az telescope would compare to the 70-200/f4 lens in terms of the view of the moon (for example). Can the celestron really give me a closer view/look of the moon so that i can have a clearer and more detailed shot of it even with just a cellphone? Thanks again..

  13. Excellent article, and the best tutorial, ever for prime focus astrophotography. Between your insight and pictures, coupled with Michael A. Covington’s Astrophotography for the Amateur, 2nd Ed., I have finally found the answers a beginner seeks to obtain.

  14. Kinda funny.. in a few of the photos towards the top of the page there are lots of white specs that look like a sky full of stars. The majority of them are actually noise from high ISO. Lol. I had the same thing happen to me when I was taking photos of stars the other day…

  15. hi nightskyinfocus
    question, should i need to enhance my raw images? do you have an article on how to enhance my raw images to popup the stars?

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