But technology has come a long way in the last couple of decades. What used to be only available to scientists and professional astronomers is now accessible to everyone! The best planetary cameras are capable of producing crystal-clear images of the cosmos. These devices are fine-tuned to work with the unique challenges of astrophotography. More powerful and capable than your average digital camera, these units can capture some stunning images worth showing off.
Whether you’re new to astrophotography or a seasoned hobbyist looking for an upgrade, choosing the right equipment is paramount. These cameras are a big investment. While there are plenty of options on the market, not every unit is going to provide you with the results you’re after. Check out some of our favorite cameras for capturing planetary images.
Best Planetary Cameras Reviewed
This ZWO camera is a compact little device that you can slip directly onto your telescope. Despite its small size, the camera is packing a lot of great technology. The 1.2-megapixel sensor is capable of capturing crystal-clear images of nearby planets.
Not only that, but it has great live-stream functions. You can use the USB3 port to connect it to a computer. Stream the image instantly and use the included software to capture individual images as you go!
- Sensor measures a third of an inch
- 1.2 megapixels
- Color camera
- 64 FPS at full resolution
- USB3 and Wi-Fi connectivity
Want to photograph the night sky without breaking the bank? Check out this planetary imager from Orion. It’s an easy-to-use device that you can plug into your computer. The sensor fits onto most 1.25-inch focusers. It takes the place of standard eyepieces, so you can use it on most telescopes or Barlow lenses without any issues.
The camera has full RGB color and high frame rate video capabilities. When connected to a computer, you can utilize the included software to view the live feed and capture images as you please.
- 5.6-micron pixels
- USB connectivity
- Fits onto a standard focuser
- Full RGB Color
As one of the most well-known telescope brands in the world, we’re not surprised that Celestron has dipped its toes in the astrophotography game. We’re happy to say that the Skyris Celestron camera doesn’t disappoint.
It’s a high-resolution camera that can capture a full 2.3 megapixels. When shooting video, you’re able to get up to 200 FPS depending on the resolution settings! You can easily pick up slow-motion shots and get smooth video content no matter your target.
- Small pixels
- Up to 200 FPS
- 2.3 megapixels
- Fast USB3 data transfer
- Near-infrared sensitivity
Check out this entry-level camera from SVBONY. It’s compatible with most cameras and even works with additional light transmission filters. The camera is best for telescopes with focal lengths between 400 and 800 millimeters.
It does a fantastic job of recording nearby celestial targets, such as planets and the moon’s surface. The unit is sporting a great dark light compensation feature. Even if your target isn’t producing a ton of light, the sensor will adapt to produce a clear image.
- Durable metal shell
- Can record up to 2K resolution video
- Compatible with most light filters
- Dark light compensation
- Full-color filters
Here’s another worthy camera from SVBONY. This unit is a bit more advanced than the last one. The sensor inside is very sensitive. It’s a back-illuminated CMOS sensor. Even in subpar conditions, the sensor does a great job of picking up less noise and distortion.
Another feature we like is the built-in DDR RAM. 128 MB of RAM caches images as the data travels to the computer. This ensures that issues with your computer don’t distort or corrupt the images you capture.
- Low-noise sensor
- Multiple shooting options
- DDR RAM buffer
- Fits standard focusers
- Simple setup
This beautifully designed camera from Orion can do a lot. You aren’t just limited to lunar photography or capturing nearby planets. It works well with deep-sky imaging, too. This is a monochrome camera with an ultra-sensitive sensor. Pair that with the small pixel size and large sensor, you’re able to create high-resolution images.
The camera is compatible with color filter wheels if you want to take full-color images. It also has a robust video-capturing mode with up to 59 FPS on full resolution settings.
- 2.4-micron pixels
- Up to 59 FPS video
- Sleek design
- USB3 and ST-4 guider
Looking to capture true-to-life images without a ton of experience? This Celestron camera is for you. There are a few different features that simplify the astrophotography experience. The first is the DigitalClarity technology. Built into the sensor, it dramatically reduces noise before the image even makes its way to the computer.
The included software is great, too. It automatically analyzes each frame and removes images that are distorted from poor atmospheric seeing. This results in an ultra-clear video.
- 5 megapixels
- Innovative software
- Fits most telescopes and focusers
- Made of machined aluminum
- Micron DigitalClarity technology
The Starshoot camera from Orion is a simple little device with a great sensor. The 3-megapixel sensor has large pixels to improve clarity and reduce distortion. It’s a full-color sensor, too, so you can pick up true-to-life images without any problems.
When you take an image, the camera stacks multiple exposures on top of one another automatically. This helps to the highest quality image possible. You’ll be able to see finer details within a single image.
- 3.2-micron pixels
- 3 megapixels
- Exposure stacking
- Color camera
- Works with most focusers
Great for astrophotography beginners, this camera simplifies the image capturing process. Usually, planetary imaging requires near-perfect conditions to do successfully. However, the low-noise sensor and some additional software technologies help to create a stunning image even in less-than-ideal environments.
There’s a dark field correction system that automatically removes distortion. It addresses atmospheric issues as well as improves image capture in low-light conditions. If you want to see the true image you captured, the software is capable of providing raw data for custom manipulation, too.
- 1.2 megapixels
- Low-noise sensor
- Aluminum barrel
- Dark field correction
This camera from Orion looks small and simple. But, it’s one of the most powerful planetary cameras in the game. This device is sporting a robust CCD sensor that’s capable of 16-bit imaging. It captures far more data samples than other cameras, ensuring that your image is clear.
Not only that, but the individual pixels are about 8.3 microns in size. While still invisible to the naked eye, those pixels are more than twice the size of standard cameras. This improves the unit’s light-gathering capabilities for better deep-space performance.
- CCD sensor
- 8.3-micron pixels
- 16-bit imaging
- Built-in thermoelectric cooling
Weighing a hair over three ounces, this camera from ZWO is perfect for taking images on the go. You can slip it in a bag or pocket as you travel to a stargazing spot with low light pollution.
In terms of performance, this camera doesn’t disappoint. It has 2.1 megapixels and precise guiding. The sensor is smart enough to detect small deviations in positioning during an exposure. It will make up for those deviations to create a low-distortion image.
- 2.1 megapixels
- Precise guiding
- USB3 and St-4 port
- Fits standard 1.25-inch focuser
Another great ZWO option, this camera performs well for deep-space objects. The pixels are slightly larger at 3.75 microns. On a 1.2 megapixel sensor, the larger pixel size does sacrifice resolution. But, the camera makes up for that by reducing noise.
The protective lens is coated for better light transmission. The camera is built to allow as much light as possible to flood the sensor. It’s a great option for auto-guided telescopes and long-exposure shots.
- 3.75-micron pixels
- Low-noise sensor
- Improved light transmission
- Good for auto-guiding
Last, but not least, we have this heavy-duty camera from Orion. It uses a highly advanced CMOS color sensor. This sensor rivals even CDD sensors. It’s sporting larger pixels that measure about 4.63 microns. The pixels capture more light with less distortion.
This camera is built for deep-sky imaging. As a result, it has some features to support long exposures. With the software, you can set longer exposure times to capture as much light as possible. Thanks to the cooling fan, the camera stays operational for much longer.
- 4.63-micron pixels
- Up to 30 FPS video
- Long-exposure modes
- Color camera
- Integrated cooling fan
- USB2 and USB3 interface
Planetary Imaging Cameras Buying Guide
The world of photography is already complicated enough. When you add planets and deep space celestial objects into the mix, the hobby gets even harder. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing your camera.
CCD vs CMOS Cameras
The first thing you need to decide is whether you want a CCD camera or a CMOS camera. Both of these options are completely digital. They often look the same and offer the same user experience. So, what makes them different? It all comes down to how the camera captures your image.
CCD stands for Charge-Coupled Device. The CCD is the sensor that’s responsible for converting the light into a digital image you can view and share.
Chances are, you’ll never get a chance to see the CCD yourself! It’s deep within the camera and acts similarly to film. Whenever you open the shutter to capture an image, tiny pixels pick up photons and convert them to electrons. Essentially, the sensor converts analog light energy into an electronic signal for image recreation.
The CCD sensor has been around for a long time. In fact, some of the very first digital cameras were CCD cameras. However, these units aren’t as widespread as CMOS cameras. The reason for this is the price and manufacturing process.
CCD sensors are far more complex. They require a unique manufacturing process because each pixel funnels information to the next before collecting at the corner of the sensor. Think of it as a series of interconnected funnels. When a photon enters the sensor, it moves throughout the entire chip before it exits from the corner for processing.
This makes the chip more compact and easy to implement. But, it’s a challenge to manufacture. Not only that, but this process uses up a lot of power. Thus, CCD cameras tend to be more expensive to implement.
CMOS, or Complementary Metal-Oxide Semiconductor, cameras are very prevalent. There’s a good chance that the camera on your smartphone or laptop uses a CMOS sensor! These sensors are far more economical to make. The manufacturing process is similar to making microprocessors, so camera brands are able to produce the technology en masse.
A CMOS imager looks similar to a CCD one. But, it operates a bit differently. It also has tiny pixels to pick up light. But rather than sending the signal to nearby pixels until everything accumulates at the corner, information is processed instantly. Each pixel has several transistors located next to it.
This process is a bit more efficient in terms of power consumption. However, light can interact with those transistors, resulting in a lower-quality image.
Which is Best for Planetary Imaging?
For an imaging camera that’s built for planets and other celestial objects, CCD sensors tend to be the better choice. The design of the sensor and pixels is more efficient. The sensors can capture light better, resulting in a high-quality image with less noise.
Even for video, CCD cameras tend to out-perform CMOS cameras. CCD units offer greater frame rates. Plus, they have a global shutter system to instantly capture an entire image at once. CMOS cameras have a rolling shutter than can manipulate light incorrectly, resulting in a distorted image and grainy video.
CMOS cameras have gotten a lot better in recent years. Some premium models even rival that of CCD cameras. We fully expect CMOS cameras to be on par with CCD units in the future. But for now, CCD cameras take the cake.
That doesn’t mean that a CMOS camera is incapable of giving you a good image. In fact, CMOS technology is far more common than CCD. It’s more accessible and cost-efficient to use CMOS cameras. You’ll just have to work a bit harder to get your image to come out just right.
Key Features and Specs to Look For In The Best Planetary Cameras
Now that you have a better understanding of the types of cameras available, let’s look at some important specifications you need to look into when buying the best planetary cameras.
You’re going to encounter two types of planetary cameras: mono cameras and color cameras. Monochrome cameras are only capable of producing black and white images. The sensors do not have color filters on them, so they are physically incapable of creating colorful images. To capture color images, you would need an additional filter wheel.
One shot color cameras have those filters built right in. Typically, the filters are placed on top of each filter. This ensures that light is appropriately measured to produce realistic color.
You may even find near-infrared cameras. These cameras pick up light that’s not visible to the naked eye, which provides greater detail and clarity.
Most photographers pay attention to the number of pixels a camera has. But, the individual pixel sizes are important, too. Measured in Microns, the size of the pixel will determine the amount of usable data that’s collected. Larger pixels pick up more “good” data. Meanwhile, small pixels will pick up more noise.
The size of the sensor is going to affect what you’re going to be able to capture. A small or standard-sized senors is great for nearby planets. You can pick up images of Saturn, Jupiter, or Mars without any issues. Small sensors offer a narrow field of view, which is fine for objects within our solar system.
But if you want to try your hand at deep-sky imaging, you’ll need a large sensor. Larger sensors offer a wide field of view, which is perfect for nebulae and far-off galaxies.
Finally, think about the types of images you want to capture. Most planetary imaging cameras are built for capturing high-resolution photos. But, you can also find those with video modes.
Recording video of planets is tricky. So, pay attention to the FPS rating. To get a distortion-free video, you need a high frame rate.
What You Need to Use The Best Planetary Cameras
Planetary imaging cameras are not standalone devices. They rely on additional equipment to operate efficiently. More specifically, you need a high-quality telescope!
The telescope is going to do most of the grunt work when it comes to magnification and focusing. The camera will help to capture the light and recreate the image. But, the telescope will manipulate the light to help it reach the camera’s sensor.
There’s no shortage of good cameras to choose from. We recommend using a good refractor telescope with a wide aperture and decent focal length. A wider aperture is going to allow light to flood into the telescope. Meanwhile, the longer focal length will provide higher magnification.
Choose a telescope that matches your astrophotography needs. If you’re planning on capturing deep-space objects, you’ll need an ultra-powerful telescope that can bring in as much light as possible. But, simpler entry-level telescopes work fine for nearby planets and lunar photography. You can read more about these in our telescopes for deep space objects, and telescopes for viewing planets guides.
The best planetary cameras can make all the difference when you’re trying to capture the planets in all of their glory. The devices we went over have what it takes to pick up surreal photos with impressive image quality fit for an art exhibit. Give one a shot and see what kinds of images you can capture!