Obviously, a camera is essential to astrophotography. Depending on your target, each camera has its own advantages and disadvantages. As far as I’m concerned, I am mainly using 2 cameras for my astrophotography.
Like most amateur photographers, my first cameras were Nikon DSLR, from APS-C to full frame. But at some point, they became too bulky for my usage, and the growing mirrorless options seemed very appealing.
This is why I switched to Fujifilm in 2014, and I’m glad I did! I really love my X-T1: it’s a small but very capable camera. The image quality and the colours are fantastic, and thanks to the “old school” dials, it’s a joy to use.
For astrophotography, it’s also a great option. First, the low light capabilities are good, thanks to it’s big APS-C sensor. Secondly, as a mirrorless camera, you can adapt barely any lens ever made, especially old lenses from the film-era that can be great astro-performers. And finally, compared to an equivalent DSLR, it’s much lighter (about 440 grams). When attached to an equatorial mount, every gram counts!
In astrophotography, taking pictures of planets and deep-sky objects (such as galaxies and nebulae) constitute two distinct disciplines. They both require different equipment, software and post-processing techniques.
To photograph a planet and have something more than a fuzzy white dot, you need a lot of resolving power. The planets close to Earth are very small and very bright, unlike most deep-sky objects, which are just the opposite: their apparent size can be huge (the Andromeda galaxy is about 4 times the size of the Moon!), but they are very dim objects compared to planets.
The ZWO ASI224-MC camera is optimised for planetary photography, because it hosts a tiny 1.2 megapixels 1/3″ CMOS sensor. A smaller sensor increases the magnification, and when coupled to a telescope with a long focal length (say, 2000mm), you can get amazing details of Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
Besides, it is very sensitive to light, due to an excellent quantum efficiency (QE), around 75%-80% at its peak. This number represents the ability for the sensor, for a given wavelength, to transform photons into electrons — or in other words, light into an electric current. The higher the QE is, and the more sensitive the sensor is. In comparison, most DSLR have a QE < 50%.
What about your camera?
A lot of photographers wonder if their camera is good enough for astrophotography. Well, the answer is: yes! With the proper settings, most cameras of nowadays can photograph the stars. Some experienced astrophotographers often use entry-level DSLR (like the Canon 550D or the Nikon D5300) very successfully. For planetary photography, some even use cheap webcams.
Obviously, some cameras will yield better results than others: you can’t expect the same result from a 50€ pocket camera and a 4,000€ professional DSLR. But don’t worry too much about the specs on paper: do your own experiments!
In astrophotography, the lens you’re using is also playing a very important role in the final image. Most of the deep-sky objects you’ll photograph are very dim and very small. And on top of that, relatively to us, they’re moving!
What about film cameras?
It is of course possible to use film cameras instead of digital ones. This is how the astrophotography era began, some decades ago!
I love film photography, and I plan to give my Pentax K1000 a go at some deep-sky objects. I’ve read that film cameras can yield fantastic results, like these pictures of Orion!