Comparing 5 Top Wide-Angle Astrophotography Lenses

If you want to shoot sharp photos of stars, it helps to have the right lens for the job. After all, a good lens during the day might be a dud for resolving pinpoint stars in a photo’s corners at night. Here, I’ve tested five popular wide-angle lenses for astrophotography: the Laowa 12mm f/2.8, Rokinon 14mm f/2.4, Samyang 14mm f/2.8, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, and Irix 15mm f/2.4. How do they compare?

Before getting started, I’d like to mention that this only covers a small sample of the total number of good astrophotography lenses out there. I’ve personally used the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 and Nikon 20mm f/1.8 before with success, and at Photography Life we’ve tested everything from the Sigma 14mm f/1.8 to even the new Nikon Z 24-70mm f/4 for their abilities to capture the stars. I created this comparison in the first place because I had access to these five particular lenses at one time, but it doesn’t mean they are the only good choices out there. Check out our list of more than 20 astrophotography lenses for Nikon cameras alone, and you can see how many good choices exist.

All that said, let’s get started.

Full Images

I’m going to include full images, center crops, and corner crops for all five lenses below. Here is the order in which they will appear below:

  • Laowa 12mm f/2.8
  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.4
  • Samyang 14mm f/2.8 (same company as Rokinon, under a different name)
  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
  • Irix 15mm f/2.4

Since the Irix and Rokinon lenses are f/2.4 rather than f/2.8, I’m including photos at both apertures rather than just wide open or just f/2.8. The difference in light gathering capabilities between these two apertures is half a stop, which is not massive, but still matters. The wider focal length of the Laowa also allowed capture at 25 seconds, while the rest of the photos were taken with a 20 second shutter speed. You can click on the photos below to scroll between them and compare how the images look.

Laowa 12mm f/2.8 – 25 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Laowa 12mm f2.8
Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.4; and 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Rokinon 14mm f2.4 at f2.4
Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 at f/2.4
Rokinon 14mm f2.4 at f2.8
Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 at f/2.8

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Samyang 14mm f2.8
Samyang 14mm f/2.8

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 14mm

Nikon 14-24mm f2.8
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

Irix 15mm f/2.4 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.4; and 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Irix 15mm f2.4 at f2.4
Irix 15mm f/2.4 at f/2.4
Irix 15mm f2.4 at f2.8
Irix 15mm f/2.4 at f/2.8

Mid-Frame Crops (click to see 100%)

Laowa 12mm f/2.8 – 25 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Laowa 12mm f2.8 Crop
Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.4; and 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Rokinon 14mm f2.4 at f2.4 Crop
Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 at f/2.4
Rokinon 14mm f2.4 at f2.8 Crop
Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 at f/2.8

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Samyang 14mm f2.8 Crop
Samyang 14mm f/2.8

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 14mm

Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 Crop
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

Irix 15mm f/2.4 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.4; and 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Irix 15mm f2.4 at f2.4 Crop
Irix 15mm f/2.4 at f/2.4
Irix 15mm f2.4 at f2.8 Crop
Irix 15mm f2.4 at f/2.8

Top-Right Corner Crops (click to see 100%)

Laowa 12mm f/2.8 – 25 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Laowa 12mm f2.8 Corner Crop
Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.4; and 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Rokinon 14mm f2.4 at f2.4 Corner Crop
Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 at f/2.4
Rokinon 14mm f2.4 at f2.8 Corner Crop
Rokinon 14mm f/2.4 at f/2.8

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Samyang 14mm f2.8 Corner Crop
Samyang 14mm f/2.8

Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8, 14mm

Nikon 14-24mm Corner Crop f2.8
Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8

Irix 15mm f/2.4 – 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.4; and 20 seconds, ISO 3200, f/2.8

Irix 15mm f2.4 at f2.4 Corner Crop
Irix 15mm f/2.4 at f/2.4
Irix 15mm f2.4 at f2.8 Corner Crop
Irix 15mm f2.4 at f/2.8

Results

There are some clear winners and losers in this comparison – more so than I thought there would be.

These lenses have more optical problems than just coma, which is the classic issue with astrophotography. Specifically, each one has relatively strong vignetting, although some have more than others. The non-star portions of the frame also vary significantly in sharpness from lens to lens. And, interestingly, some of the lenses – especially the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 – have spherical aberration that adds a “glow” halo around the brighter stars, even in the center of the frame. I consider this to be an issue, not a feature (after all, you can always add a glow in post-processing, but you can’t get rid of it very easily); however, some may see it as a benefit, adding an etherial look to the sky.

Before delving into the specific pros and cons of each lens, here is my list in order from most to least recommended based upon image quality:

  1. Rokinon 14mm f/2.4
  2. Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8
  3. Samyang 14mm f/2.8
  4. Irix 15mm f/2.4
  5. Laowa 12mm f/2.8

Be aware that there is a noticeable drop-off after the Rokinon and Nikon, and another when comparing the Laowa 12mm to all the other lenses tested. If I had to recommend any of these lenses to buy, I would only pick one of the top three – the first two for maximum image quality, and the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 for its bargain price and still very solid photos.

Specifically, the lens that impressed me the most was the Rokinon 14mm f/2.4. That lens had remarkable sharpness for the foreground landscape, almost no visible coma even at f/2.4, and among the lowest vignetting in this test. It also has the f/2.4 advantage, although that isn’t as big a deal as it may seem; that aperture leads to enough vignetting that, functionally, it only brightens the center compared to f/2.8 (and even then not by much). The Rokinon is also $800 new, which is not the cheapest lens in this list, but isn’t unreasonable either.

The Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 presents a close challenge to the Rokinon, but there are a few issues that prevent it from taking the top prize. To start, the Nikon costs $1900 new, although you can find it for significantly less used. In terms of image quality, it has more coma in the corners, as well as being just a bit less sharp on the landscape itself. But this is splitting hairs; choose between these two lenses based upon factors like price, zoom vs prime, and manual vs autofocus instead, since it takes an extreme side-by-side comparison to make the image quality differences visible.

The next lenses in this list are a step down in quality, though still respectable. The Samyang 14mm f/2.8 and the Irix 15mm f/2.4 are very close in performance – practically a tie. Although the Samyang has more spherical aberration, leading to halos around the stars, it beats out the Irix in terms of sharpness and coma. The Irix is built better, but it costs $425 (Firefly version) to the Samyang’s bargain price of $299. It should be clear why the Samyang is so popular among astrophotographers! If build quality or minimal halos around the stars are especially important to you, get the Irix, but otherwise the Samyang is the better deal – and the better performer, too, though not by a wide margin.

Last on the list is the Laowa 12mm f/2.8, which ticks none of the boxes. It is unsharp, has huge levels of vignetting, experiences comparatively high coma in the corners, and adds noticeable halos to the stars. At a price of $950, unless you absolutely can’t live without the 12mm focal length, my conclusion is that you should stay away from this lens. I’ve even tested two different copies of the Laowa, both of which were exactly the same in that regard – and I triple checked that the Laowa’s photo in this article was properly focused, which it was. The lens itself just isn’t good for astrophotography.

Conclusion

The comparison above only covers a small sample of all the wide-angle, wide-aperture lenses on the market for Milky Way photography. Still, I hope it gave you a good idea of what to look for, including the image quality you can expect from top-of-the-line astrophotography lenses (and bad ones, too). If I ever get my hands on another set of lenses like this, I’ll run a second test comparing them as well. In the meantime, astrophotography performance is something we analyze in many of our reviews at Photography Life, so keep an eye out as we continue to test more night sky photography options in the future.

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