Best Lenses for Sunstars
sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/11 | 10 straight blades

The shape and appearance of sunstars is very important for landscape and architecture photographers. For some of them, they are even a defining element in their photos. Sunstars can appear around strong point light sources under certain circumstances, in this article I will talk about how to get them and how certain lenses (being more specific: number and shape of aperture blades) can influence their rendering.

Last update: July 2020

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/5.6 | 10 straight blades
sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Loxia 35mm 2.0 | f/11 | 10 straight blades
sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 Distagon | f/11 | 10 straight blades

The basics

There are a two principles you should know when it comes to sunstars:

  1. An even number of aperture blades will give you the same even number of rays. For example a lens with 6 aperture blades will draw a 6-pointed star. An odd number of aperture blades will result in twice as many rays. For example 7 aperture blades will result in a 14-pointed star.
  2. Straight blades will give you better defined rays compared to rounded ones.

Technical Background

Each aperture blade flicks light in two directions (radially from the center of the diaphragm outside and inside). With an even number of aperture blades  two rays (of blades that are opposed to each other) overlap, this is the reason for an even number of aperture blades “x” yielding an even number of also “x” rays and an uneven number of “y” rays will yield an even number of 2 times “y” rays.

Furthermore:  Straight blades will give you better defined rays compared to rounded ones.

If this was to abstract for you let me show you a few examples:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.5 Nokton | f/11 | 10 straight blades (crop)

The Voigtlander Nokton 50mm 1.5 has what I consider very good sunstars. The 10 straight aperture blades will give you sunstars with 10 well defined  rays which blend in nicely with the scene.

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Leica Summicron 90mm 2.0 pre Asph | f/11 | 11 inwardly curved blades (crop)

The Leica Summicron 90mm 2.0 pre Asph with its 11 inwardly curved blades renders the point light sources quite different, as you get very small sunstars with 22 rays. In the crops things don’t look that bad, but check out this comparison of the two photos as a whole:

Before: Voigtlander 50mm 1.5 Nokton / After: Leica Summicron 90mm 2.0 pre Asph (panorama)

I think the sunstars the Voigtlander produces really add to the scene while the Leica’s look rather mushy by comparison.

Lenses with many aperture blades (and especially the ones with not so tight tolerances) might not be able to produce sunstars at all, as can be seen here with the Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0 (the Jupiter-3 50mm 1.5 shows quite similar behaviour):

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0 | f/11 | 15 rounded blades (crop)

Also keep in mind this is a highly subjective topic, so you may not like what I like and vice versa.

First of all you need a strong point light source against a dark background. Street lamps at night for example will easily produce sunstars:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss ZM 35mm 1.4 Distagon | f/11 | 10 straight blades

During day hours even the sun against the sky alone will produce sunstars:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Nikon AF-S 24mm 1.4G | f/8.0 | 9 rounded blades

Placing the point light source near an edge of something darker will most of the time yield very nice sunstars as well:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/11 | 10 straight blades

Furthermore you should stop down your lens. Most lenses only show sunstars stopped down a lot (Loxia 21mm 2.8 and Voigtlander 15mm 4.5E III being some of the exceptions here) and sunstars become bigger the more you stop your lens down. You often have to trade a nicer sunstar for a less sharp images because many lenses need to be stopped down to at least f/11 for nice sunstars.


But you shouldn’t overdo it. Sunstars can also be distracting if used without care, as can be seen in this example:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Loxia 21mm 2.8 | f/8.0 | 10 straight blades

Overview

Some manufacturers settled on a certain number and shape of blades for their lenses, while it seems others just use whatever comes to mind. I will give you a short overview and try to show you some examples after that.

Diaphragm Blades Can be found in Number of Rays
3 Rollei QBM lenses 6
5 Some wide Laowa lenses


Some old SLR lenses


wider Jupiter lenses
10
6 Many old SLR lenses, e.g.:


Minolta MD


Contax/Yashica


some new UWA lenses (Samyang 14mm 2.8)
6
7 Many (D)SLR lenses (old an new)


cheaper FE lenses


cheaper Sigma lenses
14
8 Many Canon EF lenses


some Leica lenses
8
9 Pro Nikon lenses (especially tele lenses)


Sigma Art lenses


Pro Sony lenses


Zeiss Batis and Milvus lenses
18
10 Zeiss Loxia and ZM lenses


Most modern Voigtlander VM and E-mount lenses


Some Pentax/Tokina lenses
10
11 Some Sony GM lenses


Some Leica lenses
22
12 Some Voigtlander lenses 12
15 Older normal to long Jupiter lenses


Some old Leica lenses
none

5 blades

5 blades have been rather uncommon, but lately Laowa adapted a design with 5 aperture blades to archieve nice sunstars:

laowa 9mm 5.6 ultra wide w-dreamer uwa hyper wide heliar 10mm distortion zero-d
Sony A7rII | Laowa 9mm 5.6 | f/8.0

Some reviews of lenses with 5 aperture blades:

Laowa 9mm 5.6

Laowa 10-18mm 4.5-5.6

Pentax K SMC 28mm 1:3.5

Jupiter-12 35mm 2.8

6 blades

Some modern UWA lenses (like the Samyang 14mm 2.8 MF MKI) but also many old lenses like most of the Contax/Yashica and the Minolta MD lenses feature only 6 straight blades which will give you sunstars like these:

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Samyang 14mm 2.8 | f/11 | 6 slightly curved blades
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Samyang 14mm 2.8 | f/11 | 6 slightly curved blades (crop)

I am not a fan of these as I think they can be very distracting and just look whacky by comparison.

Some reviews of lenses with 6 aperture blades:

Samyang 14mm 2.8 MF

Canon FD 20mm 2.8


Canon new FD 24mm 1:2.8

Minolta MC Rokkor 50mm 1:1.4

7 blades

Nikon and Sony are using 7 aperture blades on their “lesser” lenses, like most of the 1.8G series from Nikon and the likes of FE 50mm 1.8 or FE 50mm 2.8 macro from Sony:

Sony FE 1.8/50
Sony FE 50mm 1.8 | f/11 | 7 slightly rounded blades
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Nikon AF-S 20mm 1.8G | f/11 | 7 rounded blades

The Nikon AF-S 20mm 1.8G is considered to offer a very nice rendering of sunstars among Nikon users. Honestly I fail to comprehend this claim and think the main reason for it is that many Nikon users don’t know there a lenses that can do better.

Sidenote: Every time I look at this shot I wish I already owned the Loxia 21mm 2.8 at that time.

Some reviews of lenses with 7 aperture blades:

Laowa 12mm 2.8

Sony FE 16-35mm 4.0 ZA OSS

Nikon 75-150mm 3.5 Series E

8 blades

Canon decided to use 8 slighty rounded aperture blades in most of their lenses. This is a bit of a goldilocks approach, as sunstars are quite decent as is bokeh stopped down a little. This shot was taken with the Canon EF 70-200mm 4.0L USM:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Canon EF 70-200mm 4.0L | 70mm f/11 | 8 slightly rounded blades

Some reviews of lenses with 8 aperture blades:

Canon new FD 50 mm 1:1.4

Zeiss Sonnar 2.8/90 T*

Canon EF 135mm 2.0L

9 blades

Nikon settled for 9 rounded blades with their pro lenses, (Sony takes a similar approach with their FE lenses, but threw in 11 rounded blades for most lenses of their GM line except for the 2.8/24-70 GM that uses 9), Zeiss Batis lenses also feature 9 rounded ones. This is good for bokeh stopped down as light circles stay pretty much round, but frankly not the best choice for sunstars in my opinion.

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8 | f/11 | 9 rounded blades

The sunstars produced by the Zeiss Batis 18mm 2.8 therefore show 18-pointed sunstars. Sidenote: if you are deciding between the Batis 18mm 2.8 and the Loxia 21mm 2.8 give this a little more thought than the meaningless differences in sharpness we get asked about a lot.

Some reviews of lenses with 9 aperture blades:

Sony FE 24-70mm 2.8 GM

Nikon Ai-s 180mm 2.8 ED

Zhong Yi Mitakon 50mm 0.95 Dark Knight

10 blades

10 straight blades are my preferred choice when it comes to the rendering of sunstars. Zeiss uses them in their ZM and Loxia lines, Voigtlander for their newer VM and E-mount range and Pentax for some of their limited lenses.

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Zeiss Loxia 35mm 2.0 | f/8.0 | 10 straight blades

Some reviews of lenses with 10 aperture blades:

Voigtländer 15mm 4.5 E Super Wide Heliar

Voigtländer Ultron 28mm 2.0

Zeiss Loxia 35mm 2.0

11 blades

Many Leica-M lenses feature 11 aperture blades as do most of Sony’s GM lenses. Not the best choice for nice sunstars.

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Leica Summicron 90mm 2.0 pre Asph | f/11 | 11 inwardly curved blades

Some reviews of lenses with 11 aperture blades:

Leica 90mm 2.0 Summicron M

Sony FE 85mm 1.4 GM

12 blades

Some of the later Voigtlander lenses feature 12 instead of 10 blades. The sunstars may be slightly less pronounced, but they are still nice to look at.

review voigtlander 50mm 1.2 nokton vm leica m mount rangefinder messsucher sony adapted a7rII a7riii a7r3 a7rm3 helicoid 42mp
Sony A7rII | Voigtlander VM 50mm 1.2 Nokton | f/8.0

Some reviews of lenses with 12 aperture blades:

Voigtlander VM 35mm 1.2 Nokton III

Voigtlander 50mm 1.2 Nokton E

15 blades

Some of the old Jupiter lenses feature 15 rounded aperture blades and I think also some older Leica lenses do. As written above: it is quite difficult getting sunstars with these lenses and if you do they don’t look exactly great:

sunstar sun sunburst blendenstern diaphragm stroke 10 7 8 14 18
Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0 | f/11 | 15 rounded blades

Some reviews of lenses with 15 aperture blades:

Jupiter-3 50mm 1.5

Jupiter-9 85mm 2.0

B+W F-Pro Star 8x filter

When researching this topic you might have come across “Star Effect” filters. These filters are grinded with a special grid which is ought to give you sunstars (most common are 4, 6 and 8 rays) on whatever lens, regardless of aperture construction. This sounds like a great idea, but these filters come with several disadvantages:

  • the rays will show rainbow like effects that can be very distracting

    Rainbow effect

  • the length of the rays is not really affected when you stop the lens down, so the effect cannot be controlled
  • if you stop your lens down a lot the the stars (“fake” one from the filter and “original” one from the diaphragm) will overlap

    Overlapping of “fake” and “original” star

Many of these are made by cheap brands, but I was intentionally trying an expensive B&W F-pro one, hoping for at least “best possible” quality. Unfortunately this was not the case: the grid is not centered on the filter, so the rays have uneven length and you can’t do anything about it:

Uneven rays because grid is not centered on the filter

Don’t waste your money on these filters.

As I have already said this is a highly subjective topic, so choose what suits your shooting the best!


You should also consider straight aperture blades may yield nicer sunstars, but bokeh highlights won’t appear round anymore and will look less natural and might even distract from the subject.


For my portrait lenses I therefore vastly prefer rounded blades, but you can’t have both in one.


Canon with it’s 8 slightly rounded blades on most lenses went for the middle way, decent sunstars, decent bokeh highlights but not outstanding in either category.

I hope we could shed some light on this topic, in case there are any questions left, just leave us a comment!

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My name is Bastian and I am your expert here when it comes to ultra wide angle lenses, super fast portrait lenses (ranging from a 50mm f/0.95 to a 200mm f/1.8) and I also have reviewed way too many 35mm lenses.
Don’t ask me anything about macro or wildlife shooting though.

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