Lumix Diaries: Night Skies with MFT Cameras

Posted Apr. 21st, 2018 by Daniel J. Cox

Night Skies with MFT Cameras

One of most enjoyable aspects of photography is I’m always learning something new, like night skies with MFT cameras. Here in New Zealand the group and I spent an evening shooting night skies. New Zealand is supposed to have the darkest skies on Earth, but just like anywhere, we had to point our lenses in the right direction.

This post won’t be lengthy. I didn’t get many great images that night. I mostly just tried to sort things out for my first real attempt at capturing a chunk of the Milky Way. In the image below I actually shot 21 frames of the same image then stacked them all in Mac OSX software called Starry Landscape Stacker. Combing images like this reduces the noise you would normally see, especially in the smaller MFT cameras I use.

No Need for a Full-frame Monster

I’ve always been a bit shy about shooting night skies due to the smaller sensors. I had always thought the amazing Milky Way images I’ve seen were shot with the full frame low-light monsters like the Nikon D810, and the Sony A7’s. But come to find out, even the full-frame guys and gals stack their night skies. Starry Landscape Stacker opens up an entirely new world to MFT shooters. For Windows users, I’ve heard good things about Deep Sky Stacker.

Below is what I came up with of the Milky Way.

Night Skies With MFT Cameras

This is a combination of 21 frames shot at 3200 ISO and stacked together to eliminate noise in Starry Landscape Stacker. Lumix G9 with Leica 12mm F/1.4 shot wide open

Lens to Infinity by Way of Starlight AF

One of the most difficult things about astro, or night photography, is making sure your lens is set to infinity. That’s not an easy thing to do with today’s AF lenses. Manual lenses of the past had a set infinity mark that you could depend on. AF lenses have no such option.

Thankfully and amazingly the Lumix line of cameras has what is called Starlight AF. I had tried Starlight AF in the past with hit and miss results. And unfortunately, this night, I had a similar experience. But a quick check of the Lumix G9 manual has given me hope the Starlight AF is actually a useable feature. Based on a reread of the manual I had made a mistake. To get Starlight AF to work consistently, I needed to make sure I was using the AF area in the MIDDLE of the frame. As the manual states, “Starlight AF cannot perform detection on the edges of the screen.” The Lumix GH5 manual states, “Detection of Starlight AF works only for approximately 1/3 of the center of the screen.” During this shoot, I remember moving the Single AF sensor to the edges of the frame since I saw brighter stars in that area. I felt these brighter stars would be helpful for the G9 to grab focus. Unfortunately, those frames were not precisely focused. However, the image I’ve included below was shot straight up, AF sensor in the middle of the screen. Starlight AF grabbed focus beautifully, but I thought it was due to there being so many more stars in the Milky Way. Now I’m hopeful that critical focus may have been due to using the central part of the EVF. We’ll see in the next few days as we try this again.

Further Night Skies Research

For those interested in night sky photography, I highly recommend following Royce Bair. Man, this guy is a night sky rock star. You can see a rather long video on how he works with lots of good info in the video below.

I ordered his eBook titled Into The Night Sky which is a little easier to read slowly at a more leisurely pace than trying to capture bits of info from this video. Stay tuned as I explore a whole new world in photography and share my finding here on the Blog.

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There are 11 comments on this post…
  1. Andrew CallumOn Sep. 10th, 2019 (1 month ago)

    Just found your site and really enjoy it.

    I have recently purchased a G9 (my 3rd Lumix M4/3 body over about 10 years) and just saw in your article the concept of this Starlight AF mode. I have been searching through the online detailed manual, but can’t find any reference to this feature. Can you point me in the right direction or where in the menus I can find this?

    Many thanks!

  2. ChristopherOn Aug. 7th, 2019 (2 months ago)

    Hi Daniel.
    I know this is an older post, but maybe you can give me an idea what happened with my G9 and my first try at astro photography this past weekend?
    I have my camera set up to record JPEG to slot 1 and RAW to slot 2. On my recent backpacking trip, that is exactly what happened…except that all the astro/night photos that were shot in Manual mode did not record in RAW. They were simply missing on the slot 2 card.
    I hesitate to ask you this tech question, but am curious if you’ve ever experienced anything like this yourself, and why did it happen?
    Thank you!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 9th, 2019 (2 months ago)

      Christopher, to be honest, I would have to see your camera and ALL its many settings which include the labyrinth of options in the menu system. I’ve never experienced such a thing but I will tell you that by setting your camera to save Jpegs to one card and RAW to another is already a step in the direction of confusion. I shoot both Jpeg and RAW but I save them all on the same card. I’ve never used two cards at the same time. Part of the reason is the potential for the confusion you’re now experiencing. Lots of photographers are very vocal about the need for a two-card system but I’ve never felt the need. Just my way of doing it which doesn’t mean it’s right. Thanks for the question and don’t eve hesitate to ask. There are no dumb questions. We’re all just learning together.

  3. Teresa LeggettOn Nov. 8th, 2018 (11 months ago)

    Help! I was in Joshua Tree with my camera n night mode, SS set to 25” to start and my lens wide open but my G9 never went into Starlight focus mode. What did I do wrong?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Nov. 12th, 2018 (11 months ago)

      What AF pattern we’re you using? Was it placed in the middle of the viewfinder?

  4. jim heywoodOn Apr. 23rd, 2018

    The folks on my March Joshua tree shoot- none of whom had Lumix gear- Looked at me in disbelief when I talked about Lumix star focus. I got some wonderful night shots on my G9 with the Joshua trees seen in outline against the stary sky. The shots with the GH4 in Iceland and also had spot on focus. I guess I was lucky about being focused in the center. I found that this worked well even when I gave up after a time waiting for the green focus light. Will have to try the stacker…What were your camera settings?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 23rd, 2018

      Jim, great input. We’re you using the 12mm F/1.?

  5. Rene ThebergeOn Apr. 21st, 2018

    Dan, is there something comparable for Olympus OMD cameras to he Starlight AF in Panasonic cameras?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 21st, 2018

      Unfortunately Rene, I’ve not found a similar feature on the Olympus OM-D EM-1 Markll that I currently have. Sorry for the disappointing news.

  6. Portrait of Mike Cromwell

    Mike CromwellOn Apr. 21st, 2018

    Dan, excellent video. Thanks for the information. Very interesting. Not sure about modifying my GH5 with its IBIS, but maybe the GH4.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 21st, 2018

      I’m actually trying to get my hands on the new GH5S Mike to see how that camera does with Astro photography. But I’ve been so impressed with the Starry Landscape Stacker software, the bettr low light performance of the GH5S may not be any real bonus. Stay tuned.

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