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 21 comments on this post…
  1. Jiří PaličkaOn Mar. 21st, 2021

    Hows IR cut works for DSO like H II regions with 656.3 nm – I guess from 620 nm IR will start shaving the wavelength.
    No blame here – IR cut on GH5 looks good, but not ideal for AP and I guess you still can not easily change filter on a sensor and it is still costly to make it by Pros and risky do on your own.

  2. Mark DoingOn Aug. 14th, 2020

    I have tried once to photograph the Milky Way with my G9, I started out trying to Manual focus which was sort of trial and error. Then I remembered the Starlight AF thing and just tried Autofocus, worked like a charm! I was using a clump of focus points in the center of the EVF which Daniel says is a must although that was by accident. i would say give it a try!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 15th, 2020

      Thanks for sharing your experience Mark.

  3. Matthew BraatzOn Jul. 19th, 2020

    I have a Panasonic Lumix FZ 80 4K long zoom. I attempted to shoot pics of the Neowise comet but got nothing. I changed iso, shutter speed and the f factor. All to get nothing. Shot wouldn’t happen at all.

    Any advice on how to get night pics or is this
    Camera one that won’t work that way.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 20th, 2020

      Unfortunately Matthew I’m not familiar with the FZ80. I do know it’s more of a point ns shoot type camera but it should be able to capture something. You don’t mention what Mode you were on, only that you changed Shutter speed and F-stop. Where you in manual, Program, Aperture priority, or what? You’re not giving enough info for me to even make an educated guess.

  4. MeredithOn Jun. 12th, 2020

    As a very late note for anyone who doesn’t have a Starlight AF feature, in most comfortable temperature conditions, all you need is focus at the normal infinity position. On Lumix cameras that’s where the red and white focus bars meet. For most lenses, you can quickly reset to infinity by tapping the Lens Release Button* or by switching the camera off and on. The lens will return to its startup focus, which is infinity position for most MFT system lenses – a couple Olympus lenses have been reported to reset to minimum focus. If you’re in MF mode then nothing will move the focus and you’re set, or you’re at least near infinity to make minor adjustments after a test shot.

    * This isn’t really a “jump to infinity” shortcut but a signaling reset, as if you changed lenses without changing the lens. If you have a rare Power Zoom lens it also returns to its shortest focal length, regardless of any “zoom resume” setting. It’s not risky like switching lenses with the camera on, because you’re not physically moving the electrical contacts, but for full disclosure it’s not an official feature.

  5. Keith NisbetOn May. 8th, 2020

    Thanks very much Daniel for clarifying the G9 Starlight AF feature. I didn’t realize it was an automatic feature. Hopefully they can fix the reliability with a further firmware update.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 9th, 2020

      It’s interesting how Olympus is getting rave reviews for their star light AF on their newest camera even though Lumix has had this feature in the G9 from the start. My guess is not many talk about it on the G9 due to it being so flakey. Which is a shame since they did it first. Kind of like Nikon being the first to have video in a DSLR (Nikon D90) only to have Canon eat their lunch with the release of the Canon EOS 5. Nothing’s fair in love and cameras.

  6. Keith NisbetOn Apr. 14th, 2020

    I have gone through my G9 Advanced Manual and for the life of me cannot see anything titled Starlight AF or any reference to shooting the stars. Please advise. I’m going nuts trying to find it. I purchased the G9 January 2020 and took it to Europe before the virus shutdown. I love this camera. Please help. Thanks, Keith.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 18th, 2020


      There is no special setting. It’s an automatic feature that you don’t have to turn on. Unfortunately it’s not quite ready for prime time since It often fails. To have the best chance for it to work you need to make sure the AF square is in the middle of the EVF. It won’t work with the AF box off to the side, top or bottom. It must be in the middle. I use Single AF in a size about 1/4 the size of the EVF. It’s a great feature when it works but I find it works less than 50% the time.

  7. Andrew CallumOn Sep. 10th, 2019

    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!

  8. ChristopherOn Aug. 7th, 2019

    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

      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.

  9. Teresa LeggettOn Nov. 8th, 2018

    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

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

  10. 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.?

  11. 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.

  12. 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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