Lumix Diaries: Night Skies with MFT Cameras
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.
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.