The Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens on Micro Four Thirds equates to an ultra-wide angle 14-28mm zoom on full frame, and thankfully, the f/2.8 aperture allows sufficient light to create lovely astroscapes with very nice star shapes for such a wide angle lens which render the Milky Way very nicely indeed.
I have previously discussed the specs of this lens and compared it to the Olympus ZD 7-14mm f/4 lens for Four Thirds dSLRs in which I point out that thanks to the shorter sensor-lens flange distance by removing the clunky mirror of dSLRs, wide angle lenses can now be made much smaller and lighter – this lens is one stop faster at f/2.8 yet is substantially smaller, lighter and less expensive than the Four Thirds version.
How to get the shot:
When using a 14mm field of view lens in 35mm full frame terms for astroscapes where you don’t want to see star trailing and you don’t want to be using an equatorial mount to track the stars and offset the rotation of the earth, all you need do is the following:
- find a location with minimal light pollution
- preferably find an interesting foreground – and perhaps bring a torch to light it
- choose a night without the moon in the sky
- choose a time of year when the Milky Way is visible – for us in southern Australia, Sept-Oct is great as the southern Milky Way will be on the western part of the sky before midnight and the night temperatures are not as chilly
- choose a wide angle, wide aperture lens with minimal coma aberrations and minimal purple fringing which is also sharp to the edges – now this is hard – Canon do not make such lenses for full frame, so full frame users generally resort to the Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f/2.8, for micro Four Thirds users, we now have this Olympus mZD 7-14mm f/2.8 or the new Olympus mZD 8mm f/1.8 fisheye
- set camera to Live Boost (II if using the newer Olympus cameras) – if you don’t use Olympus cameras, you are out of luck, you may need to focus on a distant subject before it gets dark
- manually focus on stars – this is hard unless you have a wide aperture lens and Live View Boost such as with Olympus cameras (the E-M5 mark I really needs a lens wider than f/2.8, but the newer cameras have Live Boost II which allows f/2.8 lenses to view and compose stars in the viewfinder)
- set camera on a sturdy tripod
- initially you may wish to use the superb EVF instead of the screen to manually focus and compose
- compose your image – in the Southern Hemisphere look for the two transverse stars of the southern cross and follow them past the pointers (Centaurus) and this will lead you to the centre of the Milky Way in Scorpio and Sagittarius
- optionally, use the flip out LCD screen to monitor the rest of the image taking and reviewing of the image
- set your camera to RAW – you will be doing a bit of post-processing to optimise the image (reduce light pollution, etc), thus a jpeg just won’t cut it.
- ensure your camera is set to do an automatic dark frame thermal noise subtraction (in Olympus cameras, this is in the menu under CogsG, Noise Reduction – set it to Auto (can leave it here for all your photography)
- set your camera to white balance – perhaps sunny WB – not critical as you are shooting in RAW
- turn off image stabilisation as you are using a tripod
- set self timer on to 2secs
- set your exposure mode to Manual
- set exposure to f/2.8 (if using an f/1.8 Olympus fisheye use f/1.8), 20-30secs (if you use longer, you will get star trailing unless you use a fisheye), ISO 1600-3200 (this is probably the optimum range)
- take the shot (NB. as we already know optimum exposure, no need for Live Time setting in Olympus cameras which updates you visually on your exposure)
- when you get back home, post-process to your heart’s content eg. adjust WB, darken blacks, apply gentle noise reduction, etc
My quick Milky Way astroscapes:
then along came a train at the end of a 30sec exposure to light up the scene, while the signals turned green:
The above was taken at a location with still quite a bit of light pollution from the nearby towns as well as the city of Melbourne which was around 60km away.