Anybody using MFT bodies for astrophotography?

Started Oct 8, 2016 | Discussions thread
mjc1 Regular Member • Posts: 269
Re: Anybody using MFT bodies for astrophotography?

I have been dabbling in astrophotography for about 5-6 years so figured I would jump in and add a few thoughts. First I will say I would rate my skills after 5 years of efforts as "tolerable who occasionally gets a good image or two" rather than good at it.

Astrotripper gave some very good advice regarding astrophotography. I will add my own thoughts.

Legacy lenses - probably not a useful pursuit. They are just not wide enough (with the crop factor) fast enough and optically good enough. Maybe a high end, long (300mm+) lens would work for the moon, but probably costs as much or more than a small telescope. I would avoid legacy lenses for this (and I like and use a bunch of legacy lenses for other things).

Wide Field - I have only played with my mFT (EM5) a few times with this, using the 17mm and 12mm lenses. It's ok. It will never be able to compete with a FF camera in this area, just the laws of physics. The good part about this type of photography is almost anyone can do it with existing equipment. Just need a GOOD tripod, a remote shutter release and a wide/fast lens. The most important thing in the mix is a VERY DARK location, forget the suburbs or urban areas. Personally, unless you live near very dark and interesting areas, you probably will quickly get kinda bored of the efforts vs. results. Pretty much the only thing you are gonna shoot is the Milky Way. Your exposures are gonna be limited (by your lens focal length) to about 15-30 seconds without a tracking mount. Tracking and Stacking images gets difficult if you are including any foreground objects for interest.

Moon - This is the easiest target to shoot as all you need is a long lens/telescope and a good tripod. Very bright so exposure and ISO are not a problem. Good target to practice focusing with (and focusing is A LOT harder than you would imagine). Downside is that after a few phases of the moon, it may be a bit dull shooting it.

Wide field using longer focal length lenses - anything over say 35-50mm is kinda pointless unless you are using a tracking mount as you will have maybe a 10 sec. exposure, which is not much even for a fast lens.

Planets - Planets are sorta the bridge between Moon/wide field and deep space objects.  They are bright enough that exposures are short, minimizing tracking needs, but they are small, requiring larger "slower" scopes to get much detail, which is the exact opposite of deep space targets, which use small "fast" scopes.  Sensor size of a camera doesn't matter and in fact many people just use good "webcam" type cameras and sensors to take some amazing shots.  So need big scope, good webcam, computer and clear upper atmosphere.

Deep Space  - Here is where the "fun" is. I don't mean to be condescending as when I started I had little besides motivation and interest, but I do want to mention that this type of photography is going to be a black hole of time and money that I am not sure you realize. Your main question is if a mFT camera can do it well or if a larger sensor camera would do it better. The truth is the sensor size for this type photography is almost irrelevant. Some of the best astrophotography cameras in use have very small sensors. You have to realize that even with a good scope the target you are (trying) to focus on may only be a few hundred pixels in size. So if you have 5000 pixels across vs 4000 pixels, all you have added is a larger area of black space and noise around your target that you will crop out. So the camera (particularly in the learning phase of this hobby) is not the weak link and I assume that any modern mFT would not be the limiting factor in your photos. I have an astromodified Canon I use mostly, but the few times I have used the EM5 it has performed OK. More important is the telescope. Astrophotography is completely different than visual astronomy in terms of what you want in a telescope. For visual you want a big bright telescope, the bigger the better in many ways. The typical telescope used for photography would disappoint your for visual use as it typically is very small with low magnification. So, don't think you need a big 8-inch reflector, you don't for many reasons (they are slow (f-stop), heavy (heavier the scope the bigger the mount has to be) and need a higher precision of tracking (think "trying to handhold a 400mm lens without stabilization in low light"). Start with a nice used 80mm f6 refractor scope, obtainable for $2-400.  For a beginner, I would say a refractor scope is the way to start.  The most important thing for a deep space photo telescope is speed, not the actual aperture (size of glass). You want to collect as may photons in as short a time as possible as every second your telescope is tracking a target, tracking errors are mounting up till they ruin the image. Don't worry yet about field flattener and other things until you are deep into the hobby.  They help but don't "save" an image unless you have a poor optical telescope to begin with.

Than the heart of astrophotography has to be discussed. The camera and the actual telescope are important, but no where near as important as the mount. For anything other than the moon you have to have a tracking mount. For any image attempt that will not frustrate you no end you have to have a very good mount. Think $1000-$2500 used minimum good. On top of this you will need hundreds of hours of practice and experience. You will need computers, and software and dozens of "widgets" that each cost about 10x what they should. You will have to learn a new post processing technique that will frustrate you for a long time. You will actually need a second telescope and camera is you want to learn how to guide your telescope which is critical for any meaningful image taking. I don't want to discourage anyone, its a very challenging hobby and fun when it works out, but it has very little in common with other types of photography and is very expensive.

So, in summary. The moon, any decent camera with a good long telephoto lens and some practice is doable. Wide Field, most good cameras with a FAST/GOOD wide angle lens and a VERY GOOD tripod and VERY DARK skies is doable (they do sell small "tracking" devices for a few hundred dollars that may make this better).  Planets need a high magnification scope and a special webcam type camera and not as reliant upon a very expensive mount.  Anything more than that is an entirely different ballgame. Don't think as Astrophotography as a side branch of photography, think of it more as a side branch of Astronomy as that is probably more accurate. I happen to like both hobbies so the blending of both made sense. But if you don't like both, it is probably too expensive and frustrating to find much pleasure in.  If at all possible, find an astronomy club and learn/watch others, wish I had that opportunity.  Oh and buy used equipment.

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