How We Shoot the Stars With Micro Four Thirds Cameras

We love our GH5 cameras, but they aren't the best in low light. Luckily, Panasonic recently released the GH5S, which has almost two stops better ISO performance, and with the right lens, we are finally able to shoot astrophotography.

The average star exposure is around f/2.8, ISO 3200, and 15 seconds. The GH5 doesn't look great at ISO 3200, and shooting with a multi-second exposure makes the noise even worse. Because of this, we had given up on shooting images or time-lapses of the night sky with the GH5 and we resorted to bringing an extra camera and lens along solely for this purpose.

The GH5S was recently released and seems to have around two stops better ISO performance. This means that ISO 3200 on the GH5S looks pretty similar to ISO 800 on the GH5.  Normally, we would shoot wide time-lapses with our Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lens, but to get cleaner shots, I tested out two new, faster lenses. 

The first lens I tested was the Voigtlander 10.5mm f/0.95. This lens is over three full stops faster than an f/2.8 lens, meaning that we would have the opportunity to shoot at ISO 400 or use a faster shutter speed. The lens is incredibly built and the feeling of the focus and aperture ring makes it one of the smoothest lenses I've ever used. It feels like a professional cinema lens. It's not very sharp at f/.95, but if you stop down even one stop, it creates a great-looking image. There are two main problems with this lens: it's not quite as wide as I would like to shoot the stars and it's $1,100. If you're looking for an ultra-fast, manual focus lens for M43, this may be a great option for you, but for stars specifically, it's not perfect. 

The second lens that we tested out was the Laowa 7.5mm f/2. When I opened this lens, I laughed out loud at how small and cheap it felt, but in our tests, it performed pretty well. The lens is acceptably sharp at f/2, but it does suffer from pretty significant vignetting. At $500, it's certainly not cheap, but it is much more reasonably priced than the other two lenses we tested. 

In the end, my favorite combination was the GH5S and the Laowa 7.5mm f/2. We were able to get great-looking star time-lapses with this setup. I was able to shoot most of our timelapses at f/2, ISO 1600, and 15 seconds or ISO 3200 and 8 seconds. We put a few unedited time-lapses in the video above, and we were very impressed with the end result. 

Keep in mind that If your main interest is astrophotography, I wouldn't suggest this system. Most current full frame 35mm cameras still have better ISO and long-exposure performance than the GH5S, and they have more lens options as well. But, if you're like us and you are shooting exclusively video, the GH5S is definitely capable of capturing clean astrophotography and time-lapses, and of course, it also takes incredible footage during the day as well. 

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13 Comments

Casey Horner's picture

I like that you used one of my images of the milky way without any sort of credit, and BTW that image was taken with a Full Frame Nikon and not micro 4/3.

Grabbed off usplash as a "free to use image" was it put up there without your permission?

I went ahead and swapped it out for one of our old shots. It may take a few hours to switch over on Youtube.

Casey Horner's picture

It's totally fine. I was just more pointing out it that it wasn't taken on a micro 4/3 system.

I figured that no star picture online was taken with m43. I just needed a quick vertical shot.

Hey Lee, there are a number of night shots out there on M43, check out a few of the Olympus Visionaries like Frank Smith, Peter Baumgartner and Jamie MacDonald. Also wanted to know if you would like to try my M Zuiko 8mm 1.8 Pro lens.

My immediate thought was also the 8mm f1.8. It is technically a fisheye, but the distortion is not very intense (as far as fisheyes go), so it's easily correctable. Plus, if using it specifically for astro photography, the distortion isn't a big issue, and it also gets you 16mm equivalent in a fast, weather-sealed package. I don't shoot MFT anymore, but I loved that lens!

I'll check it out, thanks!

Spy Black's picture

For low light time-lapse smaller sensors may not cut it but, you also mentioned astrophotography, and for that pretty much any camera, especially one with a 1-inch sensor and larger is game, because the images will always be stacked, and that goes a long way to mitigate noise. Just go over to Ian Norman's Lonely Speck site where you'll articles on shooting astro with cameras like the RX 100. There's even an article on shooting nighttime with cellphones!
https://www.lonelyspeck.com/smartphone-night-photography-shootout-zenfon...

Scott Mason's picture

A friend of mine and I used his GH5 on a motorized mount which allows for deep space astrophotography with no star trails and extra long exposures. Unfortunately he got some bad sensor heat leaks on the high ISO/long exposure times.

I've heard conflicting things about if exposure time does have anything to do with sensor noise/heat. Either way, the lens was f/2.8 and still wasn't suitable to capture such dark objects without a lot of noise.

Fourth paragraph: "The lens is incredibly built and the feeling of the zoom and aperture ring makes it one of the smoothest lenses I've ever used."

Perhaps the "zoom" should be "focus?"

correct thanks

Great article. I shoot exclusively with MFT cameras (GH5 & GX8) attached is a photo from a time-lapse sequence of the Alaskan aurora shot with a Voitlander 10.5mm (eq. 21MM FF) at f1.4. Currently the widest and fastest in my bag. I just ordered the Laowa 7.5 mm as I want to get a wider view in my time-lapse. But you have to admit the Voitlander is pretty good option. Keep up the good work- Phil

Thank you for sharing this knowledge.

I wish more people would try the 4/3 system as it is a truly amazing system.