Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Astrophotography With The Fuji X-E1 - Part 1

Milky Way Over Coalville & Echo Lake - Coalville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 28 seconds, ISO 2000, in-camera JPEG.
I've been photographing for nearly two decades, but I'm new to astrophotography (which can be defined as "astronomy photography" or "photographing celestial objects"). I'm trying to capture the stars in the night sky.

One factor in my recent purchase of the Fujifilm X-E1 was it's high-ISO capabilities, which make this type of photography possible. ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 are very common in astrophotography, and the X-E1 handles those quite well, especially for its APS-C sensor size.

Having a lot of experience as a photographer I knew the basic principals of astrophotography, even if I had very little real-world experience in the genre. I know that wide-angle lenses are almost always better than telephoto. I know that a large aperture of at least f/2.8 is mandatory. I know to manually set focus at infinity. I know that you want to avoid exposures over 30 seconds if you don't want star trails. I know that it needs to be very dark outside.

With anything new, it takes some practice and trial-and-error to become good at it. This last weekend I was able to go out twice and attempt astrophotography with the X-E1. I learned several lessons. Let me tell you about it--perhaps it might be helpful to you.
The City Glow Behind The Hill - Huntsville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 12 seconds, ISO 3200, processed from RAW.
Two nights ago I went to a dark location in the Wasatch Mountains near Huntsville, Utah. This is about 20 minutes east of Ogden. While it looked dark to the eye and I could spot the Milky Way (the cloudy-looking cluster of stars), I soon discovered that there was a significant amount of light pollution that made this place less-than-ideal for astrophotography. I wasn't quite far enough away from the city to avoid the glow. 

I still made several photographic attempts, since I made the trek out there. I set the camera on the tripod and set the aperture to f/2.8, the shutter to bulb, ISO to 3200 and the focus to infinity. I had the camera capture RAW+JPEG, but didn't worry much about the JPEG settings because I planned to edit the RAW files.

The next morning I began to edit the exposures. I soon discovered that the RAW post-processing didn't yield significantly better results than the JPEGs that the camera made. I also realized that I should have paid a little closer attention to the JPEGs because I could have achieved better results if I had made a few minor changes. So I gave up the RAW editing and gave the JPEGs a little tweak to improve them.
Wasatch Mountains Under The Stars - Huntsville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 10 seconds, ISO 3200, in-camera JPEG w/post-editing.
Night Over Huntsville - Huntsville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 20 seconds, ISO 3200, in-camera JPEG w/post-editing.
I went out again last night, this time to a spot a little further away from the city--to Echo Lake near Coalville, Utah, to be exact. This is about 30 minutes east of Ogden, but significantly more miles away than the previous location. There was still some light pollution, but way less than the night before.

This time I paid much closer attention to the JPEG settings. I used Astia film simulation with dynamic range set at 100, highlight set to normal, shadow set to hard, sharpness set to normal, saturation set to high, and auto-white-balance. For the images captured at ISO 6400 I used normal noise reduction and for the ones captured at lower ISOs I used medium-weak noise reduction. I also had the long exposure noise reduction turned on.

The out-of-camera JPEGs looked very good, and just as good as I could have manipulated the RAW files to. I think, if anything, a larger aperture could have helped, but that's not going to happen until I can afford the Fujinon 16mm f/1.4, which runs a $1,000. That's not in my budget anytime soon.

While the results were better on the second try--and I love that I got them straight out of the camera without any post-processing--I think a little tweaking with the settings might achieve even better images. I'll have to play around with that some more.

I hope to visit some locations that offer better foregrounds and less light pollution. I also want to play around with lighting, maybe do some light painting. There's a lot of fun I could have with this whole astrophotography thing. Stay tuned!

Click here for Part 2!
Milky Way Over Echo Lake - Coalville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 28 seconds, ISO 2500, in-camera JPEG.
Milky Way & Shooting Star - Coalville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 28 seconds, ISO 6400, in-camera JPEG.
Milky Way Over Ridge - Coalville, Utah
Fuji X-E1, 18-55mm lens at 18mm, f/2.8, 28 seconds, ISO 6400, in-camera JPEG.

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