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With technology getting more and more advanced in now a day, almost any camera and even a mobile device are able to capture the Milky Way (Of course, the image quality can be huge different especially on the Noise Control). In this article I will be focusing on DSLR camera, there are APS-C and Full Frame DSLR. Despite the price, the key difference is the sensor’s size of both cameras. Full Frame camera has a 36 x 24mm sensor’s size, which is the same size as a traditional 35mm film. An APS-C camera has a much smaller sensor’s size, for Canon is 22 x 15mm sensor ‘s size and 24 x 16mm for other brands.
Is the sensor’s size matter? Yes, first the focal length will be shown differently on both APS-C and Full Frame camera. A 16mm lens attach on a Nikon APS-C camera is equal to a 24mm focal length on a Full Frame camera, it will need to multiply by 1.5 crop factor (Canon is 1.6 crop factor). Another advantage of bigger sensor’s size is that it generates lesser noise at high ISO compare with the APS-C camera.
Using the same lens at 19mm focal length on both Full Frame and Crop Sensor camera, the Crop Sensor appear to have narrower angle of view
A lens with f2.8 or wider Aperture allows you to draw more lights into your sensor without the need to push higher ISO, resulting in much lesser noise photo. A lens with wider focal length allows longer shutter speed with the Milky Way remains sharp and not creating Star Trail effect. (This is base on the 500 rule and I shall explain more in later part of this article) Hence I would recommend using a wide angle lens with at least f2.8 Aperture.
For budget wise, you can consider following third party lenses to kick start.
Tokina 11-16 mm f2.8
Samyang/Rokinon 14mm f2.8
Samyang/Rokinon 24mm f1.8
Myself is using a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens, an expensive lens but it’s also one of the best landscape lenses that ever has, it have an ultra wide focal length from 14mm to 24mm that caters most of the situation for Architecture and Landscape Photography and f2.8 Aperture for Astro Photography. The only drawback is that it can’t attach a UV filter for additional protection layer at the front glasses and if you want to use filters such as GND or ND filters, you will need to pay more for a much bigger piece of the filters and the holder, standard filter size won’t be able to fit in.
Other than camera and lens, tripod is another gear that crucial for Landscape and Astro Photography. Most of the time you will need to push the shutter speed beyond the handheld limit. Pick a steady tripod and don’t settle for a cheap tripod or the one came together with your camera as a free gift, it easily shakes even just a slight wind.
You only have an entry level camera? With just a kit lens with f3.5 aperture? Well, you will still able to capture the Milky Way, just with a compensation on photos with much higher noise (as you have to use much higher ISO). But still, that shouldn’t stop you in going out and take the photo.
The camera settings can be very simple, assuming you are using a full frame camera with a Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 lens like me. First, let’s start with setting the lens at its widest aperture, which will be f2.8. Second, you have to decide the camera shutter speed and you can base on the 500 rule.
The 500 rule
As we all know, the earth rotates, which why we have day and night and 24 hours per day. If you using a long shutter speed such as 1 minutes or more, the earth’s rotation will cause the movement and result in a star trail effect. To avoid that, you need to apply the 500 rule. It’s simple, just divide 500 by the focal length that you using. If you using 24mm focal length, it will be 500 / 24 = 20 seconds, that’s will be the maximum shutter speed you are allowed to use, More than that, the stars will move and appear as Star Trails.
Now you have your camera settings at f2.8 Aperture and 20 seconds shutter speed, what’s left for you to control the exposure of the photo is the ISO. You can start at any ISO settings you want, take a test shot, and adjust the ISO accordingly to get the desired exposure, normally I would start with ISO 1,600 or 2,000.
Finding composition in the dark can be tricky, sometimes you can’t even see the subjects through your eyes or camera’s Live View. The only way for you to check the composition are taking a test shot, and then you adjusts accordingly. However, this process can be time-consuming, when every test shot took you around 20-30 seconds.
The solution is simple, just using the highest ISO that your camera offer. By do so, it will allow you to shorten your shutter speed and speed up the process of finding the composition. If an ideal camera setting is ISO 1,600 with f2.8 Aperture and 20 seconds shutter speed, changing to ISO 6,400, will greatly reduce your shutter speed to 5 seconds only.
Once you settle down with the desired composition, just change back to the previous camera settings and take the photo with the best image quality setting that allowed.
Focusing is another challenge especially when you are new in Astro Photography. Set your camera to Manual focus then change the focus to Infinity Focus by pointing to the Infinite icon that label on the scale of your lens. Note that even do so, sometimes the focus will still slightly off from Infinity Focus, this depend on the lenses. If that happen, just tune the focus by slightly adjust it to the left/right, take a test shot to verify and repeat until the focus is correct.
If your camera is able to show the stars in the LIVE VIEW, you can use the LIVE view zoom into the brightest star and base on it to adjust the focusing. Else you can use a flashlight to shine on any subject at a far distance and focus on it.
That’s all for my Complete Guide to Photograph the Milky Way, I hope you find these articles helpful and inspiring and if you like it, feel free to share it out.
One more thing…
If you want to know more about how to PROCESS a photo of the Milky Way, check out my workshop HERE.
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