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Ultralight camera for night shots/stars?
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christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 07/27/2013 10:59:23 MDT Print View

Hi there. I'm a camera newbie and I'm currently using a gopro for most trips.
While great for day stuff, it is horrible for night.
Ideally I'd like a lightweight small camera that can take good night shots including time lapse of the stars.
I'm willing to invest a good amount if such a thing exists.
Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 07/27/2013 17:52:49 MDT Print View

Some compact cameras have a minimum shutter speed of 15 sec most only do a few seconds max.
Panasonic has a few that go up to 60 seconds.

The LX7 has the longest at 250 seconds, it could be one to look at.
This one is at the large sensor end for a compact camera (7.44x5.58mm)

Going up in sensor size there is the Sony RX100 II (30 sec) 13.2x8.8mm sensor

Still relatively compact is the Fuji X100s with the large APS C (23.5x15.6mm) sensor .
Min shutter speed is 30 sec.

So all of the above can take night shots.
Generally speaking as you go up in sensor size you get less noise (cleaner images) and usually sharper lenses so better image quality.
You will need to search to find out if any of the above have a built in intervalometer.

Aaron Savka
(joatman) - F - MLife

Locale: So Ill
Cannon Point and Shoot Hack on 07/27/2013 19:06:16 MDT Print View

You can easily install a hack on many of the Cannon Point and Shoot cameras to get a little over a minute exposure. CHDK installs fairly easily, and the quality of photos is respectable.

Here's a few links for more info:

Here's a picture taken with a Powershot at over 90k feet I had it take during a high altitude balloon flight I put together.

HAB Flight

Short of that, you could look at a Nikon 1 V1. It's in the compact range. Larger than a Point and Shoot, but smaller than a DSLR. Here's a picture I took of NYC skyline a few days ago:


IMHO a larger lens is more valuable than the extended shutter speed for night shots. The more light you can get into the camera in the least amount of time will produce the best night shot. Keep the shutter open too long and you will get drift in the stars and sky. You can see that in this picture with the two aircraft.

Edited by joatman on 07/27/2013 19:07:16 MDT.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 07/27/2013 20:40:17 MDT Print View

Aperture is important but more so for hand held street type available light photography than night sky type shots.
Anyway it just happens that the Nikon V1 shot you posted ,Aaron, was taken at F5 on a lens that has a 3.5 max aperture.
All cameras I posted above have a maximum aperture of almost 2 stops (4 x brighter) than the Nikon V1 kit zoom lens and in the case of the Pana LX7 almost 4 stops (8 times) brighter.
So if at F1.4 (LX7) I can shoot at 30th (OK at 24mm hand held...) with the V1 at F3.5 I will be down to between 1/8 and 1/4 of a sec, not OK...
Here are a couple of night shots from the LZ 7 . The one with the plane was hand held.
LX 7 1s
LX7 2

(both shots stolen from the net, I don't have any of the above cameras...)

The original (4mb) nightscape shot from the LX7 is from here :,2
much sharper at full size than it looks here.

(full stops : 1.4-2-2.8-4) F2.8 is half as bright as F2 )

Edited by Franco on 07/27/2013 21:23:56 MDT.

Aaron Savka
(joatman) - F - MLife

Locale: So Ill
Apples to Apples on 07/27/2013 21:21:06 MDT Print View

I don't want to hijack the OP's post, but I think we are saying the same thing. I posted the night skyline to show what a long exposure can do. I was taking shots up to 30 sec. exposure to purposely smooth the water out. Perhaps I didn't explain my myself well...

Same basic skyline shot using an 18.5mm (50mm equivalent on a 35mm format) prime lens on the V1 at f/1.8. Shutter is 1/2", still too slow for handheld shot. The larger the aperture, the more light that can hit the CMOS resulting in a faster shutter to prevent the stars (or airplanes) from drifting.

NYC Night

Advantage of the Nikon 1 V1 is the interchangeable lens and now that the V2 has arrived, a V1 camera body can be found for under $300.

My basic feeling is that you are not going to get stunning night shots with a run of the mill point and shoot, but you also don't have to lug a full size DSLR on the trail either. There are several 'tweener cameras like the aforementioned Panasonic LX7 or the Nikon V1 that will take very good pictures for their size.

I'm by no means an expert, but I always recommend getting the largest optical zoom and largest aperture camera you can afford, or in this case weighs in at what you are willing to carry, especially if you will shoot in low light conditions. A small packable tripod is a good idea too, although I never seem to have mine when I need it... The NYC Skyline shots were done by propping the camera on fixed objects and using a remote to fire the shutter to avoid shake.

I hope in all of this discussion you are able to find the information to pick out the right camera for you.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 07/27/2013 23:05:36 MDT Print View

Time lapse of stars has another problem. The earth turns while the stars are relatively stationary.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Ultralight camera for night shots/stars on 07/28/2013 22:52:43 MDT Print View

If we haven't scared you off yet...
The good news is that there are many compact cameras that can take a better night time shot than the GoPro .
So a quick re-cap
1) get a larger sensor
(GoPro 1/2.3" Black/ 1/2.5" white / 1/2.7" silver)
2)get as wide or wider aperture (GoPro F2.8)
3) get one that can do long exposures of 15sec or more

The ones that I posted represent 3 steps of quality (and price range)
This is a less expensive solution :
MtSterling at night
from a Pana TS2 , the newest version TS5 will do the same. Ithink it was a 1 minute exposure.
This is sunrise on New Year's day. Possibly 30 sec exposureMtSterling sunrise
I don't have the much larger and better originals.
The camera belongs to my mate Yair (in green)

christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
night shots on 07/29/2013 11:25:54 MDT Print View

Thanks so much for the info so far!!!
I was hoping to achieve shots somewhat close to this where you can see the milky way:
I'm sure this was done with about 50lbs of camera equipment, but if there's a way to get a fraction of this quality for under 1 lb, that would be nice.

I also like the 1 shot every 10 second feature that gopro does so star shots can be achieved without getting all the lines. I have an HD hero 2 and it just doesn't take in enough light. Can the gopro silver achieve this?

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 07/29/2013 16:07:13 MDT Print View

No, the GoPro will not do it.
This is the gear used for that Milky Way clip :
Canon 60D and T2i
Tokina 11-16
Sigma 20mm F1.8
Tamron 17-50

Dynamic Perception Stage Zero Dolly

Shot in RAW format, the Milky Way shots were 30 seconds exposure F2.8 or F1.8 with 3 second interval between shots, for 3-4 hours run time. ISO 1600

Note the 30 sec exposure. F2.8 or F1.8 aperture and ISO 1600. Both cameras using the APS C sensor

sensor size
Sensors . Compare the 1/2.5 (=/-) of the Go Pro with the APS C
As compromise you could look at the 1" (13.2 x 8.8mm) sensor .Note that the sensor size in inches is not the actual sensor size (see mm for that)
The Nikon 1 series of cameras has the 1" sensor and a built in intervallometer of sorts as well as offering a 30 sec minimum exposure speed.
The Nikon 1 V1 or V2 can be purchased with the 10mm 1.8 lens giving you a lighter but close enough in quality version of the YouTube kit.
The 10mm CX (V1 system) lens is not as wide as the lenses used in that clip but it is as wide as it gets in this format.

Again ,lighter and cheapper but not as good as the above, is the Pana LX7 with its basic interval timer :
"Time lapse shooting is available in iAuto mode, with the ability to set the start time within a 12-hour period, select shooting intervals in one- to 30-minute steps and fix the number of shots between 10 and 60 frames. Bracketing options include exposure, white balance and aspect ratios."
Expect the LX results to be much better than your GoPro,better than my two Pana shots from the previous post but not all that close to the YouTube clip...

Another possible solution is to look at some Canon "compact" cameras that can be firmware modified using the CHDK download.
Better to get hold of someone that has a good grasp on technology for this route :

Edited by Franco on 07/29/2013 16:31:05 MDT.

Franco Darioli
(Franco) - M

Locale: @Tarptent
Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 07/29/2013 17:16:51 MDT Print View

double post

Edited by Franco on 07/29/2013 17:17:27 MDT.

Aaron Savka
(joatman) - F - MLife

Locale: So Ill
Re: night shots on 07/29/2013 18:56:25 MDT Print View

A timely article over at B&H Photo...

Jacob D
(JacobD) - F

Locale: North Bay
Star Photography on 07/30/2013 12:24:04 MDT Print View

Astrophotography is the term used by photographers who are shooting the milky way, etc... It may help you gather more information in your searching (not just on cameras, but on technique, tips, etc...)

For that, fast aperture + largest sensor you can get is what you want. An APS-C sensor along with an f/1.4 lens would be a good place to start.

If you're interested in shooting star trails (another common term) you'll want a camera with "bulb" exposure mode.

In either case, using a tripod is ideal, even if it's just a gorilla pod or something along those lines. Trails don't start to develop right away, so you can come back with a reasonably sharp shot of the milky way even with a few seconds of exposure, which will help keep the ISO turned down and maybe allow you to stop the lens down a tiny bit.

Corbin McFarlane
(raven15) - MLife
Micro 4/3 or larger sensors, f/2.5 on 08/07/2013 22:38:53 MDT Print View

I would recommend cameras with 4/3 or APS-C sensor sizes. Even with micro 4/3 you need a 16MP sensor, and it has to be a Sony sensor, which specifically limits you to Olympus for a compact camera. Sony also makes the sensors for Nikon, Sony, and Pentax cameras so they are good choices as well, with slightly larger sensors and proportionally larger cameras and lenses. Fuji also makes nice large sensor cameras.

You will also want a wide aperture, wide angle lens. Wide aperture helps because the wider the aperture the more light hits your sensor, resulting in a less noisy image. It will also give you more leeway to adjust shutter speed and ISO. I wrote about how to get lower noise in a thread a few months ago, about ten threads down. The lens needs at least f/3.5, but preferably f/2.0 or larger (i.e. lower f/ numbers). The wider the lens angle, the more flexibility you have in apertures.

Wide angle helps to keep the star trails from getting too long, because they cover proportionally less distance in 60s across a lens with 120 degree field of view than a lens with 60 degrees (which doesn't matter for star trails). Wider angle also allows you to get more of the foreground in focus at a given aperture.

Here is a composite time-lapse image with Olympus E-M5 and Rokinon f/3.5 7.5mm fisheye. You could get the same result with the more compact Olympus E-PM2 camera, which has the same sensor.
Timelapse stitched in startrails.exe

Here is another with Olympus E-M5 and f/2.0 12mm lens. You could use the Panasonic f/2.5 14mm lens for a almost decent, nearly wide aperture lens, with almost as wide a view that is much cheaper and lighter. (However I sold mine for the 12mm with no regrets.)
Single image, very low light

If you are away from city lights night images are more difficult. I think you would, for example, be hard pressed to get a new-moon star trail image from Desolation Wilderness with a LX-7. In fact from my perspective it would be impossible. If interchangeable lens cameras are too large/complicated, there are some good fixed lens APS-C cameras about.

A couple additions: Notice the images above me were shot in full moons, bright city lights, or at twilight. Trying to get an image when only star light is present is harder and would generally require a larger sensor (4/3's or larger). Another note, I take star trail time lapse images by placing rubber bands around my camera's shutter button when it is in continuous shooting mode (they have a day job of holding my tent stakes together).

Edited by raven15 on 08/07/2013 23:47:18 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Micro 4/3 or larger sensors, f/2.5 on 08/07/2013 22:48:57 MDT Print View

Corbin, I notice that you did not mention Canon.


Corbin McFarlane
(raven15) - MLife
Canon on 08/07/2013 23:36:00 MDT Print View

True. I believe at present Canon APS-C sensors are fractionally less capable at low light than Olympus m4/3 (the Sony sensor), but I admit to not following the releases from this year, in fact I had to look up the Olympus model I mentioned. The difference is probably academic, and a far lower priority than the right lens and experience. Canon DSLR's, like all DSLR's, are not all that light or compact, but they do make a nice fixed lens camera with some combination of the characters in GX1.

Ben R
(snowfiend131) - MLife

Locale: Western PA
Re: Micro 4/3 or larger sensors, f/2.5 on 08/08/2013 06:44:45 MDT Print View


Can you please share what aperature, shutter speed, and iso you were using for those shots?

I assume the full moon or twilight helps with the foreground? Surprising that the extra light doesn't interfere with the milky way being visible.


Michael Ray
(topshot) - MLife

Locale: Midwest
Re: Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 08/08/2013 08:27:59 MDT Print View

I like night shots as well, but don't have the funds for a nice camera and wanted to go lighter than my previous Canon Powershot A630 so I ended up with the Canon S100. It does much better noise-wise than my previous one but is no match at all to the ones mentioned above with larger sensors. The A630 was pretty bad at even 400 ISO but I can take the S100 to 1600 with at least the same results if not better. I haven't had enough time to play with it though to see what works best. I'm sure I could get even better results if I wanted to take the time to use RAW files, too, but have no interest at the moment.

Here is one of my favorite shots of our recent road trip and the first time I tried doing long exposure night shots with the S100. This is f2.5 @ 20 sec and 800 ISO. I was holding down my little Ultrapod Mini on a steep windy slope.

Edit: the moon was maybe 70% full (5 days prior). Installing CHDK lets you do time-lapse, motion detection, and other cool stuff!

Delicate Arch at night

Edited by topshot on 08/08/2013 08:32:48 MDT.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Ultralight camera for night shots/stars? on 08/08/2013 11:43:44 MDT Print View

Wow. Delicate Arch - Reverse Angle.

You could have broken your neck up there.


Corbin McFarlane
(raven15) - MLife
Exposure recipes on 08/08/2013 23:48:17 MDT Print View

A half moon can be greatly beneficial to lighting the landscape and still showing the stars in my experience. I was especially happy with the way the Milky Way shot turned out.

Star trails:
60s The cold temperature allowed be to go for a longer exposure time with less fear of noise.
4 hours stitched together
Moon was near full.

Milky Way Reflection:
30s To keep the stars point-like and keep hot pixels down in warm weather, I went with 30s at all costs (up to ISO1600).
Moon a little less than full.

christopher smead
(hamsterfish) - MLife

Locale: hamsterfish
Specific models? on 08/18/2013 13:12:48 MDT Print View

This is really complicated for a newbie like me. Ay specific models I should be looking at?

Again, my criteria:
-time lapse
-able to capture Milky Way

Example I'd like to get somewhat close too in quality:

I think I read the pana lx7 can only do short time lapses?