Milky Way timelapse

Hello all! In this post I am going to share some of my experience in shooting a milky way timelapse with a micro four thirds system – specifically the Olympus OM-D E-M5 II and the Panasonic Lumix G85.

I have only started experimenting with milky way time lapse in the middle of year 2019. Before that, I have watched hours of YouTube tutorials and research on the Internet. After making 6 trips to shoot the milky way (some are more successful than others), I would like to share my experience with you!

First and foremost, before I get into the more interesting gear talks there is plenty to prepare for a milky way trip.

  • Insect repellent
    • From where I am from, mosquitos are prevalent at night and especially in the rural, jungle, or beach. They can be massive and aggressive. 
  • Clothing
    • Referring to the point above, I live in a tropical country where mosquitos thrive. Long sleeve shirts, long pants, and a pair of good shoes will keep you protected from the mosquitos as well as cold temperatures. I wear a pair of hiking boots because I feel safe in them. Most of the time I am walking in the dark or uneven terrain, these shoes will from getting myself hurt.
  • Water, snacks, coffee
    • Get plenty of water because milky way time lapse can be very long. The longest I have shot is about 5 hours. Water is important to keep hydrated. Snacks and coffee is just for fun.
  • Torch
    • A milky way trip is a trip at night and secluded, so the only light source available is from your torch. I personally use a head lamp so my hands can be free for other tasks, like setting up camera gear or hauling equipments across a rough terrain. 

Now that we have a basic gear list, let’s find out if the condition is right for a milky way trip.

  • Weather
    • We prefer clear and dry skies for milky way shoots. One app that I like to use is app. There is a tab for checking cloud cover which I think is very useful. Anything less than a 20% cloud cover is a go for me.
  • Milky Way location / rise and set time
    • I use the app Skyview Lite to check on the milky way. It is useful as you can see the milky way position at any given time by pointing your phone to the correct direction. It is also a tool for me to recce in a new location.
  • Moon phase / rise and set time
    • A full moon will be spilling a lot of light in a dark sky, which will wash out the milky way. As long as there is no moon in the sky, you can get a clear shot of the milky way. A quick search on google will give show the current moon phase.

Now that we have half done, let’s talking about the gears that I used to shoot a milky way time lapse.

  • Tripod
    • I have never skimped on good tripod. Not only it protects your equipment to a certain extend (by not tipping over on a windy day), a reasonably priced tripod will last for a long time. Recently I started shooting more with a table top tripod from Manfrotto. This way my camera is way down closer to the ground so I can include more foreground in my milky way shots. The Manfrotto has good built quality (it almost felt like ceramic) and chances of camera tipping over is pretty low.
  • Lens choice
    • My first choice of wide angle lens for shooting the milky way is the Laowa 7.5mm f2.0. It is small, light, wide (15mm full frame equivalent) and bright. Do take note that is a manual focus lens but I don’t see that as a downside (I am okay with not having autofocus).
    • My second choice would be the Olympus M.Zuiko 12mm f2.0. At 24mm full frame equivalent, this lens is also very bright and sharp wide open. However I think at 24mm the FOV coverage is not to my liking. I use this on a second camera body to get a different angle.
  • Camera body
    • I use a micro four thirds system. Camera does not matter as much as people tend to think. I think lens choice is much more crucial. On both the Olympus E-M5 II and the Panasonic G85, they have built in intervalometer which is a great feature. I have long exposure noise reduction turned off on the Olympus.
    • However it is a different story on the Panasonic G85. On high noise, long exposure like ISO 1600 for 20 seconds, the noise level is much higher than on the E-M5 II. There is also a weird green cast in the shadows as well. I tried turning on the noise reduction on the G85 and the image turned out well. However my shooting time will be doubled to 40 seconds (20 seconds exposure, 20 seconds dark frame).
  • Battery
    • Milky Way time lapse is a long process. These micro four thirds batteries do not stand a chance. I use an external battery solution which consists of a dummy battery, Sony style NP-F battery adapter, and a NP-F770 battery which has about 4,000 mAH capacity. They can power the camera continuously for about 4-6 hours.
  • Camera settings
    • There is only 2 settings that I need to adjust on a milky way trip.
    • The shutter speed is always 500 / focal length (in full frame 35mm equivalent). When I use the Laowa 7.5mm f2.0, it is 30 seconds. The Laowa shoots wide open at f2.0 and that is plenty of light. I use ISO 1600 because I think ISO 3200 is too much noise on a micro four thirds system. I would not go ISO 800 at f2.0 because there’s not enough light to work with.
  • Timelapse interval settings
    • On the Olympus E-M5 II, the interval setting starts after the exposure finished. On the Panasonic G85 body however, the interval setting starts after the exposure has started. I use a 3-5 second interval on the Olympus which gives me about 35 seconds (30s exposure, 5s interval) between images. I think this is the sweet spot for milky way time lapse because at a point I had an interval of 60s which I made by mistake (30s exposure, 30s interval). At 60s interval the movement between shots was too quick and abrupt to my liking.

Well, I hope I have provided you some useful tips to get you started on your milky way time lapse journey. Experimenting is the best way to learn. So go out, make some mistakes and create some nice milky way time lapse for yourself! 


Disclaimer: Amazon affiliate links – these help me earn a small % to support my work without incurring extra cost to you.

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