Medium Format Astrophotography with Panorama Stitching

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In this tutorial I’ll show you how I use standard prime lenses like a 50mm to make medium format sized astrophotos with a regular small format camera.

The example photograph for this tutorial is an image of my girlfriend Diana standing below the Milky Way at Trona Pinnacles, California. It’s one of my most popular images, was a top photo on 500px when it was released and it’s the title photo for my Astrophotography 101 tutorial series. What’s not immediately apparent from the image is that it’s actually a two row, 11 exposure panorama stitch made with a narrower 50mm lens to give a medium format look.

Medium Format Astrophotography - Heavens Above Her

“Heavens Above Her” is one of my most popular images on 500px to date.

I usually don’t suggest using longer lenses like a 50mm because the field of view of a 50mm lens is narrower than we usually want for capturing the Milky Way: it can capture only a small portion of the night sky. Likewise, in my How to Pick a Lens for Milky Way Photography tutorial, I showed readers that the best lenses for astrophotography are typically fast wide angle lenses.

Panorama stitching can help us break from the typical convention of needing to use a fast wide angle lens for astrophotography. It’s more common to see astrophotographers stitching wide angle images together to create a large sweeping image of the Milky Way arching across the sky. This time we’ll use similar techniques using a narrow angle lens instead.

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A more traditional wide panorama of the arch of the Milky Way

For the image in this tutorial, I wanted instead to create a medium format 6×6 look, reminiscent of the look of the square format photos from a Hasselblad 500 Series camera. Camera technology has not yet offered a digital 6×6 medium format camera so we’re limited to stitching together frames with a smaller format sensor in order to try and achieve the same look and level of resolution.

The Gear

Camera

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For this particular shot, I used the full-frame Sony a7S (Amazon) / (B&H). It’s probably the best camera body I’ve used for astrophotography yet because it has a very high gain sensor ( it goes to ISO 409600 ) and that makes it possible to easily frame the shot in pitch black conditions using fast lenses. It’s kind of like night vision. That said, you don’t need anything more than an entry level digital SLR or interchangeable lens camera with a Micro 4/3, APS-C or full-frame sensor. I’ve even been caught using point-and-shoots and smartphones from time to time.

Lens

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We’ll want to use a fast “standard” lens. For full-frame sensor cameras this is usually anything from about 40mm to 60mm. If you’re using a Micro 4/3 or a more common APS-C sensor camera you’ll want something in the 24mm to 40mm range. Results will be best with a “fast” lens that has an aperture f/number of f/2.8 or lower, the lower the f/number, the larger the opening in the lens and the more light the lens will be able to collect. Lower f/number lenses also allow us to “stop down” to a higher f/number to reduce vignetting (dark corners on the edge of the image). For this example shot I used a Sony a7S mounted with a Voigtlander 50mm f/1.1 Nokton Len (Amazon) / (B&H). A few recommended “standard” lenses for astrophotography are below:

Some Recommended Standard Prime Lenses

Micro 4/3 Sensor:

APS-C Sensor:

Full-Frame Sensor:

Tripod

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The final piece of the equipment is a tripod. I use a compact Sirui T-025X carbon fiber tripod which is great for more compact mirrorless cameras like the a7S. Any tripod will work here for this exercise, just make sure it’s adequately stable for your camera and shooting conditions.

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I recommend a tripod with a ballhead that lets you use your camera in a vertical orientation. For the best results, a panoramic tripod head like the Nodal Ninja above will allow you to create the panorama without any parallax problems. A panoramic head is certainly not necessary but it can definitely help.

For some more recommendations on equipment if you’re just starting out, check out my Beginner Astrophotography Kit post.

The Shoot

Shooting a panorama is relatively simple but there are a few things that will help in the setup and execution.

First, roughly level your tripod. My tripod does not include a level so I just eyeballed it and made sure that when panning the head, the horizon did not shift up and down too much. The better the leveling job, the easier it will be to stitch everything together.

Framing and Overlap

I recommend using the camera in vertical orientation and shooting the panorama in two rows, bottom row first.

Provide at least 50% overlap of each frame of the panorama

Provide at least 50% overlap of each frame of the panorama

Make sure that you provide adequate overlap between each exposure. For the easiest stitch job, provide a minimum of 50% overlap between each frame. Adobe Photoshop requires at least 40% overlap to properly stitch. For a 50mm lens on a full-frame sensor camera, that’s just about 10-15° between photos in each row. For my example I shot 6 photos on the bottom row and 5 on the top for a total of 11 frames. The number of frames doesn’t really matter but I highly recommend keeping it at 12 frames or less to start.

In order to try and roughly match the image area of a 6×6 film camera (approx. 55mm x 55mm depending on the camera) with the smaller full frame sensor (36mm x 24mm) we need a minimum of 8 images total with 50% overlap, (4 images in 2 rows) in in order to achieve an area of about 54mm x 54mm for our final “negative” size.

medium-format-vs-35mm

We can nearly match the image area of a 6×6 medium format camera by making a stitch of 2 rows of 4 images from a full-frame (36mm x 24mm) camera.

Exposure

With a normal 50mm lens on full frame (or 35mm on APS-C) I generally recommend an exposure of about 10 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO 6400. 10 seconds should be long enough to gather lots of light but short enough that we won’t see any star trails due to the rotation of the Earth.

It may be enticing to shoot these photos at a very low f/number in order to capture the most light but it’s actually more advantageous to stop the lens a little bit. Even if your lens can go all the way down to f/1.4 or lower, stopping down at least one to two full stops (e.g. to f/2.0 or f/2.8) will help eliminate any aberrations that my blur and stretch the stars on the edges of the frame. Stopping down to a higher f/number also carries the distinct benefit of reducing the effects of vignetting which will make it a lot easier to stitch without visible seams.

Shooting at ISO 3200-6400 will ensure that the camera is using a high enough amplification to produce the cleanest shadow detail. It varies a little by camera, but most modern cameras tend to show the best results in low loght shooting above ISO 800. If your ISO is too low, dark portions of you image will often show extra noise. Don’t be afraid to bump it up past 800. Be sure to take a test shot and make any adjustments as needed. For more information about choosing an astrophotography exposure, check out my guide on How to Photograph the Milky Way and my Milky Way Exposure Calculator.

Post Processing

My typical panorama workflow uses Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. There are lots and lots of tools that can merge photos into a panorama but I typically stick with Photoshop because of its easy integration with Lightroom. If I’m having difficulty merging in Photoshop, PTGui Pro does a great job of handling more complex merge jobs.

photomerge

Once imported into Adobe Lightroom, I select all of the photos, right click and use “Merge to Panorama in Photoshop” or from Photoshop select “File>Automate>Photomerge…” to compile all the frames into the final panorama. Photoshop gives several options for combining all the frames but I usually use the defaults of “Auto”, “Blend Images Together” and I check the “Vignette Removal” checkbox.

lens-corrections

Once merged, I flatten all the layers and then use the Lens Corrections filter to level the horizon and transform the shape of the final stitch into something a little more square. This bit is optional but I like it so that I retain most of the image when making the final crop.

milky-way-lightroom-before-and-after

Finally, once I’m satisfied with the image, I’ll crop it, save it and return to Lightroom for the final edits. Check out the video walkthrough below for details on how I compiled, stitched and edited the photo in Adobe Lightroom.

Complete Video Walkthrough

Check out the complete video tutorial on astrophotography panorama stitching on my YouTube Channel:

More Examples

All of the images below employed a similar stitching method as outlined in this tutorial. Try it out yourself and share your examples on our Lonely Speck Flickr Group.

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Don’t the stars move? Won’t that affect alignment?

A common question that I get in regards to this technique is how to cope with the movement of stars across the sky while shooting. In the time that passes from the start of our first exposure, all the way until our last exposure, it’s likely that the stars will have shifted substantially due to the rotation of the Earth.

While this phenomenon seems like it could pose significant problems when trying to align 8-12 images, it actually doesn’t usually show any issues in practice. As long as all the frames are shot without substantial delay between frames, the automatic re-alignment and blending operations in Photoshop will usually be able to hide any effects caused by the Earth’s rotation. It’s possible that some or all of my example photos have visible signs imperfect alignment but if there are any, they’re very hard to spot.

Other Uses

Remember that this technique works well for photos other than astrophotography too. Here are a few examples that aren’t astrophotography:

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There are a lot of other methods to create panoramas but this is the way that I make all of my “medium format” astro shots. At this point in time, stitching multiple exposures is the only way to fully match the negative size of a 6×6 or larger camera with an off-the-shelf digital camera. (The new Phase One FX IQ3 comes close.)

As of this writing, the largest digital camera sensor available to consumers is that of the Phase One IQ2  and Mamiya Leaf Credo series of digital backs for the Mamiya/Phase One 645DF+ cameras Phase One XF IQ3 At over $30,000 $48,000 for such a setup, medium format cameras are way out of reach of most photography enthusiasts.  These medium format cameras also can’t compete with small format cameras in the low-light conditions that we encounter when shooting astrophotography.

The methods outlined here can produce results with more total image area and more resolution than any of these expensive medium format digital cameras can. It’s more tediuous and perhaps not akin to certain types of shooting (like moving subjects) but the results can be worth the patient process.  It makes for a more methodical shoot and creates a new role for your standard prime or longer lenses.

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any questions or comments feel free to chime in on the comments below.

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Ian Norman

Creator at Lonely Speck
Ian Norman, co-founder and creator of The Photon Collective and Lonely Speck. Ian is a full time traveler, photographer and entrepreneur. In February 2013, he called it quits on his 9-to-5 to pursue a lifestyle of photography. Follow Ian's photography adventures on Instagram.

75 Responses

  1. Edward De bruyn August 11, 2016 / 6:09 am

    Hello Ian
    Just back from Tenerife, Teide, with some shots made with the 14mmSY
    How do you proceed with the Samyang 14mm images, Photoshop don’t seem to do it in a proper way.
    Tried also Hugin and Autopano without succes.
    Even the LR lens corrections didn’t help.
    Thanks for any help.
    By the way even there the Hoya maid a difference, thanks for the tip !!!

  2. Allen Bluedorn June 30, 2016 / 11:34 am

    Hi Ian. Now that Lightroom does merging to create panoramas, would you still use Photoshop to do the merging, or would you just do the merging in Lightroom?

    • Tom August 28, 2016 / 9:40 am

      I was wondering the same thing! Would be great do it all in Lightroom only :)

  3. Eric April 21, 2016 / 4:17 am

    Hi Ian,

    I just sent you a Facebook message. You may have to look in the “other” folder to see it.

    Thanks in advance for your response there,
    Eric

    • Eric April 22, 2016 / 4:17 am

      Thanks, Ian. Replied there also, but will do so here as I had a couple of last questions. If it’s 20-25 degree increments for the 24mm lens “short side”, how much for the long side as I’ll be increasing in altitude adjustment also?

      Finally, do you leave any of the noise reduction settings enabled on the A7S, or all off? If off, do you compensate with dark frames at all?

  4. Jon Iverson April 19, 2016 / 3:56 am

    Hi Ian,

    I just rented a Rokinon 24mm f1.4 lens, Sony A7S, the Nodal Ninja, and intervalometer. I already have a heavy duty tripod. Since my rental window is just a week and it’s coming up during a time when the moon isn’t an issue for the Milky Way (the last week of April- first week of May, 2016), I wanted to tell you my plan, ask some questions, and seek any comments you might have. I’d sort of like to do as you did with the third image down on this page…. traditional wide panorama, but probably only about half of the Milky Way as the area I’m visiting has too much light pollution to the N. My first question is– do you see any problems with the set up I plan on using? Secondly, would I be able to use 12000 ISO with the A7S without noise being an issue? And, finally, using the Ninja, how much should I advance it with the 24mm lens between frames, both horizontally and vertically, to cover the intended panorama from the horizon up to 90 degrees (overhead)? I want to try and include the horizon for the entire panorama too.

    Thanks in advance for any help you could provide. I’ve been reading your site carefully and trying to absorb as much as I can before the camera gets here. I’ll have maybe a day or two to learn the equipment before I head out for the shots.

    Regards,
    Jon

    • Eric April 21, 2016 / 4:23 am

      Ian,

      I’ll get back to Jon directly as we are both taking part in the same excursion and so that you don’t have to reply twice. I didn’t realize he asked the same questions I asked you on Facebook. If you could reply to me directly there, that would be welcome.

      Thanks!
      Eric

    • Ian Norman April 21, 2016 / 7:47 am

      Messaged back on FB, but here’s my response for everyone:

      1: definitely stop down to f/2.8 when shooting panos. This will reduce the vignetting and make stitching more seamless. Don’t use crop mode. I would start with exposure: 15-20s, f/2.8, ISO 3200-12800 ISO setting doesn’t really matter much on the a7S as long as you stay between 3200-51200.

      2: use Daylight for panos to prevent it from shifting shot to shot

      3: the field of view on the short side of the frame on a 24mm lens is just over 50 degrees so I would keep panning movements to no more than 25 degrees, perhaps 20 to be safe.

      4: the point of the nodal ninja setup is to be able to make panos and include foreground objects without parallax. If you have no close foreground objects, parallax problems are usually not detrimental to the result.

      Hope that helps.

      Ian

  5. Jen March 15, 2016 / 8:49 am

    This weekend I finally got the Milky Way shot I wanted thanks to this tutorial!
    It certainly wasn’t perfect. My most notable mistake was forgetting to turn off auto white balance. This proved to be difficult to correct and it makes the stitching more obvious. But since I can’t afford a wide angle lens right now this was extremely helpful!!

  6. Peter March 5, 2016 / 3:45 am

    Do you also combine this workflow with stacking to reduse noise?

    • Ian Norman March 6, 2016 / 3:20 pm

      It could work but I think you’d need a master wide angle shot to help align the stitching. That’s definitely a lot of images to try and fit in. I would probably keep shutter speeds around 6-8 seconds max with only 4 exposures per “sector” and also try to keep the number of “sectors” in the panorama relatively small, perhaps 8-10 at the most. As long as the horizon shots are done quickly, and there are no prominent clouds, it should be possible to do.

  7. Dolph January 14, 2016 / 7:32 am

    Great tutorial on panorama stitching. I will give it a try with my M43 system.

    Have you ever used this technique in combination with image stacking to reduce noise? I am not sure this is even do-able.

    • RMP February 3, 2016 / 1:05 pm

      I was wondering this as well, but seems like it would be impossible as the stars would move too much throughout the course of taking 60+ images.

  8. Les Ladbrook January 8, 2016 / 8:33 pm

    Ian, I have just the time to sit down and watch your tutorial on panorama stitching, you made it look so easy and delivered it in a nice easy way. Loved it, will be looking for more of your work from here on, thank you very much from NZ.
    P.S. I live in Southland at the bottom of the South Island and we can find dark skies quite easily, plus we have the bonus of the Aurora Australis as well.

  9. Lisa October 16, 2015 / 10:24 am

    I need some advice.. I have all Canon gear. Never knew much bout Photography but started getting lenses and stuff that go with Canon.

    I really want to get into Night Photography. Is the Mark 5D iii or 1DX a good choice to do this astrophotography? or should i just invest in a mostly night camera and get the Sony A7s which a few of my friends have? Money is money lol.

  10. Luke August 31, 2015 / 8:58 am

    Hi Ian,

    I have the D5100 and am trying to decide between the Nikkor 35mm 1.8 DX and the Nikkor 50mm 1.8G lenses. I am leaning towards the 35mm due to the crop factor of my camera but I know it has more coma than the 50mm. My question for you is when doing panorama stitching, will the coma provide an issue for the stitching? Or will it not really make a difference?

    Thanks!

  11. William August 11, 2015 / 3:35 pm

    Hi Ian, I’ve seen you used a Sony a6000 for a time-lapse of the night sky. i was wondering if you could recommend any more lenses directly from sony that are good for astrophotography. i like the idea of a Sony branded lense so i get the benefit of the stability. thanks

  12. Lee May 27, 2015 / 2:50 am

    Interesting concept of shooting multi-row panos with a standard 50mm glass.

    Given your example, if it takes about 10s per image, shooting all 11 frames takes at least 120s after factoring in the shifting/tilting of the camera angles.

    Will there be any issues with stitching, since the stars above the skies including the MW is constantly moving?

    • Ian Norman July 9, 2015 / 11:40 am

      There will definitely be the potential for errors in stitching and there are likely errors in alignment present in the samples in the article but they’ll likely be rather small. As long as you’re careful to not delay too much, 2 minutes should be OK to not have too much movement to mess with the stitch.

    • Ian Norman February 5, 2015 / 4:53 pm

      I love the detail in this one Joel. Wicked good job!

  13. al October 14, 2014 / 3:13 am

    Panorama stitching is great for us m43 users who don’t have a lot good wide angle lens options (yet, will be out soon). Made this stitched one out of 4 images last week on La Palma, one of the beautiful Canary islands.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/albertdros/15509983396/

    • Ian Norman October 14, 2014 / 6:38 pm

      Whoa! some amazing colors in that shot, wow, well done getting the sunset colors alongside the Milky Way. Simply specktacular. (Yeah, I just did that.) Hey everyone, check out Al’s link above!

  14. Paul October 13, 2014 / 2:49 pm

    I’ve just started, and on a little bit of a budget, so I have a Nikon d5200 and just got the 35mm f1.8 lens, what I’m wondering is with the camera in portrait mode, how much would you rotate the camera between shots? My tripod has degree markers that I can spin it around, but I’m not sure how far to rotate

    • Ian Norman October 14, 2014 / 6:39 pm

      Paul, to be on the safe side, try starting with 10 degrees. You should be able to go up to about 15 degrees but 10 should give you enough overlaps to make stitching easier.

  15. LUKE September 23, 2014 / 7:47 pm

    Hey Ian, another terrific post, thanks for the detailed information.

    I have CS5 and photomerge seems to fail most of the time (milkyway shots) with a foreground object and always fails if shooting purely stars for me.

    Is CS6 or CC photomerge that much better than CS5?

    If I boost exposure/contrast beyond a pleasing look to get photomerge to work, would it be possible to bring this back in photoshop or would image quality be irreversibly degraded?

    Thanks

    • Ian Norman September 23, 2014 / 9:02 pm

      There really isn’t a good way to trick photoshop into seeing better by increasing contrast as you say, without degrading the photo. It might be desirable to edit for final color and contrast first (do a normal edit, not going overboard) and then try photomerge to see if that works better. If you’re still having problems, use PTGui. It almost never fails and you can manually assist the stitch by matching points. It’s bit of time to get used to using but it works better than anything else I have used.

  16. Tim Wiegerinck September 23, 2014 / 7:51 am

    Just a thought that came up to me. Whenever you take photo’s with atleast 50% overlap and stitch them together. Does Photoshop also stack the overlapping parts of the photo’s (and thus decrease noise-levels) instead of just only stitching the photo’s together? Sort of a win-win situation for Astrophotography!

    • Ian Norman September 23, 2014 / 12:52 pm

      Tim, unfortunately not. The Stitching algorithm cuts each photo along a best fit seam rather than averaging the photos together. Luckily the longer 50mm lenses have relatively large apertures compared to the short lenses I typically suggest and as a result, lenses shot at 50mm and low f/numbers tend to stay relatively clean.

  17. Tim Wiegerinck September 18, 2014 / 5:27 am

    Hey Ian!

    Great tutorial! I was wondering, would this stitching method prescribed above also work in combination with ETTR-photography (that was a real eye-opener, http://www.lonelyspeck.com/light-pollution-video-tutorial/), or would you run into post-process difficulties?
    It might open up some possibilities for me here in the Netherlands.

    • Ian Norman September 18, 2014 / 11:40 am

      Tim, yes it should work all the same. If you are having alignment problems due to an overly bright sky, it might be necessary to increase the contrast of the photos before stitching.

  18. Paul Emerson September 17, 2014 / 5:51 pm

    You wrote “Stopping down to f/2.0 or f/2.8. “. This is incorrect terminology,(unless you were using a lens with a wider aperture such as f/1.2). “Stopping down” refers to making the aperture smaller, (e.g. f/11 f/16, etc). The correct terminology would be to “open up” if you desired a wider aperture.

    • Ian Norman September 17, 2014 / 5:57 pm

      I implied stopping down from f/1.4 or f/1.8, aperture settings at which there are typically high levels of aberration, particularly with 50mm lenses for some reason. Stopping down one or two stops to f/2.0 or f/2.8 helps reduce aberrations that affect image quality.

    • Dave September 17, 2014 / 6:26 pm

      I’m pretty sure he was using an f1.1 lens, so he was stopping down.

  19. Tom September 17, 2014 / 1:10 pm

    Top notch site you got going on here! I was obsessed with shooting digital pano’s for a long time, and your advice is spot on. Parallax issues can and will cause the unwary major headaches. Finding the nodal point of every lens/body combination should be done before attempting any type of night shot. Bigger bodies and lenses tend to have nodal points more towards the center of the lens body, which requires heavier duty tripods/heads. I’ve had the least amount of success when there is a cluttered foreground and in compositions where the camera is not equidistant from both sides of the horizon/vanishing points (like when next to a pier or jetty.) I wish I had attempted what you suggest this past weekend when I was in Schulman Grove. Cheers! -Tom

    • Ian Norman September 17, 2014 / 3:26 pm

      Thanks Tom! Yes, I’ve had a few failed pano attempts due to parallax problems so I hope to get a panorama head sometime soon to help!

  20. Andrew Peacock September 17, 2014 / 11:19 am

    Excellent Ian, thanks for a clear, concise walk through tutorial. I was particularly interested in the Lightroom processing. Unless I missed it you didn’t mention post processing of noise which surely must have existed to a reasonable extent at an ISO above 1600 despite the camera and lens combination you used? Is there anything in particular you do in that area or just the LR noise slider? Andrew. http://www.footloosefotography.com

    • Ian Norman September 17, 2014 / 3:24 pm

      Andrew, firstly: great photography! You have an amazing portfolio.

      Everyone else, check out Andrew’s link above!

      For noise, whe using large aperture lenses, I usually do nothing. The Adobe Lightroom defaults take care of most of my chroma (color) noise and I don’t mind some grain. New generation camera sensors are getting pretty damn good in this regard.

      That said, wide angles lenses like a 14mm/2.8 will still produce images with some grain be a use of its smaller aperture. If it’s a problem, I usually try to make multiple exposures to stack to reduce noise.

    • Andrew Peacock September 18, 2014 / 8:36 am

      Ian thanks both for the answer to my question and for the kind words about my photography, I’m glad you like my work. Cheers

    • Ryan Moyer March 6, 2016 / 1:03 pm

      I realize I’m a couple years late on this one, but I was a bit confused here. You mention that these large aperture lenses allow you to shoot at lower ISO and as such don’t need as much noise reduction, but in the article you mentioned stopping the lenses down to the same f2.8 that the wider lenses are generally shot with.

    • Ian Norman March 6, 2016 / 3:21 pm

      f/2.8 is still relatively wide open the advantage here is the increase in sharpness and reduction of vignetting, which both assist in stitching.

  21. Bill Lindquist September 17, 2014 / 5:33 am

    Ian, thanks for another informative post. This is particularly well timed for me; I am going to the Atacama Desert in Chile next weekend, and I bought the Sony 35mm f/1.8 (e-mount) for my Sony A6000, partly so that I could take shots for a panorama stitch.

    I had two questions (for Ian or anyone else):

    1. Do you know if Photoshop Elements has the panorama stitch tools? I believe you were using CS6, but there is a huge price difference between the two!

    2. Do you think the Sony 35 mm f1/.8 on the A6000 would be a good setup to take multiple exposures of the Andromeda Galaxy or Orion, so that I could then stack the images? I believe that Photoshop Elements doesn’t have the stacking tools, but I suppose I could use a program like Deep Sky Stacker.

    Thanks again!

    • Bill Lindquist September 25, 2014 / 5:47 am

      Ian, thanks for your reply with the helpful information. I noticed that you had a shot of the Andromeda Galaxy on your Sony A7S review. Andromeda looked pretty big — did you crop the photo? Also, you said there that you did a 50 x 5 second stack. Because you took so many shots (in one sequence?), did you have to “bump” the camera to compensate for movement of the galaxy during the shot?

    • Ian Norman September 26, 2014 / 1:12 pm

      Bill, the Andromeda shot is cropped to 100%. It definitely drifted across the frame during the exposures. I did not move the camera at all but I did, of course, re-align the shots in post processing for the final stack.

  22. Greg Stevens September 17, 2014 / 12:39 am

    Thanks for that, I’ve just started getting passionate about astrophotography and spent lots of money in the last 4 months on gear (now the A7S comes out!) I have just discovered your posts, ans
    I love the videos explaining your post processing as that is something I struggle with. I use microsoft ICE for stitching as I haven’t found the other options you mention very easy to use. Do you have any recommendations on tracking systems for using a Canon 6D and lens lenses up to 200mm for DSO? I’m looking at an iOptron Skyguider at the moment, but we don’t have too many options here in New Zealand.

    • Ian Norman September 17, 2014 / 1:19 am

      Greg, the only tracking systems I have experience with are the Vixen Polarie and piggybacking on an Orion Equatorial Mount + Guide Scope. The Vixen Polarie worked well but I never used it on lenses longer than 50mm and I’m not sure I would trust it with a 200mm. Piggybacking was nice but the whole setup is very large and cumbersome. I have not personally tried Microsoft ICE for pano stitching but thanks for mentioning it.

  23. RobS September 16, 2014 / 11:39 pm

    Is there a reason why you need to use a 50mm lens for this and not for example the 24mm Samyang?

    • Ian Norman September 17, 2014 / 1:14 am

      That’s a good question. The 50mm allows us to achieve a look that’s more similar to what you would get with a medium format camera where lens focal lengths tend to be longer. That doesn’t mean that you cannot use a 24mm, it will just end up being a more typical ultra-wide panorama stitch.

    • Ian Norman September 17, 2014 / 1:22 am

      For some more clarification, the larger lenses allow us to mimic the medium format look because they tend to have larger apertures to help us achieve similar total light gathered and similar depth of field.

  24. Himanshu Rastogi September 16, 2014 / 9:25 pm

    Ian,
    Thank you very much for puting up this tutorial. How important is the panorama head? Can you do without it with the rotate and tilt function on a tripod ball head?

    • Ian Norman September 16, 2014 / 10:55 pm

      Himanshu, I use a panorama head personally but it can definitely help make stitching easier as it allows you to rotate the camera about the so-called “no parallax point” which will help ensure that the images can be properly aligned with ease. I recommend just a regular ballhead for anyone starting out. As long as the stitch is less than 10 frames or so, alignment isn’t usually a big problem.

  25. Timothy Spence September 16, 2014 / 7:09 pm

    Ian,
    The A7 has a program mode allowing for in-camera panoramic stitching. Of course the two-level stitching you demonstrate here is not possible, but have you attempted a shot of the night sky using the A7’s panorama program?

    • Ian Norman September 16, 2014 / 10:35 pm

      The panorama stitching mode on the a7 unfortunately is only viable in daylight conditions. As far as I’ve found on the a7S at least, the panorama mode limits the shutter to 1/500th of a second which makes it impossible for night photography. I think it would be amazing if camera manufacturers could implement auto-stitching into the camera itself such that it would be possible to use long exposures but I have yet to see anything of the sort.

  26. Hadley Johnson September 16, 2014 / 4:51 pm

    Thanks for adding one more technique to my photographic tool kit. Unfortunately, my only post-processing system is Lightroom. I’m I out of luck for stitching multiple photo images together?

    • Ian Norman September 16, 2014 / 10:47 pm

      Hadley, check out Hugin and PTGui as cheaper alternatives to Photoshop for panorama stitching. In certain cases these programs can work much better than Photoshop’s built in photomerge too.

  27. Jim Bennett September 16, 2014 / 4:31 pm

    Excellent work as always Ian, you have quickly become my go to source for Astrophotography on the web. Cheers!

    • Ian Norman September 16, 2014 / 10:48 pm

      Thanks Jim! Glad to have you here!

  28. Paul Wilson September 16, 2014 / 3:31 pm

    I noticed sunflare in one of the daylight images. I’m still trying to work out how to pano without direct sun ruining the final stitch.

    • Ian Norman September 16, 2014 / 3:38 pm

      That’s a tough one Paul. Usually I just try it and hope for the best. Sometimes it’s good to pre-crop out any distracting flare spots before stitching so that it doesn’t mess up the auto photomerge. With direct sunlight shots like the last examples just make sure that you have enough shots that you could effectively pre-crop out the flare spots.

  29. Corrado September 16, 2014 / 3:20 pm

    Congratulations for another interesting and very well put together tutorial. I like that you pointed out that this tecnique works also for daylight shots. Makes me want to go out, try it and practice.

    • Ian Norman September 16, 2014 / 3:39 pm

      Thanks Corrado! Yes! Daylight shooting would be an excellent way to start out with this technique. I’ve been using it a lot lately and I think I want to get a panorama head sometime soon to make it that much easier.

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