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  • Writer's pictureRemi

How good is Fujifilm X series in photographing the Northern Lights?

Updated: Apr 10

If you're here, it is probably becasue you are wondering if Fujifilm cameras are good for astrophotography, and especially for the northern lights.

Fujifilm cameras do not unfortunately have the best reputation for night photography becasue of higher noise level, but is it founded? and does this system really prevents from taking good photographs of the northern lights? Well that's what this article is dealing about.

is fujifilm good to photograph the northern lights

In a nutshell

 
  • Gear is straight forward - camera, lens, tripod

  • From Fuji X-T2, most Fujifilm cameras are capable of photographing the northern lights

  • Fuji is improving but still lacks native high quality astrophotogaphy lens, thankfully, third part lenses start having some interesting choices

  • Noise level tends to be on the high side, but denoise software are doing their magic

  • Most recent Fujfilm cameras benefits from ISO invariance

 

The first time I went to Norway for the first time, I really wondered if my camera was capable of capturing the magnificient northern lights. Since then, I keep photographing them year on year during my workshops, for the greatest pleasure of the participants.


After all, would it at be possible to photograph at night with Fujifilm cameras? I already attempted to answer this question about the milkyway in the article Is Fujifilm X Series Any Good for Astrophotography?


To be honest, I find my Fuji to be very capable at night, whether it is for milkyways photography or for northern lights, which are the two main night photography styles I am usually doing.


And here I am tackling another night relevant subject about the Fujifilm cameras: Is the Fujifilm X series any Good to Photograph the Northern Lights?


1- Gear - not Fuji specific

Gear for night photography is pretty straight forward and if you are already a landscape photographer, chances are that you already have most of the necessary equipment. Here is all you need to get started for nightscape:

  • A DSLR/Mirrorless with manual mode and ability to do long exposures

  • A sturdy tripod

  • A lens with a wide aperture of f2.8 or lower

That's pretty much it, as I said above it's pretty straight forward.


2- Fujifilm Cameras - Recent models might not be the best.

There are essentially two sets of cameras in the Fuji X series that would be the most likely to perform well for astrophotography:

  • The X-T series:

    • X-T3: I am personally using a Fujifilm X-T3 which I am very happy with. It does all I ask it to do, and I manage to get very good results.

    • X-T4: it would most probably be similar to the X-T3 since it shares the same sensor.

    • X-T2: it is likely to be fairly good too, since it has a 24MPX for the same sensor size, and therefore might even experience less noise (although this is would need to be tested).

    • X-T5: I would be very cautious with the more recent X-T5. It carries 40Mpx in an APS-C sensor, which is likely to produce heavy noise for night photography. I am sure it would work, but the end result might also be very granular and probably not on par with earlier systems. It has more chances to have poorer performances in low light, as the higher pixel count means higher temperatures in the sensor and worst noise performance. Althought, I know some people using the X-H2, that has the same sensor, who are very happy about it.

  • The X-H series:

    • X-H1: it would be a great camera, it carries the same sensor as the X-T2 and therefore would deliver a similar quality.

    • X-H2S: the more recent X-H2S is likely to deliver very good night pictures, as it carries 26Mpx, and packs a new sensor that is supposed to perform better with higher ISO and low light in general. I haven't had the opportunity to try it out, but maybe soon.

    • X-H2: it carries the similar 40Mpx APS-C sensor as the X-T5, therefore I would have a similar comment, and be cautious about what to expect here. It has more chances to have poorer performances in low light than other X-T, as the higher pixel count means higher temperatures in the sensor and worst noise performance. As said, some of its users are really happy about it for astrophotography.


In general, I would today go for an X-T2/3/4 or an X-H2S. The other cameras would be capable, but results might not be up to expectations because of the noise level generated by the higher pixel count. Please note, that these are totally capable cameras on many other photography styles, but to say the least, they really shine when it comes to landscape photography.


what fujifilm gear to use for astrophotography

3- Lenses

In general, if you wish to capture the Northern Lights with a nice foreground and sufficient sky, the wider focal the better. For an APS-C, such as Fuji cameras, you would expect to use a focal lens from 18 mm or wider. A wide aperture at f2.8 and lower is also highly recommended to be able to capture as much light as possible at an appropriate shutter speed. The lenses listed below, even if not all tested, should all do a great job:

  • Fuji XF 8-16mm f2.8

  • Fuji XF 14mm f2.8

  • Fuji XF 16mm f1.4

  • Fuji XF 18mm f2.0

  • Fuji XF 18-55mm f2.8

  • Samyang 12mm f2.0 Fuji X Mount

  • Tamron 10mm f2.8 Fuji X Mount

  • Viltrox 13mm f1.4 Fuji X Mount

  • Laowa 9mm f2.8 Fuji X Mount

  • Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8 Fuji X Mount

  • TTArtisans 10mm f2.0 Fuji X Mount


I personally only use the Samyang 12mm f2.0 which I am acquainted to, and am overall happy with. I have used to photograph the night skies in various places in the world and have never really been disappointed. I can only recommend it. Today, I would only wish to get a wider angle at 10mm or wider which opens at 2.0. To fit this purpose the TTArtisans 10mm f2.0, the Tamron 10mm F2.8 and the Laowa 9mm f2.8 would be the best alternatives. The Viltrox 13mm f1.4 should also be a great alternative. It has a good reputation.


best astrophotography lenses for fujifilm

4- Parameters to capture the northern lights with Fujifilm

As for the equipment, the parameters to capture the northern lights with Fujifilm are really straight forward, it mostly requires some understanding of how your camera works. Please note that these parameters are, for most, not specific to Fujifilm.

  • Format: always photographing in Raw ensures best and personnalized post-processing results.

  • Timer: 2 seconds or a remote controller to avoid shakes will be more than adequate

  • Fujifilm Parameters: the three first thing to do on your Fujifilm camera will be to:

  1. Turn off the embedded Noise Reduction within your camera. Why? Because it is not really helpful if your shooting in Raw as you can do much better noise reduction in post processing. For that go in: Menu --> Image Quality Settings --> search for Long Exposure NR --> Turn Off If not turned off, the camera will always process the pictures for the same amount of time as your shutter speed. If you capture an 8 second shot, your camera will process it for another 8 second, which is really annoying. You guessed it, this is also valid for milkyway photography.

  2. The second setting to consider, especially if shooting with a lense which is not electronically connected to the camera, is to enable the possibility to shoot without lens. Just a small menu manipulation to take care of that: Menu --> Set Up --> Button/Dial Setting --> search for Shoot Without Lens --> Turn Off

  3. Finally, turning off the IBIS or OIS, if owning a camera from the Fujifilm X-T4. This will ensure not having any unwated and unnecessary shake corrections while the camera is on tripod. There are two ways of turning off the IBIS on Fuji cameras:

    1. If using a stabilized lens (most fuji lenses): then turning off the OIS directly on the lens is the only way to turn off the IBIS. This can't be done from the camera menu.

    2. If using an unstabilized lens, like the Samyang 12mm I am using at night, the OIS needs to be turned off in the menu as in this case, the stabilization will come directly from the camera body. For that do Menu --> Shooting Settings --> IS Mode --> Off. Once this is done, you can start using your camera without having to worry about how it'll work as you photograph at night.

  • Shutter Speed: generally, going beyond 8-10 seconds to photography any night sky is not recommended as star trails will start to appear. To optimize your pictures, never going beyond 8 seconds will be adequate. The shutter speed will need to be adjusted in function of the ambiant light and the strength of the auroras.

  • Aperture: no matter which lens I would be using, I would try to never go below f2.0 since it can create a very shallow depth of field and never above f2.8, as then, there wont be enought light reaching the sensor leading to the need of increasing shutter speed or ISO, with the negatives they bring.

  • ISO: with the shutter speed, this is the main exposure variable that can be adjusted while photographing the night sky. The ISO will need to be set manually to have full control over exposure. As shown in further in this document, using an ISO between 1600 and 6400 is ideal. Obviously the lower the better in terms of noise, but this may come at a cost of not having enough light, and not being able to retrieve the dark parts of a picture. Therefore choosing the ISO wisely is important. Starting at 3200 if you are unsure is usually a good start. More information about the ISO are provided below.

  • Focusing: manual focusing is almost mandatory for night photography, and the process is the same while photographing the milkyway, the nothern lights or any kind of night landscape photography. The idea is to focus on a bright star as far away as possible, since it's night time, targeting a star will be the easiest. It will be in focus when the star will look pin sharp, On Fujfifilm cameras, there are two practical ways to help make sure the star will be in focus:

    • If using a connected lens: then the image will be magnify, helping to focus on a specific area of the image. Combined with a zoom lens if used, targeting and adjusting a specific, and bright start will be fairly easy.

    • If using a third party lens without connectivity to the Fujifilm camera: using the focus peak highlight embedded in the camera will be helpful (Menu --> AF/MF Settings --> MF Assist --> Focus Peak Highlights), or alternatively trying to focus well on the star, shooting, checking the picture by zooming into it and repeating the process until it is all in focus will be a great opportunity. If using a zoom lens, then zooming in will definitely facilitate the focusing exercise.


5- Fuji Noise level

Fuji has the reputation to have cameras that produce higher noise levels than others. From my experience, it is true. The moment you go beyond the ISO 800, meaningful, although acceptable, noise level will start to appear. Nonethless, Fujifilm will still allow to photogaph the northern lights and do astrophotography.

Luckily, nowadays, we've got amazing tools to reduce noise level. Using Lightroom Denoise, DXO or even Topaz Denoize, are some of the best solutions out there to recover noise from an image. And it generally works amazingly when photographing the northern lights with Fujifilm.

If you have more interest into this topic, I created a Youtube video comparing Lightroom, Topaz and DxO for denoizing.

These softwares are extremely handy since northern light photography, as opposed to milkyway, cannot be stacked. This means that you can generally only take one picture of your scene for the sky, as the northern lights are quickly moving (as opposed to the milkyway), and therefore noise can hardly be reduced with traditional techniques.

As the below image shows, the noise level is greatly reduced for pictures with ISO at 3200. when using Lightroom denoise.


Picture example before and after denoise

Fuji X-T3 - Samyang 12mm f2.0 - ISO 3200 - Denoised at 50



Picture example before and after denoise

Fuji X-T3 - Samyang 12mm f2.0 - ISO 3200 - Denoised at 50


6- ISO

This section is most probably the most important of this article about photographying the northern lights or auroras with Fujifilm, as ISO is the main adjustment variable while photographing at night.

For night photography, and specifically for the northern lights, an ISO from 1600 to 6400 is recommended with Fujifilm. That's a fairly wide range, and the below table includes some recommended ISO depending on various scenarios. These are some indications.

Please note that in case of strong auroras, you might need to capture several pictures of the same scene for the sky and the foreground, and then merge them to get the best results. In fact, strong auroras can easily blow up the highlights in a picture, therefore photographing them at a lower ISO and faster shutter speed will ensure capturing them in perfect conditions. In the meantime, taking a photograph longer shutter speed of the foreground, to the extent it is more or less static, will help recover darker areas of the scenes.

Moon

Aurora Intensity

ISO recommended

Shutter Speed

Comments

New moon (moon not visible)

Weak (KP 1 - 2)

3200 - 6400

6-8 seconds

The low light will require pushing the ISO to see foreground and the auroras.

New moon (moon not visible)

Medium (KP 3 - 4)

1600-3200

3-6 seconds


New moon (moon not visible)

High (KP > 4)

1600-3200

2-5 seconds

Strong auroras will blow highlights if SS is too slow, and ISO too high. Take 2 pictures, one for the auroras and one for the foreground.

First quarter moon (half moon visible)

Weak (KP 1 - 2)

3200 - 6400

3-8 seconds


First quarter moon (half moon visible)

Medium (KP 3 - 4)

1600-3200

3-6 seconds


First quarter moon (half moon visible)

High (KP > 4)

1600-3200

2-5 seconds


Full moon (moon entirely visible)

Weak (KP 1 - 2)

3200

2-6 seconds

Full moon, might make a scene appear as if it was alomost daylight. not raising too much the ISO or the SS is key.

Full moon (moon entirely visible)

Medium (KP 3 - 4)

1600-3200

3-6 seconds


Full moon (moon entirely visible)

High (KP > 4)

1600-3200

3-6 seconds


7- Most Fujfiilm Cameras are ISO Invariant, but what is it?

ISO invariance is a slightly barbarian expression that refers to the fact that it does not matter, in terms of noise level, if a camera ISO is increased internally, or raised in post processing through the exposure slider in your post prcessing software of reference.

Practically, the noise level of a picture will be exactly the same no matter if a photograph is at ISO 3200 directly in camera, or if it is photographed at ISO 1600 and then the exposure is raised by one stop in Lightroom/Capture One/DxO etc.

So, what it is useful for, and why talking about this in an article about photographing the auroras with Fujifilm?

Well, as opposed to milkyways, aurora's brightness can vary substantially, that's what comes with the KP number. The higher the KP, the more intense the aurora. When photographing strong northern lights, some of their brightest parts can easily blow out the highlights of a picture, while the rest of the scene will remain well exposed. This can ruin a picture, and that's the last thing you want when photographing this scarce event. Here comes the handyness of the ISO invariance. By reducing the ISO by one stop, for exemple from 3200 to 1600, the highlights of a picture are likely to be just right or recoverable. At this moment, it becomes clear that in post processing, the foreground or darker parts of the image can be recovered by increasing the exposure or shadow to the equivalent of one stop without adding too much noise. The ISO invariance leads to have a noise level equivalent to what it would be if the picture would have been photographed at ISO 3200. With this technique the northern lights can be perfectly exposed, while the rest of the image is also well exposed.

Although there are a few subtilities to the invariance range (to which range and how many stops increase can be applied to a given ISO), it is safe to say that this method works in most cases, and is a great help to ensure your pictures to be well exposed.


So what the conclusion of this article. Is Fujifilm really capable to photograph the northern lights? As the writer of this article, I will give my personal opinion. I do have a fair amount of practice about photographing the northern lights, and I can easily say that nowadays, fujifilm are perfectly capable of photographing this event. With the rise of denoiser tools, Fujifilm cameras suddenly became a much better to do this type of photography. I am not saying it is the perfect solution, but, honestly, it is close to it. I am most of the time worry free when photographing with higher ISO on my X-T3, and this is a really comfrting feeling.


 

About the Author

workshop and photography tours

I am Rémi Bergougnoux, a French professional travel and landscape photographer currently based in France. My most influential destinations include Latin America, where I spent about a year, Namibia, Iceland, Lofoten and certainly many others.

Alongside writing blogging, he also has a YouTube Channel (@Remontheroad) where he teaches about photography, and runs workshops,

Aside from photography, hiking, cooking, enjoying good wines and socializing are my main hobbies.

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