[Updated in March 2023]
Although Fuji cameras are quite versatile, they do not have the reputation of being the best astrophotography performers because of their APS-C sensor. Unless you are a dedicated nightscape photographer, you might not want to invest exclusively in a system performing very well at night. Furthermore, if you are already a Fujifilm photographer, you most probably don't wish to use another system just for your occasional milkyway shooting.
In this article, I intend to test if Fujifilm X Series is any good at doing nightscape photography.
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 at maximum f2.8
As for Fuji's specific equipment, you might need some guidance on what gear to use.
2- Fujifilm Cameras
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 fairly good results.
X-T4: it would most probably be a similar option 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.
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 better quality, as it carries 26Mpx and which similar to the X-T3/4 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.
In general, I would today go for an X-T2/3/4 or an X-H2S. The other cameras would be capable, but result might not be up to expectations.
In general, if you wish to capture wide scenes with the Aurora including 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
Viltrox 13mm f1.4 Fuji X Mount
Laowa 9mm f2.8 Fuji X Mount
Zeiss Touit 12mm f2.8 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. The Viltrox 13mm f1.4 should also be a great alternative. It got a good reputation.
Here are the main parameters to consider when shooting with your Fuji camera:
Raw format: that's the best format to be able to post process your image
Shutter speed: 8 to 10 seconds. Longer shutter speed will lead to star trails which you want to avoid,
Aperture: the widest possible to let as much light as possible reach the sensor
ISO: 3200 to 6400 depending on the brightness of the scene. In general, 6400 is the best bet to be able to get the 8-10 seconds shutter speed with a good amount of light.
Manual focus to ensure accurate focus
Timer: 2 seconds or a remote controller to avoid shakes
Interval: best to be use when stacking pictures
5- Conditions of the test
Firstly, the major drag of Fuji's cameras for night photography is the high level of noise produced in the pictures due to its APS-C sensor. While shooting at high ISO, the noise will become more and more present, and I recommend limiting it to ISO 6400 for Fuji. It will remain manageable at this level. I bet that it makes a major difference with brands such as Sony or Nikon, which are usually known for having close to no noise. But once again, we're trying to see if Fuji can keep up with other brands for the amateur astrophotographer.
As noise is the major issue faced, a set of pictures should be captured (at least 15) to compensate the noise present in each of them through a stacking software. Once stacked, the delivered file can be post processed appropriately.
This would be the normal process that any astrophotographer will follow to obtain great pictures.
Alright, let's get into the core of the topic!
In the below examples, I will analyze two sets of night shots:
1 raw file without processing and processed
Set of 20 raw files stacked together and then processed
It is important to also keep in mind that depending on the software you're using, the quality of the picture can be affected. I personally use Capture One, and I am extremely happy with the result I'm getting. Other software such as Lightroom loose details on .RAF files and might not be able to do as good.
6- Test 1: raw file unprocessed and processed
This example is based on a photograph of a quiver tree captured in Namibia under one of the brightest sky in the world.
The photograph was captured with the following parameters and gear:
Camera: Fujifilm X-T3
Lens: Samyang 12mm f2.0
Shutter speed: 8 seconds
Processing software: Capture One
I honestly think that these shots are totally usable and that not much more needs to be done to improve the processing, especially if used for social medias.
Unsurprisingly, the noise is more visible on the below cropped image. It can be surprising that the noise is more visible on the post processed picture. But the processing involved an increase in exposure and some sharpening, which has the same effect as increasing the ISO and therefore adds a little noise. That being said, I still find that the noise level remains manageable. And anyway, no one will ever zoom that much on your image.
If this result is acceptable for social media, it might provide a less decent result in case you want to produce a print or want to publish a high quality photograph on your website or for a competition.
In this case, stacking the images is the solution to improve the noise level of the picture.
7- Test 2: stacked vs raw
As this is the same photograph as on the first example, the shooting parameters are similar, but the processing involved a different set of software:
Camera: Fujifilm X-T3
Lens: Samyang 12mm f2.0
Shutter speed: 8 seconds
Processing software: Capture One, Starry Landscape Stacker and Photoshop
In the below sets, the first comparison includes the raw unprocessed picture, then comes the stacked unprocessed photographed and finally there is the fully processed version of the photograph.
The stacked photograph includes 20 pictures that have been stacked together in Starry Landscape Stacker in order to remove as much noise as possible from it. This technique actually not only improves the noise in a photograph, but increases its details and dynamic range. In the last photograph, there are much more details than in the raw unprocessed picture (first picture).
The zoomed photographed below shows the change between the raw and the fully processed photographed.
The result might actually be surprising as the raw file is quite noisy while the unprocessed stacked show little noise with some more details and the fully processed shows again some noise, yet at an acceptable level for prints or high quality JPEG.
If the raw file was actually processed in the way the fully processed file was, the level of noise and loss of details would be much higher than it currently is.
The above test shows that the Fujifilm X system is perfectly capable of producing great night photographs. It is unfortunately difficult to tell how it really performs against other brands, as I could not compare it but, for non-dedicated astrophotographers, nonetheless serious hobbyists or professionals, it clearly delivers great results.
I would personally have no shame to present some of my night photographs in some astrophotography competitions or for printing.
Dedicated astrophotographers might, however, want to look for a full frame or potentially a middle format camera. Middle format sensors might however have a questionable ISO performance, which is likely to be balanced by stacking possibilities and a high dynamic range.
In a nutshell, don't let Fuji's APS-C fool you because you think it won't allow you to do all you need or want to do in landscape photography. Fuji has proven many times its ability of doing so, and night photography is no exception.
Example of night photographs captured with Fuji X-T3 and Samyang 12mm f2.0
About the Author
I am Rémi Bergougnoux, a French travel and landscape photographer currently based in Zurich, Switzerland. My most influential destinations include Latin America, where I spent about a year, Namibia, Iceland, Lofoten and certainly many others.
Aside from photography, hiking, cooking, enjoying good wines and socializing are my main hobbies.