Astrophotography with a small digital compact camera

Mars GNSS - Global Navigation Satellite System for Mars

Maybe you already know, but I’ve not used any DSLR camera for the most of the astronomy photos on this blog. I have used a professional digital compact camera.

The reason is that I very like my “retro” style digital camera (Olympus). It is smaller than any DSLR, very portable and to be honest, it has its own “soul”. Or better said, the photos taken by this camera have their kind of “soul”. This camera even looks like a camera, not like a piece of electronics.

Okay, back to the astrophotography with this camera. If somebody tells you that “you cannot take astro photos with a compact camera”, then it is not true. Because actually you can. You can take great photos even with the smallest camera. The general rule can be applied here:

more photo-settings (functions) the camera has = better chance you can take an interesting astro-photo

The photo settings I mean not the settings like the “flash light”, because this you simply never need when taking a photo of any object in the night sky. The most important are the parameters of lenses, shutter and time settings and sometimes the white balance settings.

If your camera has these options, then you should be ready to take your first astronomy photo. Maybe you have already tried it, but with no success, or your photos were too blurry, dark or maybe grainy. It is only matter of experience and settings. It means that the “experience make a master”.

The same rules that apply for the DSLR astrophotography, apply for the digital compact cameras as well. Because when you have a DSLR then it does not necessary mean that you immediately know how to take the astronomy photos. You have to learn it anyway and the best way how to learn is to take photos. Never give up when your results are not very good. After some time you will become a master and you will be able to make the best with the camera you have.

Does it make sense to use a compact digi-cam for astronomy?

Yes. Remember that your astronomy photos you can further process with the graphical software, for example Gimp (you can download it for free here – for any platform). The astronomy photos taken with a digital compact camera are always more artistic than the photos taken with a DSLR camera. You can apply some interesting filters for these photos and your images will be very unique. Imagine a photo of the Moon taken with a digital compact camera with a “sepia” filter. The result is a photo that looks very originally.

I remember that once I saw more photos of the Moon taken in the same evening of the same day. All those photos were taken in a different part of the world. And all of those photos were exactly same. No difference, simply the photos of the Moon, nothing more. But then I saw a photo that was taken exactly the same evening and the Moon on that photo was different. It was like a real painting on a canvas, that photo was trying to shout the word “Moon”. You are right, this photo was taken with a digital compact camera. Just imagine how much time had to spent that photographer with adjusting the camera settings to achieve the photo results!

The below setting can help you to take your first astronomy photos with your digital compact camera:


Exposure time (shutter speed): 1/160 to 1/400 sec

ISO: 100200

Aperture settings: F/6F/10

Milky Way

Exposure time (shutter speed): 25 to 30 sec

ISO: 400800 (in the city) or 16006400 (dark sky conditions)

Aperture settings: as low as possible

Important thing is the tripod. You cannot hold the camera in your hands even when it is a compact camera. If you do not have the tripod, then simply find some way how to put and stabilize the camera against any move.

The other important thing is to use some remote control. Some modern digital compacts usually have the Wi-Fi option that allows you to remotely connect with your smartphone (Androids and also iPhones). With this you can use the option to remotely control your camera on tripod. Because even a very small touch with your fingers can result in a blurry photo (see the picture below).

Example of manual settings when shooting a photo of Jupiter with a small digital camera.

If your camera does not have this option (WiFi), then do not worry. There is a small trick that you can use. Go to the options (or camera settings) and use the automatic time shutter. Set it for example for 12 seconds to be sure that after you press the shutter, then the following 12 seconds time is enough for the camera to stabilize itself (to stop moving).

Some of your first astro photos may result in a blurry picture. But do not give up. Use a tripod and remote control if possible. If not, then just try to set some auto-time shutter.

After applying some zoom, stabilization of camera on tripod and with use of remote control or auto-time shutter, the result can be quite nice.

The most of the small digital compact cameras offer the possibility to adjust the white balance settings. For these I recommend you to make some experiments – I mean simply try to play around with the white balance settings and you will see the best results for your camera. Because these can be different from one camera to another. This may be very specific for small cameras. The “big” DSLR are different in this field.

Example of exposure settings on Olympus SH-2 camera.

The white balance settings you can try for example these: 29003000 (you can try also higher) in the light polluted locations (cities) or 3500 (and higher) in a good dark conditions (in the nature, far from the cities). All white balance settings really depend on the location where you are taking photos.

And one tip at the beginning. Which night sky object should be the first target of your digital compact camera? I can recommend you the Moon. But not the full Moon, but the Moon in any of its phases. Very nice are the photos of the tiny crescent Moon. These are a little bit magical.

Some recommended tools for simple astro photography

When you are located in Europe, you can use the astronomy tool for planning of your astronomy photography here. You can see the best time for you, when the Moon or the planets are visible.

Especially for those planning to take a photos of the Moon, I can recommend you my book “Moon Atlas for Visual Observer“. This book is dedicated to amateur astronomers watching the night sky from their flats, balconies and especially for those without any special astronomy equipment. Simply for those who have a time in the evening to look at the night sky and to watch the Moon for a minute.

And one interesting photo that I have taken tonight, maybe one hour ago (really!) from our balcony. I just needed some fresh air, so I went out and I could immediately see the Moon and right next to it the star cluster M45 Pleiades (some more information about this star cluster you can find here on Wiki). Believe it or not, but the light pollution was very big. And even the light of the Moon was quite strong, so I decided to take a photo of the near star cluster to show you an evidence, that it is really possible to take the astro photos with a digital compact camera. Here we go:

I did not use any automatic motor-driven tripod or anything else. I just set the camera with automatic time shutter for 12 seconds and pressed the shutter button. After waiting these 12 seconds, here is the result.

So what else? I wish you have a good luck and a nice clear night sky!

Jozef 🙂

How to cite this article: (2019). Jozef Kozar: Astrophotography with a small digital compact camera | Space Made Easy. [online] Available at: [enter date of citation here].

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Dr. Jozef Kozár

Author, Research Scientist, Consultant.

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