You Can Shoot the Milky Way Hand-Held with the Olympus E-M1 Mark II

When it comes to optical image stabilization, it seems like nothing comes close to touching Olympus’ OM-D E-M1 Mark II. As one photographer recently discovered, the 5-axis optical stabilization is so good, you can actually shoot the Milky Way hand-held with this monster.

A little recap is in order. When Olympus released their OM-D E-M1 Mark II, they didn’t mince words: at 6.5 stops of stabilization (when used with an Olympus lens), they had reached the theoretical stabilization limit because of the rotation of the Earth. Even without an Oly lens, you get a whopping 5.5 stops of optical stabilization out of the body. Impressive to say the least.

But if those numbers seem a bit abstract to you, perhaps photographer Aurel Manea‘s experience with the camera will help you understand what this means in real life. As Manea told PetaPixel earlier this week, the stabilization is so good he was able to shoot the Milky Way hand-held, without leaning on anything or using any other tricks.

Here are the three photos he came home with after a night of shooting in Teide Park in Tenerife:

Here is the whole story, in his own words:

The photos were shot at around 3 in the morning​. I slept in the car in the park there, waiting for the moon to set so I could get some clean astro photos. Besides the main wide angle ones, I promised myself that I would do some hand-held.

In the case of the Mitakon 25mm f/0.95 lens I was using, there really is no advantage to using a tripod. You need the same 4-7 seconds exposure so you don’t get star trails, so the same settings would be used but without the added bonus of flexibility and freedom. Since I am a technical artist and work in IT, I calculated in my mind a few weeks ago that this would be possible.

The Mitakon lens is manual focus, so I set up to focus using the viewfinder zoom on the brightest object in the sky. I calculated the settings to be best at ISO 12800, f/0.95, with 4 seconds (the camera’s IS could not handle a longer exposure, not in my hand at least. So I was limited to ISO 12800).

The sky was very clear and the moon had set so I could follow the Milky Way with my sight and shoot. I did not lean against anything or do anything else special to stabilize, it was just the incredible camera stabilization and my curiosity to find out what would happen. I should mention that one in 4 images was a bit shaky, as I don’t have the steadiest hand, but 3 out of 4 is a very good thing at this type of extreme exposure.

When I saw the first result on the LCD, I knew that this was something I had to share with people. From my knowledge, nothing like this was even tried before.

Afterwards, the RAW was imported in Lightroom for a little bit of cleanup (noise and chromatic aberrations, the lens at 0.95 does have some).

Shooting astrophotography and capturing the Milky Way hand-held is absolutely unheard of, but that’s what happens when you can shoot sharp 4-second exposures without unpacking your tripod. Add an Oly lens (and the extra stop of stabilization) and you could take that 4 seconds even farther like Robin Wong did here.

Image credits: All photographs by Aurel Manea and used with permission.