Mirrorless Camera Settings for Night Sky Photography

If you use a mirrorless camera, these settings will help you when shooting the night sky

Colorado night sky with the Pleiades cluster, captured with a Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera, January 4, 2021

A couple of weeks ago, I went out to photograph the night sky with my Image Doctors podcast co-host, Rick Walker. While we have both done plenty of night-sky shooting, we really wanted to get more experience using our Nikon Z cameras. We quickly learned that we needed to make some major settings adjustments in the camera to allow us to shoot at night effectively.

Based on our field experience, here are some tips for setting up your mirrorless camera for night sky shooting. For more details on setting exposure for night sky photos, download my Night Sky Photography Handbook.

Set up a mirrorless camera for night sky photography

  • Use Manual Exposure Mode
  • For dark skies, start out at ISO 1600, 8-10s with the lens aperture set wide-open; modify from there depending on your lens and conditions
  • Use a fixed daylight white balance
  • Make sure image stabilization (VR/IS) is off
  • Configure your display to set brightness to minimum, disable as much shooting overlay data as possible, and turn off grid-lines. All of these settings make your display bright and can mess with your night vision
  • Use white text on a black background for the camera LCD
  • Set the camera’s sleep and display timers to short values (<10s) to improve battery life
  • Turn off any Wi-Fi functions that allow the camera to transmit photos while turned off
  • Use electronic front-curtain shutter rather than electronic/silent shutter or full mechanical shutter.
  • Focus the camera before it gets completely dark, then do not shut off the camera. This is especially important when using autofocus lenses on Nikon Z bodies, as the camera will reset the focus position every time it is turned on.
  • Put the camera/lens into manual focus mode after focusing it.
  • Program a button to zoom the viewfinder magnification to 100% for image review and focusing
  • Save your settings in a custom menu bank

For more tips on night sky photography, check out my Night Sky Photography Handbook!

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