The Pentax K-1 II gets new astrophotography features
If you like astrophotography, you may want to know that another firmware update for the Pentax K-1 II ($1896) was released. The update made some general performance improvements, and more importantly, it added two new modes for the Camera’s Astrotracer feature. In addition to the existing Astrotracer type-1, we now have a type-2 and a type-3.
What on non-earth is an Astrotracer?
Experienced astrophotographers may know this already, but one of the biggest problems when shooting stars is the movement of the Earth itself (see the 600 rule for astrophotography). On one hand, you need all the light you can gather, so you set your camera on long exposures. On e the other hand, moving the camera during long exposures creates trails and softness. Even if the reason your camera is moving is the natural rotation of planet Earth.
To combat this, many different solutions exist in the market today. Some Astrophotographers even make their own DIY solutions. But the Pentax K-1 II already has a built-in solution. Using a feature called Astrotracer type-1, you can tell the camera to counter the planet’s rotation using the camera’s IBIS. Traditionally, in long exposures, the IBIS moves the sensor to counteract the small movements of your hands. Here, it moves to counteract the rotation of the world. Small jump, right?
The only “problem” is that Astrotracer Type 1 needs GPS data to move its sensor. This means you need to buy Pentax’s additional GPS module ($176) to use this mode.
Astrotracer Type-2 and Type-3
Astrotracer Type-2 still requires the additional GPS module, but Type-2 serves a different purpose than Type-1. While Type-2 still moves the sensor, it does so at half the speed of Type-1. It will give you better results if your shot has a foreground element.
The most interesting new feature is the Type-3 Astrotracer. Astrotracer Type-3 does not need the additional GPS module, unlike the previous two modes. ($176, remember?).
According to Pentax: “Before actual shooting, a preliminary shot is captured automatically, enabling celestial body tracking from star movements. This feature eliminates GPS positioning wait time and can shoot in locations subject to previously troublesome magnetic fields.”
This mode is helpful if you don’t have the GPS module, but it has limitations. For example, it might not work correctly if clouds pass through your image. Another limitation is that most zoom lenses won’t have the full zoom range functional in this mode. Funnily enough, we covered this feature in 2015 when it was just a patent.
The Pentax K-1 II is almost five years old, and the fact that Pentax is still releasing features for it is what we expect from companies who care about their community. If you are starting with astrophotography, it’s great to be able to track stars without spending additional money. Meanwhile, the Type-2 is a welcome addition to the more experienced astrophotographers, whom I’m sure won’t complain about having more tools in their arsenal.