Pentax K-1 II gets a big update for astrophotography
Image asset courtesy: Pentax

Pentax has released a firmware update for its Pentax K-1 II DSLR camera. Firmware version 2.40 adds Astrotracer Type 2 and Type 3 modes to the camera.

Astrophotography

As the name suggests, astrophotography is taking photographs of the stars in the night sky. Due to the very low light levels involved, you need to use a long exposure, even if your lens has a wide maximum aperture. Unfortunately, the earth is spinning which means that the stars appear to constantly move across the sky. As such, a long exposure photograph will often end up capturing star trails drawn across your photographs.

Astrotracer

Prior to the version 2.40 firmware update, the Pentax K-1 II had a feature called Astrotracer Type 1. This uses the camera’s built-in shake reduction (SR) to move the sensor to counteract the rotation of the earth. The resulting photographs therefore capture the stars as the points of light you were hoping for. However, Astrotracer Type 1 also needs you to buy Pentax’s add-on GPS module. This is so that the camera can move its sensor according to GPS data.

Firmware V2.40

Firmware version 2.30 adds two new Astrotracer modes: Type 2 and Type 3. Pentax first debuted these on the Pentax K-3 III last year. Astrotracer Type 2 still needs the GPS module, however. It moves the camera’s sensor at half speed compared to Type 1. This is better if your shot has a foreground element. However, Type 3 delivers the benefits of the Astrotracer function without the need for GPS data.

Type 3

So how does Astrotracer Type 3 work? Pentax says, “Before actual shooting, a preliminary shot is captured automatically, enabling celestial body tracking from star movements. This feature eliminates GPS positioning wait time and is able to shoot in locations subject to previously troublesome magnetic fields.”  There are some limitations, though. The function can get confused if clouds drift across your image. Also, with most zoom lenses you can only work at either the wide or telephoto end of the range, not in the middle.

What we think

The firmware 2.40 update is great for any Pentax K-1 II owners who want to try astrophotography. The ability to be able to take great night sky photos without the need to buy the Pentax GPS module is a big saving. The system isn’t perfect, so if you really get the astrophotography bug you will still need to think about spending more cash. However, the sample photos taken with Astrotracer type 3 look impressive, so you can have some fun without hurting your pocket.

Availability

Firmware update version 2.30 the K-1 II DSLR camera can be downloaded from the Pentax website now.

Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.