Photographers generally use low light cameras in photography settings that do not have a lot of natural light. These cameras allow maximum light through their high sensitivity technology to provide bright, clear, and professional photos. We’ve designed our guide to help you find the best low light camera for your ideal shooting situations and give some background on this type of photography.
What are the Primary Features of the Best Low Light Cameras?
The best cameras for low light photos tend to have specific features that help them capture natural lighting and provide crisp, clear images. Here are a few to look for:
The sensor size of your low lighting camera directly relates to its field of view. The sensor is the part of the camera that collects information about the lighting around the camera. A low light camera generally needs a larger sensor to gain plenty of light information to adjust the photo as needed.
The best camera for low light photography is usually a full-frame camera with a large sensor to collect light. Crop cameras, also known as APS-C cameras, have narrower viewpoints and not as much area to sense light as full-frame cameras. A micro four-thirds camera has an even smaller sensor than an APS-C, making it one of the most challenging for shooting in little to no lighting.
This feature of a camera relates to its ability to sense lighting. In low light photography, it’s necessary to have a good ISO range to play around with. Low light conditions require a higher ISO than full light settings, but a very high setting can affect a photo’s noise.
Noise is what causes the graininess you see in photos that don’t look clear or accurate to the original setting. An ISO that’s too high can affect a low lighting camera’s ability to produce pictures with little to no noise. However, many low light cams allow you to adjust the settings to each photo to create the most precise image possible.
Types of Photography That Benefit from a Low Lighting Camera
Low light cameras are beneficial for several kinds of photography, from outdoor to indoor photography, including:
- Night Photos: Night settings are, perhaps, the most common scenes that require low light photography with the right camera, from dusk until dawn. Nighttime scenes need a camera that allows for plenty of light to seep in and a range of shutter speed and ISO settings for adjustability.
- Sports and Outdoors: Most outdoor photographers need to use a low light camera when natural sunlight isn’t peeking through. With a low light sensor, the right shutter speed, and ISO settings, the camera can perfectly catch outdoor scenes like sports, landscapes, and outdoor concerts.
- Wedding, Concert, and Events: Whether a wedding, concert, or event is indoors or outdoors, the right camera designed for low light photography can play an essential role in producing images in reception halls or on cloudy days.
- Photojournalism: Photojournalists rely on their camera to be ready to shoot photos as soon as they are, regardless of the weather or time of day and without sacrificing image quality.
- Astrophotography: Astrophotographers often practice their art at night when having a full-frame cam with great ISO capabilities and a long shutter speed comes in handy.
Best Cameras for Low-Light Conditions By Image Quality
If image quality is your priority, then these cam options stand out:
Best Camera: Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
If you’re looking for a camera that can outdo other low light cams in terms of image quality, the [amazon link=”B01KURGS9Y” title=”Canon EOS 5D Mark IV” /] might be the right option. The Canon 5D Mark IV is an upgrade from the previous Mark III, offering incredibly clear, crisp photos when natural light isn’t available. The 5D Mark IV has a full-frame sensor that’s just right for capturing lighting.
As a bonus, the Canon 5D Mark IV also records 4K video – high-resolution video – as clearly as the Canon 5D Mark takes photos, with a high ISO range and dynamic range to enhance its shooting quality in virtually any condition. You can even connect the Canon 5D Mark IV to Wi-Fi for easy sharing and transferring.
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The Second in Line: Nikon D850
Another top choice for low light photography is the full-frame [amazon link=”B07524LHMT” title=”Nikon D850″ /]. It features a broad range of ISO settings with an even more extensive ISO expandability up to 102,400, 4K video capabilities, and a dynamic range (the contrast between light and dark colors in your images). The cam also features flicker protection to avoid snapping the photo when artificial lights go through their off-cycle.
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The [amazon link=”B07GPRSYG8″ title=”Nikon Z6″ /] is a well-rounded DSLR that can meet many photographers’ needs, but those shooting in conditions with little to no light will appreciate its autofocus capabilities. The feature allows for sensitive, accurate autofocusing, even in the darkest settings, while still producing excellent quality images, thanks to its full-frame sensor and reliable ISO range.
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A smartphone with the best camera can take incredible photos, but not many “best camera smartphone” options can take the place of a reliable DSLR with the right low light settings for shooting. The [amazon link=”B01A7Q0HEK” title=”Nikon D5″ /] is one of them, including a full-frame CMOS sensor and ISO up to 102,400. Its 4K video capabilities also make it a stand-out choice for versatility.
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Huawei P30 Pro
There certainly are phones with excellent cameras, so it’s not always necessary to splurge on a full camera. If you’re looking for a new phone with the best camera options for your nighttime or dark-setting photos, try the [amazon link=”B07PX3ZRJ6″ title=”Huawei P30 Pro” /].
This smartphone best camera choice has a SuperSpectrum sensor that allows it to capture beautiful dark and night scenes with clarity and accuracy.
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The [amazon link=”B07MTWVN3M” title=”Sony A6400″ /] cam is the only APS-C sensor option we chose for image quality because of its stand-out ISO and noise suppression technology that allows you to capture explicit, crisp imagery, even in dim settings. Variable shutter speed settings make this camera’s shooting options even more customizable, regardless of your scene or subject.
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Sony A7 III
Deemed one of the best compact cameras 2018 released, the [amazon link=”B07D8VR1BS” title=”Sony A7 III” /] is also an excellent choice for this type of shooting. From its full-frame sensor to its anti-flicker shutter setting, the camera captures just the right amount of light when you need it most.
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Best Cameras for Low Light Photography By Auto-Focus (AF) Performance
Auto-focus (AF) capabilities can help you capture gorgeous photos with a little bit of autonomy from your camera. Here are a few excellent options for settings lacking light:
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
This [amazon link=”B01M4MB3DK” title=”Olympus Mark II” /] camera is a versatile pick that includes a dual autofocus system that’s extremely fast, targeted, and even customizable. When these features combine, you end up with crisp photos in almost any shooting setting without needing to spend time doing most of the legwork yourself.
In addition to its high-quality AF, this Olympus Mark II also has 60 FPS shooting and a jaw-dropping 50MP hi-res shooting mode.
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The compact [amazon link=”B01A7Q0J3Y” title=”Nikon D500″ /] can shoot in almost any dim or nighttime scenario with its already-high ISO and expandable ISO capability.
Add in the multi-CAM autofocus technology that uses more than 150 AF points to focus on just the right targets in your photos, and you have one of the best low light camera options to brighten up your pictures and capture scenes as you intended.
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Olympus OM-D E-M1 X
Intelligent autofocus makes your job as a photographer just a bit easier, and the [amazon link=”B07MKPNS7D” title=”Olympus OM-D E-M1 X” /] does just that. Its AF technology allows you to save custom targets that you typically focus on to make the already quick setting work even quicker for future photo sessions.
This Olympus also has some pre-programmed subjects that it senses to find just the right AF settings for whatever objects or actions you’re shooting, day or night.
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Best Full-Frame Low Light Camera
Full-frame cameras are often the way to go for this type of photo-taking, and these camera choices are our top picks:
Canon 5D Mark III
This [amazon link=”B007FGZ1V0″ title=”Canon 5D Mark” /] may be an older version of our top pick, but it’s still a worthy contender for full-frame low-lighting cams. The Canon 5D Mark’s 22.3MP sensor creates gorgeously clear images, while its image processor works to shoot pictures quickly without adding unwanted noise – precisely what you want in photo settings with little to no light to enhance the picture naturally.
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Canon 6D Mark II
With its 26.2MP sensor, expandable ISO settings, and a powerful and lightning-quick image processor, the [amazon link=”B072MZCJKN” title=”Canon 6D Mark II” /] is a tough one to beat. This upgrade from the Canon 5D Mark line utilizes dual-pixel technology that blends photodiodes with precision, leading to clear subjects, just like you see them.
The optical viewfinder with accurate autofocus capabilities is an excellent perk that helps you target the camera to your subject without losing detail.
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Sony a7S II
The high-range ISO of the [amazon link=”B017N4ONRQ” title=”Sony a73 II” /] is its most stand-out feature for photographers who spend most of their time shooting in dim settings. This camera allows for up to ISO 409600 with its ultra-sensitive light sensor to grab light information from your scene and use it to tweak the picture to perfection.
A 5-axis image stabilization feature keeps things steady while focusing on your subject, which can come in handy for shooting without much natural light.
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Sony a7R III
This step-up from the a7S II is pricier, but the [amazon link=”B076TGDHPT” title=”Sony a7R III” /] also has significantly higher resolution, shoots with more frames per second, and has a convenient touchscreen that adds simplicity to setting changes. More color depth, a higher dynamic range, and a much higher ISO makes this camera one to consider if you have a higher budget and don’t mind splurging to get what you need.
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Best APS-C / Cropped Sensor Camera for Low-Light Photography
APS-C – also known as a cropped sensor – cameras are often more compact and affordable than their full-frame counterparts. The following are the best APS-C options for low light photos:
Best APS-C Mirrorless Camera: Fujifilm X-T3
A mirrorless camera can be beneficial to you as a low light photographer because it allows you to see a preview of your photo with the current lighting before you snap it. The [amazon link=”B07H7VCFMM” title=”Fujifilm X-T3″ /] takes our pick for a mirrorless APS-C with its high-tech viewfinder and autofocus feature that focuses with complete accuracy in almost any lighting.
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Best APS-C DSLR Camera: Nikon D7500
If a DSLR APS-C is more your style, try the [amazon link=”B07QS77859″ title=”Nikon D7500″ /]. This compact option has expandable ISO, a 20.9 pixel CMOS sensor, and active D-lighting, which helps you tune out shadows and oddball casts of lighting when you’re shooting contrast imagery. Vibrant colors pull through in almost any scene with the Nikon D7500.
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Canon 7D Mark II
The [amazon link=”B00NEWZDRG” title=”Canon 7D Mark II ” /] is a stand-out DSLR in the low-light photo world. With a sensor that captures up to 16000 ISO without creating unwanted graininess and its intelligent Tracking and Recognition focusing system, this DSLR meets the needs for shooting night events, evening scenes, astronomy, and more.
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Where the Canon 7D Mark II shines in autofocusing, the [amazon link=”B082WTX7RP” title=”Canon 80D” /] shines in image quality. This DSLR has slightly less precise AF capabilities. Still, its image quality – even with incredibly zoomed-in photos – is almost unmatched for an APS-C, even when little lighting is available.
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The [amazon link=”B00U2W4FTI” title=”Nikon D7200″ /] is an APS-C DSLR targeted to low-lighting situations. The high-ISO option has a 24.2 MP sensor and 51 focus points for its AF system that allows it to capture the right shots at the right time in virtually any setting.
This Nikon also comes without an optical low-pass filter, which can potentially improve image sharpness in situations when noise usually takes over.
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Best Budget Camera for Dim Settings
Your budget may not always match the features you want in a cam, but these affordable options offer plenty of perks for photographers who need a lighting boost:
The [amazon link=”B0060MVJ1Q” title=”Nikon D750″ /] full-frame, high-ISO option is a powerhouse when it comes to almost any type of shooting, including dimly-lit scenes. A stand-out feature on this model is its tilting LCD that helps you shoot from various angles to bring life and dynamics to your photos.
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Starting at around $900, this budget-friendly option is one of the best full-featured cameras you can find for the price. For low-lighting situations, the [amazon link=”B007GK50X4″ title=”Sony a6300″ /] boasts an Exmor CMOS sensor with copper materials that naturally capture light to produce images with accuracy and as little noise as possible.
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Panasonic Lumix GH4
The [amazon link=”B00I9GYG8O” title=”Panasonic Lumix GH4″ /] is a surprisingly rugged, durable, and well-built compact cam for its price tag that’s also filled with features you need for your photo sessions in any lighting.
The 49-focal-point AF system works together with the Live MOS sensor to focus quickly, grab the photo, and weed out noise and distortion you don’t want. Many photographers find that pairing this camera with the right lenses makes for an almost unbeatable partnership for night shooting.
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Best Micro Four Thirds Camera for Low Light Photography
Some photographers shy away from using micro four thirds cameras for this type of shooting, but these devices often produce some of the cleanest photos when you tweak their settings just right. Here are some of our favorite micro four thirds options:
Panasonic Lumix GX8
Panasonic’s micro four thirds cameras, like the [amazon link=”B011B8QW38″ title=”Lumix GX8″ /], are the only ones from the company to benefit from its high-speed AF with Depth-From-Defocus (DFD) technology that speeds up the auto-focus process in any setting. This Lumix model even has an AF setting specifically for low-light conditions.
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Panasonic Lumix GH5s
The sensor on this [amazon link=”B078J119BC” title=”Panasonic Lumix” /] has lower megapixels than the GX8, but its high-sensitivity sensor makes up for it in low lighting. This feature allows photos to come out incredibly crisp, even when using a high-ISO setting for low-light.
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Olympus PEN E-PL9
If you’re new to shooting with a micro four thirds cam, you might want to start with the [amazon link=”B084CJYH5G” title=”Olympus PEN E-PL9″ /]. This camera can begin as a point-and-shoot while allowing you to learn as you go with its versatile settings to meet the needs of almost any shooting condition.
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We hope that our list of options for the best low light camera, like the Canon 5D Mark IV, brings you to one that exceeds your expectations and gives you the customization, control, and imagery results you’re looking for. Although plenty of cameras are excellent options for this type of shooting, your choice ultimately boils down to the one that matches your particular photo-taking style.