If you've been using the camera on your cell phone to take pictures at night, then you've probably noticed that your phone does a crappy job of capturing images in low light conditions. Your phone will likely never take great pictures in the dark. But the best low light camera, on the other hand, can take some stunning pics, even in the darkest settings.
Trying to capture images in low light presents many challenges. You need the right equipment. And you need to know how to use your camera's settings to get the best results. We'll talk more about that in a minute.
It's challenging to capture the perfect shot in dark conditions. But like anything in this life, practice makes perfect. If you're using the right camera, then low light pictures can be a thing of brilliance.
Shooting in low light is not all that different from shooting in any light once you know what you're doing. Just think of it as an opportunity to be creative.
Now before we get to the best low light camera, let's talk a little about low light photography.
Frequently Asked Questions About the Best Low Light Camera Options
Before we get to the best low light camera picks, let's talk about a few things that always come up with low light photography.
What is low light photography?
When we're talking about the best low light camera, we're talking about cameras that can take excellent pictures in deficient lighting conditions. You can get stunning images from dark scenes. But it will take some work.
When you take pictures in low light, you have to choose between the blur of slower shutter speed and the noise of a high ISO setting. Usually, a sharp or noisy image is better than a blurry one. DSLR cameras are ideal for capturing low light scenes. This is thanks to the large sensors and the potential to add a super high quality low light lens.
How do I take action shots in low light?
Taking action shots in low light can be extremely challenging. In nearly all cases you're going to have to shoot with your aperture set to its widest setting. Once you set the aperture, then you need to adjust your shutter speed to match the action that you're trying to capture.
You may find that you simply don't have enough light to get the shot. If that happens, adjust the ISO to a higher setting. You want the ISO high enough to set a good exposure.
Now if you set your ISO so high that you are getting too much digital noise, then you basically have two options. You can either add light with a flash or some other source of light, or you will have to settle with the noise. You can try to remove some of it in the post-processing.
But the truth is, sometimes with the noise issue, it boils down to not getting the shot at all or getting the shot with some noise.
Should I lower my shutter speed or raise my ISO in low light?
Before I answer this question, let me first say that you should be using your best low light camera with the aperture wide open. In low light, you should adjust your shutter speed. As a last resort, you can raise your ISO.
It's important to remember that raising your ISO will add more noise to your picture. On our list of the best low light camera options, we have several DSLR cameras. You will find that most new DSLRs really do a much better job with the noise problem in their higher ISO settings.
However, you should know just how much noise you are willing to accept. Note what ISO that is for your camera.
If you are trying to get an action shot, then it may become necessary to adjust your ISO so that you can keep your shutter speed fast enough to capture the action.
How do I focus in low light?
While we're talking about the best low light camera, it's essential that I also mention how to focus in low light.
One reason that you get blurry images in low light is that many cameras just aren't made to focus correctly in low light.
You can try shining a light on your target. That will give your camera enough light to focus correctly. Another thing you can do is to use your manual focus ring. You can also use the center focus dot, which tends to focus faster and more accurately than the other options.
The Types of Low Light
There are three different types of low light that you have to deal with when taking pictures.
You can find visible light in dark areas during the daytime. You can find this type of light in the shadows created by trees or tall buildings. These shadows can be up to -2 stops of light compared to the well-lit areas.
Low light occurs after sunset when there is still some light visible, but it's too dark to capture. You can also find low light conditions indoors.
You find dark conditions at night time when you can see only the brightest objects.
How the Pros Shoot in Low Light
Do you want to shoot like the pros? Well, there are a few things that the pros do when they're shooting in low light to get killer pictures. These four things can make a world of difference.
- Use the histogram
- Shoot in manual mode
- Use a tripod
- Shoot in RAW
The Best Camera Settings for Low Light Photography
Here are some of the essential things you should know to get the perfect shot in low light.
Shutter speed is crucial because it affects how much light gets into the camera. The faster your shutter speed, the less light will enter the camera.
Just be careful that you don't choose too slow of a speed. Otherwise, you'll end up with blurry pictures.
As a general rule, you should set your speed to a fraction of the focal length to get sharp, blur-free pics. So for example, to take a picture at 30mm, you need to set the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. If you set it any lower, you will end up with motion blur.
One thing worth noting though is that this general rule only applies to full-frame cameras. If you have a crop sensor which magnifies the image, you would be better off with a speed of 1/45 of a second.
Now if your subject is moving, you'll also need to increase your shutter speed dramatically.
If you're shooting a still object with a tripod, then you can increase the shutter speed to as long as you want. We recommend shining a flashlight on your subject so that you can focus correctly.
Then you should use an external shutter release trigger to cut down on camera shake.
The aperture is the hole the light passes through in your lens. The wider that your aperture is, the more light you let in. One thing to remember is that the wider it is, the lower the f-number.
If you're using a standard kit lens, then your max aperture is going to be somewhere around f/3.5. This level won't let in enough light to produce great photos. Instead, try using a prime lens with a max aperture of around f/1.8. This type is often referred to as a "fast" lens because it allows you to take pictures at faster shutter speeds.
The bottom line is if you want to take great photos in low light, then you need a lens with a wide enough aperture to allow enough light to come in. Believe it or not, setting your lens to stop at f/1.8 actually lets in 4 times more light than if you set it to f/3.5.
One thing worth considering is that a wide aperture will also produce a shallow depth of field. There's really no way around this without narrowing your aperture and increasing the ISO or slowing your shutter speed down.
Arguably the most crucial thing to consider when you're purchasing a new camera is the sensors. All of the best low light camera options on our list have excellent high-quality sensors.
The reason that the sensors matter so much is because they detect every last ounce of light. If you don't have suitable sensors, then it's nearly impossible to get usable shots in low light.
The ISO Level
The ISO level is closely related to the sensor sensitivity in the best low light camera options. Your ISO level comes in a range. The range can go from as little as ISO 50 to as much as millions. The bottom line is the higher the ISO, the higher the level of light sensitivity you get.
You should look for a camera with a high ISO if you want to take pictures in low light. However, there are limits. If you get a camera with a high ISO, you will also want to make sure that the camera has noise cancellation features. This way, you can get some killer shots that have a delicate balance of light that isn't too noisy.
A Fast Lens
Your choice of lens is crucial when it comes to the widest aperture. Most zoom lenses have a limit at f/3.5 to f/5.6 for max aperture. Prime lenses can actually reach f/1.4, and some of the specialist lenses can drop as low as f/0.95.
As we discussed earlier, the wider the aperture, the lower the f-number, and the faster your lens will be.
Low light photography requires the fastest possible apertures. An f/1.4 will provide you double the amount of light as an f/2.8. But remember that widening your aperture will also decrease your depth of field. That will make it more challenging to focus.
Another thing to consider when you're looking for the best low light camera is the image stabilization. Many manufacturers allow up to 4.5 stops of compensation. This is very helpful if you're shooting with a hand-held camera.
Keeping this in mind, the stops let you drop down your shutter speed to freeze the scene.
Think of it like this, if your regular lens can capture a sharp scene with 1/250th of a second, then a lens with image stabilization can drop that all the way down to 1/15th of a second or even lower.
Shooting in RAW
If you're trying to capture amazing pictures in low light conditions, then you should always be shooting in RAW. The reason for this is that shooting in RAW gives you much more play when it comes to the editing process.
You can add 2/3 or more stops of exposure into a RAW picture without ever affecting the quality of the photo.
You can shoot in RAW in all low light situations.
One of the difficulties of shooting in low light is that your camera has trouble with auto-focus. The problem is there just isn't enough light for the camera to tell how far away a subject is.
Many of the best low light camera options on our list have an "AF assist" light. Usually, you can find it at the front of the camera, and it lights up your subject when there is not enough light present.
When you use the AF assist, make sure that the subject is in focus. Then you should check the captures by zooming in to make sure you have a shot before you take many more.
Our Review Process
This was an independent review of the best low light camera options on the market this year. In the review process, we researched professional and consumer reviews. And we compared the features and price of each camera. We have no business or financial ties to any of the manufacturers on our list. Our goal is to help you find the best camera for shooting in low light.
Our Top 8 Best Low Light Camera Picks
In no particular order, here are our top picks for the best low light camera this year.
1. Nikon D5600
One of the best low light camera options on the market this year is the Nikon D5600. One of the things that we loved about this camera is the high ISO power. The Nikon 5600 has an ISO range of 1600 to 6400. This is meant to work with a pretty high shutter speed.
Another thing that we love about this camera is that it comes with a 24.3-megapixel sensor. This is a really great sensor, especially at this price. It also pairs very well with a perfect ISO setting.
The AF is another thing that you will love about the Nikon D5600. The camera uses a Multi-CAM 4800 DX phase-detect AF system. The whole system brings with it 39 AF points.
As we've discussed, a wide aperture helps let in as much light as possible. The 18 to 55mm AF-P kit lens offers an excellent wide aperture. If you use this alongside the exceptional viewfinder, you are sure to capture some incredible shots.
This camera also comes with different shooting modes. This feature allows you to use the Effects mode to introduce super cool filters. The filters include things like selective color, super vivid, low key, high key, night vision, and silhouette.
Compared to the other best low light camera picks on our list, the Nikon D5600 is a steal. And it gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.2 out of 5 stars.
2. Nikon D750
Next up on our list of the best low light camera options is the Nikon D750. If you don't mind spending a small fortune on a great camera, then this one may be right up your alley.
The D750 is a full-frame camera, and it features a CMOS sensor of 24.2 megapixels. You won't need a flash with this one because the sensor is highly responsive, even in deficient light conditions.
One of the things that we love about this DSLR camera is that it has a powerful EXPEED 4 image processor. That means that it will take you less time between capturing and processing a photo.
Another great thing about it is that it provides plenty of power to capture high-quality video thanks to the 60p muscle.
The aperture on the D750 is relatively wide, although it's certainly not the widest that we will look at today. But even still, it does a great job in low light.
One of the only downsides to this camera is that it works at 6.5FPS at full resolution. That's a little bit too slow to get fast action shots.
This camera is ideal for things like wedding shots. However, if you're looking for something like shooting wildlife, you'd be better off with the Nikon D5600.
As I mentioned earlier, this camera is on the expensive side. But minus that fact it gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.5 out of 5 stars. On the plus side, the D750 is Prime eligible, so you won't have to pay for shipping.
3. Nikon D3400
The next contender for the best low light camera this year is the Nikon D3400. One thing that we love about this DSLR camera is that it comes with a DX-sensor. This sensor is well known for its wide sensitivity range. When you pair it with an excellent ISO, you can get some incredible shots.
Another great thing about the D3400 is that it comes with a powerful EXPEED 4 image processor. We recommend this camera for concert photography. It would also do a fantastic job for things like dance recitals.
The 11-point AF system and the pentamirror optical viewfinder offer outstanding coverage. You can also get killer indoor shots without having to use a flash.
The 24.2MP DX-format sensor, 5FPS shooting power, and native ISO of 100 to 25600 make this an incredible camera.
Another incredible thing about this camera is that it is very affordable. It's less than half the price of the Nikon D750. And like the others on our list of the best low light camera picks, it gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.6 out of 5 stars.
4. Olympus OM-D E-21 Mark II
Another of the best low light camera options this year is the Olympus OM-D E-21 Mark II.
There aren't too many cameras out there that can rival the sort of balance the Mark II is capable of offering. For starters, it features a 20.4-megapixel MOS sensor. This feature is incredible because it's one of the most dependable and powerful low light sensors out there.
The Mark II also provides a wide variety of autofocus points.
The 121 cross-type AF points make this camera one of the best options if you're looking for an exceptional level of contrast.
Unlike some of the other best low light camera picks, this one is ideal for catching action shots with a 60FPS burst mode.
The Mark II has a relatively wide aperture and a wide ISO range. This feature makes it ideal for low light conditions.
One last thing to note about this camera is that it offers a great combination of white balance settings. This feature will enable you to capture some excellent sharp pics with plenty of contrast.
We recommend this camera, especially for things like taking pictures in a nightclub setting.
Compared to the other best low light camera options on our list, the Mark II is moderately priced. And it gets killer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.4 out of 5 stars.
5. Panasonic LUMIX GH5
The Panasonic LUMIX GH5 is our next contender for the best low light camera this year. This professional-grade camera is perfect for professional photographers as well as novices. It features a 5-axis dual IS which Panasonic designed to correct body and lens shake.
This camera also features a high-performance 20.3-megapixel live MOS sensor. The sensor does not come with a low pass filter. That means that you will get exceptional image quality and true-to-life colors.
To make this camera even better, it comes with an impressive ISO range of 200 to 12800, which provides a low-noise performance in every lighting environment. On top of that, this camera can record cinematic-quality 4K videos at both 60p and 50p. If you are a video buff, this camera is right up your alley.
Another thing that we love about the LUMIX GH5 is that it is lightweight and compact. It can also take a beating. This feature makes it ideal for shooting in the field.
If you're looking for high-quality shots with a perfect ISO range, then you should really consider this camera.
Compared to the other best low light camera options, the LUMIX GH5 is moderately priced. And it gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.5 out of 5 stars.
6. Canon EOS Mark III
Next up on our list of the best low light camera options this year is the Canon EOS Mark III. This digital camera is Canon's best low light camera. It can continuously shoot at six frames per second, making it ideal for serious photographers.
The EOS Mark III comes with a CMOS sensor that features a 22-megapixel resolution. When you combine that with the DIGIC 5+ processor, you are sure to get killer shots regardless of the time of day.
On top of that, this camera has a 61-point AF system which will help you to capture blur-free precise shots no matter what the conditions are.
Another thing that we love about this camera is that it has an extended ISO range of between 100 and 25600. This means that you can get some fantastic pictures without the need of a flash. And you can do that while still retaining impressive color.
Perhaps the best thing about the Mark III is that it can record 1080 HD videos through the manual controls. This feature allows you to capture professional-grade cinematic movies in high-definition quality.
This incredible 5D camera also includes a new and improved metering system which provides even better accuracy. And it can take up to seven exposures paired with a high-dynamic-range for even better performance.
The Canon EOS Mark III is an investment, but it's undoubtedly not the most expensive camera on our list. It also gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.4 out of 5 stars.
7. Nikon D850
The Nikon D850 is another of the best low light camera options on the market this year. The D850 features a full-frame back-side illuminated sensor which provides outstanding image quality in just about every shooting condition.
The large sensor and ultra-wide lenses also provide a super clean output at high ISO range without any crop factor at all.
We also love the 153 focus points and the 99 cross-type sensors because they capture stunning pictures in low light conditions. This camera has an incredible sensitivity of up to -4 EV. That means that it can produce crisp photographs even in the darkest settings.
Another great thing about this camera is the LCD touchscreen with tilt capability. This feature allows you to take shots from different angles. The touchscreen also allows you to navigate the controls quickly. On top of all of that, the D850 lets you shoot fast action in 45.7MP of incredible resolution.
This camera can do just about everything with its fast 9fps continuous shooting speed and 4K ultra-HD video recording. If you're looking to shoot movies with incredible levels of sharpness and detail, then this is the camera for you.
If there's one downside to this camera, it's that it's quite expensive. So if you're brand new to photography, this might not be the best option for you. But even at the high price, it still gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it a whopping 4.8 out of 5 stars.
8. Fujifilm X-T3
Our last contender for the best low light camera this year is the Fujifilm X-T3. The X-T3 is one of the best DSLR or APS-C mirrorless cameras around.
This camera features an incredible APSC-sized 26-megapixel X-Trans IV sensor. And it has significantly better AF performance and 4K video at up to 60p.
The sensors on this camera offer excellent low light capability up to 6400 ISO. One of the things that we love about this camera is that it provides exceptional quality, even at higher ISO levels.
Another fantastic thing about this camera is that it takes incredible still photos both in JPEG and RAW. It also has a fast, configurable AF which offers fast shooting with large buffer size.
But arguably our favorite thing about this camera is that it feels incredible in your hands. The unique design features easy-to-use buttons and dials. You will love using this camera.
Compared to the others on our list of the best low light camera, the Fujifilm is moderately priced. And like the others, it gets excellent professional and consumer reviews. Amazon customers rate it 4.3 out of 5 stars.
A Final Thought on the Best Low Light Camera
We highly recommend all of the best low light camera options on our list this year. But if you really pressed me and forced me to pick the best of the best I would have to say the Canon EOS Mark III.
I love this camera with its 22MP CMOS sensor and reliable DIGIC5+ processor. It allows you to capture the perfect shot no matter the time of day. The best thing about it is that it has a flexible ISO range, which gives you the freedom to make essential adjustments. The Canon EOS Mark III is everything you need to get the perfect shot in low light.
Now we want to hear from you! Let us know in the comments section below about your favorite low light camera pick. And share with our readers and us if you have any great tips for beginners.
Have a great day and happy shooting!