Low light cameras serve a very niche market by providing everyone from amateurs, to budding photographers, to photography veterans, with the tools and equipment necessary to take great pictures in low-light conditions.
While, to the untrained, the challenge of low light photography is easily remedied by flashes of light, even the most novice of photography enthusiasts know that it takes specialized equipment to pull off this kind of endeavor. So much so that the biggest names in photography, from Nikon to Canon, to Sony, and Panasonic, each have specific low-light camera offerings available to the market.
Whether it’s for night-time photoshoots, concert videography, cavern documentation, or even ghost hunting., these cameras excel where most other cameras would have been rendered inoperable, or for the most part, blind.
With the multitude of options available in this specific niche of photography, we decided to curate this collection of the best low light cameras for any situation. This way, everyone from amateur to professional, on a wide range of budgets and price ranges, with different needs and preferences that need to be catered to, can rely on our expert advice to help them choose the best low light camera for them.
What to Look For
Professional-grade cameras always come with a set of technical specifications that could baffle anyone, with acronyms and numbers that don’t mean much unless you’re a true photography enthusiast. To help buyers come to the right decision when they’re in the market for the best low light camera for any situation, we’ve come up with this short buyer’s guide where we walk you through the most common terms and the most important specifications to look at in a low-light camera.
The size of the sensor on a camera is ultimately what determines how much light it uses to produce an image. Smaller sensors, such as those most often found in compact cameras, would need much more light to create an image, and are therefore best used in well-lit situations. For low-light conditions, it’s important to look for the best possible sensor size, with larger sensors typically the better choice.
Without going too much into detail, ISO is what determines the sensitivity of the sensor to light. Typically, in low-light conditions, users will want higher ISO capabilities on their choice of camera. However, different models and different settings produce visual artifacts such as digital noise when the ISO is too high.
Noise refers to digital distortion and often happens when ISO is set too high. In low-light conditions, noise is the enemy of most cameras, from compacts to professional-grade DSLRs. However, the best low light cameras include solutions for this type of digital distortion, making it better to take pictures in low-light conditions.
Our Picks for the Best Low Light Cameras for Different Scenarios
Canon EOS 5D Mark III – Best Low-Light Full-frame DSLR
At $2,800, the Canon 5D Mark III is a Canon flagship camera, featuring the highest-grade professional tools for only the most serious photographers. Because of its wide-range of practical use-cases, the Canon 5D Mark III is also one of the best low light cameras for any scenario.
With a 22.3 Megapixel CMOS Sensor, the Canon 5D Mark III is about as high-end as a low light camera can get, featuring an ISO range of 100 to 25,600, or in extended mode 50-102,400. The Canon 5D Mark III works well in literally every condition and is built to cater to the needs of the most discerning professionals.
The Canon 5D Mark III is a workhorse of a camera that works well in all conditions. It’s an excellent option for low light photographers, with a price tag that’s far less than what most competitors offer for similar low light capabilities. It is consistently ranked among the best professional cameras in the world and has been around a very long time, with regular updates to refresh it with the latest technologies and advancements.
The Canon 5D Mark III doesn’t have as high ISO capabilities as the key competition, but it makes up for it in a big way with a wider variety of use-cases that make it the ideal tool for almost any situation, especially low-light conditions.
Full-frame DSLRs are often bulkier and more expensive, and often feature tools and functions that are usable only by the keenest enthusiasts or veteran professionals. That said, it would be overkill for most consumers to invest in this precision tool for professional photography.
Sony Alpha a7S II – Best Low Light Full-frame Mirrorless Camera
The Sony Alpha a7SII is one of the best mirrorless cameras available, and one of the best-equipped cameras to deal with low-light situations.
The 12.2 Megapixel Exmor CMOS sensor on the Sony Alpha a7S II makes it ideal for high-resolution images taken in a wide variety of lighting conditions, including extremely low light. It features ISO of up to 409,600 and is specially designed for nighttime photographers.
One of the best things about the Sony Alpha a7S II, unlike the first item on our list, is that’s compact and very portable, with exceptional focusing even in low light conditions. Even though it’s a smaller size, the Sony Alpha a7S II packs just as much punch as a professional DSLR and excels in the field of low light photography. The Sony Alpha a7S II maxes out at 310 shots, which is just slightly above par for mirrorless cameras.
With an ISO limit of up to 409,600, noise on the Sony Alpha a7S II is going to be a challenge to circumvent, especially in then hands of less-trained individuals. However, in the right hands, the 409,600 ISO limit could be treated as an advantage.
Canon 7D Mark II – Best Low Light Cropped Sensor DSLR
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II is our pick for the best low-light cropped sensor DSLR available on the market.
The APS-C 20 Megapixel CMOS sensor on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is an exceptional sensor to produce outstanding imagery even in the worst lighting conditions. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II does justice to its predecessor by adding upon what made the original 7D an extremely versatile piece of hardware.
The Canon EOS 7D Mark II features an ISO range of 100 to 16,000, which may seem low by some benchmarks but is standard fare at the $1,800 price range. Overall, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II is one the best cropped-sensor DSLRs that still deliver some of the best images in a professional-grade camera. It is designed specifically for wildlife and sports photography and is capable of rendering beautiful shots even in the absence of any natural light. It features professional quality focus even in extreme conditions, and one of the best choices for photographers who want a cropped-sensor DLSR for low light photography.
With a slightly smaller sensor, the Canon EOS 7D Mark II cropped-sensor DLSR is outperformed by full-frame models, but despite that, it manages to take great low-light photos at high ISOs. The Canon EOS 7D Mark II stays relatively quiet up until ISO 12,800 where it comes too noisy.
Sony a6300 – Best Low Light Cropped Sensor Mirrorless Camera
When it comes to cropped-sensor mirrorless cameras, there is no other name in the industry that pulls as much weight and accolade as the Sony a6300. It is a versatile camera that excels even in low light conditions.
The Sony a6300 is a marvel of modern engineering and is our pick for the best low light cropped-sensor mirrorless camera available on the market today. It features a 24.2-megapixel sensor with an ISO range of 100 to 51,200 – great range for low-light conditions.
Generally smaller than most other cameras in this price range, the Sony a6300 does an outstanding job regarding low-light photography, as well as excellent noise reduction. It’s a more compact and portable camera that shoots up to 25,600 ISO with barely noticeable noise.
With the latest iteration of the Sony a6300, Sony has become the authority in mirrorless cameras and produces some of the best mirrorless cameras in the world, and the a6300 is no exception.
The Sony a6300 is an excellent mid-range camera. It is out-performed by the Sony A7 series cameras, but for a much lower price range, the a6300 gets the job done even in low-light conditions.
Nikon D5 – Best High-end Low Light Full-frame DSLR
The Nikon D5 is the ultimate professional camera that does the best job in almost any condition. For photographers who can afford it, the Nikon D5 is the best high-end camera ever made, for any situation, including extreme low-light conditions.
With a 20.8-megapixel CMOS sensor and up to 3,280,000 ISO at speeds of up to 14 frames per second, the Nikon D5 is a powerhouse of a camera that blows away anything and everything from the competition. In the battle of flagships, the Nikon D5 has always been regarded as the best professional camera in the world, and with good reason.
The Nikon D5 is arguably the best low light camera, with one of the highest, if not the highest, ISO ranges available on the market today, and speeds that are almost triple the professional standard.
The only downside to the Nikon D5 is its price – and let us say that it’s a pretty big downside. This flagship camera starts at $6,499, enough to buy two of the highest-grade professional cameras available on the market, or four mid-range professional models, or even up to 10 entry-level cameras that offer workable amounts of features and functionality.