With the best low-light cameras, the night opens up before you. Shooting in poor lighting conditions can be extremely challenging – sensors and film work by gathering light, after all, and if there isn't much about, you're going to have trouble making a decent picture. At least, that used to be the case.
As camera tech has got better, we've seen more and more models that can shoot at high ISO settings to gather more data, that pack in large sensors to improve dynamic range, and boast powerful image stabilisation systems that allow long shutter speeds to be used hand-held. All of this adds up to some seriously capable low light cameras.
But which to choose? It is generally the case that the more you spend on a camera, the better it's going to be in low light. But there are loads of excellent low-light cameras available for those on a budget, so in this guide we've been sure to include some affordable starter models as well as the high-end stuff, so that there's something for every stripe of user.
With these low-light cameras, you can unlock all sorts of low light techniques, whether you want to capture moody cityscapes, images of nocturnal animals, or are looking heavenward to capture images of starry skies. Want more to choose from? Check out our guides to the best cameras, and best cameras for beginners, and we also have a guide to the best cameras for wildlife photography.
The best low-light cameras available now
The Sony A7S III is a highly specialised tool for professionals, and is definitely oriented towards video users. However, there was no other choice to top this list . It's the third in the series that revolutionised mirrorless cameras for video, and it can quite literally turn night into day with its maximum ISO ceiling of 409,600. Its 14 stops of dynamic range allow users to capture an incredible level of detail in even the darkest shadows.
As the A7S was so popular with video shooters, subsequent cameras have been leaning more and more heavily in this direction. The headline resolution of 12MP on the A7S III might sound rather low if you're coming from a stills background, but for video users who don't have much use for extra pixels, it makes sense. Either way, a less crowded sensor makes for cleaner images at high ISOs, which is great news for low light. Still, if you have no use for video and only want to shoot stills, you'll get better value out of the Canon EOS R6, our next choice.
While it may not technically reach the dizzying ISO highs of the Sony A7S III, the Canon EOS R6 makes a number of other advancements to be one of the most capable low-light cameras around. First, there's the autofocus. Canon has long been pulling ahead of the pack when it comes to autofocus, with its Dual Pixel CMOS AF system being one of the most advanced around. The EOS R6's autofocus system can function in conditions as dark as -6.5EV. That's even better than the headline-stealing EOS R5, which can reliably acquire focus down to -6EV.
The other half of the picture is the impressive stabilisation system. The EOS R6 has its own built-in 5-axis stabilisation system, and when used in conjunction with a stabilised RF lens, can achieve up to 8 stops of exposure compensation, which blows the competition out of the water. What this means in real terms is that you can use slower shutter speeds without needing to mount the R6 to a tripod, expanding its utility in low light.
It's arguably a little expensive for an enthusiast's camera, especially one that only gets up to 20MP in resolution terms – however, this relatively low pixel count helps with noise control, which is another helpful factor in low light.
Smaller image sensors tend to struggle with low light scenes, producing high ISO image noise. As such, compact cameras aren't the first devices we'd normally recommend you reach for when shooting low-light photos or videos. However, the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III crams in an APS-C sensor in its compact body, the type you’d expect to see in an enthusiast DSLR!
The G1 X Mark III draws on more inspiration from the DSLR world, with a sensible button control layout and satisfying weight in the hand. As we noted in our full review, outdoor use is easy in any conditions due to its weather-sealed body, making it enjoyable to use wherever you need to. ISO sensitivity on the G1 X Mark III isn't super high but reaches a respectable 25,600. Still, Canon has done a hugely impressive job here, and with the lens shooting at a wide f/2.8 the G1 X Mark III is one of the best low-light compact cameras around.
Read more: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III review
If you're looking for a great low-light camera on a budget, then we'd recommend starting your search at the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. It's bursting with clever features that expand its low-light usefulness, so even though it's got a smaller sensor than a lot of other cameras, it makes up for it in other ways.
One such feature is the Optical Image Stabilisation system. This isn't unique to the E-M10 IV, but Olympus has one of the best such systems going. The way optical image stabilisation works is by using a gyroscope to detect small camera movements and compensate for them by moving the lens, sensor or both in a countermanding direction. In practical terms, this means it's possible to use slower shutter speeds while hand-holding the camera. And a slower shutter speed means more light for the sensor, which in turn means better low-light performance.
Excellent for beginners who're learning the ins and outs of photographer, the Olympus OM-D E-M10 is also pocket sized and ideal for travel. Its Micro Four Thirds mount gives you a lot of lenses to choose from, and its retro dial-based controls make it an enjoyable camera to use.
The smartly designed Nikon Z6 II is not the top camera in the Nikon Z full-frame mirrorless range – that honour currently belongs to the sporty Nikon Z9. However, we're plumping for this camera as our low-light pick, not only because it's more affordable for most users, but also because it has a good number of features that make it extra-suitable for shooting in challenging light conditions.
Its 24.5MP resolution is well balanced for low light – enough pixels for making good prints of images, but not so many that an overcrowded sensor produces noisy images. The Z6 II also has a highly sophisticated metering system, able to analyse scenes in conditions as poor as -6EV (exposure value), and it also boasts an excellent in-body stabilisation system. Nikon refer to theirs as Vibration Reduction, but practically it does the same thing – shifts the sensor to compensate for unwanted camera movement, enabling slower shutter speeds.
The Z-mount connection provides super-fast communication between camera and lens, which means exceptional autofocus speed and accuracy, even in challenging light conditions. The Z6 II is also a great way to make a jump from Nikon DSLRs into the world of mirrorless, as picking up the extra the Nikon FTZ adapter means you can use all your old F-mount lenses on this newer camera, in many cases with full autofocus functionality.
Professional photographers and enthusiasts wanting to take a step up will love the Nikon D850. Its large full-frame image sensor is capable of handling image noise when ramped up to the highest (expanded) ISO of 102,400 and delivers pleasing dynamic range, too. Sure, it may be a few years old now but it still keeps up with most modern DSLR and mirrorless offerings in terms of features and reliability. There's also native access to the back catalogue of Nikon F-mount lenses which include a plethora of wide-aperture primes, perfect for when you need to take in more light.
Built like a workhorse, this is a DSLR perfect for outdoor adventurers. The D850 is fully weather sealed, making it a good choice for night-time cityscape or landscape shooting. It’s also more budget-friendly now that it's a few years old. Although, it is still quite pricey (you get what you pay for). So if you'd prefer a DSLR over a mirrorless but this it out of your budget have a look at the Canon EOS 6D Mark II, another full-frame camera with loads of lenses to choose from.
An APS-C sensor is known as a crop-sensor, relative to the full-frame 35mm image sensor so named after the 35mm film standard. Crop sensor camera bodies tend to appeal more to those that are on a tighter budget or want to dabble in photography without being fully consumed by it. One of the best crop sensor models, especially for low light, is the Sony A6100. A speedy shooter with a best-in-class autofocus system, the A6100 has loads of handy low-light features, such as the ability to shoot at an expandable ISO setting of 51,000.
Autofocusing systems able to draw on either phase or contrast-detection require a good amount of light in order to operate accurately. Focusing in low-light then, can be a challenge. Thankfully, the Sony A6100’s hyper-accurate hybrid autofocus system performs even when the sun has dipped below the horizon. For those who need a low-light vlogging camera then the A6100 may be the perfect fit as it records high-quality 4K footage at 30p for detailed filmmaking.
This is a lot of camera for a reasonable price, but it may still prove above budget for some. If your budget is more restricted, consider the original Sony A6000. We think the autofocus and video improvements on the A6100 makes it worth the price difference, but the A6000 still gets you an APS-C sensor and the Sony E lens mount, which is enough to craft a potent low-light setup.
The Panasonic Lumix S5 represents perhaps the best iteration of Panasonic's S-series line-up. They've managed to pack a full-frame sensor into a lightweight, portable body and as a result it’s a camera that does almost everything quite well. As such, it's one of the better all-rounders on the market at the moment.
Keeping things steady for sharp handheld shots hte Lumix S5 comines a sophisticated image stabilisation technology with an expandable ISO up to 51,200. As you’d expect from a Panasonic camera, it's capable when it comes to recording videos, too, able to record 4K 60p footage which is ideal in a range of shooting circumstances. The Panasonic Lumix S5 is really a jack of all trades, ideal for many casual users and photographers that want a range of features for low-light capture.
We’d definitely recommend the stylish Fujifilm X-T30 for users who want a camera that not only looks good but shoots well in low-light, and doesn't cost too much to boot.
As many professional photographers know, it's not just about the camera body but the lenses you pair it with, and when you're shooting with the X-T30 the treasure trove of fantastic X series lenses opens up. Pushing the boundaries of low light capability, these lenses are ultra sharp and fast as well, with the incredible XF 50mm f/1.0 really showboating in the low light realm as it manages to make this wider-than-ever aperture useable. That means more light reaching the image sensor for better low-light performance.
The X-T30 uses the famous Fujifilm X-Trans sensor, which produces JPEG images that look vivid and punchy straight out of camera – ideal for those who'd rather get it right in-camera than fix it in post-production. Although, if you are one for Photoshop, its raw files are also pleasingly flexible. The X-T30 is held back a little due to the lack of in-body stabilisation but it ticks pretty much every other box, all at an outstanding price.
How to choose the best low-light cameras
Got questions about low-light photography? In this section, we'll run through some of the most common question people ask about good low-light cameras and how to use them.
What sensor size is good for low light photography?
First off, when buying low-light cameras, consider the relationship between a camera’s sensor size and its megapixel count. Lots of pixels can be useful for printing, but they can also result in more image ‘noise’, meaning unwanted artefacts reducing the quality of your picture. Each pixel (or photosite) can generate a certain amount of heat when undergoing longer exposures, so larger sensors, where pixels are more spaced out, generate less noise. That is, only if the pixel density remains low.
Full frame sensors are best for low light, as they provide a good balance between image quality and camera portability (larger-sensor cameras like medium format tend to be very expensive and bulky, so are only really an option for professionals and specialists). However, not everyone will be able to afford full-frame, so APS-C is also a good option. Micro Four Thirds sensors are smaller than APS-C, but still represent a step up from smartphones, so are a good choice for budget-conscious users. Many MFT cameras also have sophisticated stabilisation systems, which can help compensate for the slightly smaller sensor.
What lens should you use with a low-light camera?
It's important to consider what lenses you can use with a camera. Ideally, wide aperture zooms and primes will be what you're looking for here, or any lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or less. This maximises light input onto the image sensor. If you pick an interchangeable-lens camera you’ll be able to buy these; if you think you’d prefer a compact camera with a fixed lens, be sure to check its maximum aperture so you’ll know what you’ve got to work with.
Maximizing light hitting the image sensor is the name of the game to get well exposed shots. Since the lens is the vessel which delivers the light to the sensor it's important to use a lens which has as little restriction of light as possible. That means a wide aperture lens is ideal, something that stops open as wide as f/1.4, f/1.8, or f/2.8 will let more light into the camera. Camera systems that allow interchangeable lenses offer the best options here because it's often possible to get lenses with wider maximum apertures than those of fixed-lens systems. Some lenses can shoot as wide as f/0.95 and more!
What ISO setting should you use in low light?
A camera's ISO sensitivity range makes probably the biggest difference to taking a well exposed low-light image, after the lens' aperture rating. ISO refers to the image sensor's sensitivity to light, denoted in tens, hundreds, thousands, and up. In bright conditions where there is plenty of light a setting of ISO 100 is ideal as it minimises the amount of image noise. But when it's darker a higher ISO will compensate for the loss of light and still produce a good exposure. The higher a camera’s maximum ISO setting, the more capable it will be in low light – though image quality at these levels can vary because dynamic range decreases and image noise creeps in the further up you go. Image stabilisation can also be critical, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds without the need for a tripod, again expanding light-gathering capabilities.
What shutter speed should you use for low light?
As a rule, you should try to use as slow a shutter speed as possible in low light in order to maximise the amount of light that hits the sensor. If you're using a stable camera support like a tripod, then the shutter speeds you can potentially use are effectively indefinite thanks to Bulb mode; just be aware that any subjects moving in front of the lens will be blurred to near-invisibility.
If you're shooting hand-held, your slowest shutter speed will depend on your camera. Common wisdom among photographers is that you shouldn't use a shutter speed slower than the focal length of your lens in order to guarantee a sharp image. So, if you're shooting with a 500mm lens you should stay at shutter speeds of at least 1/500sec, keep at 1/60sec with a 60mm focal length, etc. However, image stabilisation systems in digital cameras have changed the game a bit, and can provide an advantage of 2-4 stops, or even more, and enable you to use slower shutter speeds. It'll be different for every camera and lens, so you may need to refer to your camera manufacturer's guidance.
What autofocus do you need for low light?
Autofocusing brings reliable and fast focus to stills and sometimes video, but not all camera's autofocusing systems can detect light in the same way. That's why it's important to consider the lowest reported autofocus detection range that a camera is specified to have (e.g. -4EV) to see how well it performs in darker conditions. Generally, the lower the number, the better it will be (i.e. -6EV is better than -4EV).