Best Low Light Cameras For 2020 – Reviews – Comparisons – Buying Guide

Have you ever stood in front of something so beautiful that it takes your breath away and you snap a photo hoping to preserve that moment forever, but when you look at the photo, it doesn’t even come close to truly capturing what you beheld? We have all been there at one time or another. It is extremely disappointing to have lost such a profound moment because your camera didn’t do its job.

There are a lot of challenges to solve in photography. The shooting environment and lighting certainly has a lot to do with snapping a great photo. The chances of doing just that are limited with your average digital camera or camera phone. To truly overcome the lighting challenges of a shot and getting the best possible result requires a low light camera.

Choosing the best low light camera to fit your needs can be another challenge to overcome as well. However, our buyer’s guide and review of 10 low light cameras can help you to better understand what makes a good low light camera and allow you to compare various options available on the market. Armed with the information we provide, you can make a more qualified choice when it comes to selecting the low light camera that is best for you.

 

Low-Light Cameras Buyer’s Guide

What defines a low-light camera?

Low light cameras can also be defined as being high sensitivity cameras because they tend to be more sensitive to the capturing of light. The efficiency of low light cameras includes the converting of photons into electrons. They can be defined in several different classifications:

• Full frame, low light cameras tend to have sensors with larger pixels and use the full pixel area for light collection.

• Interline, low light cameras have standard sensors and pixel sizes, but make use of microlens located over every pixel to collect light over a larger area and focus it into the smaller pixel area. These cameras are typically labeled as cropped sensor cameras (APS-C) or micro four thirds (MFT) cameras.

• Infrared, low light cameras detect ambient light and use short wave infrared rather than the visible spectrum to produce an image.

 

Where infrared is typically only used in surveillance and not so much in photography, our buyer’s guide and reviews will focus on full frame, APS-C and MFT low light cameras.

 

 

What benefits can be obtained from a low-light camera?

Photography is typically about capturing situation in which the lighting leaves something to be desired. Since many of the scenes you hope to capture won’t wait around for you to set up the necessary lighting or it would be impossible to do so, low light cameras are a must if you intend to snap the best photos in various lighting situations. Full frame cameras will have the best performance, but APS-C and MFT low-light cameras are still far superior to what you get in your average camera and camera phone.

 

What features should you look for in a low-light camera?

There are some basic features which distinguish low-light cameras from their less light sensitive counterparts. Comparing those basic features can help you determine what kind of quality is built into the design and function of your camera.

Sensor Size

When it comes to sensors, size always matters, but it becomes especially relevant when you are shooting in low light conditions. Full frame cameras have sensors that are equivalent to 35mm felm cameras and capture the most light. Full frame cameras tend to be extremely expensive and are typically heavier. You can still get decent light capture from APS-C or MFT cameras which have smaller sensors, which makes them lighter and they are less expensive to boot.

ISO

When searching for low light cameras, it is important to know that ISO is a measurement of how much light the sensor in the camera will capture. Increasing ISO increases the shutter speed and is greater for capturing objects in motion, but high ISO lets in more light, but creates more noise and graininess in photos.

ISO goes back to the old days of film cameras when you used 100, 200, 400, 800 or 1600 ISO film. The same standard has been converted over to digital photography. Cameras which allow a broader range of adjustment for ISO give you the best range of light capturing capabilities.

Noise

Where grainy was used to describe distortion in film produced photos, noise is the term used when ISO is pushed too high. Properly adjusting and balancing your ISO for certain situations is a major photography challenge when shooting in low light situations. Using the lowest possible ISO with the widest possible aperture in a low light situation can help you avoid noise. Cameras which give you greater control over these two features tend to top the list among low light cameras.

With those features in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the best cameras on the market for photographers who shoot in low light situations. Our comparison of various features in our ten low light camera reviews can help you select the camera which provides the best value when it comes to fitting your specific needs, including your budget.

 

 

Best Low Light Camera Reviews

 

Nikon D5 DSLR 20.8 MP Point & Shoot Digital Camera, Dual XQD Slots – Black

The Nikon D5 DSLR is at the top of the heap among full frame cameras both in quality and in price. This is a point and shoot digital camera with a 20.8 MP sensor. It can be adjusted up to 102,400 native ISO and expanded up to an off the charts 3,280,000 ISO. It includes a 3.2” touch screen LCD display monitor and shoots 12 fps continuous shooting or 30 fps 4k UHD video.

The Good

When it comes to clarity and sharpness in low light, this camera stands alone. It has a large enough sensor to capture even the tiniest amount of ambient light and its ISO opens up a whole new world of possibilities, though there would be far too much noise at 3,280,000 ISO to have a clear picture.

The Not So Good

Unless you sell your car or take out a second mortgage you will have a hard time getting your hands on this camera. It is pretty heavy at just over 3 lbs.

A Great Choice If…

You are a professional photographer and need a top quality camera or if you have plenty of cash lying around. If you’re on a budget, just keep walking.

 

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Sony a7S II ILCE7SM2/B 12.2 MP E-mount Camera with Full-Frame Sensor

Low light photography from a camera with a full-frame sensor was the design of objective of the Sony a7S II. This is a full-frame camera with 5-axis image stabilization and Exmor CMOS sensor lens at 12.2 MP. This camera can shoot full HD moves at 50 Mbps as well as take excellent photos. It features a 3 inch LCD monitor too.

The Good

Getting high quality low light photos at a ISO range of up to 409,600 ISO is possible with this camera. Locking focus in near darkness is something that most cameras struggle with but the a7S II is able to accomplish. Better yet, this camera weighs a lot less than most full-frames at just over a 1 lb.

The Not So Good

The menu options on this camera are a little bit confusing and complicated. The battery life on this unit is a little bit short as well.

A Great Choice If…

You are looking for a camera that shoots high quality low light photos, but don’t want to haul around a heavier full-frame camera. You won’t be as thrilled with this camera if you are not particularly tech savvy.

 

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Canon EOS 5D Mark III 22.3 MP Full Frame CMOS with 1080p SLR Camera (Body)

A light weight camera which takes high quality low light photos and videos are the focus of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III. This full-frame camera sports a whopping 22.3 MP CMOS sensor for grabbing light. It has a 61 point AF system and can produce 14 bit photos. Its ISO range is to 25,600 native and expands to 102,800 ISO. It also shoots 1080p full-HD video.

The Good

Size does matter, especially when it comes to sensors, and this one goes to 22.3 MP, making it the leader in the class among full-frames. This camera is more budget friendly and weighs just under 2 lbs. Though it doesn’t go way up there in ISO, this camera still features an ISO range that is within the range that can be used without noise.

The Not So Good

This camera is limited to 30 minutes of video recording before it shuts off. Under exposure by 2/3 to 1 stop is an issue with this camera at times and it has an inaccurate auto white balance.

A Great Choice If…

You need a quality camera for low light shooting and HD video and don’t want to pay a lot of money or want a lighter unit. If you record videos longer than 30 minutes, you might not be pleased with this camera.

 

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Pentax K-1 Full Frame DSLR Camera (Body Only)

Another full-frame camera that cannot be ignored is the Pentax K-1. This camera features a 36.4 MP AA Filter-less CMOS Sensor for good low light capture. This camera has ISO capabilities up to 204,800. It features sensor-shift image stabilization, 4.4 fps continuous shooting and a 3.2” fully articulated LCD monitor. This camera also includes built-in WiFi and GPS.

The Good

The sensor size on this camera and its ISO capabilities make it a good choice for low light photography. The stabilization, fully articulated monitor and moiré suppression options make it a decent competitor among the other full-frames in this review. The addition of WiFi and GPS are also some positive bonus features.

The Not So Good

The 4.4 fps continuous shooting capability is well below par among the cameras in this review. It is a heavier camera than all but the Nikon D5. The autofocus on this camera is also below par for the other cameras in this review.

A Great Choice If…

You tend to spend your time working with still low light photography that doesn’t require quick focus. You are going to be a little bit disappointed if your focus is more on sports and wildlife.

 

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Nikon D7200 DX-format DSLR Body (Black)

The Nikon D7200 is built to capture light with its 24.2 MP APS-C sensor. It has a 51 point autofocus system and 6 fps continuous shooting capacity. It has 25,600 native ISO expandable to 102,400 ISO, which makes it a leader among APS-C and MFT cameras. It has built in WiFi and near field communication for instant sharing as well.

The Good

With this camera, you hit the balance point of value and price. You are getting all that you pay for. Its higher ISO for an APS-C camera is a major plus because this camera is very good at handling noise. Its large sensor places it toward the top of the class as well.

The Not So Good

The picture preview lag time on this camera is pretty slow at up to 10 seconds. Using the WiFi quickly drains your camera’s battery. This camera requires a pretty steep learning curve to start using it.

A Great Choice If…

You can’t justify spending the money on a full-frame sensor camera, but still want something that takes professional grade photos. You might not be as pleased if you are pretty new to digital photography as learning this camera’s functions is pretty tricky.

 

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Sony Alpha a6300 Mirrorless Digital Camera Body

The largest sensor of all of the cameras in this review comes on the Sony Alpha a6300. Its 25 MP sensor is great for low light shooting. ISO on this camera is up to 25,600 native and 51,300 expandable ISO. This camera has 1.5x APS-C cropping factor, a 3” touch screen LCD monitor, 11 fps continuous shooting capability, and shoots 4k HD video as well.

The Good

This camera is a leader in mirrorless low light cameras. Though it doesn’t have the ISO range of others, it handles noise almost flawlessly up to 25,600 ISO. This camera cost 1/3 as much as Sony’s full-frame a7S II and weighs in at just a little bit over ¾ of a lb.

The Not So Good

The a6300 has a tendency to overheat and is not reliable for longer paying jobs like weddings or sporting events.

A Great Choice If…

You want a high quality mirrorless APS-C low light camera, but don’t have the budget for a full-frame. If you tend to do a lot of jobs where you will be using your camera for an extended duration, you won’t be happy with this unit.

 

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Canon EOS 7D Mark II Digital SLR Camera

The Canon EOS 7D Mark II was designed with sports and wildlife photographers in mind. Its 65 cross-type autofocus points are a leader in the industry. It has a 20.2 MP sensor and is rated to 16,000 ISO. Its dual pixel CMOS AF allows you to shoot high quality, full HD video. It allows for 10 fps continuous shooting, sports a 3” LCD monitor screen and even GPS2 so you won’t get lost.

The Good

The 65-point cross-type autofocus leads the industry and helps you produce photos with excellent clarity, which comes in handy for sports and wildlife shoots. Though the sensor and ISO are on the lower end among APS-C cameras, it still reaches an ISO range that is acceptable for low light photography.

The Not So Good

It has a smaller sensor and a lower ISO of the cameras in its class, but it is the heaviest and most expensive in its class as well. Shooting at 10 fps produces a lot of photo noise with this camera.

A Great Choice If…

You primarily focus on low light sports and wildlife photography, you will be happy with the autofocus features of this camera. For general low light photography, there are better choices at a lower price.

 

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Nikon D5500 DX-format Digital SLR Body (Black)

Those who are new to photography and especially low light photography will find the Nikon D5500 DX a great camera to help break you into the field. This camera has a larger sensor at 24.2 MP and has a 39-point autofocus system. You can shoot 5 fps continuous with this camera and it has native ISO to 25,600. You can capture fast moving objects with the 1080/60p HD capabilities of this camera as well. This camera has a 3.2” touch screen LCD monitor with tilting. In addition, there is built in WiFi and Smartphone compatibility with this camera.

The Good

The design of this camera makes it a great camera for the low light novice, because it is a bit more user friendly than some models. This camera really isn’t far behind its D7200 brother and does a good job of handling higher ISO with less noise, but you can get it for a little more than half the price of its brother. The WiFi and Smartphone compatibility is also a nice touch for quick sharing. This camera also weighs less than 1 lb.

The Not So Good

Its autofocus capability, durability and weather-sealing fall behind the rest of the class. The video capabilities on this model leave something to be desired.

A Great Choice If…

You are new to low light photography or digital photography in general and need an entry-level camera. Those who are used to more advanced low light photography will be left wanting.

 

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Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II (Black) (Body Only)

Olympus also offers a camera for low light with its OM-D E-M5 Mark II, which is a MFT type. This camera features the much smaller 16 MP sensor which can be expanded to 40 MP in high resolution mode. It includes a large 3” flip screen view finder. It is capable of shooting up to 25,600 ISO and has 10 fps continuous shooting. Its full HD range is from 24p to 60p/1080. It also features 5-axis image stabilization. WiFi is also built into this unit.

The Good

Though he is small, he be mighty when it comes to low light capabilities. This MFT camera does a very good job of handling low light with less noise, even at higher ISO ranges. It weighs less than a pound and has a lot of great video options and an easy to use menu for amateurs.

The Not So Good

The computer interface of this camera leaves a little something to be desired. It is limited in menu options related to ISO, exp compensation and aperture that the higher end cameras have. Autofocus is related to highest contrast rather than distance with this camera. This camera is a little pricey for a break in low light camera.

A Great Choice If…

You are a serious amateur photographer who is breaking into low light photography and can justify the price in your budget. If you’re a professional photographer, you simply won’t be satisfied with what this camera offers.

 

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Panasonic Lumix GH4 Body 4K Mirrorless Camera

The Panasonic Lumix GH4 does a pretty decent job of handling all environments including low light. This MFT type mirrorless camera has a 16 MP sensor, is capable of 25,600 ISO and has a 49-point high speed autofocus. This camera also has full HD cinematic video capabilities and also includes moiré suppression. This camera comes with a 3” LCD flip screen monitor as well.

The Good

The magnesium alloy structure of this camera and its shutter longevity are factors to keep in mind when talking about durability in any camera. The fast lens on this camera will handle 1600 ISO without any noise. The moiré suppression feature on this camera is certainly an added plus it has a decent 49-point autofocus. It also only weighs a little over 1 lb.

The Not So Good

Experience with Panasonic products is that they overprice by about 25% more than the actual value of the product and this camera is no exception. You can spend $100 to $200 less and get into a higher quality APS-C type camera. The ergonomics of this camera leave a little something to be desired.

A Great Choice If…

You are doing some infrequent low light photography along with your regular day light photography and can justify spending the money on a MFT camera. You won’t be satisfied if you are looking for a more professional grade low light camera.

 

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