The best low-light cameras are able to take stunning, high-quality images even in dark environments. There are a few different features that make some cameras better than others such as sensor size, design and pixel count. You might find you have to compromise on other things such as shutter speed or video capabilities but chances are if you're shooting mostly low light photography, you won't need super-fast shutter speeds anyway.
Whether you're after one of the best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab), best DSLR's (opens in new tab) or even one of the best compact cameras (opens in new tab), certain cameras within these categories will be better for shooting in low light than others. The general rule is that the bigger the sensor, the better equipped it is for low light scenarios. This is because it has a bigger surface area so can capture more light but it's not quite as simple as that. While there are a lot of full-frame cameras in our guide, cameras with back-illuminated sensors tend to perform best in low-light conditions. You also need to take into account the pixel count as cameras with a smaller pixel count use larger individual pixels so are better at gathering light information.
That being said, you can get APS-C cameras that are excellent in low-light. You just need to weigh up what is most important to you in a camera system. Cropped sensor cameras are often smaller, lighter, more portable and have smaller lenses so if you intend to travel a lot or have it on you at all times, it might be an idea to think about that too.
Most of the cameras we've included are interchangeable lens cameras. This is because the lens you choose often determines how much light can be let in based on the maximum aperture. You'll want a lens that has a wide aperture of f/1.4-f/2.8 if you want to shoot mostly hand-held. Of course, if you're planning on shooting night skies for example, you'll be shooting using a tripod and bulb mode so the aperture doesn't matter so much as you'll be letting a lot of light in with super long shutter speeds.
A lot of modern mirrorless cameras come with in-body image stabilization (IBIS) which helps to not only keep video footage smooth but enables you to shoot at slower shutter speeds and still capture sharp images. Some lenses will come with stabilization on the lend but stabilization on the camera is much better. Often both stabilization will work together to make sure you get the sharpest images possible.
High ISO capabilities
Cameras that have bigger ISO ranges will operate better in low light conditions as you'll be able to shoot at higher ISO's without having too much noise in your image. The general rule of thumb is the lower the ISO the cleaner your images will be which is why people shooting in broad daylight like to shoot at around ISO 200-400. However, modern cameras are incredible at minimizing noise, even shooting as high as ISO 10 000 on something like the Sony A7 III (opens in new tab) you can create passable images with a little bit of noise reduction in post-processing.
Remote control apps
Lots of modern cameras can be triggered from your smartphone. If you’re mounting your camera on a tripod and are shooting low-light street and landscape scenes, this can be incredibly useful to avoid camera shake and to save you spending money on a remote release.
Read on to see our recommendations for the best cameras for low light photography…
The best low-light cameras in 2023
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This versatile full-frame mirrorless camera is adept at a range of shooting scenarios, but has a number of key features which make it particularly good at low light shooting.
First of all, Canon has kept the megapixel count to a modest 20.1 for this model, while it’s class-leading image stabilization gives you up to eight stops of scope to work with - perfect for hand-held work.
Its superb autofocusing works well in a range of conditions, and being sensitive all the way down to -6.5EV also makes it one of the best for low light on the market.
Put all of this together and there’s not a huge amount to dislike about the Canon EOS R6. But if we had to pick something, it’s the fact that native EOS R lenses (opens in new tab) are not hugely in abundance just yet, but you do have the advantage of being able to use the camera with your DSLR glass via an adapter (where the IS system will also work together with any stabilized lenses).(opens in new tab)
The Sony A7S III is a video-focused, full-frame camera designed to shine in low-light environments. With fantastic dynamic range and smooth mage processing, even in darker environments, it delivers superb image quality. It has a backside illuminated 12MP sensor which is a relatively low pixel count for a full-frame camera but this is why it performs so well in low light.
The autofocus is fast and precise, the image stabilization is so good you should be about to shoot handheld in a lot of situations and there are a great number of lenses to choose from.
With a range of interesting video features, such as uncropped 4K video, 16-bit raw recording and a superb high-resolution viewfinder, for those who like to capture video in darker conditions will also be on to a winner here.
Although the Sony A7S III excels at low light and video, it’s not hugely flexible if you’re somebody who also shoots other types of scenes.(opens in new tab)
Although this is another camera which is primarily targeted towards videographers, the fact that the Panasonic GH5S (opens in new tab) uses a low resolution sensor and includes features such as Dual Native ISO also makes it a good choice for low-light photographers. That’s particularly true if your budget is tight, or you’re already working within the Micro Four Thirds lens (opens in new tab) system.
Dual Native ISO is a clever piece of tech which boils down to producing less noise at higher sensitivities, resulting in a maximum sensitivity of ISO 51,200 - otherwise unheard of in Four Thirds sensors. While it still won’t necessarily beat other cameras with large sensors, if you’re keen on the other advantages, such as size, price and lens range, it's worth thinking about.
In the modern market, a 12 megapixel sensor seems very low, but it will still leave you able to create A3 sized prints should you need to. You also get the benefits of smaller and lighter handling, which could make it a good option for travel and street photography if you like to head out after sunset.(opens in new tab)
Here’s another model which is a great all-rounder that puts in a good performance in a number of conditions, including low light. The Nikon Z6 II uses a lower resolution sensor than its more advanced stablemate (the Nikon Z7 II (opens in new tab)), which suits low-light shooting well. It’s also got a decent autofocusing system which is sensitive down to -4.5EV - that’s not quite as good as some of the others on the list, but this camera is also more modestly priced than some.
You get a very good ISO range and image stabilisation is built into the body so handheld shooting in low light conditions is pretty good here.
Handling is also excellent, while the screen and viewfinder combination are a pleasure to use. There are two notable criticisms with the Z6 II - the first is that it's not a huge advancement over its own predecessor, and the second is that compatible Nikon Z-mount lenses (opens in new tab) - especially wide aperture prime lenses - are still a little on the expensive side. Still, if budget is tight you could save some decent cash by plumping for the older model.
There’s not a huge amount to dislike about the Fujifilm X-T4. This flagship model is a great option for anybody looking for a good all-rounder who happens to shoot a decent amount of low light.
It would be easy to be put off by the smaller than full-frame sensor, but by using APS-C, Fujifilm keeps the overall body size down and provides a good compromise between image quality and usability. Besides, with such an impressive in-body stabilisation system, you can really push the sensor to deliver results which are easily comparable with similarly priced full-frame models.
AF performance is good here, and although the headline grab is that it’s sensitive down to -7EV, that’s only with the stunningly impressive Fujinon 50mm f/1.0 (opens in new tab). If you don’t also have that, it’s a more modest, but still respectable -3EV.
Although you’d be forgiven for thinking that mirrorless has well and truly taken over, there’s still a lot to be said for DSLRs. Nikon’s once class-leading D850 has now dramatically reduced in price, making it a bit of a bargain in comparison to some of those featured here.
We’ve been saying all the way through this piece that high resolution is no friend to low light photography, but here’s one camera that provides the exception to the rule.
With its high resolution sensor it makes for a good all rounder, while still putting in a good low-light performance thanks to a fast and sensitive AF system and a good expandable ISO range.
Many will prefer the handling of a DSLR compared to mirrorless, while the lens range for DSLRs is still yet to be rivaled by their mirrorless counterparts. The big downside here is that there is no image stabilisation in the body, so you’ll be relying on image stabilized lenses for handheld shooting.
A professional-level camera is probably going to be complete overkill for most enthusiast photographers, but if you want the best of the best and have the budget to spend, the Sony A9 II really is a fantastic option.
Arguably targeted primarily towards action and sports photographers, given that a lot of those subjects take place in dimly-lit environments, you can see why Sony has equipped the camera with decent low-light prowess.
It’s got a very well performing image stabilisation system, while the modest pixel count on the full-frame sensor makes it good for capturing as much light as possible. The AF is incredible, and although it’s only sensitive down to -3EV, that should still be enough for most scenarios.
The major downside here is of course price. A professional camera commands a professional price tag. If you’re keen to get in on the action, try looking at the camera’s predecessor (the Sony A9) for a hefty saving.
If you're looking for a great travel-friendly compact camera that will surely beat your smartphone in low light conditions, then the Canon G1X Mark III could be the one for you.
Canon impressively included a DSLR-sized sensor in this (almost) pocketable device, so you’ve got a lovely big APS-C sized sensor perfectly primed for gathering light in dim conditions. It’s a shame that the 3x optical zoom lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, otherwise this could have been pushed even further.
Now showing its age, the G1X range hasn’t been upgraded since the Mark III. It’s unlikely to be anybody’s primary camera, but for keeping size to a minimum but still having a decent degree of flexibility, it’s certainly a contender.
This neat little compact camera has been included for a niche reason. If you’re somebody who likes to shoot underwater from time to time, you’ll already be aware that light is limited the further down you go.
For that reason, the TG-6 has some great low-light credentials for an underwater camera (opens in new tab) that sees it outperform some of its direct rivals. It has modest resolution on albeit a small sensor, with an accompanying f/2 lens which should let plenty of light in.
Combined with a decent 100-12800 ISO range, this is a camera that performs admirably well in challenging lighting conditions, with it even shooting in raw format to help you claw back any missing detail in your underwater shots.(opens in new tab)
Although lots of smartphones are adept at low light shooting, if we have to pick one out winner, it would be the Samsung S21 Ultra (or its more expensive successor the Galaxy S22 Ultra (opens in new tab)).
This flexible smartphone gives you four different lenses to choose from, with the main sensor boasting a very high megapixel count, larger than average sensor, wide aperture lens and optical image stabilization.
It also has a well-performing night mode which produces impressive imagery, particularly with the main and first telephoto lens. One of the big reasons why the Samsung just about edges it over the iPhone is because of its much more flexible native camera app. You can take full control over a range of specifications in the Pro mode, as well as shooting in raw format if you want to.
The iPhone 14 Pro is a relatively compact smartphone with a mighty camera mix. In short, it's the best iPhone you can buy for photography if you want something manageable in size. The iPhone Pro Max below features exactly the same camera specs but offers a larger 6.7-inch screen than the Pro's 6.1-inches.
Smartphone manufacturers have put a lot of know-how into perfecting their low-light offerings, and that’s particularly the case for the best iPhones. We’re now a couple of generations along from the first Night mode, and each one seems to outdo the last.
Night mode works by shooting a set of short exposures and then merging them together for the best detail and light-gathering capabilities. Although many smartphones offer some variation on this setup in the current market, Apple does it extremely well and repeatedly so.
Apple has bumped up the resolution on the main camera from 12MP to 48MP – making it the best-specced ever featured on an iPhone. The selfie camera also has autofocus for better depth recognition and close-up shots.
How we test cameras
We test mirrorless and DSLR cameras both in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. We use these real-world testing and lab results to inform our comments in buying guides. For compact cameras and phones, we judge on real world handling and photographic results alone.
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