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The best low-light cameras in 2021

Best low-light camera
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Want to find the best low-light camera for shooting at night or indoors? This guide will help you take you through the different choices, and find you the best one for you - and help you find that at the best price.

Low light continues to be one of the biggest challenges for camera manufacturers. If you’re somebody that spends a lot of time taking pictures after dark, then you might want to consider a camera which has been specifically designed to tackle that subject. Although it might mean a trade off in some other area in performance, if a high proportion of your shots are taken in low light conditions, it can be worth it for the improved performance. 

Picking the best camera for low light photography takes some extra thought compared to just thinking about the best mirrorless cameras, the best DSLR or the best compact camera. Often, those guides will give you an indication of the best overall camera, or the best all-rounder. For those who have a particular fondness for low light, it’s worth thinking about the following features:

Sensor size, design and pixel count
Conventional wisdom tells us that the larger the sensor, the better equipped it is for low light. That’s generally true on the whole, which is why you’ll find a lot of full-frame cameras in our list. It’s also worth considering models with a smaller sensor if you have another factor in mind, though - such as high portability. It’s also worth thinking about the sensor design, too. Sensors which are backside illuminated tend to perform best in darker conditions. You also need to take into consideration the pixel count, too. Those with a smaller pixel count use larger pixels, which are generally more adept at light gathering.

Lens range
Most of the cameras here are interchangeable lens models. When that’s the case, take a look at the lens range to determine how well suited the compatible optics are with low light. Sharp lenses, with wide apertures will be your best friend after dark, but it’s also worth looking out for those with in built stabilization (especially if your camera doesn’t have it). If you’re looking at a fixed-lens camera, take a look at its widest aperture for a quick measure of its low-light capability.

Image stabilization
Many modern cameras boast in-body image stabilization which helps to keep your shots sharp in darker conditions. If you want to shoot handheld, or shoot at slow(ish) shutter speeds, having IBIS will come in extremely handy. Some cameras will instead rely on stabilisation coming from the lens, while others use both camera and lens stabilisation in tandem for extremely impressive results.

High ISO capabilities
The ISO capabilities of modern cameras is something which has noticeably improved over the years. Most modern cameras offer very high ISO speeds, so it’s worth checking reviews to look for sample shots taken at those speeds to get a better idea of how clean or noise free those images are.

AF performance
This is an extremely important consideration, especially if you’re photographing subjects which aren’t static, such as musicians on stage. You’ll need to think about things such as the type of autofocus system, how many AF points there are, and how sensitive those points are. Again, it’s worth checking reviews to see how the reviewer found performance in dim conditions.

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 2021

(Image credit: Sony)

1. Sony A7S III

Best full-frame camera for low light video

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame BSI CMOS | Megapixels: 12.1 AF Points: 759 phase, 425 contrast | AF type:: Hybrid | AF sensitivity: -6EV | Stabilization: 5-axis in-body sensor-shift, 5.5 stops compensation | ISO range: 80-102400 (40-409600 expandable) | Remote app: Yes

Superb low light performance 
Ideal for video
Great AF performance 
Low pixel count 
Pretty pricey 
Not an all-rounder 

With a low pixel count, this full-framer which sits in Sony’s acclaimed A7 series is specifically designed with two types of users in mind - low light shooters and video creators. 

The camera boasts superb image quality in the absence of light, with fantastic dynamic range and smooth image processing. The full-frame sensor is back side illuminated, and with relatively few pixels on such a large sensor, it’s perfectly primed for dim conditions. Autofocusing is excellent, with AF being sensitive all the way down to -6EV. Image stabilisation puts in a good performance too, so you should be able to use it handheld in many situations. 

There’s a great range of compatible lenses now available for Sony full-frame cameras - particularly worth mentioning is the G-Master series, especially the prime (fixed length) options.

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.

(Image credit: Canon)

2. Canon EOS R6

Best all-round camera for low light

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 20.1 AF Points: 6072 | AF type:: Dual Pixel CMOS AF II Phase Detection | AF sensitivity: -6.5EV | Stabilization: IBIS in conjunction with lens stabilisation, 8 stops compensation | ISO range: 100-102400 (50-204800 expandable) | Remote app: Yes

Great all-rounder 
Superb autofocus 
Fantastic image stabilization
4K video problems
Limited lens range (for now) 

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 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).

(Image credit: Panasonic)

3. Panasonic GH5S

Best Micro Four Thirds camera for low light

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Four Thirds Live MOS | Megapixels: 12 AF Points: 225 | AF type:: Contrast Detect | AF sensitivity: -5EV | Stabilization: Lens Stabilisation Only | ISO range: 160 - 51200 (80-204800 extended) | Remote app: Yes

Good handling 
Excellent for video
Dual Native ISO
No in body image stabilization 
Better suited to video shooters 
Small sensor

Although this is another camera which is primarily targeted towards videographers, the fact that the Panasonic GH5S 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 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. 

(Image credit: Nikon)

4. Nikon Z6 II

Best Nikon camera for low light

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame BSI CMOS | Megapixels: 24.5MP AF Points: 273 | AF type:: Hybrid | AF sensitivity: -4.5EV | Stabilization: 5-axis in-body sensor shift, 5 stops compensation (with Z mount lenses) | ISO range: 100-51200 (50-204800 extended) | Remote app: Yes

Great all rounder
Fantastic handling 
Good value for money
Fairly light refresh of the predecessor 
Z lenses still fairly expensive

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), 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 - 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.

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

5. Fujifilm X-T4

Best APS-C camera for low light

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: APS-C X-Trans CMOS 4 | Megapixels: 26.1 AF Points: 425 | AF type: Intelligent Hybrid | AF sensitivity: -3EV (contrast detection) -7EV (phase detection with XF50mm f/1.0 lens) | Stabilization: 5-axis in-body sensor shift, 6.5 stops compensation | ISO range: 160 - 12800 (80-51200 extended) | Remote app: Yes

Good all-rounder 
Fantastic image stabilisation 
Excellent design
Smaller sensor than others on list 

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. If you don’t also have that, it’s a more modest, but still respectable -3EV. 

(Image credit: Sony)

6. Sony A9 II

Best low-light camera for professional photographers

Type: Mirrorless | Sensor: Full-frame stacked CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 AF Points: 693 (phase detection), 425 (contrast detection) | AF type:: Hybrid | AF sensitivity: -3EV | Stabilization: 5-axis in-body sensor shift, 5.5 stops compensation | ISO range: 100 - 25600 (50-204800 extended) | Remote app: Yes

Superb autofocus 
Great image stabilization 
Well suited to lots of different subjects 
Very expensive 
Overkill for most 

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.

(Image credit: Nikon)

7. Nikon D850

Best DSLR for low light

Type: DSLR | Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 45.7 AF Points: 153 (including 99 cross-type) | AF type:: Phase detection | AF sensitivity: -4EV | Stabilization: Lens stabilisation only | ISO range: 64 - 25600 (32-102400 extended) | Remote app: Yes

Traditional handling 
Fantastic all rounder 
Great autofocusing 
Older tech 
Big and bulky 
No image stabilization in body 

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. 

(Image credit: Leica)

8. Leica Q2

Best premium compact camera for low light

Type: Compact | Sensor: Full-frame CMOS | Megapixels: 47.3MP | Lens: Fixed 28mm f/1.7 AF Points: 225 | AF type: Contrast Detect | AF sensitivity: Not stated | Stabilization: Optical compensation | ISO range: 50 - 50000 | Remote app: Yes

Small and light 
Great for street photography
Superb lens 
Very high price 
Inflexible thanks to fixed lens 

The next few models are included on our list with some strong caveats, starting with the Leica Q2. 

Although there are undoubtedly better cameras on our list for low light photography, this camera will suit a certain type of photographer shooting low light in certain conditions - namely street and documentary style photography. 

With a full-frame sensor in a small, light and unobtrusive body, you can flit between the shadows without drawing too much attention to yourself to bag shots that somebody wielding a much larger camera might not be able to do. 

The wide aperture lens means you shouldn’t have to shoot at super high ISOs, while it’s also stabilized for extra performance when shooting handheld. It produces beautifully sharp images and is a perfect focal length for street work.

There’s lots to absolutely love about this camera - it is a Leica after all. However, the price - especially for what is rather a niche camera - will be too much to bear for some.

(Image credit: Canon)

9. Canon G1X Mark III

Best low light camera for travel

Type: Compact | Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2 | Lens: 24-72mm (equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 AF Points: 49 | AF type:: Dual Pixel CMOS AF | AF sensitivity: Not stated | Stabilization: Lens-shift type, 4 stop stabilisation | ISO range: 100 - 12800 (25600 extended) | Remote app: Yes

DSLR sized sensor in compact body 
Zoom lens 
Fully articulating screen 
Narrow maximum aperture
An old model 
Limited battery life 

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.

(Image credit: Olympus)

10. Olympus Tough TG-6

Best underwater camera for low light

Type: Compact | Sensor: 1/2.33-inch CMOS | Megapixels: 12 | Lens: 25-100mm (equivalent) f/2.0-4.9 AF Points: 25 | AF type: Contrast Detection | Stabilization: Sensor Shift | ISO range: 100-12800 | Remote app: Yes

Tough 
Waterproof 
Wide aperture sensor 
Very small sensor 
Not suitable as an all-round camera

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 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.

(Image credit: Apple)

11. Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max

Best ever iPhone for low light photography

Type: Smartphone | Cameras: 3 x 12MP Sensors | Lenses:: 13mm f/2.4, 26mm f/1.6 & 65mm f/2.2 (equivalent) | Stabilization: Sensor shift OIS (main camera), OIS (tele), No IS (ultra wide)

3 well-performing lenses
Can shoot in raw format
Excellent Night mode 
No “pro” mode 

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 on the current market, Apple does it extremely well and repeatedly so.

On top of that, there’s also a set of other useful features that also boost the phone’s low-light prowess. The large main sensor, coupled with an f/1.6 lens means it works well in dim conditions even when shooting outside of the Night mode. There’s also sensor shift OIS to help keep things as steady as possible, too. 

The possibility to shoot in raw format means you can really manipulate files to get the most from them, but it remains disappointing that Apple doesn’t offer a “pro” or “advanced” shooting mode for its enthusiast users.

(Image credit: Samsung)

12. Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra

Best smartphone for low light

Type: Smartphone | Cameras: 4 - 108M, 12MP, 10MP & 10MP | Lenses: 13mm f/2.2, 26mm f/1.8, 70mm f/2.4 & 240mm f/4.9 (equivalent) | Stabilization: OIS (main & 2 x tele camera); No IS (ultra wide)

Impressive range of built-in lenses
108 megapixel main camera
Pro shooting mode
No image stabilization on wide lens

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.

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.

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