We all know that moment. You go out to take photo’s when the sun is down and stars start to appear in the sky. As soon as you get your camera ready you notice there isn’t enough light to take the perfect night shot. Are you wondering which camera’s are the best for low light? Then read on!
The key to taking the best low light pictures at night is not just about the camera alone! There are a couple of things that can improve your cameras low light capabilities. ISO, shutter speed and aperture all influence the amount of light on your sensor. In this post, I will tell you all the things you need to know about low light film and photography.
What makes the best low light camera
The best low light camera should be able to take a good shot in the dark. In general, this means that the picture should have as little noise as possible. Noise is something that happens in the dark parts of your picture.
Sometimes a little bit of noise is no problem but you never want too much in your shot. The best pictures are those with the least amount of noise. Sometimes you are able to fix the noise in post-production but wouldn’t it be great if you didn’t have to?
ISO / digital brightening
Some cameras have a maximum ISO of 5000 while others can go all the way up to 400000. Iso is a value you set on your camera to compensate for the lack of light. ISO digitally brightens up your picture inside the camera body. The higher you set your ISO the more noise will come in your photo.
Every camera has different low light capabilities and in general, the ISO is the biggest factor in low light performance.
Camera settings for low light
Before you start to look for a low light camera you can do some things to optimize your camera for low light. First, of all, it is important to know that a big part of low light performance comes from the lens.
The opening of your lens relates to the amount of light that hits the camera sensor. With other words the bigger your aperture the more light your camera will capture. If you do a lot of low light photography it’s a good idea to invest in a lens with an aperture of at least f/2.8 or lower.
Good, cheap lenses for low light photography you find in my Best travel lenses post.
Another big factor of your camera’s low light performance is the shutter speed. The lower your shutter speed the more light will be captured by the camera.
For photo’s of slow-moving objects I would suggest a shutter of 1/50 or faster and for faster-moving subjects 1/100 or faster. If you put your camera on a tripod for landscapes you can use a shutter as low as you want.
If you are making videos at night you can use a low shutter but always make sure you use the 180 degrees shutter speed rule.
The best low light cameras of 2021
At this moment there is one camera that beats all the competition. This camera is the Sony A7s. Both the Mark I and Mark II of this camera have an outstanding low light performance!
There is no question that at the time of writing this post this is the best low light camera for its price category. The ISO of this camera goes all the way up to 400000 while most other cameras have a maximum ISO of 5000.
The camera is full frame and has a 12mp full frame sensor. The Sony a7s mark I can film in full HD (1080p) and the Sony a7s II captures movies in 4K!
I love this camera because it gives you all the freedom you need in low light. With this camera, you never have to think about light. It’s so good that the camera can see more than your own eyes.
There is even this video of the camera making movies only using the light of the moon (and it looks amazing)!
More low light camera’s
Sony A6000 series
Although the Sony a6000 is a crop sensor lens it still performs really well in low light. It has an iso range from 100-25600 (expandable to 51200). The Sony a6000 has a 24 MP APS-C CMOS sensor. This camera takes beautiful pictures and has some of the following specs:
- Hybrid AF with 179-point focal plane phase-detection and 25 contrast detect points
- Up to 11 FPS continuous shooting
- 3-inch tilting LCD with 921,000 dots
Combine this camera with a fast lens and you will have a high-quality night camera.
This is the camera best low light camera available performance wise. It has an ISO that goes all the way up to 3,280,000 (although the images taken with this ISO are mostly unusable).
This camera has a 20.8 MP sensor and the ability to shoot at speeds of up to 14 FPS. The only downside about this camera is its price tag. It comes at a price of around $6000 USD.
Some specs of this low light camera:
- 20.8MP FX-Format CMOS Sensor
- EXPEED 5 Image Processor
- 3.2″ 2.36m-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor
- 4K UHD Video Recording at 30 fps. CompactFlash (CF) (Type I, compliant with UDMA) XQD Type Memory
- Multi-CAM 20K 153-Point AF System
- Native ISO 102400, Extend to ISO 3280000
- 12 fps Shooting for 200 Shots with AE/AF
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Maybe not the best ISO performer on this list but still a great low light camera if it’s used in the right way.
This camera is on the list because it’s a pretty affordable camera. With a price of around $2100 at the time of writing this. Some specs of this low light camera:
- A 22MP full frame CMOS sensor
- 6 frames per second continuous shooting
- 61-point AF system. Image type: JPEG, RAW (14-bit Canon original), RAW + JPEG simultaneous recording enabled
- ISO 100 – 25600 range with 50 – 102,800 expansion
- 1080p HD video recording with manual controls
How to edit low light Pictures
I always use Adobe Lightroom to edit my pictures. It’s a paid program but they do offer a free trial for one month if you want to try it out. There are more photo editing tools available but I think Lightroom is the best.
In Lightroom select the photo you want to edit and switch to developing mode. First tweak the “general settings”, after that you can navigate to detail. Here you will find a Noise Reduction option. Play with these settings until you are happy with the results.
How to edit low light Video
Editing low light video is not much different than editing photos. In Adobe premiere pro they now added the option to correct your footage inside their program. However, if your video has a lot of noise there is a plugin for Adobe called Red giant Denoiser. This is a pretty expensive plugin but really worth the money if you can afford it.
The Art of Astrophotography
Did you know that you don’t need a special camera to make beautiful photographs of the Milkyway, stars and even the moon? Since the stars move slowly you can have a long shutter speed all the way up to 30 seconds. You can use every camera to do this as long as you have a sturdy tripod with you. Here are some quick tips to get you started with astrophotography:
A tripod wins the race
I tried to photograph the stars from a rock or backpack when I first started astrophotography. I quickly realized that this is not the way to go, it takes a lot of unnecessary time and effort to set up. I bought a tripod and it made my life a lot easier! You have more freedom to frame your shot and place the tripod and camera everywhere you want.
Here is a cheap tripod I always use and it’s great to travel with!
The world is turning and that’s why stars will move in your shot. There is a rule in astrophotography called the rule of 600. You can follow this rule to prevent star trails in your photo if you don’t want them.
to ‘eliminate’ star trails the exposure time in seconds should be 600 divided by the focal length of the lens you are using. If you are using a 20mm lens you could go to 30 seconds shutter speed, a 300mm lens could go to 2 seconds.
Shoot, frame, shoot again
Just like your first pancake most times, your first shot will not be the best one. Astrophotography is a process of trial and error. Make a shot have a look and frame your shot again. It will take you some shots before you are happy with the result.
Low light photography is awesome and everyone can and should do it! Some cameras are better than others but in the end, it all comes down to who takes the picture and not the equipment they use.
Try out and experiment. Send me your favorite low light shots and maybe I will use them in my posts!
What is your favorite low light camera?