Best cameras for low light photography in 2023

Fujifilm X-T4 is arguably one of the best cameras for low light photography
(Image credit: Diana Jarvis)

Even with one of the best cameras for low light photography, taking pictures in the dark is notoriously difficult, especially if you aren't an experienced astrophotographer.

After all, cameras are made to capture and record light, so if there is less light, the camera has a harder time doing its job. But as technology has advanced, we've seen digital cameras shine in recent years producing some absolutely incredible results even on the darkest days, particularly when paired with the best lenses for astrophotography

When deciding whether or not to buy one of the best cameras for low light photography, there are a few factors you should consider. You may also want to check out our guide to the best cameras for astrophotography.


Best cameras for low light photography in 2023

Why you can trust Space Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Nikon Z6 II

One of our review images of the Nikon Z6 II taken during testing. (Image credit: Future)
Best camera for low light photography overall, the Z6 II has great low light autofocusing and exposure metering

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 24.5
Lens mount: Nikon Z
ISO Range: 100-51,200 (expandable 50-204,800)
Stabilization: 5-axis sensor-shift

Reasons to buy

+
5 stops of image stabilization in-body 
+
Great range of Z-mount lenses perfect for low light 
+
Good value for money, especially for enthusiasts 

Reasons to avoid

-
ISO range isn't the widest in its class 
-
Not enough difference to upgrade from the Nikon Z6
-
Some functionality quirks need addressing

Part of the issue when shooting in low light is the ability to use autofocus, which hunts and struggles when there's less light. Fortunately, the Z6 II (and original Z6) has one of the best autofocus and exposure metering systems of any camera and can autofocus in the dark down to -6EV.

In our review of the Nikon Z6 II, we liked that the camera can take advantage of its eye-detection autofocus and animal-detection autofocus which automatically tracks focus on subjects without any correction from the photographer. This makes it much easier to capture sharp portraits and images of animals, whether indoors or outside during the twilight hours.

Its ISO handling is also impressive, with minimal image noise in still images. That's all thanks to using the same image sensor as its more expensive pro model the Z7 II (see our review of the Z7 II) but with a drop in resolution, which can help alleviate noise. The camera can handle any type of low light shooting with a native ISO range of 51,200 and it can be increased to 204,800, even though it doesn't quite have the highest ISO range in its class.

Longer shutter speeds are required to capture valuable light for photos and video, which makes maintaining steady shots in low light challenging. Still, the Z6 II's 5-axis in-body image stabilization provides up to five stops of stabilization. This also applies to older F-mount lenses that were first made for Nikon DSLR camera bodies, giving non-stabilized lenses that are utilized with the FTZ lens mount adapter up to 3-axis stabilization for steadier shots.


Nikon Z7 II on a tripod with a lens attached

The Nikon Z7 II photographed on a tripod for our review (Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
An excellent all rounder that's especially good for astro and low light photography.

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 45.8 megapixels
Lens Mount: Nikon Z
ISO Range: ISO 64 - 25600( expands to 32 - 102400)
Stabilization: 5-axis sensor-shift Image Stabilization

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent ISO handling
+
Electronic view finder is excellent

Reasons to avoid

-
Will price beginners out
-
Overboard if you're only shooting astro

Following on from the above Z6 II, here we have the Z7 II. Although it's visually identical to the Nikon Z6 II, we noticed some differences in terms of image quality and functionality when we reviewed the Z7 II.

One of the notable improvements of the Z7 II is the dual memory card slots. You can either swap between cards to save your images, or utilize one as a backup; in this case, all of your images are saved to both cards so that, should one become corrupt, you would still have all of your shots stored on the other one, providing you with greater peace of mind when shooting.

The other obvious difference is the 45.7MP vs the 24.5 megapixels of the Z6 II, giving absolutely mind-blowing resolution. While this isn't crucial for excellent astro shots, you may benefit from the extra megapixels if you're going to be producing large prints or shooting other styles of photography, such as landscape, or shooting long lens wildlife photos where stunning detail makes all the difference.


Sony A7S III

Sony A7S III camera body (Image credit: Sony)

Sony a7S III

Best for low light video recording for filmmakers and online content creators

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 12.1
Lens mount: Sony E
ISO Range: 80-102,400 (expandable 40-409,600)
Stabilization: 5-axis sensor-shift

Reasons to buy

+
High-end video resolution and performance 
+
Best ISO handling in its class 

Reasons to avoid

-
Low resolution stills compared to others 
-
Relatively expensive if not into video

Released back in 2020, the Sony a7S III is an incredible mirrorless camera and ideal for low light shooting. Its main aim is to please the videographers and filmmakers who want a powerful, compact mirrorless camera that records 4K video at 120FPS for ultra-slow motion. With a 16-bit RAW HDMI output and simultaneous in-camera recording, it also keeps up with professional video workflows.

It captures 12.1MP stills photographs, which is very low resolution compared to the latest mirrorless cameras, but it doesn't claim to be a stills-oriented camera either. However, it does include 5-axis in-body image stabilization that steadies frames up to a fantastic 5.5 stops for sharper handheld low light photos and smoother video recording.

The maximum expandable ISO range of 40 - 409,600 is, quite frankly, astounding. This makes this camera perfect for low light shooting as users can ramp up the ISO sensitivity, making the most of the light available without having to alter their aperture or shutter speed too much to compensate. With this and the hybrid autofocusing technology of the a7S III, which can work in low light conditions as low as -6EV, you can take steady, sharp pictures in any situation.

Thanks to the camera's wide 15-stop dynamic range, RAW images and video can be pushed even further in post-production, capturing more detail and data in scenes with extreme contrasts in brightness — for example, a dimly lit portrait on the street next to bright street lights.


Fujifilm X-T4

The Fujifilm X-T4 photographed for our review (Image credit: Future)
Best for beginner astrophotographers, the X-T4 perfectly combines simplicity with top notch technology

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 26MP
Lens mount: X-mount
ISO Range: 160-12800 (with 80–51200 extended output)
Stabilization: 6 stops

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent ISO range
+
Articulating screen

Reasons to avoid

-
Hard to see controls in the dark
-
No battery charger, whole camera needs to be plugged in

The X-T4 is an excellent option for low light shooting and astrophotography enthusiasts. The vari-angle screen makes composing shots much more comfortable than if it only had a tilt screen, particularly if you're shooting in portrait orientation.

The overall stylish look and feel of the camera emulates a classic film camera, but the body-mounted dial controls make it easier to use in the dark — as long as you can remember which dial controls what function. The 26.1MP APS-C sensor produces excellent image quality, and there is a wide choice of X-mount lenses that fit the X-T4s, adding even more versatility.

The Fujifilm X-T4 uses the NP-W235 battery and has a CIPA rating of around 500 shots per charge. During our hands-on Fujifilm X-T4 review, we found this can be much higher when shooting in the daytime but, as expected, longer nighttime exposures drain the battery much quicker, so that's something to take into consideration. The main drawback to this battery type is that charging requires plugging in the entire camera rather than just the battery, so make sure you're completely charged before heading out on your shooting session.

The X-T4 comes with 6.5 stops of in-body image stabilization (something the X-T30 II is lacking), excellent low light performance, and a high-speed processing engine, ideal for action or sports photography as well as astro.


A side profile of the Nikon D850

One of our review images of the Nikon D850 photographed during testing (Image credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes)
Possibly the best DSLR for low light photography and videography with features that can match or outcompete contemporary mirrorless models

Specifications

Type: DSLR
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 45.7
Lens mount: Nikon F
ISO Range: 64-25,600 (expandable 32-102,400)
Stabilization: None

Reasons to buy

+
Huge stills resolution with excellent cropping options 
+
Outstanding ISO range for a DSLR 

Reasons to avoid

-
DSLRs are being phased out 
-
Not as good at low light focusing as its mirrorless counterpart 

The D850 is a real workhorse of a camera and is built to last in a variety of environments, making it heavily favored by professionals. It is completely weather-sealed and built of a magnesium alloy, making it both durable and lightweight. Although it's loved by the pros, it's equally as useful in the hands of an enthusiast as it has a great ISO range (up to 102,400) — especially considering it's now over five years old. The full frame BSI CMOS sensor handles ISO noise well thanks to the processing ability of the EXPEED 5 image processor — take a look at our Nikon D850 review for our full thoughts on this camera.

Sadly, because it's a DSLR there's no in-body image stabilization, but F-mount lenses can offer up to 4.5 stops of stabilization (which Nikon calls Vibration Reduction) to steady shots in low light. You can choose from a series of stills when shooting in continuous burst mode that captures up to 9FPS, which may not sound like much but when you consider each image is 45.7MP — that's a serious amount of data capture. It keeps up with the competition in terms of video as well, providing 4K30p video recording with zebra stripes that help highlight potential exposure issues in certain areas.

It's also well equipped for low light video as it autofocuses down to -4EV with a Multi-CAM 20K autofocus sensor module with TTL phase detection and 153 focus points to choose from. When low light scenes require a little more fill light, a hot shoe and PC sync connector are located on the body for connecting with on- and off-camera lighting. Face-priority autofocus enables easier autofocusing on portrait subjects, without the need to switch to manual.


Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III camera (Image credit: Canon)

Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III

Best compact camera for low light — if you want to keep it simple and small, this is a great pick

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: APS-C
Megapixels: 24.2
Lens mount: N/A
ISO Range: 100-25,600
Stabilization: Four stops

Reasons to buy

+
In-body stabilization 
+
Raw file shooting  

Reasons to avoid

-
Fixed lens design 
-
A little costly for a point-and-shoot  

Generally, compact cameras (cameras with fixed lenses) aren't all that good for low light photography because their image sensors are small and can't handle image noise very well. However, Canon have alleviated this problem by releasing the PowerShot G1 X Mark III, which has a 24.2MP APS-C picture sensor — similar to a DSLR.

It can also shoot RAW files, which makes it easier to edit your images by removing noise and enhancing exposure. Where it doesn't quite keep up with modern DSLRs though, is that it only shoots full HD 1080 60p video. However, when you take into account that this camera is intended for beginners who are wanting to enhance their skill set, this is more than enough to start producing video content if required. When shooting movies the 5-axis Advanced Dynamic IS keeps things smooth for professional-looking movie quality.

The all-in-one design centers on the fixed lens, which zooms from a wide 15mm to 45mm in focal length for 3x optical zoom. Its electronic viewfinder helps photographers and video shooters to see in the dark as they can ramp up the perceived brightness of low light scenes. The camera benefits from four stops of image stabilization to steady the scene and keep photos sharp when shooting in low light and at longer handheld exposure times. The Dual Pixel CMOS AF provides quick and reliable focusing, and the 7FPS continuous shooting gives you a lot of options to choose from.


front view of the sony a7r iv

The Sony A7R IV photographed during testing for our review (Image credit: Kimberley Lane)
A great all-rounder The A7R IV is in a class of its own and gives fantastic detail even in the darkest shadows

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Full frame
Megapixels: 61
Lens mount: Sony E
ISO Range: 100-32,000 (expanded 50-102,400)
Stabilization: In body OSS

Reasons to buy

+
In-body Optical Steady Shot
+
Awe inspiring image quality

Reasons to avoid

-
An expensive camera
-
Huge RAW files

Now over three years old, the Sony A7R IV is similar to the A7R III (also on this list), but it does have some enhancements, with a price tag to match.

With a whopping 61-megapixel resolution, the Sony A7R IV can bring out exceptional detail, even in the darkest shadows. It is the highest-resolution full-frame camera on the market and shoots 4K max video resolution.

It performs remarkably well in low light, making it a fantastic option for astrophotographers. During our Sony A7r IV review, we found that noise only started to creep in after pushing the ISO up to ISO 6400. The battery life is good too, we tested Sony's claim of 670 shots while using the rear screen. We took over 2000 shots from a full charge, and the battery still had 65% power. Based on that, we think you would be able to get even more than what Sony claim — although longer shutter speeds for astrophotography will use up more battery power.

Even though the 7.5cm screen is of excellent quality, the one thing that might improve this camera for astrophotography is if the screen was fully articulating, which would be useful if you're shooting in portrait orientation.

Due to the enormous image sizes, we wouldn't recommend this camera for sports or action photography because of the buffer lag. However, you can't go wrong with this camera for astrophotography, low-light portraiture, and landscape photography.


Panasonic LX100 II

Panasonic LX100 II camera (Image credit: Panasonic)

Panasonic LX100 II

The best budget friendly option the LX100 II is a premium compact camera

Specifications

Type: Compact
Sensor: Micro four-thirds
Megapixels: 17
Lens mount: N/A
ISO Range: 200 - 25,600 (expandable 100 - 51,200)
Stabilization: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Post focus refocusing feature 
+
Compact body with large MFT sensor 

Reasons to avoid

-
Competitors beat these specs 
-
Fixed lens means restricted use 

It is billed as a high-end compact camera with a big micro four-thirds image sensor that can record 17MP still images and 4K 30p videos. Paired with the quick f/1.7-2.8 24-75mm Leica DC Vario-Summilux lens, this camera is great in low light conditions.

The micro four-thirds sensor takes a real step up in low light ability compared with a standard compact camera's 1-inch sensor, capturing more detail and light to render decent exposures. The lens's wide aperture range enables the camera to capture as much light as possible while maintaining shorter shutter speeds, enabling handheld low-light shooting in darker environments.

With controls on the top of the camera resembling an SLR or rangefinder camera and separate dials for shutter speed and exposure correction, this compact camera offers plenty of creative control over imaging.

The LX100 II has another unique feature up its sleeve in the form of post focus. Post focus allows photographers to choose the focus point (within reason) in a photo after the image has been taken. This is a huge advantage for low light photography where autofocus notoriously struggles with nailing focus, and even manual focusing isn’t ideal since it's hard to see the subject. As a result, if the focus point is misplaced, the photographer can adjust it afterwards to capture the exact shot without missing the action.


Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV sat on a table

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV photographed during testing for our review (Image credit: Jacob Little)
Best micro four thirds camera, This Olympus is an excellent MFT that captures gorgeously detailed stills

Specifications

Type: Mirrorless
Sensor: Micro four thirds
Megapixels: 20.3
Lens mount: Micro four thirds
ISO Range: 80 - 25,600
Stabilization: 5-axis

Reasons to buy

+
Incredible stills resolution for MFT sensor 
+
Lightweight and portable 
+
Comprehensive 5-axis IBIS 

Reasons to avoid

-
Plastic construction feels a little cheap 

The newest in this line of mirrorless MFT (micro four thirds) cameras from Olympus pushes technology to what seems like its absolute limits by improving image sensor detail while maintaining an interchangeable lens system that benefits amateurs and enthusiasts who want the option to expand their kit when needed.

When we reviewed the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV we found the in-body image stabilization to be truly outstanding. It operates over a 5-axis range and provides an equivalent of 4.5 stops of optical stabilization, which is impressive given the camera's price. A fast 8.7FPS burst speed is more than capable of capturing the action as it unfolds, giving low light shooters who are sometimes disappointed with single-shot mode shooting due to camera shake blur, plenty of extra chances to nail the shot. 

The electronic viewfinder is big and bright with 2.36 million dots for a detailed display, and the rear screen is a tiltable 3-inch touchscreen that allows the photographer to see the screen easily at more awkward shooting angles. It can even flip down 180 degrees for selfie shooting.

Being an inexpensive MFT camera does have its limits though, and the autofocus detection range is where it suffers. Compared to the much more expensive mirrorless models on this list, this camera can only manage -2EV autofocus range, but the ISO range is still impressive topping out at 25,600.


How we test the best camera for low light photography

In order to guarantee you're getting honest, up-to-date recommendations on the best cameras to buy here at Space.com we make sure to put every camera through a rigorous review to fully test each product. Each camera is reviewed based on a multitude of aspects, from its construction and design, to how well it functions as an optical instrument and its performance in the field.

Each camera is carefully tested by either our expert staff or knowledgeable freelance contributors who know their subject areas in depth. This ensures fair reviewing is backed by personal, hands-on experience with each camera and is judged based on its price point, class and destined use. For example, comparing a 60MP full-frame mirrorless camera to a sleek little crop-sensor DSLR wouldn't be appropriate, though each camera might be the best performing product in its own class.

We look at how easy each camera is to operate, whether it contains the latest up-to-date imaging technology, whether the cameras can shoot high-quality stills photos and high-resolution video and also make suggestions if a particular camera would benefit from any additional kit to give you the best viewing experience possible.

With complete editorial independence, Space.com are here to ensure you get the best buying advice on cameras, whether you should purchase an instrument or not, making our buying guides and reviews reliable and transparent.

Choosing one of the best cameras for low light photography: What to look for

The first step to finding the best camera for low light photography is to look for its ability to cope with light sensitivity, determined by its ISO range. The higher the ISO sensitivity, the better the camera will capture well-exposed images in dark scenes. However, higher ISOs also bring more noise into images. Therefore, a larger image sensor (preferably with slightly fewer megapixels) is preferred as it physically takes up more space and can capture more light.

RAW file shooting is also important because these image and video files have additional data that can be edited in post-processing software, boosting exposure and eliminating image noise.

Autofocusing helps maintain sharpness on a subject, but when things go dark autofocus systems in cameras can struggle. That's why looking at the lowest exposure value (EV) range is essential, as the lower the number, the better it will be at autofocusing in low light. It's what we look for in our best cameras for astrophotography too.

Other features include in-body image stabilization, which can steady stills photos and keep handheld exposures sharp without needing a tripod, or smooth out shaky video footage. In addition, finding a camera with a fast lens, (or an interchangeable lens system that offers wide aperture lenses) helps maximize light input through the image sensor. If you need lens advice, we have guides to the best lenses for astro, and the best zoom lenses.

Size, weight, compatibility, and ergonomics play a significant role in the choice you make to get your favorite low-light shooting companion, and we know price does too.  We've included a wide range of cameras so no matter your skill level or budget, there's something for you.

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Jason Parnell-Brookes
Channel Editor

Jason Parnell-Brookes is an award-winning photographer, educator and writer based in the UK. He won the Gold Prize award in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 beating over 90,000 other entrants and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a Masters graduate and has a wealth of academic and real-world experience in a variety of photographic disciplines from astrophotography and wildlife to fashion and portraiture. Now the Channel Editor for Cameras and Skywatching at Space.com his speciality is in low light optics and camera systems.

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