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Top 21 Best Low Light Photography Cameras 2019

Here are the cameras, we think, are the best you can currently buy for low light photography.

|  Nikon Tough TG-6 in Digital SLRs
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Tunnel

Low Light Photo In A Tunnel By Joshua Waller. 

 

Cameras designed to be great at low light photography have a wide range of uses. Do you want to take photos of the night sky, stars, or night scenes? Or, perhaps you want to capture photos in small, indoor venues where the lighting is poor, or you might want to shoot underwater where the light levels drop dramatically as you descend into the depths of the ocean... In all of these situations, a camera that performs well in low light is what you're going to need.

For low light photography, you need a camera with a large sensor and bright lens (f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8). The latest sensor technology such as BSI CMOS sensors give an advantage here as do cameras that can handle noise well. 

Low-light is also going to lengthen shutter speeds so if you don't want to increase the ISO speed to reduce exposure times, image stabilisation will help, either in the form of lens-based optical image stabilisation (OIS) or sensor-based image stabilisation (and in some cases, you get both). 

If you want to freeze motion, then you'll need a fast shutter speed, a higher ISO setting and the fastest lens you have (or can afford). 

With all of this in mind, we've gone through our reviews to find you the best cameras for low light photography. To gauge this, we looked at the highest usable ISO speed where images still show good colour reproduction, with good colour saturation, reasonable levels of detail and reasonable levels of noise.

Because we've taken test shots in controlled lighting conditions, we're able to compare one cameras results to another. Please use this as a guide as to what the highest ISO speed is with good results from each camera, but also make sure you have a look at the full reviews to see if the noise performance shown is what you're looking for, as your requirements may vary. 

The below list is split into categories so you can easily navigate it. The categories are Full Frame Cameras, APS-C Cameras, Micro Four Thirds, Serious Compacts and Waterproof Compacts


 

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Best Full-Frame Cameras

These cameras all feature a Full-Frame sized sensor, which is the same size as 35mm film, giving a shallow depth of field, and often a very wide ISO range which is useful for low light photography.

 

Sony Alpha A7S Mark II

Sony Alpha A7S II (3)
 

  • Sensor: 12mp Full-Frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO50 up to ISO409,600 (Native ISO100 to ISO102,400)
  • Image Stabilisation: In-camera image stabilisation that works with some lenses with IS (see below)

In our review, we found that noise is very well controlled from the lower ISO settings and, impressively, detail can be found in images up to ISO25600. However, detail drops at ISO51200, as noise increases and colour saturation is reduced. ISO102400 can still produce usable images, particularly if using them on the web, however, the higher ISO settings of 204800 and 409600 are probably best avoided.

There are noise reduction options of Off, Low and Normal, with Normal being the default setting.

When using E mount and A mount lenses with OSS (Optical Steady Shot) image stabilisation the camera will compensate for 3 directions, with 2 compensated with the lens. When using a standard lens without OSS, the sensor will be using for image stabilisation, using the 5-axis sensor stabilisation system.

Read Our Sony Alpha A7S Mark II Full Review 

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Sony Alpha 7S II ISO test images

 

 

Sony Alpha A7R III

Sony Alpha A7R II (4)
 

  • Sensor: 42.4-megapixel Full-frame BSI CMOS sensor
  • ISO100 - ISO32000, expands to ISO50 to ISO102400
  • Image Stabilisation: 5-axis in-body image stabilisation

The camera's built-in image stabilisation system does a good job of keeping shots sharp even with slower shutter speeds and by using a backlit CMOS sensor, Sony has managed to reduce noise levels when compared with previous models. 

For lower light situations, ISO3200 to ISO6400 provide good results, although noise increases slightly and detail is reduced. At ISO12800 and ISO25600, noise levels become stronger and we would recommend avoiding these settings if possible, although results may still be useful if resized and used on the web. ISO51200 and above is best avoided as noise is high, and detail is low, particularly at ISO102400.

For the lowest noise and best detail possible we would recommend using ISO50 to ISO3200 as images have low levels of noise and good levels of detail.

There are noise reduction options of Off, Low and Normal, with Normal being the default setting.

Another factor that is important with such a high-resolution sensor (as we see in this camera) is shutter vibration, and to combat this Sony has developed a shutter system with no vibration and reduced noise. In addition to this, in order to get sharp results, the camera's built-in 5-axis image stabilisation system moves the sensor to ensure shots are sharp and detailed even when shooting hand-held. 

Read Our Sony Alpha A7R III Full Review 

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Sony Alpha 7R Mark III ISO test images

 

 

Sony Alpha A9

Sony Alpha A9 (19)
 

  • Sensor: 24.2MP Stacked Exmor RS Full-Frame BSI CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO range 100-51,200 with the mechanical shutter (expands to 50-204,800), ISO range 100-25,600 with the electronic shutter
  • In-camera 5 axis sensor-shift image stabilisation

The lower pixel count on the full frame sensor does suggest that noise may be well controlled and on test, this was proven to be true with images, essentially, being noise-free up to around ISO 800, after which detail begins to suffer and by ISO 6400 results are becoming quite mushy. Higher ISO values are not recommended unless they are the only way to get the image desired.

As for the 5-axis image stabilisation built into the camera, it is claimed to offer up to 5 stops advantage. However, the best we were able to achieve was 4 stops, but within that limitation, the system did the job very well, and will also help with video recording.

Read Our Sony Alpha A9 Review 

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Sony Alpha 9 (ILCE-9) ISO test images

 

Nikon Z6 

Nikon Z6

 

  • Sensor: 24.5mp BSI CMOS sensor
  • ISO100 - ISO51200 (extends to ISO50 and ISO204800)
  • In-camera 5 axis sensor-shift image stabilisation

The Z6 has a wide ISO range, from ISO100 to ISO51200, which can be extended down to ISO50 (Low 1), and up to ISO2048000 (Hi 2). Noise performance is very good, with usable results up to ISO6400, and even ISO12800. Noise levels increase at ISO25600, and detail drops more noticeably. Colour saturation remains good, even up to ISO51200. ISO102400 shows stronger noise, and colour saturation drops off, so we'd generally recommend avoiding this setting. Noise becomes excessive at ISO204800. Noise reduction options available are Off, Low, Normal, and High. 

The camera has a 5-axis sensor-based image stabilisation system, that works with Z mount lenses, but also works when you use a Nikon F lens with VR, with the FTZ adapter, so that you can benefit from both image stabilisation systems. The system is said to give up to 5-stops of image stabilisation.

Read Our Nikon Z6 Review 

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Nikon Z6 ISO test images

 

 

Nikon D850

Nikon D850 (1)
 

  • Sensor: 45.7mp Full-Frame BSI CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO64-ISO25600, extended: ISO32-ISO102400
  • Lens-based optical image stabilisation

Shooting with a 45.7mp camera makes it easy to spot any errors made in focus or errors caused by using a shutter speed that is too slow, resulting in image blur. We'd recommend the use of a lens with VR (Vibration Reduction) image stabilisation, or high-quality prime lenses to get the best out of the camera, and it's also important to be aware of your own shooting style, as care may need to be taken to improve your shooting technique to get the best out of the camera.

For the lowest noise and best detail possible we would recommend using ISO64 to ISO3200, as images have low levels of noise and good levels of detail. Noise is extremely low and doesn't really begin to show up until you reach ISO6400 where detail starts to reduce. However, for low light situations, ISO6400 to ISO12800 still provide good results. 

Even when you reach ISO25600, the camera still produces usable results, with good noise control (depending on your intended use).  At ISO51200, noise levels become strong and we would recommend avoiding this setting if possible as colour saturation drops off, although results may still be useful if resized and used on the web. ISO102400 is best avoided as noise is at its highest high. ISO32 is also available but it shows lower dynamic range. 

Noise reduction options available are: Off, Low, Normal, and High. We took photos using the default setting of Normal, and users of previous Nikon DSLRs may want to reduce this to Low, as the default setting has quite strong noise reduction.

When compared to the Nikon D810, the D850 gives improved noise performance while also giving an increased resolution. The D850 also offers a similar performance to the Sony Alpha A7R Mark II which too has a full-frame high-resolution BSI CMOS sensor.

Overall, thanks to the new BSI CMOS sensor, noise performance is excellent, giving you have a wide ISO range, unlike some high-resolution competitors, such as the Canon EOS 5DS/R with its limited ISO range. The noise performance is an improvement over the Nikon D810, with cleaner results straight from the camera, giving a higher usable ISO range, whilst also offering an increased resolution.

The camera will, however, show any weaknesses in your photography technique, whether weak lenses, slow shutter speeds, or shaky hands. You may have to be prepared to improve your technique or possibly your lens collection, with the best performance possible with prime lenses. Image stabilised lenses are definitely recommended, particularly if you want to record video without a tripod. 

Read Our Nikon D850 Full Review 

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Nikon D850 ISO test images

 

 

Nikon D5

Nikon D5  (6)

 

  • Sensor: 20mp Full-Frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO100 to ISO102400, extends further to ISO3,280,000 (Hi 5)
  • Lens-based optical image stabilisation

The Nikon D5 is Nikon's top of the range high-speed professional Digital SLR that has an ISO speed that goes all the way up to 3.2million and it definitely gives better noise performance than the Nikon D4s, particularly at ISO12800 and ISO25600.

At ISO51200, there is better control of chroma (coloured) noise compared to the D4s, and results are still good. At ISO102400 colour starts to drop off as noise increases, and it's at this ISO speed that you'd most likely want to process the image further or avoid this setting.

ISO204800 (Hi 1) may provide usable results if further processing is applied, or the images are resized for use on the web, but above this ISO setting, at ISO409600 (Hi 2) and above, noise becomes very strong, colour saturation drops and noise becomes dominant and quite unpleasant. Something interesting to note is that bright whites still come through fairly well even up to Hi 3 which may be useful for black and white surveillance photography. 

Noise performance from the Nikon D5 is better than the Canon EOS 6D5D Mark III1D XLeica SLSony Alpha A7 II, and A7R II. There are also High ISO NR options of Off, Low, Normal, High, with Normal being the default setting. 

Without a doubt, the Nikon D5 has some of the best noise performance we've seen from any camera, and image quality is excellent.

Read Our Nikon D5 Full Review 

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Nikon D5 ISO test images

 

 

Canon EOS 1DX II 

EOS 1D X Mark II
 

  • Sensor: 20mp Full-Frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO100 to 51200, expands to ISO50 up to ISO409600
  • Lens-based optical image stabilisation

The Canon's ISO range goes from ISO50 (Extended), all the way to ISO409600 (Extended). We took the below shots with the default noise reduction settings, and auto white balance set to "White" results. High ISO speed NR settings are Disable (off), low, standard (default), and high. 

The big question is how the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II performs compared to the Nikon D5 for noise at higher ISO speeds. From ISO50 to ISO3200 there's not much difference between the two cameras. At ISO6400, there's a slight difference, with stronger noise reduction on the Nikon D5, which results in slightly more detail in the Canon image. At ISO12800, there's a slight drop in colour saturation on the Canon, with slightly coarser (larger) noise visible, compared to the D5 image. This is continued at ISO25600 with the Nikon D5 producing an image with less noise that is finer and images have better colour saturation. At ISO51200 noise increases for both cameras, and colour saturation drops. At ISO102400 noise gets a little uglier on the Canon, but colour saturation remains quite good, whereas it suffers on the D5, particularly the darker colours. ISO102400 may still be usable on the Canon but above this noise becomes quite ugly and it'd be best to avoid using an ISO setting above ISO102400. ISO204800 looks better on the Nikon D5 and whilst you wouldn't want to use ISO409600 on either camera, the results from the Nikon D5 are better with more definition in details. 

Ultimately, both cameras produce results that can be used happily up to ISO25600, or processed further at higher ISO settings, with reasonable fairly results up to ISO102400. Processing the raw files, or resizing images for use on the web would also reduce noise levels.

The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II performs exceptionally well, delivering excellent image quality with excellent noise performance.

Read Our Canon EOS 1DX II Full Review 

 

Canon EOS 1D X Mark II ISO test images

 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV 

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV (19)
 

  • Sensor: 30mp Full-Frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO50-102400 (ISO100 to ISO32000 before expansion)
  • Lens-based optical image stabilisation

Noise performance is very good between ISO100 until ISO6400 when some noise starts to appear. ISO25600 is most likely the highest ISO setting you'll want to use without applying further processing to images, as noise becomes much stronger at ISO51200, and at this setting, you're best resizing the image or converting to black and white (or both). The ISO speed goes up to ISO102400, and this setting is best avoided. At the lowest ISO setting of ISO50, dynamic range is reduced.

Noise performance is similar to the Canon EOS 5D Mark III, although, at higher ISO settings, including ISO25600, there is less chroma noise (coloured patches of colour) in the 5D Mark IV images. Processing 5D Mark III raw images with the latest version of Adobe Camera Raw is likely to get equally good results. 

Noise performance at ISO25600 is better than the 36 megapixel Nikon D810, and Pentax K-1, and very similar to the 42 megapixel Sony A7R Mark II (which goes to show the benefits of BSI CMOS sensors). 

Noise reduction options are: Off, Low, Standard, High, and if you're shooting JPEG only, then there is a Multi-shot Noise Reduction option. We took these shots with "High ISO speed NR" set to Standard, which is the default option.

Read Our Canon EOS 5D Mark IV Full Review 

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Canon EOS 5D Mark IV ISO test images

 

Budget Full Frame Camera: Canon EOS 6D 

Canon Eos 6d Dslr Large (6)
 

  • Sensor: 20mp Full-Frame CMOS sensor
  • ISO Range: ISO100 - ISO25600, expands to ISO50 - ISO102400
  • Lens-based optical image stabilisation

With a 20.2 megapixel sensor, the Canon EOS 6D offers ISO50 to ISO102400 when using the ISO expansion feature.

Images are virtually noise free at ISO50, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600, with a very slight increase in chroma noise at ISO3200. There is also a very slight loss of detail at ISO3200. There is a more noticeable increase in noise at ISO6400, with the slight loss of detail again, however, images are still very impressive. At ISO12800 the camera does a good job of controlling the noise, with just a slight increase again, although detail does suffer. At ISO25600 noise becomes quite dominant, particularly in darker colours. At ISO51200 noise is more noticeable again as red, green and blue dots and patches start to appear. Noise gets quite ugly at ISO102400, and it's best to avoid this setting.

Read Our Canon EOS 6D Full Review 

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Canon EOS 6D ISO test images

 

To find more Full-Frame Cameras, have a look at our 'Top 12 Best Full-Frame Digital SLRs' list.

 


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