Do you shoot a lot in poorly lit places? Wondering what camera can take great photos in a low-light environment? I’ve got you covered. The list of cameras you see below is considered to be the best-performing shooter to be used in situations where lighting is scarce. It consists of multiple different types of cameras, from full-frame DSLR cameras to premium point-and-shoot cameras with a large one-inch sensor.
With specs and features on each and every camera varying infinitely, we can’t expect them all to perform the same as well in dim lighting conditions. There are several deciding factors that contribute to the camera’s overall performance for low-light photography, which include the sensor size, ISO range, and noise reduction capability. I’ll talk more about them in the lower portion of this post, but in general rule, cameras with bigger sensors tend to perform better in low-light situations.
DLSR cameras are also known to perform better than their mirrorless counterparts, thanks to their internal mirror system that helps reflect light. However, it doesn’t mean that you can’t take any good shots at night with a mirrorless camera. A number of mirrorless models, such as Sony Alpha A6300 and Olympus E-M1 MARK II, offer better than decent results in low light, especially if you use them with a wider and faster aperture lens that helps let in more light to reach the sensor.
Now that you know what you’re going to deal with, here are some of the best low-light cameras in the market right now. Do notice, though, that they’re by no means only intended for low-light photography. The idea is if they impress you in a setting where there isn’t much light, you can expect them to be a whole lot better in bright daylight.
Best Full Frame Cameras for Low Light Photography
Full frame cameras are those whose rectangle image sensor has the same size as the one used in film format, which is 35mm. They’re the best option if you want to be serious with low-light photography. Well, truth be told, they offer the best image quality in any condition, actually, be it in bright daylight or in indoor lighting. Two main issues that make people reluctant to choose it are its large and heavy form factor and also its intimidating price. The most budget-friendly full-format camera is sold for around $2,000, and that will get you the body only. Below are 5 full-frame cameras that perform spectacularly in low-light situations.
Sony Alpha A9
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- Mastered for professionals: 24.2MP Full-frame stacked CMOS sensor w/ integrated memory | Up to 20fps Blackout-free continuous shooting with 60 AF/AE tracking calculations per second | Silent, vibration-free, anti-distortion shutter up to 1/32,000 sec. | Up to ISO 204,800 w/ Wide dynamic range, 14-bit uncompressed RAW | Enhanced BIONZ X image processing engine w/ front end LSI and DRAM
- Evolved AI Autofocus with Real-time AF Tracking and Real-time Eye AF for human, animal and Touch Tracking for movie | Fast 693 phase-detection AF points wide 93% frame coverage | 5-axis in-body image stabilization, 5.5 step shutter speed advantage | Built-in High-speed transfer connectivity via 2.4/5GHz band Wi-Fi and file delivery for the professional's workflow with file transfer over SSL or TLS encryption (FTPS) for increased data security | Wireless PC Remote (tethered) shooting
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Sony A9 is a top-end mirrorless camera bringing the power of a 24MP full-frame stacked CMOS sensor capable of performing continuous burst shooting up to 20fps. It is aimed at competing with the professional grade and is highly likely going to break the bank. It’s steep pricing, of course, goes along with its superb performance in nearly all conditions. Whether you’re shooting with ample natural light or in between shadows, this camera can hardly turn out disappointing. With an extended ISO range of 50-204,800 and 693-point autofocus, it’s known to be able to lock its focus quickly, even when the surrounding light intensity is low.
Sony A9 has low light ISO of 3517. As if to emphasize its characteristics as Sony’s premium camera, it excels wonderfully in high-ISO noise reduction as well as fine-detail rendition. You can increase the camera sensitivity when shooting in low light without worrying about getting a muddy photo. Under ISO 2000, you will barely notice any significant noise. Even up to ISO 25,600, you will still likely gain some very clear shots. Higher than this, the quality of the image captured will start to drop. Noise will take up most of the frame, but images are still very much recognizable, with colors still accurately retained.
- 24.3MP full-frame CMOS sensor
- 39-point AF system (9 cross-type)
- ISO 100-6400 expandable up to 25,600
- 3.2 inch LCD with 921,000 dots
- Full 1080p HD video
In terms of value for money, it’s hard to beat what Nikon D600 has to offer. It’s arguably the best full-frame camera sold at an enthusiast-level price range, which is around $2,000. It’s still expensive for most people, but when you look at how other full-frame cameras can easily set you back three times the said price, it looks completely like a great bargain. Especially when this camera can match those pro-grade DSLRs on a performance basis. Armed with a new 24MP FX CMOS sensor, it has a sensitivity level ranging from ISO 100-12,800, which can be extended both ways to 50-25,600.
Throughout its native ISO range (100-6400), Nikon D600 has no problem churning out clean images with almost no visible noise both in broad daylight and low-light situations. It has a phase-detection AF system with 39 focus points, 9 of which are cross-type sensors. While it’s the same old AF system used on Nikon D7000, it’s none less able than the one that comes with its big brother, Nikon D800; both are blazing fast and accurate. At low ISO (100-800), this camera hardly shows any noise, even on the darker parts of the frame. Noise starts to show up at ISO 3200 and higher, with more of it occupying the shadow areas at ISO 6400.
- 36 MP AA filter less shake reduction sensor with APS C crop mode for compatibility with Pentax k mount lenses
- Hand Held Pixel Shift Resolution that allows 4 images to be complied into an superior image with increased color rendition and sharpness
- Engine Accelerometer for reduced image noise, faster focusing and increased image sharpness
- Magnesium Alloy, Weather Resistant body for every demanding situation
- Astro tracer extended exposure mode with reduced star trails
An even cheaper alternative to the budget full-frame DSLR, Nikon D600, is Pentax K-1. Obviously, it’s bound to come with a few compromises, such as limited options of lenses, fairly slow burst shooting, and no touchscreen. However, as far as low light performance is concerned, this camera can put its pricier competitors to shame. When extended, its sensitivity ranges from ISO 100-204,800; talking about overkill on a hobbyist camera! Its default setting, however, has the camera run at an Auto ISO of 3200 tops. Based on the independent test by DxO Mark, Pentax K-1 has low ISO, as high as 3280. That’s the highest ISO you can set before noise starts to take the better of your shot.
With Pentax K-1, you really don’t need to give a second thought about shooting at ISO 3200. Details and neutral colors are well preserved with very little to no visible image noise. Its high ISO noise processing is well executed, though in some cases, it may look a little harsh. You can see that its JPEG shots lack the biting detail compared to the RAW images. As for the autofocus, the camera offers a 33-point AF system with low-light sensitivity to EV-3. On paper, that would put it on the same level as Canon 5D Mark IV, but in reality, its AF is not the same as fast in low light. It’s not slow but just less suitable for action photography.
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
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- 30.4MP Full-Frame CMOS Sensor | DIGIC 6+ Image Processor
- 3.2" 1.62m-Dot Touchscreen LCD Monitor | DCI 4K Video at 30 fps; 8.8MP Still Grab
- 61-Point High Density Reticular AF | Native ISO 32000, Expanded to ISO 102400
- Dual Pixel RAW; AF Area Select Button | Dual Pixel CMOS AF and Movie Servo AF
With the third iteration of Canon’s renowned EOS 5D series camera getting considerably outdated, everybody was eager to welcome the new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV. Aside from a big leap in megapixels (from 22 to 30MP), there is little difference that puts this camera apart from its predecessors. Its ISO range is still retained from 100-32,000 but is expendable to 50-102,400. Despite having the same sensitivity rating, the 5D Mark IV has been infused with Canon’s latest noise-processing algorithm, enabling the camera to suppress the muddiness when set at high ISO. Another step-up worth mentioning is the inclusion of a DIGIC 6+ processor, giving it the much desired 61-point AF system only available in Canon 1D X Mark II, which costs almost twice its price.
The high resolution on the camera sensor might make you suspect that it’s going to capture more noise in the upper portion of the ISO range. Well, don’t. The new noise-processing algorithm works exactly like Canon claims. At ISO 800, the images it captures are completely free of noise. Kicking it up to ISO 2000, you will find the images still looking very natural with no sign of chroma noise at all. Based on the test done by DxO Mark, Canon EOS 5D Mark IV is capable of taking absolutely clean images up to ISO 2995. With the AF system sensitivity rated to EV-3, this camera is definitely one of the best options for low-light photography.
Rather than make it a replacement for the phenomenal D700, Nikon released the D800 as a separate package. You can easily guess which is superior, though. With three and a half years in between the two, Nikon D800 packs more horsepower at its core. The 36MP FX CMOS sensor and its EXPEED 3 image processor are a perfect combination to capture spectacular-looking images in virtually any situation. The camera’s native ISO range from 100-6,400 but can be extended to a whopping 50-25,600. It has the same autofocus system as the monstrous Nikon D4, which is Multi-Cam 3500FX 51-point AF with 15 cross-type sensors.
In bright daylight, the said AF system enables Nikon D800 to focus at a maximum aperture of f/8, which should help tremendously with wildlife photography. It works surprisingly well, too, in poor conditions, say, where the only available light is from the street light. You may need to put the subject in the center of the frame, though, because the center focus point is the most accurate. At all ISO levels, Nikon D800 produces remarkably excellent images. And when I say all, it includes the extended ISO 12,800 and 25,600. With how little noise is visible, it’s always safe to shoot up to ISO 3200 or even 6400. Just turn off the High ISO NR and Long Exposure NR in the menu, for both can soften the images. You’ll have better results processing the noise with dedicated software such as Lightroom.
Best Low Light Cameras with Cropped Sensor
Crop sensor cameras are those whose rectangle image sensor has been cropped from their outside edges. The amount of the cropped part varies with the manufacturer. This is then called a “crop factor.” Nikon crop sensor cameras have a 1.5x crop factor, while Canon is 1.3x and 1.6x, and Olympus is 2x. The smaller the crop factor, the better because you’re left with a larger sensor that can lead to better-quality images. They’re less able to capture images in low-light environments, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use them at all. The following are 5 crop sensor cameras that offer reliable performance in situations where the lighting is less than ideal.
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- Nikon D7500 DSLR Camera Body - 20.9MP DX-Format CMOS Sensor , EXPEED 5 Image Processor , 3.2 922k-Dot Tilting Touchscreen LCD , 4K UHD Video Recording at 30 fps ,Multi-CAM 3500FX II 51-Point AF System , Native ISO 51200, Expanded ISO 1,640,000 , 8 fps Shooting for Up to 100 Frames , Multi-CAM 3500FX II 51-Point AF System , SnapBridge Bluetooth and Wi-Fi , 180k-Pixel RGB Sensor and Group Area AF
- Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-140mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR Lens F-Mount Lens/DX Format 27-210mm (35mm Equivalent) Aperture Range f/3.5 to f/38 One Aspherical Element, One ED Element
- High-Power 420-800mm f/8.3 HD Manual Telephoto Lens + T-mount adapter for your Camera-A versatile lens for photographing distant subjects, the 420-800mm f/8.3 HD Telephoto Zoom features a convenient threaded T-mount for adapting to a wide variety of camera types. Its 4 elements, 2 groups optical design features a super HD multi-coating, and a lens hood is incorporated into the design, to suppress lens flare and ghosting
- The D7500 features a 20.9MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 5 image processor, this multimedia maven avails an 8 fps continuous shooting rate for up to 100 consecutive JPEGS, a native sensitivity range to ISO 51,200 that can be expanded up to ISO 1,640,000, and 4K UHD video and time-lapse recording capabilities.
If you have less than $2000 at your disposal, you’ll get away best with a budget cropped sensor DSLR like Nikon D7500. I can safely say that this camera is the best in its class, though have fewer megapixels than its predecessor, the D7200. The sensor it uses, however, mimics the pricier D500; so does the image processor, giving it an edge at high ISOs while offering faster continuous performance too. Overall, image quality is as terrific as you can expect from a Nikon camera. Color rendition is accurate, and you also have the option to customize it to your liking using its Picture Control.
In semiautomatic modes, the exposures are mostly correct thanks to the impressive dynamic range that covers details both in shadows and highlights. For landscape photography, where the scenes can be too contrasty, you can always count on its Active D-Lightning. Its native ISO ranges from 100-51,200, while DxO Mark notes its effective low-light ISO to be at 1,483, which is higher than even some full-frame sensor cameras. You’re still going to need a faster lens to get the quality image you want in a low-light situation, but the point is Nikon D7500 is the best low-light camera for under $1500. I always prefer to use photo-editing software to deal with the noise, but the camera also has in-body high-ISO noise processing options that you can set to low, normal, high, or turn off altogether.
Sony Alpha A6300
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- 24.3MP APS-C Exmor APS HD CMOS Sensor | BIONZ X Image Processor
- Tru-Finder 0.39" 1,440k-Dot OLED EVF | 3.0" 921k-Dot Xtra Fine Tilting LCD
- Full HD 1080p XAVC S Video at 24/60 fps | Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity with NFC
- Fast Hybrid AF & 179 Phase-Detect Points | Up to 11 fps Shooting and ISO 25600
For those who don’t feel like lugging around a cumbersome DSLR, Sony A6300 might be an interesting alternative. This mirrorless camera still has the advantage of having an interchangeable lens design with a great number of lens options, all the while keeping things compact and easily manageable. It also benefits from one of the fastest autofocus systems in the industry and 4K video capture is a great added bonus. Its
smoking-fast performance derives from the new 24MP APS-C sensor backed with a Bionz X processor. Its burst mode allows it to capture 11 frames in one second, and with its hybrid AF system, you’ll never gonna miss a shot.
DxO Mark has its effective ISO noted at 1437, but in reality, you can set it much higher than that and still get a very usable result. Obviously, there’s some post-production editing to be done, but the fact that you can shoot at high ISO with relatively low noise means Sony A6300 is a respectable camera for low-light photography. As I figured it out, artificial grain started to come out visibly at ISO 2000. Image quality showed a significant drop at ISO 8000 and above, with the colors shifting and noise taking over the frame. The highest boosted ISO is 51,200, but shooting at that will give you next to useless results.
- 24.2-megapixel image sensor with no optical low-pass filter for staggering sharpness
- Compact design with swiveling touchscreen Vary-angle LCD display
- Built-in Wi-Fi connectivity for instant photo sharing with a compatible smartphone or tablet
- Full HD 1080/60p video recording with advanced movie features
- Creative in-camera filters and effects, built-in HDR, time lapse, interval shooting and more
Of the heaps of entry-level DSLR cameras flooding the market today, you can put your trust in Nikon D5500. It’s a solid all-around performer that excels in both daylight and low-light photography thanks to its remarkable noise-reduction capabilities. The pairing of a 24MP DX sensor with the old Expeed 4 processors is less suitable for action photography. However, if your demands are not too great, you still should be able to have a good time with its 5fps burst shooting mode. The AF system used on Nikon D5500 is exactly the same as one in another top performer, the Nikon D7000, which provides you with 39 AF points, with nine of them being cross-type sensors.
The AF module on Nikon D5500 may be aged, but it fares just as well as the newer systems. It’s fast and accurate, even in poor conditions when there’s less light than usual (make sure to turn on the AF light, though). Setting its ISO at the lowest gives you a 12.3EV dynamic range, which is excellent for a 24MP cropped sensor camera. When you have to make do with the little available light, you can increase the ISO to 1600 or even 3200 and still get highly usable images. Any higher than that, you’ll soon notice that the image quality begins to dip with a great loss of details, especially in the shadows.
Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II
- Native sensitivity range from ISO 200-102400, expandable down to ISO 80.
- Continuous shooting up to 10 fps with full-time AF/AE and a buffer of 169 raw frames when working with a mechanical shutter.
- Image Stabilization and Computational Photography 5-Axis Image Stabilization
- DCI/UHD 4K video recording is supported at up to 60p and 10-bit 4:2:0 sampling. Full HD recording is possible at high-speed rates up to 240 fps for slow-motion playback.
- Reliable, Adventure-Ready Design EVF and LCD
For a cropped sensor camera, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II is very expensive. Compared to full-frame DSLRs in the same price range, its low-light performance is only mediocre. So, if your primary game is taking photographs in conditions with poor lighting, you’d better invest your money in the likes of the Nikon D600. Still, in comparison to other Micro Four Thirds cameras, it’s safe to say that Olympus E-M1 Mark II is the current king. It’s a serious camera for advanced photographers. Beginners will only get confused and perhaps frustrated by the swathes of manual controls it has to offer.
Based on the test by DxO Mark, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II has an effective low light ISO of 1312. It’s less than half of what the Nikon D600 can achieve, but when compared to other small sensor cameras, such is considered pretty high. Its native sensitivity ranges from ISO 200-25600. Although it doesn’t perform the same as well as full-frame cameras in low-light environments, it benefits a lot from its outstanding image stabilization system. It’s so good you can set the shutter speed to its lowest, letting in more light through the lens to reach the sensor, hence eliminating the need to shoot at high ISO. You can’t do this with a camera that has subpar image stabilization, as the image will be very blurry. Obviously, you have to mount the camera on a tripod and maybe even use a remote shutter release to avoid any shakes. Also, the such trick is only good for stationary subjects.
- 24.2 MP DX-format CMOS image sensor
- No Optical Low-Pass Filter (OLPF)
- 51 point autofocus system
- 6 frames per second (fps) shooting capacity
- EXPEED 4 image processing; ISO Sensitivity: ISO 100 - 25,600.Lens mount: Nikon F mount, (with AF coupling and AF contacts)
Before the release of the D7500, Nikon D7200 was the go-to camera for amateur photographers wishing to up their game. The price difference between the two isn’t too stark, so if you asked me, I’d recommend the D7500 instead for it comes with a lot of improvements that’ll lead to better image quality and easier operation. Aside from that, this camera is a solid midrange shooter. Its relatively compact body is weather-sealed against harsh conditions and equipped with an optical viewfinder offering 100% field of View. In an ideal lighting situation, getting some good shots is completely effortless. In most cases, its exposures are spot-on, giving you crisp images with fine details even when it lacks an optical low-pass filter.
Nikon D7200 performs very well too in low light, exhibiting low noise on high ISOs. Of course, you can’t compare it to a full-frame camera. However, depending on your preferences, any images captured at ISO 3200 should be good enough to be printed at standard 8×10-inch size, given you’ve done what needs to be done to clean the noise in post-production editing. Its native sensitivity maxes out at ISO 25,600. Private investigators could benefit from the extended ISO 102,500, which allows the camera to remain functional in extremely dark places, though it only gives you black and white images. As for the AF system, its low light sensitivity is rated up to -3EV, meaning it’s still relatively fast.
Best Point-and-Shoot Camera for Low Light Photography
Point-and-shoot cameras are the least able to adapt to the available light. But with Sony releasing its RX100 series cameras sporting a large one-inch sensor, we can expect at least a decent result when shooting in low-light situations. High ISO performance, as well as the ability to shoot in RAW, are two things that should be your main consideration when choosing a point-and-shoot camera for low-light photography. Also, it will help a lot more if the camera has a fast fixed lens because shooting with a wide aperture allows more light to slip through and reach the sensor. Below are 5 point-and-shoot cameras with a one-inch sensor that performs remarkably well at high ISOs.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 V
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Sony’s RX100 series camera is the pioneer in the manufacturing of many present digital point-and-shoot cameras taking an advantage of a large 1-inch image sensor. It’s so successful that the company has released the mightiest model yet, Sony RX100 Mark V with the sixth iteration expected to hit the market in 2018. It may not be able to offer the same flexibility as an interchangeable lens camera, but this camera is already a powerhouse out of the box. Featuring a 20MP stacked CMOS sensor and Bionz X chipset, it’s capable of taking up to 24 frames within a second in burst mode with the autofocus remaining intact. Speaking of focusing, its AF module enables it to lock focus in 0.05 seconds; talking about fast, huh?
Despite being a compact camera, Sony Cyber-shot RX100 Mark V performs quite reasonably in low-light environments. You can thank its wide aperture fixed lens for that (f/1.8 – f/2.8; 24-70mm equivalent). Although it doesn’t offer much optical zoom, shooting at a wide aperture allows more light through the lens. Thus, you can set the ISO low to keep the noise minimum when shooting in a less-than-ideal lighting situation. This trick will give you a shallow depth of field effect (the object in front of and behind the focus getting blurred), which depending on your preference, can look good or bad. Still, should you want to increase its sensitivity, I learned that the safe limit was ISO 1600. In this range, noise is well controlled and you can print the photos in standard sizes without barely even noticing any digital artifacts.
Panasonic Lumix LX10
- POINT-AND-SHOOT CAMERA: Large, 1-inch 20.1-megapixel MOS sensor plus 3X zoom LEICA DC VARIO-SU millimeter ILUX lens (24-72 millimeter) and POWER O.I.S. (Optical Image Stabilizer) delivers brighter, more colorful photos with fewer image artifacts
- TILTING SELFIE DISPLAY: Rear touch-enabled 3-inch LCD display (1040K dots) tilts upward 180 degree for easy selfie photos
- 4K VIDEO CAPTURE: 4K QFHD video recording (3840 x 2160), plus exclusive LUMIX 4K photo and 4K Post Focus with internal Focus Stacking allows you to record photos up to 30fps and set your desired focus points after the photo has been taken
- LENS-MOUNTED CONTROL RING: Manual lens-mounted control ring brings DSLR-like exposure control to a compact point-and-shoot camera body
- USB CHARGING AND WI-FI CONNECTIVITY: Enjoy travel ready technologies like USB charging and Wi-Fi connectivity to your mobile device; micro-HDMI type D (3) and USB 2.0 micro-B provide additional connectivity to your favorite devices
Sony RX100 Mark V might be phenomenal, but its steep price will certainly make everyone think twice or even thrice before fetching it home. A more affordable alternative is Panasonic Lumix LX10. You won’t get any of the nice added bonuses like blazing fast continuous shooting, an electronic viewfinder, and a built-in ND filter. However, as far as the essentials are concerned, the Lumix LX10 is serious competition at a bargain price. It matches the latter in the sensor as well as sensitivity, offering the same 1-inch 20MP CMOS sensor with ISO ranging from 125-12800. In fact, it may give Sony’s shooter a run for its money as it comes with a touchscreen LCD display while the latter does not.
In low light conditions, Panasonic Lumix LX10 benefits greatly from its wide aperture 24-72mm f/1.4-2.8 equivalent lens. With such a fast lens, you may set the shutter speed high to avoid motion blur and the ISO low to keep noise minimum and yet still get high-quality images even in poorly lit areas. For quick shooting, this camera offers Auto ISO too, but you may need to watch over it from time to time as it has the tendency to use high ISO. I obviously don’t want to shoot at high ISO when using low ISO is good enough as it results in crisper and sharper images.
Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II
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- Raising the imaging bar for Canon's series of advanced compact cameras once again, the PowerShot G1 X Mark III is distinguished by its larger sensor and versatile all-around imaging capabilities. A first for a PowerShot, the G1 X Mark III sports a 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor and a DIGIC 7 processor to realize notable image clarity, a wide sensitivity range from ISO 100-25600, an impressive continuous shooting rate up to 9 fps, and Full HD 1080p/60 video recording.
- The sensor's design also facilitates Dual Pixel CMOS AF, which offers quick and accurate phase-detection autofocus that benefits both stills and video applications. Balancing the improved sensor design is a versatile 3x zoom lens, which covers a 24-72mm equivalent focal length range to suit working in a variety of situations. An Optical Image Stabilizer is also featured, to minimize the appearance of camera shake for sharper imagery when shooting handheld.
- In addition to the updated sensor and processor capabilities, the G1 X Mark III also features a refined physical design complete with a built-in 2.36m-dot OLED electronic viewfinder and a 3.0" vari-angle touchscreen for easier, more intuitive control. Dedicated dials about the camera body afford direct adjustment of shooting settings and modes, and both a pop-up flash and a hot shoe are available.
- 24.2MP APS-C CMOS Sensor - DIGIC 7 Image Processor - 3x Zoom Lens, 24-72mm (35mm Equivalent) - 2.36m-Dot OLED Electronic Viewfinder - 3.0" Vari-Angle Touchscreen LCD - Full HD 1080p Video Recording at 60 fps - Dual Pixel CMOS AF, Image Stabilizer - ISO 25600, 9 fps Continuous Shooting - Built-In Wi-Fi with NFC, Bluetooth - Dust- and Water-Resistant Construction
If you’re not a fan of Panasonic, you may want to consider Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II. As with most Canon cameras, don’t expect that you’ll be able to capture video in 4K. However, in terms of casual photography, this camera ticks all the boxes. Large image sensor: check; wide aperture lens: check; a good range of manual control: check; outstanding image quality: check. All those things are wrapped in a stylish compact body and sold at a lower price than Sony RX100 Mark V. Like Lumix LX10, it doesn’t offer an electric viewfinder, but then if you like using the viewfinder more, then the Live View to compose your shot, you would be more interested in purchasing DSLR, wouldn’t you?
Canon PowerShot G7X Mark II boasts a fairly fast autofocus system with 31 contrast-detect focus points. Even when set to max zoom, the camera is still able to lock on to the object quickly. Its focusing speed only takes a dive when there isn’t much daylight, which is normal. The real issue is when you’re trying to put the camera really close to an object. Its macro focusing is next to useless. The inclusion of a more powerful DIGIC 7 processor has made the camera more capable of dealing with noise at high ISO. Digital artifacts and speckles are relatively low up to ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, you’ll likely see some smooth edges, especially in the shadow areas, but they are still very much usable. Just choose A4 or smaller size if you want to print images taken at such high ISO.
Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV
Stepping down a level from the most formidable RX100 camera, we’ve got Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV. Though sold at a lower price than its successor, it’s still expensive for a point-and-shoot camera. That aside, it’s a perfect camera to have on one of those occasions when bringing your bulky DSLR is just too bothersome. Its image sensor and lens are identical to those of its higher-end sibling, and so are its LCD display and EVF. One major difference that makes it look like an outdated shooter is the autofocus system. While both are hybrid (using both contrast-detect and phase-detect), the one in RX100 IV only has 25 focus points, in comparison to 315 points in RX100V.
Now don’t get that wrong. The AF system in Sony Cyber-shot RX100 IV is still one of the fastest you can find in a pocket-sized camera. It’s just the one used in the RX100 V that is out of this world. Anyway, the RX100 IV also uses an old LSI chip. The said chip is claimed to have a direct influence on the image quality taken at high ISOs. However, as it turns out, I don’t see any considerable difference in low-light performance from both cameras. The RX100 IV can still preserve a lot of fine details up to ISO 3200, though noise starts to look prominent too. You can expect to get the best result when shooting at ISO 80-800.
Panasonic Lumix FZ2500
- Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ2500 Digital Camera (DMC-FZ2500), 64GB Memory Card, DMW-BLC12 Battery, Digital Camera Flash, Deluxe Soft Bag, 12 Inch Flexible Tripod, Deluxe Cleaning Set, 67mm UV Filter, USB Card Reader
- 20.1MP 1" High Sensitivity MOS Sensor
- Leica DC Vario-Elmarit f/2.8-4.5 Lens
- 24-480mm (35mm Equivalent)
- 0.74x 2.36m-Dot OLED Live View EVF
You may confuse Panasonic Lumix FZ2500 as a DSLR, but it’s actually a point-and-shoot camera with a fixed lens. Aside from its size, the only thing that puts it on a different threshold from the likes of the Sony RX100 series is its superzoom capability. While its lens can’t give you as wide an aperture as the previous four point-and-shoot cameras we talked about, it allows up to 20x optical zoom. It does have a thing in common with them, though, which is a one-inch 20MP BSI-CMOS sensor, one expected to perform better when the lighting condition is less than ideal. Its sensitivity ranges from ISO 125-12,800 and can be boosted to ISO 80-25,600.
Based on what you’re shooting and how you output the images, Panasonic Lumix FZ2500 generally produces usable results up to ISO 3200. Grainy artifacts start to show up at ISO 800 but you can easily overlook it as it’s very low. At ISO 1600, there’s an increase in color noise, particularly around the shadow areas. The default noise reduction setting on this camera is a little aggressive, but you have complete control over it. You might get the job done quicker by adjusting the NR level and shooting in JPEG mode right from the start. But if you ask me, I like to shoot in RAW with the NR entirely turned off, then manually process out any noise.
What Makes the Best Low-Light Camera
Below are some matters that contribute directly to the camera’s ability to capture clear and sharp images in low-light environments.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, the bigger the sensor, the more able the camera to accumulate available light. Full frame cameras like Canon EOS 5D Mark IV have the largest sensor, which is then followed by APS-C cameras like Nikon D7500. Note that not all APS-C cameras have the same size rectangle. You have to look at its crop factor too. The smaller the crop factor, the larger the sensor. Behind APS-C models are Micro Four Thirds cameras. These are mostly mirrorless shooters manufactured by Olympus and Panasonic, like Olympus E-M1. Right after, they are a one-inch sensor, which is used by high-end point-and-shoot cameras like the RX100 series by Sony.
There’s a belief among experienced photographers that when it comes to low-light photography, the fewer megapixels, the better. This is because when fewer pixels populate the same rectangle surface of a sensor, their individual size will be larger, allowing them to collect more light photons. However, some also believe that the number of photons hitting the sensor surface doesn’t have anything to do with the megapixels. Such only correlates with the sensor size, which I agree with. A full-frame camera with huge megapixels, like Nikon D800 (36MP), can easily outperform an APS-C camera with modest megapixels, like Nikon D7500 (20MP).
The camera sensitivity to light can be increased by adjusting the sensor’s gain. Doing such allows you to use a faster shutter speed, which is helpful to avoid motion blur when shooting handheld or capturing a fast-moving object. The tricky part is as you increase the ISO, the camera will be more prone to producing digital artifacts that can make images look soft. That’s why you shouldn’t only look at the ISO range of a camera. What’s more important is how well it controls noise when used at high ISO. Two cameras might have the same maximum native ISO of 25,600, but one may show a considerable amount of digital grains as soon as ISO 800, while the other only start to get muddy after ISO 1600. For this, you can use the DxO Mark low-light ISO index to figure out which camera handles noise better at high ISOs.
Using a slower shutter speed can help the camera capture more light, but the problem is slower shutter speed can increase the risk of getting motion blur, especially if you’re not using a tripod. This is where the image stabilization system comes to help. With gyroscopic sensors, such a system can move the camera’s image sensors (or the lens glass) accordingly to compensate for any abrupt movements prevalent when shooting handheld. All modern point-and-shoot cameras have an image stabilization system, though I still firmly believe that Sony’s is the best of them all. If you’re using an interchangeable lens model, you may have to buy a lens that has built-in optical stabilization.
Wide Aperture Lens
There are reasons why photography enthusiasts like to use an interchangeable lens camera, even if they have to shell out more of their hard-earned money to buy lenses. A lens with a wider aperture allows more light to hit the sensor. As such, you no longer need to set the ISO too high, so the camera can better control the noise. Also, shooting with a wide aperture lens allows you to use a faster shutter speed, which is helpful to avoid getting blurred. That’s why a wide-aperture lens is also called a fast lens.
Anyway, the lens aperture is expressed as a f/number. The smaller the number, the wider the aperture. In contrast, the bigger the number, the narrower the aperture.
Who Are They For?
The best low-light cameras are not only for photographers who specialize in night photography. There are many situations where a camera’s high ISO performance can be crucial. Here are some examples:
- Sports photographers: Not all parts of the field receive the same amount of light. Cameras with good low-light capabilities can help them capture clear images in darkened areas.
- Wedding photographers: In many cases, weddings – both the ceremony and the party – are carried on indoors where the lighting conditions can be poor. This is where a good low-light camera comes in.
- Street photographers: The city often shows its best scene at night time when all the street lamps are turned on. Not to say that the most interesting of people also like to hang out after dark too. Having a camera with remarkably high ISO performance can help secure some great shots.
- Landscape photographers: While they primarily take shots in bright daylight, landscapes may look more dramatic when the sun has leaned westward. Again this calls for a good low-light camera.