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The best low-light cameras of 2021

The best low-light cameras
(Image credit: Recep-bg on Getty Images)

Welcome to our guide to the best low-light cameras you can buy right now. Shooting in low light can be immensely rewarding, bagging you dramatic shots that reveal a different side to the world around us – however, it requires preparation, and the right kit.

There's plenty to consider when picking a low-light camera. First off, the relationship between a camera’s sensor size and its megapixel count. Lots of pixels can be useful for printing, but they can also result in more image ‘noise’, meaning unwanted artefacts reducing the quality of your picture. Larger sensors offer better dynamic range, meaning they can handle contrast more effectively. This is immensely useful for low-light situations, where you’re likely to encounter a combination of deep shadows and bright light sources. For more considerations, jump to the what to know before when buying a low-light camera section. 

Low-light photography can be immensely rewarding, whether you want to photograph cityscapes, architecture, night skies or wildlife – if it’s the latter, you may want to check out our list of the best trail cameras for some help there. Also check out our article on the best camera of 2021. For now, let’s get started with the best low-light cameras in 2021. 

The best low-light cameras in 2021

Best low-light cameras: Sony A7S III

(Image credit: Sony)

01. Sony a7S III

The most powerful low-light camera out there, especially for video.

Sensor: 12.1MP BSI CMOS full-frame sensor | ISO range: 80-102,400 (expandable 40-409,600) | Lens: Sony E-mount | Image stabilisation: 5-axis in-body stabilisation

Class-leading ISO performance
Professional-grade video
Full-frame sensor
Over-specced for stills purists

In terms of raw power, this is quite simply the best low-light camera you can buy right now. With its ISO ceiling of 409,600, the Sony A7S III can quite literally see in the dark, with its full-frame sensor making the most of every pixel. The dynamic range of this model is like nothing else out there, and its cinema-quality 4K video is among the best you can shoot with a camera at this size and price point.

It’s a camera clearly oriented towards video first, which is why it has that surprisingly low megapixel count of 12MP – this is great for low light, but might be a little lacking if you’re a stills purist with an eye on printing. Indeed, if you have no desire to shoot video at all, the Sony A7S III is almost certainly more technology than you need. But it still is, quite simply, the best low-light camera around right now.

Best low-light cameras: Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

(Image credit: Olympus)

02. Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV

A superb beginner’s mirrorless camera, with a powerful in-body stabilisation system.

Sensor: 20.3MP Four Thirds Live MOS sensor | ISO range: Approx. 80-25,600 | Lens: Micro Four Thirds lens mount | Image stabilisation: In-body 5-axis image stabilisation

Large MFT lens range
Excellent image stabilisation
Well laid-out controls
Relatively small sensor 

If you’re looking for a low-light camera that fits a tighter budget, we reckon one of the best buys you could make is the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark IV. Though it’s designed to be accessible to novices, the E-M10 IV is a highly sophisticated camera that a user can grow into once they’ve mastered the basics. Olympus is famous for its powerful stabilisation systems, and the 5-axis version on the E-M10 IV is amazing for a camera at this price point, providing up to 4.5 EV steps of real-world compensation. This means you can shoot at slower shutter speeds, letting the camera drink in more light, without the need for a tripod!

It’s a great all-around camera, and though the Micro Four Thirds sensor is smaller than others on this list, you do get access to the huge catalogue of MFT lenses. It’s pleasingly lightweight too, making it a great choice for travel photographers. 

Best low-light cameras: Nikon Z6 II

(Image credit: Nikon)

03. Nikon Z6 II

Nikon’s enthusiast mirrorless model is better for low light than its big brother.

Sensor: 24.5MP CMOS BSI full-frame sensor | ISO range: 100-51,200 (expandable 50-204,800) | Lens: Nikon Z lens mount | Image stabilisation: 5-axis sensor-shift image stabilisation

Capable, versatile autofocus
Metering works in the dark
Sophisticated Z lens mount
Battery life could be better

While the Nikon Z7 II is the flagship of the Z series, with the top-of-the-line specs, we’d put in our recommendation for the Z6 II as the better camera for low light. Its lower megapixel count – 24 compared to 45 – is still perfectly adequate for most needs, and stands it in better stead for producing clean, low-noise images at high ISO settings.

Indeed, the original Z6 was something of a low light specialist, and the Z6 II builds on this, with an excellent exposure metering system that can accurately assess images in conditions as dark as -6EV. This is complemented by the sophisticated image stabilisation, which uses a sensor-shift system to compensate for camera-shake, enabling use of slower shutter speeds without needing a tripod. Having the sophisticated Z-mount connection between camera and lens is an additional bonus, helping the camera achieve lightning-fast autofocus.

Best low-light cameras: Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III

(Image credit: Canon)

04. Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III

The best compact camera for low light, with an impressive APS-C sensor.

Sensor: 24.2MP APS-C CMOS sensor | ISO range: 100-25,600 | Lens: 24-72mm (35mm equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 lens | Image stabilisation: Four-stop Image Stabiliser

Large, sophisticated sensor
Can charge via USB
Weather-sealed body
Max aperture of f/2.8

Compact cameras tend to be less capable in low light, mostly because many of them use small 1/2.3-inch sensors that hamper their dynamic range. Not so with the Canon PowerShot G1 X Mark III, which crams in an APS-C sensor of the type you’d expect to see in an enthusiast DSLR!

Indeed, the G1 X Mark III takes a few more cues from DSLRs, with a pleasingly tactile control layout and satisfying weight in the hand thanks to its weather-sealed body, making it enjoyable to use. Its ISO gets up to a respectable 25,600, though you may find yourself wishing that you had a slightly wider aperture than f/2.8 to work with. Still, Canon has done a hugely respectable job here, and the G1 X Mark III is one of the best low-light compact cameras around.

Best low-light cameras: Panasonic Lumix S5

(Image credit: Panasonic)

05. Panasonic Lumix S5

A lightweight full-frame mirrorless camera, with exceptionally sophisticated stabilisation.

Sensor: 24.2MP CMOS full-frame sensor | ISO range: 100-51,200 | Lens: L-mount | Image stabilisation: 5-axis in-body image stabilisation (can sync with lens I.S.; also offers digital Boost I.S. and E-Stabilization)

Lightweight, ergonomic body
Excellent articulated touchscreen
Does everything pretty well
AF not the best

Panasonic’s S series of full-frame mirrorless cameras has taken a while to get right, but the S5 represents perhaps the best iteration of the formula. Packing a full-frame sensor into a lightweight, portable body, it’s a camera that does pretty much everything quite well, making it one of the most tempting all-rounders on the market right now.

The ISO range gets up to an impressive 51,200, and this combines well with some of the most comprehensive image stabilisation technology on any camera. You have multiple paths towards achieving a solid low-light shot with the Lumix S5, and that alone is enough for it to warrant consideration. As you’d expect from Panasonic, it’s great for video too, able to shoot 4K 60p video that looks fantastic in a range of conditions. A jack of all trades and a master of none – but in the camera world, that’s no bad thing!

Best low-light cameras: Fujifilm X-T30

(Image credit: Fujifilm )

06. Fujifilm X-T30

Fujifilm’s intermediate model is a bargain, with access to exceptional low-light lenses.

Sensor: 26.1MP APS-C X-Trans CMOS 4 sensor | ISO range: 200-12,800 (expandable 100-51,200) | Lens: Fujifilm X-mount | Image stabilisation: None

Superb JPEGs and flexible RAWs
Small but powerful
Access to brilliant X lenses
No in-body stabilisation

For a more budget-oriented model, we’d definitely recommend taking a look at the stylish Fujifilm X-T30. One of the best things about the Fujifilm X series is that it gets you access to the fantastically sharp X lenses, many of which are pushing boundaries when it comes to low light – including the incredible XF 50mm f/1.0, which manages to make this wider-than-ever aperture useable.

The X-T30 uses the famous Fujifilm X-Trans sensor, which produces JPEG images that look vivid and punchy straight out of camera – perfect if you’re not interested in spending much time post-processing. Although, if you are one for Photoshop, its RAW files are also pleasingly malleable, so the choice really is yours. The lack of in-body stabilisation does hold it back a bit, but the X-T30 ticks pretty much every other box at an outstanding price. 

Low-light cameras: What to consider

As well as the camera’s sensor size and its megapixel count, the next thing to think about is a camera’s maximum ISO setting. This refers to the sensitivity level of the sensor, and is expressed as a number. A setting of ISO 100 is used in very bright conditions, and when you have less ambient light to work with, you can up the ISO to compensate. The higher a camera’s maximum ISO setting, the more capable it will be in low light – though performance at these levels can vary from camera to camera. There’s no good buying a model that can shoot at ISO 51,200 if image noise renders the shots you get at that setting completely unusable. Image stabilisation can also be critical, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds hand-held, again expanding light-gathering capabilities.

Finally, it's important to consider what lenses you can use with a camera – you want to have access to lenses with wide maximum apertures, ideally f/2 or less. If you pick an interchangeable-lens camera you’ll be able to buy these; if you think you’d prefer a compact camera with a fixed lens, be sure to check its maximum aperture so you’ll know what you’ve got to work with.

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