The 7 best cameras for night Photography – Plus some extra tips!

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So, What makes the best camera for night photography?

The Photographer

As I’m sure a wise photographer once said “the camera doth not maketh the photogrpher-eth” or words to that effect.

What I’m getting at is that the camera won’t be the only determining factor as to how good a photo you can take at night. 

Before we get onto the best cameras for night photography I feel it’s important to just go over some key techniques that need to be taken into consideration before you can take those stunning nighttime masterpieces.

exposure triangle good

The exposure triangle including the ISO, aperture and shutter speed

Use of the Exposure Triangle

Consisting of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO, these three things are arguably the most important aspects of taking any pictures; get these right and you’re set.

The manipulation of these three elements play a huge role in the success of your night photography, however they must be used in a different way to your standard daylight photography to avoid certain issues such as digital noise, blur and overall exposure imbalances.

The Aperture

I’m not going to suggest any exact settings as the whole essence of photography is about exploring what you find works best, but as a general rule the lower the aperture setting the better (so a lower f/number).

Allowing more light to enter the camera means that you won’t have to bump up your ISO to a level that is going to cause noise (the graininess that can occur on images with a high ISO setting).

Using wider aperture settings will induce a shallower depth of field but in images with dark areas such as the sky and shadows, this is much less noticeable and can also enhance the end result.

The ISO (International Organization of Standardization)

The ISO can be the tricky part with night photography as logic might dictate that you’re not getting much light so you need to increase you ISO setting, but as I’m sure you’ve experienced this can lead to the dreaded noise, that horrible grainy effect that can ruin images.

The aim should be to keep your ISO setting as low as you can without compromising the exposure levels of the end result.

Personally I would always use a slower shutter speed and maybe use a wider aperture depending on the image before making any substantial increases to the ISO.

Shutter Speed

To ensure your camera receives enough light the shutter will generally have to remain open much longer than you would during the day.

The way you use shutter speed can vary dramatically depending on the subject or subjects you are shooting.

Bear in mind that with long shutter speeds tripods and remote shutter releases are absolutely imperative to a good image. Any slight movement during exposure can ruin the image by introducing unwanted blur.

You may be interested in our article on the best tripods for landscape photography as landscape and night tripods have very similar needs.

Things to think about with regards to shutter speed are:

  • In most cases, the darker the scene, the longer the shutter speed needs to be to absorb as much detail as possible.
  • If there are moving objects such as clouds or running water, a longer exposure will create a blurred effect like the one pictured below.
  • A solid base is a must to create clear images but even this can be an issue sometimes in certain weather conditions such as strong wind or rain.

A useful feature on many cameras is “bulb mode“. This allows you to increase the shutter speed to beyond your camera’s max shutter speed (usually 30 seconds). You’d need a remote shutter release for this to avoid any unwanted camera movement.

A picture taken of running water using a longer shutter speed.

Putting it all Together

Everyone’s method will be different and over time you will more than likely develop your own set of rules and procedures.

Firstly you should assess what you are taking a picture of, are there any moving parts, is there much light and if so how much, what is your desired effect etc.

Getting the perfect shot will more than likely require some trial and error. Use the above advice as starting points and alter them to achieve your goals.

Say for instance you wanted more of a dreamy feel, a low to medium aperture number say between f/3.5 – f/8 with a low to medium ISO setting (more on the side of low) with a longer shutter speed would give you that motion blur and your desired effect.

In contrast to this maybe you want a shot of a busy street and want the buildings to be clear but the people on it to be blurred. The ideal settings for this depending on the amount of light present might be something like an aperture setting of f/8 – maybe f/16, a shutter speed of anywhere between 5 – 30 seconds depending on how blurred you want the moving subjects to be and a slightly higher ISO to make up for the narrower aperture.

Probably not one of the best cameras for taking photos at night!

The Camera

What to look for in a camera for night Photography

Sensor Size – The logic is simple a larger full frame sensor will allow more light to be absorbed and thus more detail, this become vitally important when there is very little light.

A camera with a full frame sensor won’t come cheap though and so is best suited to any hardcore nighttime photographers or full frame fanatics.

This shouldn’t put you off the cameras using crop sensors though as there are many that perform exceptionally well even in comparison to their full frame rivals.

ISO and Noise – Noise can be a massive issue for night photographers, you think you’ve just taken the Nat Geo photo of the year, you’ve already planned out your modest and humble acceptance speech when you look down and what do you see?

Noise…. The horrible grainy, fuzzy look that funnily enough you weren’t going for.

This is often caused by using high ISO settings. There are some cameras that actually handle high ISOs better than others and the result is less noise and a better looking photo… Maybe keep that speech!

An example of an image with bad noise.

Our 7 best cameras for night Photography

We have scored these according to their abilities for night photography and so the score would likely change for other types of photography.

1. Sony α7R ll

We score this 4.3/5
4.3/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 42.4MP, Full frame, BSI, CMOS 

Lens Mount – Sony E

Screen – 3″ LCD

Frames Per Second – 5

ISO Range – 100-25,600 (extendable up to 102,400)

Battery Life – 290-340 shots

Weight – 625g (inc battery and card)

Auto Focus Points – 399

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – Yes

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Incredible low light sensitivity
  • Very little vibration
  • Solid and sturdy
  • Good image stabilisation
  • Good auto WB
  • Performs well at higher ISOs
  • Great dynamic range
  • Silent shooting works well

Cons:

  • Only one memory card slot
  • Auto focus can be slower
  • Poor battery life
  • Menu navigation can be slow
  • Eye sensor is a little too sensitive
  • Slower read / write times

Summary

The Sony α7R ll is an exceptional camera, it boasts a 35mm full frame BSI (Backside Illumination) sensor to absorb the maximum amount of detail in any setting, but this sensor really excels in low light conditions making it a great choice for night time photography.

This camera is one of the lighter ones on our list coming in at 625g including the battery and a memory card and although slightly lighter it still feels solid and robust.

Performing well at high ISOs with minimal noise makes this an ideal camera for night photography or in any setting where light is scarce. Not only this but it has a great dynamic range partly thanks to the brilliant full frame sensor.

Whilst there are some cons to this camera in general, for the most part I feel that they shouldn’t affect your night photography in any major way.

Having only one memory card slot isn’t a big deal for some people but for others it can be a deal breaker. Having two slots does allow for more storage or to serve as an insurance policy should one of your cards corrupt but many photographers can go years without ever experiencing this. It’s a personal thing really.

The slower auto focus shouldn’t be a major consideration as for the most part you will have the time available for it to focus anyway and thus is not completely necessary.  

Overall a good camera with some very minor maybe insignificant to some issues.

2. Nikon D7500

We score this 4.5/5
4.5/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 20.9 MP, DX, CMOS 

Lens Mount – Nikon F mount with AF coupling and contacts

Screen – 3.2″ LCD touch screen

Frames Per Second – 8

ISO Range – 100-51,200 (extendable up to 1,640,000

Battery Life – 950 shots

Weight – 720g (inc battery and  memory card)

Auto Focus Points – 51

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – Yes

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Great auto focus and tracking
  • Performs well at high ISOs
  • Performs well at low ISOs
  • Touch screen works well and is responsive
  • Lighter than its predecessor
  • Great dynamic range
  • Great button and menu layout
  • Tilt screen is a joy to use

Cons:

  • Only one memory card slot
  • Phone app issues
  • Live view auto focus can be sluggish

Summary

The Nikon D7500 is one of the slightly cheaper options on our list but by no means does its performance reflect that.

Although we are primarily looking at night photography here, this stands out to be particularly good with action shots making use of its 51 point auto focus and tracking system also working well in low light, a handy feature should you want to get creative with your night photography.

As with most of the cameras on our list it performs well with high and low ISO settings with minimal noise.

A particular area that this camera does well in is design; it’s lighter than it’s predecessor, has a highly functional button and menu layout and the tilting touch screen really adds to the overall enjoyment of this camera.

There are very few issues with this camera for its price point but needless to say there are some.

SnapBridge, the app that allows Nikon users to constantly connect their smart device with the camera so that you can upload images to your device, control the camera and save photos to the cloud, has limited features beyond this and some report connectivity issues.

There is only one memory card slot and so like with the Sony α7R ll may be an issue for some, as we’ve said above for some it is a deal breaker and for others they simply don’t care if there are on, two or ten slots!

Finally the live view auto focus can be sluggish, I can’t really see this being an issue for night photography as this would be more of a concern for action shots.

Overall this is a great camera for your night time shots.

3. Canon 7D Mark ll

We score this 4/5
4/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 20.2 MP, APS-C CMOS

Lens Mount – EF / EF-S

Screen -3″ LCD

Frames Per Second – 10

ISO Range – 100 – 16,000 (extendable up to 51,200)

Battery Life – 670 shots

Weight – 910g (body only)

Auto Focus Points – 65

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – No

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Performs well with high ISOs
  • Performs well with low ISOs
  • Well built and sturdy
  • High level of customisation
  • Good dynamic range
  • Good weather protection

Cons:

  • Poor battery life
  • GPS drains battery
  • Auto focus can be inconsistent
  • No wifi

Summary

The Canon 7D mark ll is a really good camera for night photography with some great features such as the GPS which many people find to be very useful, however sometimes a strength can become a weakness which I’ll explain a little later.

But firstly, the good bits; as with all of the cameras on this list the Canon performs really well with both high and low ISO setting with very little digital interference. Like most high performing ISO cameras this one also has a great dynamic range.

Very well built and comfortable to wield this camera is suited to a wide range of environments mainly due to its great weatherproof sealing to prevent any water or dust damaging the electronics, we’re talking light rain here not torrential flooding!

Another great feature which may only seem like a small thing but once you start using it becomes an essential feature is the highly customisable options available to you; when you are used to a certain button layout it can take a while to adjust but now there’s no need to bother!

The biggest down side to this camera is it’s battery. The battery on its own would probably be fine but due to some of the features such as the GPS and the higher frames per second, it can drain quickly. Some people even report of it draining when the camera is off.

The auto focus can also be somewhat inconsistent but as I’ve said, I don’t think this is a huge issue when taking photos at night due to the slower pace required.

All in all a great camera but with some minor issues that may or may not bother you.

4. Nikon D5

We score this 4.7/5
4.7/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 21.3 MP Full frame CMOS

Lens Mount – Nikon F mount with AF coupling and contacts

Screen -3.2″ LCD touch screen

Frames Per Second – up to 14

ISO Range – 100 – 102,400 (expandable up to 3,280,000)

Battery Life 3,780 shots under CIPA testing conditions, up to 8,000 according to Nikon 

Weight – 1,405g (inc battery and 2 XQD memory cards)

Auto Focus Points – 153

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – No

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Auto focus and tracking performs well
  • Improved button layout
  • Performs well at high ISOs
  • Good dynamic range
  • Quick to start
  • Auto focus even works very well in low light
  • Fast buffer
  • Outstanding battery life
  • Illuminated menu and buttons
  • Great auto white balance

Cons:

  • Dynamic range can suffer at lower ISOs
  • Loud shutter
  • Sluggish auto focus in live view
  • Expensive
  • Wifi isn't built in
  • Functionality of the touchscreen isn't the best

Summary

This stunning full frame camera is outstanding, it provides super clear images has a truly amazing battery life of 3,780 shots under CIPA standards and up to 8,000 shots according to Nikon and it performs exceptionally well at high ISOs.

The most expensive camera on our list, the Nikon D5 certainly has to perform well for anyone to consider purchasing it. I can gladly say that it does; the 153 point auto focus system works extremely well even in low lighting and the tracking capabilities are equally impressive.

The Nikon has a great dynamic range at higher ISOs but unfortunately this slightly diminishes when the ISO setting is lowered, this is a shame for an otherwise great camera.

The fast buffer means that you are able to take continuous shots without worrying whether you’ll need to wait for the camera to catch up, not overly important for night photography but nonetheless nice to have.

I’d like to say that for a higher price point there should be almost no negatives to this camera but no camera is perfect.

As mentioned the dynamic range can become a little less detailed when taking photos at a lower ISO but soon picks up at a higher setting.

A loud shutter whilst may be inconvenient for some uses such as ceremonies or quiet places, for night photography it shouldn’t really be a problem.

To pack in all of the features this camera possesses it is obviously going to weigh a little more than your average camera, but again I don’t think this would be a problem for night photography as most shots will be taken with the aid of a tripod.

I do think for what this camera offers it should be a little cheaper but ignoring that point, it is a good camera for night time photography.

5. Canon EOS 80D

We score this 4.5/5
4.5/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 24.2 MP APS-C CMOS

Lens Mount – EF / EF-S

Screen -3″ LCD Touch screen

Frames Per Second – 7

ISO Range – 100-16,000 (extendable up to 25,600)

Battery Life – 960 shots

Weight – 730g (inc battery and memory card)

Auto Focus Points – 45

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – Yes

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Performs well at high ISOs
  • Touch screen looks good and is responsive
  • Great performance in low light
  • Super easy to use
  • Auto focus works well in live view
  • Weather resistant
  • Battery life is good

Cons:

  • Can't customise quick menu
  • Dynamic range is good but not as good as competition
  • Auto focus settings can be confusing

Summary

The Canon EOS 80D is a very well built camera with great battery life, a robust build and some nice weather proofing, the Canon is well suited to a night outdoors.

Performing well at high ISOs and in low light conditions is imperative to successful night photography and luckily for you the Canon can offer you both of these things.

One big draw for this camera is its articulating 3″ LCD touch screen, making it easy to see where to aim your camera at any angle and unlike some touch screens, this one actually works well and is responsive to the users input.

Now it’s time for the cons, of which there aren’t many. Although overall this camera is super easy to use there are some things that could be done to make its handling seamless.

One being the ability to customise the quick menu and although it’s not majorly important to be able to quickly change settings for night photography, it would still be nice to have the choice.

The second is with regards to the camera’s auto focus settings, these could do with being simplified as at current they can be quite confusing and non-user friendly.

The main negative in terms of performance is that its dynamic range is not as good as others in its class, slightly irritating but I’m sure in future generations this will be rectified.

Overall for the money the Canon EOS 80D is definitely one to consider.

6. Panasonic GH5S

We score this 4/5
4/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 10.2 MP Live MOS

Lens Mount – Micro four thirds

Screen -3.2″ LCD touch screen

Frames Per Second – 11

ISO Range – 160-51,200 (extendable up to 204,800)

Battery Life – 440 shots (up to 1300 with power saving mode)

Weight – 660g (inc battery and one memory card)

Auto Focus Points – 11

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – Yes

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Great performance in low light
  • Outstanding performance at high ISOs
  • Great dynamic range
  • Great video capabilities
  • Sturdy build and comfortable
  • Great weather sealing

Cons:

  • Built more for video use
  • Stills quality drops due to video taking priority
  • Joystick could allow for better movement

Summary

The Panasonic GH5S performs exceedingly well in low light and with its sturdy build and excellent weather sealing it makes for a very good choice for night time photography.

With an outstanding performance at high ISOs and its impressive dynamic range the Panasonic has all of the features of a great night photography camera.

Also offering superb video capabilities this camera would also be a good camera for taking videos at night.

Unfortunately this major strength of brilliant video qualities does lead to slightly lacklustre stills performance which is a huge shame, many people feel that the focus for this camera is mainly its video features but if that’s what you’re after then this would be a great choice for you.

The other small gripe is that the joystick doesn’t move as freely in all directions as you’d hope. Simple up, down, left and right work reasonably enough but outside of that it isn’t as fluid.

Overall this camera is great for night photography but would be even better for taking videos at night.

7. Canon 5D Mark lV

We score this 4.7/5
4.7/5

Key Specifications:

Sensor – 30.4 MP Full frame CMOS

Lens Mount – EF (excluding EF-S and EF-M lenses)

Screen -3.2″ LCD touch screen

Frames Per Second – 7

ISO Range – 100-32,000 (expandable up to 102,400)

Battery Life – 900 Shots

Weight – approx 800g (body only)

Auto Focus Points – 61

LCD Screen Tilt/Flip – No

Picture quality
Features
Design and Handling
Value for money

Pros:

  • Great tracking
  • Touchscreen works well
  • Great dynamic range
  • Performs well at low ISOs
  • Performs well at high ISOs
  • Good auto focus
  • Good customisation options

Cons:

  • No tilt screen
  • Reported that battery life not as good as stated (low as 500)
  • Downloading of images through wifi drains battery considerably

Summary

Rounding up our list is the Canon 5D Mark lV, a marvel of a full frame camera offering exceptional performance in many settings.

Low light settings are where this camera excels with great performance with both high and low ISO settings, pair this up with a great dynamic range and you’ve got a recipe for night photography success.

It’s the little details such as the high level of customisation permitted and the built in wifi that really make this camera a joy to wield.

The annoyances with this camera are quite minor in my opinion but they’re still annoyance nonetheless. The fact that there is no tilt screen can make those low angle shots a little harder to preview what you’re going to get so it would be nice to see this added in future models.

Some people report that the battery life isn’t as good as the official specifications state with some people saying that they can only get as little as 500 shots vs the stated 900.

To make things worse other have said that they found that using the wifi to download images was particularly draining on the battery thus reducing its effectiveness further.

This aside I do think this camera is a real contender for anyone wanting to truly master the art of night photography.  

What's best for You?

I hope this article will help you to decide on what camera is best for your night photography, the focus there being your night photography, you need to decide based on the features of each camera, what best suits what you do and your style.

What do you think is the best camera for night photography and what tips and tricks helped you to take your photography to the next level? Comment below.

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