Buying a new camera can be a lengthy, drawn-out process that, if you’re not careful, can quickly become overwhelming. Which is better, a mirrorless or DSLR? What’s your budget? What are your needs as a video creator? While the number of great choices out there can feel overwhelming, it’s great to see how far cameras have come in such a short time.
One particular area that camera manufacturers continue to improve on is low-light capability. Alongside all the usual questions, you’ll want to know how a camera performs when it comes to shooting a night scene, how it works with natural light and how it performs across the exposure triangle. While grainy film can be a good thing, it’s not something you usually want when shooting in low-light conditions. Whether you’re shooting social events at dark venues like low-lit restaurants, perhaps covering music gigs or even shooting night videos for your YouTube channel, you’re going to need the best low-light camera possible.
So, below, we’ve put together a list of the best low-light cameras available to you right now, along with some of the key factors you need to consider. We’ve got the best low-light mirrorless camera, the best low-light DSLR camera and yes, the best low-light micro four-thirds camera too! Whatever system you’re looking for, you’ll find the best low-light performer right here.
Key factors to consider
First up, before we dive into the best low-light cameras, let’s take a look at some of the key factors you need to consider in your research. Whatever type of low-light video camera you’re searching for, these three key factors will always apply.
This one is really easy. The sensor is the part of your camera that will capture all of the light coming through your lens. It takes this light and transforms it into the image you see. Basically, the larger the sensor is, the more light the camera is able to capture. Therefore, larger sensor sizes are always going to give you better low-light performance. The more light a camera can capture, the less you’ll need to compromise on image quality, even when shooting in a dark, low-lit environment.
There are 3 main sensor sizes you should consider. The largest is full-frame, followed by APS-C and micro four-thirds.
Next up—and this is a big one—is camera ISO. Alongside your shutter angle and aperture, ISO plays a crucial role in low-light performance. With a few exceptions, you want to keep your ISO at 100, or at least very low. When you have less light to work with, you can increase the ISO. This increase produces a brighter image even if there’s not enough lighting, but there is a catch. The higher the ISO, the noisier the image and the lower the quality. Depending on the camera, you’ll notice that when shooting on high ISOs, dots and grain will show up in the image, particularly in the darker parts of your frame. So, what’s the fix here?
Firstly, the larger your camera’s sensor, the less you’ll need to bump up the ISO. Secondly, some of the best low-light cameras available today have made massive strides in ISO range. Even when bumped up way higher than what has previously been considered acceptable, the image quality remains exceptionally good.
Despite this, remember that bumping up the ISO is really your last resort. Before that, you may want to consider something else...
Lenses are really important when it comes to the best low-light video cameras. There’s really no point in purchasing the best low-light camera on the market if you use it with the wrong lens. So, what are you looking for when choosing a lens?
Essentially, the larger (read: lower or faster) your aperture is, the more light the lens allows to enter the sensor. So, the lower the aperture of your lens, the better your camera will be when it comes to low-light performance.
When looking for the best low-light cameras, you’ll want to consider which lens mounts they use and which lens families will be available to you when you purchase a particular body. The way we measure aperture is called the F-number, or F-stop range—something you may be familiar with already. When looking at lenses, you’ll see that they come with a number such as f/1.8 or f/3.5-f/8. Ideally, if you’re looking to get the most out of your camera in low-light conditions, you’ll be looking for a lens with an F-number anywhere between f/1.8 and f/3.5.
The best low-light cameras
Now that you know about the key factors to consider when comparing cameras’ low-light performance, let’s take a look at our list. These are the best low-light video cameras available to you right now.
Sony A7s III
Sensor: 12.1MP BSI CMOS full-frame sensor
ISO range: 80-102,400 (expands to 40-409,600)
Lens mount: Sony E-mount
Overall, we think the Sony A7s III is the best low-light camera out there. Sony has really carved out a niche for itself, earning renown for its impressive low-light capabilities. When it comes to video performance, the A7s III is exceptional. While the relatively small 12MP resolution might be an issue for photographers, this really is the best in the business when it comes to low-light videography. When you combine this camera’s full-frame sensor with class-leading ISO performance you can bump all the way up to an astonishing 409,600, you can effectively see in the dark. We don’t need to say anymore.
If you’re a videographer and you have the budget, get yourself an A7s III. It’s the best low-light mirrorless camera out there.
Sensor: 12MP CMOS Micro four-thirds
ISO range: 60-51200 (expands to 80-204800)
Lens mount: Micro four-thirds
One of the few gripes about Panasonic’s celebrated GH5 was that the camera came up short when it came to low-light performance. Considerably short when compared to the competition at Sony. The smaller micro four-thirds system used in the GH5 explains some of the difference, but undeterred and not looking for excuses, Panasonic directly addressed this issue in the GH5s. As a result, what they’ve given us is the best low-light camera available in the micro four-thirds class.
The main trick here is that they expanded the sensor size (sacrificing some stabilization to make it happen) and introduced dual ISO, meaning grain reduction ability at higher ISO settings dramatically increased. This makes the GH5s a real improvement on the GH5 for low-light shooters and a great, affordable option.
Sensor: 24.2MP APS-C Exmor CMOS sensor
ISO range: 100-32,000 (expandable to ISO 102,400)
Lens mount: Sony E-mount
Another Sony contender we like for its low-light capabilities is the A6400. While it may not stand up to the exceptional performance of the full-frame A7s III, this APS-C model can still deliver great low-light footage with its 24.2MP sensor and ISO boosted all the way to 102,400. When you package this with its friendlier price point, very small size and weight and its compatibility with the same family of Sony E-mount lenses, it’s the best choice for those looking for a great low-light camera on a budget.
Sensor: 18.9MP 1/2.3-inch BSI CMOS Sensor
ISO range: N/A
Lens mount: Built-in
Okay, so this one comes a bit out of left-field. The HC-WXF991 certainly isn’t going to be your first port of call when it comes to video cameras in general. However, when it comes to searching for the best low-light video cameras, this 4K handheld is well worth a look. What makes this little camcorder so good (and unique among those recommended here) is its infrared capabilities. It can shoot 4K video and has a 20x optical zoom on the built-in Leica lens (which is pretty fast at f/1.8). If you’re looking to see in the dark and shoot really low-light situations, the infrared light system does work wonders. Just bear in mind that the style is somewhat unique, given that you will lose true color and instead be looking at a ‘Paranormal Activity’-type profile of grays and greens.
Canon EOS R5
Sensor: 20.1MP full-frame CMOS sensor
ISO range: 100-51,200 (expandable to 50-102,400)
Lens mount: Canon RF mount
If you’re a Canon fan and have started to feel a bit left out here, fear not. We couldn’t compile a list of the best low-light video cameras without mentioning the Canon EOS R5. In short, it’s a beast. For a while, many people have been calling out for Canon to step into the full-frame mirrorless arena and challenge Sony. The R5 does this brilliantly. Alongside the flagship statement of being able to shoot in 8K (not really necessary yet, but impressive nonetheless), the camera boasts exceptional image quality at 4K and a remarkable 14.6 stops of dynamic range. This gives it a fantastic low-light performance that rivals the Sony A7s III and Panasonic GH5s.
Canon EOS 90D
Sensor: 32.5MP CMOS (APS-C) sensor
ISO range: 100-12800
Lens mount: Canon EF/EF-S
For Canon partisans on a budget, the Canon EOS 90D is one of the best low-light DSLR camera options out there. It’s not world-beating because it’s not a full-frame model, but the APS-C sensor holds up really well in low-light conditions, and we’ve found it to be an excellent option for filming indoors within poorly lit environments. In short, the 90D is highly reliable, robust and will most certainly get the job done.
So, those are our thoughts on the very best low-light video cameras currently available for video creators. Whether you’re looking for a mirrorless camera to capture the best possible image quality when shooting at night, hunting for a micro four-thirds system that can handle dark restaurant shoots or looking to secure the best low-light DSLR camera for your next music gig, there are plenty of brilliant options out there. We live in an era of filmmaking where we’re really spoilt for choice. With the competition getting fiercer every year, there can only be more amazing evolutions and developments on the horizon!
Once you’ve purchased your low-light camera—or if you’re still mulling over keeping your current setup—be sure to check out our tips on low-light videography.
Josh Edwards is an accomplished filmmaker, industry writing veteran, storyteller based in Indonesia (by way of the UK) and industry writer in the Blade Ronner Media Writing Collective. He's passionate about travel and documents adventures and stories through his films.