Do you want a camera that will capture amazing shots in low light?
As camera technology advances, DSLRs get better and better at handling the low light demands of photographers. Ten years ago, you would feel uncomfortable pushing ISOs past triple digits; now, ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 are common settings. And low-light autofocus lets you do some much more compared to 2010.
Of course, if you want these low light capabilities, there is one caveat:
You have to have the right camera. Because while some cameras perform admirably in low light conditions, others are still less than impressive.
In this article, I break it all down. I’ll share with you the five best low light DSLRs you can buy.
You’ll come away knowing which DSLR you need to grab – if you want the best low light capabilities out there.
Let’s dive right in.
1. Overall winner: the Canon 5D Mark IV
First, the Canon 5D Mark IV features strong low-light autofocus. The camera is rated down to -3 EV, and the autofocus does well when acquiring focus in the dark.
But where the Canon 5D Mark IV really shines is in its high ISO performance. The 5D Mark IV’s sensor easily outperforms the 5D Mark III, the 6D Mark II, and every Canon crop-sensor DSLR ever produced.
Images are great up through ISO 1600, and still usable at ISO 3200, 6400, and even 12800. This makes the Canon 5D Mark IV perfect for those who need to carry on shooting, even in ultra-dark conditions, such as wedding photographers and astrophotographers.
Plus, the Canon 5D Mark IV is just great across the board, packing a 30.4-megapixel sensor, dual card slots, 61 AF points with 41 cross-type points, and 7 frames-per-second continuous shooting.
Note that the Canon 1D X Mark II (Canon’s $5000+ flagship camera) does give better photos than the Canon 5D Mark IV, especially at ISO 6400 and 12800. But the unspeakably high price makes it a non-starter for pretty much every enthusiast and even semi-professional photographer, so I opted to leave both it and its Nikon equivalent, the D5, off the list.
2. Incredible alternative: the Nikon D850
First things first:
The Nikon D850 is one of Nikon’s top DSLRs and an amazing low light shooter in its own right.
In fact, the Nikon D850 edges out the Canon 5D Mark IV when it comes to low-light focusing. The Nikon D850 can lock focus in almost complete darkness, and it’s rated by Nikon down to an AF sensitivity of EV -4. In other words, the D850 is a strong option for event photographers, as well as anyone else looking to shoot moving subjects in low light.
Where the Nikon D850 falls short is in terms of ISO performance – though “falling short” is a bit of a misnomer in this case, because the D850 features amazing high ISO capabilities.
(It’s a credit to the Canon 5D Mark IV’s outstanding low light performance that it comes in ahead of the Nikon.)
The D850 offers beautiful photos up to ISO 1600. Images are still usable at ISO 3200. After this, color casts begin to distort the D850’s photos, though noise performance is still impressive.
If you’re comparing the D850 versus the 5D Mark IV, it’s worth noting the higher resolution of the D850 (45.7 megapixels) with the same frame-per-second rate (7 fps). Add to that 4K video capabilities, and you’ve got yourself a tremendous competitor.
3. Good budget option: the Nikon D750
The Nikon D750 is a few years old now (it was released in 2014), but that doesn’t stop it from offering up impressive low light performance, five years later.
The biggest benefit the D750 offers in terms of low-light capabilities is its autofocus; while it can’t go down to the -4 EV AF sensitivity featured on the D850, it offers autofocusing at a respectable -3 EV and does extremely well (better than the D810) at acquiring focus in low light.
The D750 packs impressive high-ISO capabilities, as well. You should be able to shoot comfortably up through ISO 1600. At ISO 3200, some noise will be present, increasing at ISO 6400, but remaining usable.
Other features include a 6.5 fps continuous shooting speed, a full-frame, 24.3-megapixel sensor, and an adjustable LCD screen. Where the D750 shows its years is in terms of its accessories: there’s no touchscreen, and no 4K video.
But it’s easy to find used D750s on sale for under 1000 dollars. So if you’re looking for a stellar low-light camera on a budget, the D750 may be the way to go.
4. Canon 6D Mark II
The Canon 6D was considered an exciting full-frame option for enthusiasts. Unfortunately, its successor, the Canon 6D Mark II, debuted to less critical acclaim.
That said, the Canon 6D Mark II does have a few features worth noting, including its low light ISO performance, which is outranked only by the 5D Mark IV among Canon’s semiprofessional and APS-C DSLRs.
On the 6D Mark II, you can push your ISO to 1600 without worrying about intense noise. Even ISO 3200 gives useable, though somewhat noisy, images.
Low light focusing is good, with the 6D Mark II acquiring focus down to an EV of -3, and featuring a strong AF center point (as part of a 45 AF point spread).
All in all, the Canon 6D Mark II is a solid low light option, especially for those not willing to shell out the money for a Canon 5D Mark IV (or its Nikon competitors).
5. Best APS-C low light option: the Nikon D7500 (and the Canon 80D)
Full-frame cameras are better low light shooters, hands down. The larger pixel size gives better noise performance, and top brands channel their best features into semi-professional and professional full-frame bodies.
That said, there are some great low-light crop-sensor options out there.
In particular, the Nikon D7500 offers some impressive low-light capabilities at a very reasonable price (and is just an all-around solid option).
First, the ISO range is outstanding: ISO 100 to ISO 51,200, with an extension to the whopping ISO 1,638,400 (not that you should ever use it).
ISO 1600 shows noise, but nothing serious. Images at ISO 3200 are surprisingly good for an APS-C camera, and even ISO 6400 is usable with some noise reduction for smaller print sizes.
On the Canon side of things, the 80D doesn’t quite match the low-light performance of the Nikon D7500 but is still worth a look. Images become noisy around ISO 1600, increasing with ISO 3200 and beyond. I’d also recommend checking out the new Canon 90D; while the noise performance will no doubt be scrutinized over the coming months, initial tests indicate that the 90D is close to equivalent with the 80D at high ISOs.
Here’s the bottom line:
For entry-level shooters looking to grab a strong low-light performer, the Nikon D7500 or the Canon 80D might be the way to go.
The 5 best low light DSLRs you can buy: conclusion
You should now have a good sense of the best low-light DSLRs out there – and the right one for your needs.
If you’re looking to do some serious shooting and you have the cash to spare, the Canon 5D Mark IV or the Nikon D850 is the way to go.
But the Canon 6D Mark II and the Nikon D750 are solid backups.
And for the entry-level photographer, the Nikon D7500 and the Canon 80D both feature good high-ISO performance, even if they are APS-C bodies.
Do you agree with these low light shooters? Are there any other low-light DSLRs you’d recommend? Share with us in the comments!