The best Canon kit for low-light and night photography

Discover the Canon EOS R System cameras and lenses that give you the edge in performance and image quality when shooting at night or indoors with little light.
A shimmering lake beneath a starry sky, photographed in low light. In the foreground are two clumps of reeds, in the background a sprawling mountain range.

"Canon EOS R System cameras retain unprecedented levels of fine detail and texture in low-light shooting, while keeping image noise to an absolute minimum," says Canon Europe's Mike Burnhill. This spectacular night-time image was captured with a Canon EOS R5 and Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens – a combination Mike particularly recommends for astrophotography. Taken at 15mm, 25 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 3200. © Ulla Lohmann

Canon's state-of-the-art EOS R System cameras and RF lenses are highly capable whatever the weather, but their advanced technologies make them an outstanding choice particularly for low-light photography. This is the case even in extreme situations where retaining image quality and all-round performance has long been problematic, such as shooting at night without artificial lighting or down a coal mine when the whole aim is depicting the ambient conditions and flash would be inappropriate.

"The main technical challenge of night photography is the difference between what the eye can see and what the camera can capture," says Mike Burnhill, Senior Product Specialist at Canon Europe. "With the hugely wide dynamic range of human vision, we can pick out really fine detail in near-darkness, but replicating that in a camera system is a real challenge.

"That said, a problem with using DSLRs in the dark is that, when you look through their optical viewfinders, you're at the mercy of ambient light conditions and might see barely anything at all. However, with the electronic viewfinders in EOS R System cameras, the viewfinder brightness is adjustable. You can literally see in the dark. What's more, exposure simulation gives you an accurate preview of exposure levels and other settings you have applied. On top of that, EOS R System cameras can autofocus in almost complete darkness, which can make all the difference between getting the shot and missing it altogether because your eyes can't see what is in focus."

Breakthroughs in image sensor design and image processor technology in the EOS R System range deliver superior image quality, even at very high ISO settings. Advanced image stabilisation systems delivering up to 8-stops of stabilisation are a game-changer for low-light photography and street photography at night.

"It's never been easier to capture stunning photos in the dark," enthuses Canon Europe Product Marketing Specialist, Tibor Szövetes. "With the development of cutting-edge ultra-wide lenses such as the Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM, it's possible to capture epic night-time scenes wider than ever before in fine detail. Fast lenses such as the Canon RF 135mm F1.8L IS USM and Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM mean you can let more light into the camera, and in terms of sensor technology, we've got features that make it easier to focus in low light and capture images with less noise. The Canon EOS R6 Mark II can focus in light levels lower than that from a half-moon, for example."

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Here, Mike and Tibor reveal the best Canon mirrorless cameras for night photography and the kit that should be in every low-light photography enthusiast's kitbag.

A misty nighttime landscape of tree-covered mountains, with a single lit-up church building in the distance, taken on a Canon EOS R5.

With its new-generation 45MP image sensor and DIGIC X processor, the Canon EOS R5 captures sensational levels of fine detail even at high ISO settings, reinforced by up to 8-stops of image stabilisation and an advanced autofocus system that will work in almost complete darkness. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM at 200mm, 30 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 800. © Piotr Skrzypiec

1. Best mirrorless kit for low-light landscape and nightscape photography

"All EOS R System cameras work really well for this but I favour the Canon EOS R5," Mike says. "It has a high megapixel count for retaining ultra-fine detail, plus advanced image stabilisation that's worth up to 8-stops, enabling you to shoot handheld and play the angles in conditions that previously were prohibitive. Image quality at high ISO settings isn't as noise-free as high-ISO images from the Canon EOS R6 Mark II but, because you have such high resolution, you can downsize the images if necessary, say from 45 to 30 megapixels, where resampling further reduces the appearance of any noise."

Tibor highlights the EOS R6 Mark II as one of the best Canon low-light cameras. "It is probably our most balanced camera for shooting low-light landscapes and nightscapes," he says. "The EOS R6 Mark II has an improved sensor compared to the original EOS R6, with a higher resolution of around 24MP. This provides a really good balance between resolution and low-light performance, as it's less susceptible to noise than cameras that have a lot more pixels squeezed onto their sensors."

Mike's top choice of lens for low-light landscape and nightscape photography is the Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM, which offers a broad range of focal lengths along with a fast f/2 aperture. Although this lens doesn't have optical image stabilisation, pairing it with the EOS R5 can still deliver up to 8-stops of stabilisation. Thanks to the comparatively large image circle, there is ample room for the in-body IS to move the sensor to stabilise the image without risk of the image edges getting cut off.

For capturing wider scenes, the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM offers a wider angle of view on a full-frame camera, compared to the aforementioned lenses. Combined with its fast aperture, 5-stop Image Stabilizer and L-series weather-resistant construction, it's built for low-light photography in the great outdoors.

The Canon EOS R5 camera

Canon EOS R5

The EOS R5's uncompromising performance will revolutionise your photography and filmmaking.

You can also use EF lenses on EOS R System cameras with no loss of quality or functionality via an EF-EOS R Mount Adapter, and if you choose this option the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is ideal. "When launched, it redefined the capabilities of a standard zoom," Mike says, "and it has become a classic for pro-grade photography."

A large industrial plant and its surroundings at night. The plant is highly illuminated and in the background the outline of a city can be seen. Taken on a Canon EOS R3.

The Canon EOS R3's full-frame CMOS sensor features two layers of circuitry stacked together, to increase light sensitivity and reduce image noise. Sensitivity of up to ISO 102,400, 8-stops of image stabilisation and a bright electronic viewfinder make the EOS R3 a formidable camera for any professional shooting in low light. Taken on a Canon EOS R3 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 59mm, 13 sec, f/5.6 and ISO 100.

2. Best mirrorless kit for night cityscapes and street photography

The sheer tonal range of night-time cityscapes can be a challenge for any camera. "There's often a massive difference between brightly lit areas and near-black shadows," Mike points out. "The Canon EOS R3 comes into its own for creating HDR (High Dynamic Range) images in-camera. Other EOS R System cameras have this function but the super-fast drive rate and data read-out of the EOS R3 means that you can fire off three exposure-bracketed shots in as little as 30 milliseconds, the blink of an eye, effectively creating HDR images even of moving objects.

"For squeezing expansive cityscapes into the frame, the Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM is very compact for an ultra-wide-angle zoom lens and offers up to 7-stops of stabilisation when paired with the newer cameras with IBIS," Mike continues. The Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM goes even wider – in fact, it's the world's widest-angle AF zoom. "It captures a beautiful, expansive image with low distortion," says Tibor. "If you're working in a narrow street, that 10mm focal length is going to enable you to frame the scene in a dramatic new way, while keeping lines, edges and the structures of buildings straight."

A great all-rounder for this type of low-light photography is the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM, adds Mike. "It isn't as wide-angle but gives you greater telephoto reach with the same constant f/4 aperture rating, which is fast enough for night cityscapes and street photography."

A Canon EOS R3 camera.

Canon EOS R3

Fleeting moments in time, captured on camera in ways that you never thought were possible. Welcome to the future of action photography.

For candid street photography, the ultra-compact Canon EOS R8 and Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM make a brilliant combination. "The EOS R8 is the smallest and lightest full-frame camera in the EOS R System, and has a moving subject HDR shooting mode," notes Tibor. "When you're out and about on the streets at night, the last thing you want to be doing is carrying bulky kit that attracts attention. The camera has the same full-frame sensor as the one in the Canon EOS R6 Mark II as well, so it's capable of capturing atmospheric city scenes in low light."

A woman in winter clothing smiles as she roasts a marshmallow on a stick over a fire at night. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 Mark II.

A supremely versatile camera, the Canon EOS R6 Mark II combines a 24.2MP image sensor with a new-generation DIGIC X processor to deliver sumptuous low-noise image quality for both stills and movies, with face-detection and eye-detection autofocus technology that works superbly even in very low light. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 Mark II with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 0.5 sec, f/1.8 and ISO 400.

3. Best mirrorless kit for low-light portraits

Mike favours the Canon EOS R6 Mark II for low-light portrait photography. "It shares a lot of the EOS R5's finer points but can autofocus in even darker conditions, right down to -6.5EV as compared to the EOS R5's -6EV," he says. "The intelligent face-detection and eye-detection autofocus technology powered by deep-learning AI keeps on working really well even under very low lighting. This means accurate focusing in portrait photography with a really shallow depth of field is no longer a worry, so you can just concentrate on the creative elements, like the pose and the composition that make for a great shot. Again, highly effective image stabilisation offers the freedom of handheld shooting.

"The Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM is a favourite for portrait photography at weddings and events, thanks to its range of focal lengths and excellent image quality. But my absolute top choice is the Canon RF 85mm F1.2L USM DS. It's optimised for shooting wide-open and its 'defocus smoothing' enhancement gives a really soft outline to classic bokeh discs created from defocused light sources.

"For compact, relatively inexpensive alternatives, the Canon RF 85mm F2 Macro IS STM is a smart buy. So is the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM – thanks to its fast aperture, this lens still enables up to 7-stops of stabilisation when paired with the EOS R6 Mark II, despite not having an optical image stabiliser."

Tibor recommends the Canon RF 135mm F1.8L IS USM as another outstanding low-light lens for portraits. "The bright aperture and telephoto compression are key here," he says. "You get a beautiful separation between your background, foreground and the main subject, and the image quality of this lens is outstanding." The RF 135mm F1.8L IS USM is equipped with a 5.5-stop Optical Image Stabilizer – boosted to 8-stops on an EOS R System camera with IBIS – which further enhances its low-light photography capabilities.

A Canon EOS R6 Mark II camera.

Canon EOS R6 Mark II

Stills or video, action or portrait – the EOS R6 Mark II's blend of performance and image quality lets your creativity thrive.

"For popping a bit of extra illumination into low-light portraits, a flash can come in really handy," Mike adds. "The Canon Speedlite EL-1 is amazing, as it has a really low minimum output of 1/8000th of the maximum power. This lets you add just a little light without losing the ambience of the surroundings and background."

The Canon Speedlite EL-5 is another powerful option for cameras which have Canon's Multi-Function shoe, such as the EOS R6 Mark II and EOS R3. This Speedlite's output can be reduced to as low as 1/1024th power and it features an adjustable Dual White LED modelling light that enables you to see where the light will fall in a picture.

Light trails on a winding mountain road in evening light, clearly visible far into the distance. Taken by Piotr Skrzypiec on a Canon EOS R5.

All Canon EOS R System cameras have built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth which enables you to control the camera remotely. This is useful when you don't want to inadvertently move the camera, such as when creating light trails. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 19mm, 1/6 sec, f/11 and ISO 100. © Piotr Skrzypiec

4. Best mirrorless kit for light trails and light painting

For capturing light trails and painting with light, Mike says there aren't really any specific criteria for camera and lens choice. "You'll be using long exposures, so you don't need a lens with a fast aperture. However, operating the camera remotely can be a big advantage, so it's great using a camera like the Canon EOS R8 with the Canon Camera Connect app. You can fully control the camera from your smartphone, via Bluetooth or by creating a Wi-Fi hotspot. So, for light painting, you can get into place and then start and stop the exposure, as well as checking the results, without having to run back and forth to the camera each time. For light trails, remote operation avoids the risk of vibrations caused by touching the camera.

"The Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM is a perfect choice of lens for this sort of night shooting. Its small size and lightweight build are ideally matched to the EOS R8, and it's competitively priced. The big zoom range adds versatility, while the relatively narrower aperture is no drawback when you're using long exposures."

The Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens.

Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM

Enjoy all the benefits of the full-frame EOS R range with a versatile, all-purpose 24-105mm lens with in-built optical Image Stabilizer that keeps your images and movies steady.
A long-exposure image of a star-filled sky with several meteor trails, all visible above treetops. Taken with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

At the wide-angle end of Canon's "trinity" of f/2.8 RF zooms, the RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens is ideal for shooting everything from cramped interiors to the great outdoors. With its fast, constant aperture rating and wide viewing angles, it's perfect for capturing meteors in the vast panoply of a starry night. Excellent image quality is enhanced by the inclusion of three aspherical and two UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) optical elements. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 18mm and created using several exposures at 14 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 3200. © Fergus Kennedy

5. Best mirrorless kit for astrophotography

"For astrophotography I'd definitely go for the Canon EOS R5, with its high resolution," says Mike. "It's often vital to retain as much fine detail as possible in the sky. If small stars disappear from the image, that's a major concern. It's amazing how much detail this camera can capture in the night sky. I've seen images taken on an EOS R5 with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM and a Canon Extender RF 2x where Saturn's rings are clearly visible.

"Generally in astrophotography, you need to keep shutter speeds fairly fast, to avoid stars and other celestial objects smearing across the sky. Wide viewing angles with wide apertures are the ideal combination, and the Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM is the most obvious choice. For a smaller, lighter and less expensive option, the Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM is ideal.

The Canon EOS R8 is a great entry point into astrophotography with a full-frame camera, suggests Tibor. "You've got the same sensor and improved sensitivity as the Canon EOS R6 Mark II, yet it's in a smaller, more lightweight body. Any weight-saving is going to be an advantage if you have to carry gear to a remote location for astrophotography."

Pairing the EOS R8 with the Canon RF 10-20mm F4L IS STM opens up the opportunity to capture more of the night sky than ever before, adds Tibor. "This is the widest full-frame lens in our range that isn't a fisheye and it delivers super corner-to-corner sharpness with little distortion."

For some night sky subjects, going long is more important than going wide. This is where an APS-C camera such as the Canon EOS R7 or EOS R10 can be an advantage for astrophotography. "If you want to punch in a little more on the Moon for example, you can exploit the 1.6x crop factor of these cameras to give you that additional reach," says Tibor. "The EOS R7 has a relatively high resolution of 32.5MP as well, which allows you to record more detail."

RF 15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM

Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM

Canon's fastest ultra-wide-angle zoom, boasting a Nano USM motor, 5-stops of image stabilisation plus 3 Aspherical and 2 UD elements for stunning sharpness.

To capture more open shots of the sky on an APS-C camera, you need to choose an ultra-wide lens. "The RF-S 10-18mm F4.5-6.3 IS STM is a good choice," says Tibor. "Even with the 1.6x crop, the shortest focal length of this zoom provides the equivalent view of 16mm on a full-frame camera, which still gives you an ultra-wide shot." For general scenes featuring the night sky, the RF 15-30mm F4.5-6.3 IS STM offers a versatile range of focal lengths in a lightweight, compact package.

The Moon glows brightly in the dark sky, above a night scene of a river, bridge and boats with a cityscape behind. Taken on a Canon EOS R8.

The Canon EOS R8 uses the same processor and sensor as the EOS R6 Mark II, says Tibor. "That means this small, lightweight body is capable of capturing images that have a very similar look and feel to those produced by the more advanced camera." Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM lens at 19mm, 20 sec, f/22 and ISO 640. © Mara Leite

6. Best all-round mirrorless kit for low-light photography and video

For the ultimate in all-round versatility and performance, when you plan to shoot both stills and video in low-light conditions, Mike recommends the Canon EOS R6 Mark II and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM zoom lens. "The EOS R6 Mark II delivers exceptional image quality at really high ISO settings, and the Nano USM autofocus system of the lens is super-fast for stills but also really smooth and silent for video focus transitions. You can actually alter the transition speed for autofocus when shooting video, so that pull-focusing has exactly the look and feel that you're after.

"For prime lenses, I'd pick the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM as a superb low-light lens, even though it's better suited to stills than video. The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM wins out as a high-performance yet affordable all-rounder, with a really natural viewing perspective."

Even though the EOS R6 Mark II has around half the resolution of the EOS R5, there is a solution from Canon that can help to expand the results, explains Tibor. "Our subscription-based Neural Network Image Processing Tool enables you to process your low-light images and eliminate noise to a higher standard using deep learning technology, while our Neural network Upscaling Tool makes it possible to maintain definition while doubling the number of vertical and horizontal pixels.

"All of our AI solutions are designed to help you improve your image quality, and they can expand your photographic possibilities when shooting at night. The first month of the subscription is free and as you have nothing to lose, it is worth giving it a try."

The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM

Part of Canon's trinity of essential f/2.8 RF zoom lenses, the RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM boasts a fast aperture and image stabilisation plus a Nano USM motor for silent focusing.

Tibor highlights the Canon EOS R7 as another of the best Canon cameras for low-light photography and video. "Like the EOS R6 Mark II, it's able to focus accurately in very low light and it delivers low noise at high ISO sensitivities." Both cameras are equipped with IBIS, he points out, and they are capable of capturing excellent detail, colour and dynamic range in darker conditions: "They're great all-rounders with all the technology that is needed to produce high-quality low-light photography and video."

Matthew Richards and Marcus Hawkins

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