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 ISO3200. © 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.

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

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

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A night sky above a lake, with trees and hills surrounding and reflected in the water. Stars and meteors can be seen in the sky.

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 EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM) at 30 sec, f/7.1 and ISO5000. © Ulla Lohmann

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 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."

The Canon EOS R5 camera

Canon EOS R5

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

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.

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.

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 ISO102,400, 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 F2.8 L IS USM lens at 59mm, 13 sec, f/5.6 and ISO100.

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.

The 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 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 8-stops of stabilisation when paired with the newer cameras," Mike continues. "The Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM 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.

"For candid street shooting, the ultra-compact Canon EOS RP and Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM make a brilliant combination. The stabilised Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is an ideal EF-mount alternative, having the same classic 35mm focal length that's often preferred for street photography – wide enough to capture the surroundings when you focus on a subject, and retaining a natural perspective."

A close-up portrait of a dark-haired woman wearing pink lipstick and eye shadow, taken in low light.

A supremely versatile camera, the Canon EOS R6 combines a 20MP 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 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/1.8 and ISO1250. © Ejiro Dafé

3. Best mirrorless kit for low-light portraits

Mike favours the Canon EOS R6 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 EOS R6 camera.

Canon EOS R6

Whatever you shoot, however you shoot it, the EOS R6 lets you be creative in ways you never thought possible.

"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, despite not having an optical image stabiliser.

"The best EF-mount alternatives are the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM and Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM.

"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."

Multiple colourful light trails weave around a model with her hands on her hips, against a black background.

There's no need for fast apertures when you're using long exposures for painting with light or shooting light trails. The remarkably compact Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens weighs just 395g yet offers a generous range of focal lengths. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4-7.1 IS STM lens at 44mm, 13 sec, f/16 and ISO100.

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 RP 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 RP, 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.

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 ISO3200. © 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. For EF lenses with a mount adapter, I'd go for the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM zoom or the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM prime."

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

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.
Photographed in low light, a shirtless male dancer is captured in motion through the gold doorframe of an opulent room.

For Mike, the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens is the perfect choice for all-round low-light stills and video shooting, especially when paired with the Canon EOS R6. "This camera and lens combination delivers 8-stops of image stabilisation, which is highly effective for both stills and video capture," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 24mm, 1/350 sec, f/2.8 and ISO800. © Javier Cortés

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 and Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8L IS USM zoom lens. "The EOS R6 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.

"If you want an EF-mount alternative, I'd suggest the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM for outright performance and versatility."

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.
Matthew Richards

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