Digital Photography Review

best camera for northern lights | Topdeblogs

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Choosing the best camera for Northern Lights photography isn’t an easy task.

After shooting the Northern Lights for years with different cameras and testing new models, I can tell you that, in a nutshell, these are the best cameras to photograph the Northern Lights:

1. Sony A7SIII 2. Canon EOS Ra 3. Nikon Z7II 4. Sony A7RIV 5. Nikon D850 6. Canon 5d Mark IV 7. Pentax K-1 Mark II

Besides having a good camera, using the best Northern Lights camera settings is key to capturing the elusive Aurora Borealis. Also, remember that lenses are as important as cameras in night photography, so I strongly recommend using your camera with one of the best lenses for Northern Lights photography.

The top choices in this list of the best cameras for the Northern Lights only includes Full-Frame cameras since these are the best to photograph the Northern Lights with less digital noise and more quality.

Nonetheless, in this article, you’ll find a full list of the best cameras to take pictures of the Northern Lights according to your goals and budget. I’ve included APS-C cameras, Micro 4/3, compact cameras, and the best Northern Lights cameras on a budget.

Ready to find the best camera for Northern Lights photography?

    • Best digital cameras for Northern Lights photography
    • Best APS-C cameras for shooting the Northern Lights
    • Best cheap camera for Northern Lights
    • Best Micro 4/3 cameras for Northern Lights
    • Best compact cameras for Northern Lights
    • Basic requirements in any Northern Lights camera

Note: I haven’t split the article into Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras. Check out our guide on that topic if you still don’t know which system is best for you .

1. Sony A7S III (Mirrorless)

This Sony model is designed for low-light photography and video. On this particular model, you can set an impressive ISO range of 80-102400, which is crucial for the challenging conditions of shooting the Aurora. This is not only the best mirrorless camera for Northern Lights photography, but also one of the best cameras for filming the Northern Lights and for shooting timelapses. Recommended lens: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.

2. Canon EOS Ra (Mirrorless)

This is the first full-frame mirrorless camera designed for astrophotography and the best Canon camera for the Northern Lights. The resolution and specs are perfect for shooting the Aurora, and, if you’re also interested in Milky Way photography or deep-Astro, this camera has a special infrared filter that allows you to capture more details and colors in the night-sky compared to standard cameras. Suggested lens pairing: Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 L.

3. Nikon Z7 II (Mirrorless)

This is the best Nikon camera for Northern Lights photography. The low-light performance and high dynamic range of this camera can take your Aurora images to the next level. This is also a superb camera in terms of battery life and weather sealing, which is essential for the long and cold nights under the Northern Lights. Recommended lens: Nikkor Z 14-24 f/2.8 S.

4. Sony A7RIV (Mirrorless)

This is one of the best Sony cameras for Northern Lights photography. The A7RIV is all you need to take high-resolution Aurora images, and it’s also a fantastic camera for general landscape photography. This is the camera that I’m currently using for shooting the Northern Lights and, if you use the right Northern Lights settings, you can take otherworldly images of the “green lady”. (Strongly) Recommended lens: Sony 20 mm f/1.8 G.

5. Nikon D850 (DSLR)

The D850 has one of the strongest bodies and a super-efficient battery life. It also offers a huge dynamic range, making it the best DSLR camera for photographing the Northern Lights. If I had to choose a new Nikon camera, I’d go for one of the new Nikon Z models, but this is still a good option if you prefer a DSLR vs a mirrorless camera. Suggested lens pairing: Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art DG HSM.

6. Canon 5d Mark IV (DSLR)

This is the best DSLR Canon camera for Northern Lights photography. As with the previous models, it offers top quality in low-light conditions. This camera model launched in 2016, so you can get it at a lower price compared to other high-end full-frame cameras. Recommended lens: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L.

7. Pentax K-1 Mark II (DSLR)

Usually eclipsed by other brands, not many people talk about Pentax today, but they have one of the best DSLR cameras for Northern Lights photography. Pentax cameras are known for being the most rugged and weather-resistant cameras on the market, and this model fulfills those characteristics for shooting the Northern Lights in Canada, Iceland, or other cold climates. The ISO range in this model goes from 100 to 118900, so it’s perfect for capturing the Aurora. Recommended lens: Pentax 15-30 mm f/2.8 ED.

Best APS-C cameras for shooting the Aurora borealis

Crop-sensor (APS-C) cameras can capture the Northern Lights, but most of them can’t match the quality of full-frame cameras.

They usually struggle in low-light conditions, such as when photographing the Northern Lights with a new moon. Raising the ISO in these cameras usually means generating a good amount of digital noise in your photographs.

The list below shows the best APS-C cameras for Northern Lights:

  • Fujifilm XT-4 (Mirrorless): This camera is aimed at enthusiasts/semi-professionals, and, without a doubt, it’s the best APS-C camera for shooting the Northern Lights. You’ll forget that you’re shooting with a crop-sensor camera once you see the results shooting in low-light conditions. Recommended lens: Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4.
  • Nikon Z50 (Mirrorless): This smaller sibling of the Nikon Z7 is the best APS-C Nikon camera for capturing the Aurora. Its quality in low-light photography is at the same level as many basic full-frame cameras. Suggested lens pairing: Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX.
  • Sony a6600 (Mirrorless): The Sony a6600 is an excellent mirrorless APS-C Sony camera for the Northern Lights. It’s super light and it stands out for its performance in low-light conditions and the wide range of lenses. Suggested lens pairing: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0.
  • Nikon D7500 (DSLR): Even though it can’t beat the low-light performance of the Nikon mirrorless Z50, the D7500 is a good camera for the Northern Lights in the APS-C reflex range, with a sturdy body and many lenses available. Suggested lens pairing: Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX.
  • Canon 7D Mark II (DSLR): One of the best Astro-cameras for Northern Lights from Canon. If the 5D Mark IV is out of your budget, this is a very good quality-priced option. Suggested lens pairing:Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX.

Best cheap camera for Northern Lights photography

Diving into the best value for the money, these are the best cheap cameras for shooting the Northern Lights:

  • Sony Alpha a6000: For around $500, you can get a mirrorless lens camera suitable for shooting the Northern Lights and other night scenes. Along with the Rokinon 12 mm f/2, you’ll have the best cheap combination for shooting the Northern Lights. Suggested lens pairing: Rokinon 12mm f/2
  • Sony A7II: This is one of the cameras we use, and, to me, it’s the best quality mirrorless camera for the price for shooting the Aurora. The price (less than $900) and the results from shooting the Northern Lights and other night scenes are simply outstanding. Recommended lens: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8
  • Nikon D750: This is one of the most reliable and quality-priced cameras ever made. Combine it with a lens like the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 and, for less than $1,800, you’ll have one of the best Northern Lights camera setups for the price. Suggested lens pairing: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8

Best Micro 4/3 Cameras for shooting the Northern Lights

By general consensus, Micro 4/3 cameras aren’t the best cameras for Northern Lights photography, mainly because of their inferior performance in low-light situations and, secondly, for the lack of fast and affordable wide-angle lenses.

However, some high-end models are great, and there are two good Micro 4/3 cameras for photographing the Northern Lights:

  • Olympus OM-D E-M1 X (Mirrorless): It is pricey (for the same price, you can buy any of the top full-frame Aurora cameras), but if you’ve decided to opt for this sensor, this is the best micro 4/3 camera for the Northern Lights. Suggested lens pairing: Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8
  • Panasonic Lumix G9: This is a cheaper option in the micro four-thirds range. The Lumix G9, along with a good Northern Lights fast lens can achieve magnificent results. Here, you can see a short Northern Lights time-lapse captured with the Lumix G9. Suggested lens pairing: Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux

Best compact camera for the Northern Lights

Even though it can be more challenging, you can also take decent images of the Northern Lights with a compact camera. Because of this, I decided to include the best compact cameras for photographing the Northern Lights in this guide.

*Note: Please bear in mind that compact cameras are light and small but that comes at a price; the built-in lenses usually have a range of 24-70mm and are not the best at capturing light. Even though you can capture nice images, don’t expect the same quality and capabilities as with a standard DSLR/mirrorless camera mounted with a fast lens.

These are the best point and shoot cameras for the Northern Lights:

  • Sony rx100 VII: For many reasons, this is the best compact camera to shoot the Northern Lights. If you make the most of this camera, you can get surprisingly good results, sometimes even better than with some entry-level DSLR and mirrorless cameras.

If you’re looking for a cheaper option, the first version of this camera (Sony rx100) could also work. However, don’t expect the same quality results, especially in terms of detail and digital noise. Here is a sample video of the Northern Lights taken with the Sony RX 100.

  • Canon PowerShot G9 X Mark II: This Canon point and shoot can also capture nice Auroras. This camera includes a built-in star mode, which might be not only for auroras, but astrophotography as well.
  • Panasonic lx100: Another good compact camera for photographing the Northern Lights.

Basic requirements in any Northern Lights camera

To help you choose your next camera for taking pictures of the Northern Lights, I want to talk about a few basics that you should check for regardless of the camera model.

When you look for a good camera to shoot the Northern Lights, make sure that it meets the following basic requirements:

  • Shooting in manual mode: This is the most important feature. You need to manually adjust the basic settings for Northern Lights photography like the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.
  • Shooting RAW files: It’s essential to shoot RAW files so you can take full advantage of the camera and capture as much detail as possible.
  • A sturdy body: Photographing the Aurora in Iceland, Norway, Alaska, and similar places with extreme weather, can be challenging for cameras, especially during the wintertime. Make sure that your camera body can endure the cold Aurora nights.

Today, many smartphone cameras can shoot RAW files in manual mode, but that doesn’t mean that they are quality cameras for Northern Lights photography. You can also photograph the Northern Lights with a GoPro camera, but don’t expect the same results as with a standard digital camera.

Some other things to consider when buying a digital camera for the Northern Lights are:

  • Low megapixel count in the largest possible sensor to capture light more efficiently.
  • The battery life is important, especially during the cold Northern Lights nights.
  • A good weather-sealed camera body is the best guarantee to withstand the tough conditions.
  • Focus peaking in mirrorless cameras makes focusing much easier.
  • Having the opportunity to charge the camera with an external USB is useful for timelapse.
  • Having a fully articulated or tilted LCD screen is very convenient to compose.

Since the camera sensor is the most important feature in a camera for the Northern Lights, I strongly recommend reading my guide on the best camera sensor size to see why a big sensor with bigger pixels makes a difference in this type of photography!

Conclusion

As you can see, shooting with a camera for Northern Lights is key for getting the best Northern Light images.

Remember that it’s not a matter of your skills or budget; there is a good camera for anyone to photograph the Aurora. The only thing you need once you have the right camera is to know the best techniques for photographing the Northern Lights.

Also, don’t forget that the lens you use is as important as the camera. You can read my guide to the best lenses for Northern Lights photography here so you can make the most out of your camera.

My last tip before purchasing any camera for the Northern Lights is to test it out. These cameras are designed for working in low-light conditions and are usually more expensive, so I always recommend giving them a try first.

In my case, I sometimes rent a second camera for taking Northern Lights time-lapses and video when I’m on one of my Iceland Northern Lights Photo Tours. I always rent with Lensrentals. They operate in the US., and their rentals are affordable and easy to process. Besides, if you rent your equipment through this link and use the Lensrental promo code ATLAS15, you will get a 15% discount.

Night photography gear camera and lenses rental

For example, the one-week rental of a Full Frame Sony a7RIV + a wide-angle fast lens like the Sony 24 mm f/1.4 costs $248. If you want to buy this equipment, it will cost $4,400.

You can also check for other companies to rent cameras and lenses in your location.

I hope this guide helps you choose the best Northern Lights camera according to your needs. If you aren’t sure if you can shoot the Aurora with your current camera or you have any questions about different models, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help! 😉

Happy Captures and clear skies!

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