src="http://www.mirrorlessons.com/wp-content/themes/mirrorlessons The best mirrorless camera for low light photography
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Date: 10/04/2015 | By: Heather

Which is the best mirrorless camera for low-light photography?

LEICA T (Typ 701), 30/1, f/ 35/10, ISO 3200

Which is the best mirrorless camera for low-light photography?

One of the most challenging shooting conditions for a photographer is low light. Whether you be shooting on the streets, at a wedding, during an event, or indoors, there is often no bigger thorn in the flesh for both the photographer and the camera.

There are of course a handful of classic solutions that photographers have turned to for years, and are still applicable even today. For wide shots and locations, use a tripod and a long exposure. For people, use a flash unit. A monopod can also help if you are using a slower shutter speed.

Though we have these traditional methods, we mustn’t forget that the past five years have seen a rapid and striking improvement in sensor technology either. Today I would say that most cameras can deliver good low-light performance with perfectly usable results up to ISO 3200 or ISO 6400.

DMC-GX7, 1/160, f/ 2.8, ISO 3200

These values are more than enough for most situations. If for example there is action involved, you can raise the ISO and open the aperture to the point that lets you keep the shutter speed at 1/100s or faster. This technique works well for weddings, theatre and dance performances. Then there is in-body or in-lens stabilisation that helps to reduce your shutter speed and keep the ISO sensitivity as low as possible. However this technique should only be used for static scenes, such as cityscapes, landscapes or architecture, since with a slower shutter speed (below 1/30s) moving subjects within the frame such as cars or people will appear blurry or streaky.

Of course, there are some mirrorless cameras whose low-light capabilities truly make them stand out from the crowd. This is because they offer a real alternative to tripods and flashes, and give you more flexibility because of their advanced ISO performance or stabilisation. Those who do a lot of low-light shooting will definitely want a camera that can deliver excellent image quality in all sorts of light-deprived situations, which is why we’ve devised a list of mirrorless cameras we feel live up to this requirement.



Sony A7s

sony a7s review for video

The first camera of the list could only be the Sony A7s. It has been dubbed the “low light monster” by many for its incredible high ISO performance. Its 12MP full-frame sensor can reach a maximum ISO sensitivity of 409,600 and can handle almost any light condition. Whereas most mirrorless cameras are usable up to 3200 or 6400 ISO, I’d say that the A7s can easily be pushed as far as 102400 ISO with little loss in detail and acceptable noise. These characteristics carry over to both stills and video.

It goes without saying that a camera with low-light characteristics so superior to the rest of the competition won’t come cheap. The A7s is currently one of the most expensive mirrorless cameras on the market.

As much as we appreciated its great sensitivity during the many months we spent with the camera, there weren’t many times when we felt the need to go beyond 6400 ISO. This suggests that the camera will probably only interest a specific niche of photographers who frequently face low-light conditions in their work.

sony a7s image samples
ILCE-7S, 1/50, f/ 5.6, ISO 25600

I can think of indoor or night sports photography for example where you need to use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and flash isn’t an option. Knowing that you can use 25600 ISO without any loss in quality is certainly a big help.

Another application is astrophotography. Though you can set a long exposure to keep the ISO sensitivity low on any mirrorless camera, the resulting image would show a star trail instead of individual pinpoints of light due to the earth’s rotation. The only way to capture the individual celestial bodies is to use a camera with excellent high ISO capabilities, as you can keep your exposure shorter. We used the A7s to photography the Milky Way ourselves one evening, and the amount of detail we captured even at 25600 and 32000 ISO was astonishing.

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Sony A7 Mark II

E-M1, 1/15, f/ 28/10, ISO 200

Before testing the latest Sony camera, I would have only considered the A7s for my personal work. However the A7 Mark II is the first full-frame camera to feature 5-axis stabilisation. It is what I’d call the best of both worlds. It has above-average ISO performance like its predecessor, the A7 but its sensor moves on 5 different axes (X, Y, Yaw, Pitch and Roll) to compensate for shakes. I found that it works very well for stills during my week with the camera. I managed to take sharp shots down to 1s with a short focal length (24mm) and down to a 1/2 a second with the 55mm f/1.8.

ILCE-7M2, 1/2, f/ 4/1, ISO 200
ILCE-7M2, 1/2, f/ 4, ISO 200 – 55mm

To achieve these results will require several attempts and some patience. But let’s not forget that the A7 Mark II has a full-frame sensor with a 100-25600 ISO range, which means that you will have clean results up to 3200. It is therefore quite easy to find a compromise between stabilisation and ISO and have more freedom with your aperture. This is certainly a great camera for low-light shooting if there isn’t fast action involved.


Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

omd em5 mark ii

At the other extreme, we have the Olympus OM-D series, which has been well-known for its excellent 5 axis in-body stabilisation system since the release of the first OM-D camera. The latest iteration, the OM-D E-M5 Mark II, is without a doubt the king of stabilisation. It is quite possible to take in-focus handheld shots at shutter speeds as slow as 1 second. In fact, on a couple of occasions, Mathieu even managed a 2 second exposure when using a wide-angle lens.

om-d e-m5 mark ii review
E-M5MarkII, 2s, f/ 8, ISO 200 – hand held – 12-40mm f/2.8

This incredible stabilisation system makes it possible to take landscapes, cityscapes and architecture shots in very dark conditions without having to raise the ISO sensitivities too high. The stabilisation also works well when focusing close to an object and while it won’t allow you to use extreme shutter speeds such as 1s, you can still manage to use fairly slow shutter speeds that would be impossible other cameras. You can also use it when in movement to take something more creative like the shot below taken in the Turin underground.

olympus omd em5 mark ii review
E-M5MarkII, 1s, f/ 5.6, ISO 200

Despite the sensor being smaller, the E-M5 Mark II has clean ISO performances up to 800 and will give you good results up to ISO 3200. The small size of the body and the Micro Four Thirds lenses can also be an advantage with stabilisation since the system is lighter and easier to carry around.

Note that while the OM-D E-M5 Mark II is the best camera for in-body stabilisation (the Sony A7 Mark II included), the OM-D E-M1 is also excellent. I’ve managed to achieve sharp results down to 1s of exposure or even more.

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On a budget?

As I said at the beginning of this article, all the most recent MILCs have pretty respectable high ISO capabilities. The differences you might see, however minute, are generally influenced by sensor size or the effectiveness of the image processor.

Two very budget-friendly options that offer great stabilisation can be found once again in the Olympus line-up. You can still find the original Olympus OM-D E-M5, and at a very interesting price because of the release of the Mark II. You won’t be able to push its 5-axis stabilisation to the extreme like the E-M1 or E-M5 Mark II but you can still achieve very decent results at slow shutter speeds. There is also the Pen E-P5 which incorporates the same 5-axis stabilisation technology as the OM-D E-M1 but comes in a more fashionable package. Being an older model, it is also less expensive now than it was a year ago.

E-M5, 1/2, f/ 8, ISO 6400
E-M5, 1/2 sec, f/ 8, ISO 6400

If you’d like to find out more about each of the cameras mentioned here, we invite you to check out our full reviews:


 Why are you looking for a camera with excellent low-light capabilities? Share your reasons in the comments section below!


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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • http://www.bestmirrorlesscamerareviews.com/ Heather Broster

    You might want to try the E-M5 II or E-M10 II then. Both have a focus bracketing option for macro photography and 5-axis stabilisation. The latter makes it possible to avoid using a tripod in many situations because you can shoot at very slow shutter speeds.

  • Anita Bower

    I shoot macros of flowers in natural light and would like to be able to do so without a tripod. Also, I often want to photograph in the American northwest forests, which are rather dark. Again, I don’t want a tripod.

  • http://www.mirrorlessons.com Mathieu

    Yes there is often a solution to shoot in low light. Is it possible to see these pictures online somewhere?

  • Mina

    I’ve had incredible luck with the Lumix GX7 and fast prime lenses. I’ve shot Kirtan bands by a few candles and some LEDs and come out with actual images, after just a bit of Lightroom work….This is also a less expensive solution.

  • Sean T

    No, I do not NEED the a7s, I’m very happy with my a6000, but so many of my favorite moments with my nieces and now my little baby son happen in low light, I dearly want to rent it to play with that kind of ISO so I can freeze them.
    Heather (and Mathieu) – given your experience with the a7s (and a7II) would you recommend an AF lens or one of the Loxia twins for low light focusing? AF can only work down to some light level, but I’m not experience with MF.

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