The best entry-level kit for night shots and astrophotography

From after-dark portraits to night-time cityscapes and shooting stars, find out which cameras and lenses deliver stellar image quality.
A figure in silhouette leaning against a building illuminated with yellow light. Taken by Canon Ambassador Lorenz Holder on a Canon EOS R6.

Light is a crucial component of photography, so shooting at night or in low light presents a particular challenge. But night photography provides a unique set of creative opportunities. Subtly lit portraits against a dark backdrop can have a magical quality while also effectively isolating the main subject within a scene. Nocturnal animals give a different slant to wildlife photography, while night-time cityscapes bask in their very own light show. For truly majestic splendour, you can turn your gaze to the skies and capture the Milky Way

The blue hour of twilight before the sun rises or after it sets is a favourite for many photographers. There's still some natural lighting to bring out detail, while city lights tend to bathe scenes in a warm glow. The deep blue in the sky also adds a dramatic touch. However, the blue hour can be very short depending on the global latitude of your location and the time of the year, and you might only have a few minutes to take full advantage of the best lighting. It's best to plan ahead by looking up the sunrise and sunset times and scouting out locations in advance for where you want to shoot.

Also, bear in mind that you might have frost and dew to contend with, so it's advisable to pack warm or waterproof clothes. While many Canon cameras and lenses feature comprehensive weather-seals, a large umbrella is good for keeping your kit dry.

Features to look for when shooting at night

Green and red lights reflected in the puddles on a wet road with a woman holding an umbrella in silhouette. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens.

The mirrorless Canon EOS R6 features a sensitive 20.1MP full-frame sensor designed specifically to handle scenes with high dynamic range with ease, as well as low-light situations in general. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 153mm, 1.8 sec, f/2.8 and ISO320. © Lorenz Holder – Canon Ambassador

A long exposure, taken on a Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III, of distant city lights under a starry sky.

If you prefer a compact camera with a fixed lens, the Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III is a great option for after-dark blogging, vlogging and general night-time shooting. Taken on a Canon PowerShot G7 X Mark III at 8.8mm, 8 sec, f/1.8 and ISO400.

Mirrorless cameras have a major advantage over DSLRs for night photography. Their electronic viewfinders can automatically boost the brightness level to simulate the effect of exposure settings. This enables you to literally see in the dark, while also previewing the brightness of the resulting image for any given exposure settings, even before you shoot.

It's great being able to shoot unrestricted at night without needing to carry a tripod. Cameras such as the EOS R6 and EOS R7 boast In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), which helps you to capture stable and shake-free images. Combined with the optical IS of certain lenses this means you can achieve up to 8 stops of image stabilisation, perfect for when shooting handheld at much longer shutter speeds. 

Quick and consistently accurate autofocus can also be a major advantage. The EOS R6 AF system works in almost complete darkness at -6.5EV (Exposure Value). This equates to a landscape being illuminated by nothing more than a quarter moon. It's -5EV for the EOS R7 and -4EV for the EOS R10, approximately equating to half-moon and gibbous moon illumination respectively.

Lenses with a wide aperture let more light onto your camera sensor, enabling you to shoot on even the darkest of nights, while a wide-angle will also give you the option of using longer shutter speeds. Lenses with optical IS are beneficial for reducing blur when you're shooting handheld.


A nighttime photo looking skywards of palm trees silhouetted against the Milky Way. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens. 

Used at or near their widest aperture setting, wide-angle lenses with a bright aperture rating of around f/1.8 to f/2.8 transmit more light through to the camera sensor, which can be a big advantage in astrophotography. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens at 16mm, 25 sec, f/2.8 and ISO6400.

A photographer with a tripod stands on a rocky outcrop with his camera pointed towards the starry night sky.

Although the powerful combination of Canon's IBIS and in-lens IS systems enables handheld shooting in near darkness, there are situations when a tripod will prove essential, such as astrophotography. Even when using a tripod, it's important to avoid touching the camera at the start of the exposure so that you don't introduce motion blur. The Canon Camera Connect app enables you to control your camera remotely.

Full-frame cameras are more suited for astrophotography than their APS-C format counterparts because you'll often want a really wide field of view to take in the night sky. If you're shooting the moon, though, you could combine an APS-C camera with a telephoto lens in order to capture the detail of Earth's satellite.

The Canon EOS R6 works particularly well when shooting at night. The combination of a full-frame image sensor and modest 20.1MP count equates to comparatively large individual pixels, with greater light-gathering potential. The result is minimal image noise when using high ISO settings to avoid slow shutter speeds under low lighting. Indeed, the standard sensitivity range stretches all the way from ISO100 to ISO102400.

Manual focusing is generally preferred for astrophotography and Canon's mirrorless EOS R System cameras come with the option of focus peaking, which you can use to light up the outlines of the subject in focus in the viewfinder or rear screen.

Fast lenses with a bright aperture are preferable to let in as much light as possible. The Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM lens works well on both counts, while also enabling astrophotography on the APS-C format EOS R7 and EOS R10, where the effective focal length of 25.6mm still gives a fairly generous field of view. 

The Canon RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM is another excellent option for capturing star trails and spectacles such as the Northern Lights. The fast f/1.8 maximum aperture has a circular nine-blade design that performs superbly in low light, giving beautiful out of focus areas and background blur.

Night-time portraits

A low-light portrait of a cat sitting on a shelf, taken with a Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM lens.

A little darkness goes a long way when you want to isolate your main subject. Featuring 5-stops of image stabilisation, the Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM is an excellent choice for creative portraits in low light. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM lens at 1/500 sec, f/2 and ISO200.

A low-light portrait of a woman in side profile, with blurred discs of light in the background, taken with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens.

Small, light and affordable, the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens with its fast f/1.8 aperture also performs brilliantly in low light and is great for creating atmospheric background blur. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/125 sec, f/1.8 and ISO1250. © Ejiro Dafé

The 24.2MP Canon EOS R10 and the 32.5MP EOS R7 deliver impressive image quality for night shots, with standard sensitivity ranges of ISO100-32000. That gives you plenty of latitude for maintaining sufficiently fast shutter speeds for handheld night-time shooting. The Canon EOS RP is another useful option. It features a full-frame 26.2MP image sensor and a sensitivity range that stretches to ISO40000, which makes it possible to shoot without flash and still retain detail and colour.

With a full-frame camera, a focal length of 85mm is generally ideal for portraiture. The Canon RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM lens with its bright aperture enables you to freeze the subject's movement with a fast shutter speed, even in dark conditions. You don't need to increase your camera's ISO setting too much to do this, so you can retain optimum image quality by maximising fine detail and minimising image noise.

Another benefit is that the wide aperture enables a shallow depth of field, so you can throw distracting backgrounds out of focus to isolate the main subject, and turn city lights or fairy lights into soft bokeh discs.

For the Canon Canon EOS R7 and EOS R10, a 50mm prime lens gives a portrait-friendly 80mm effective focal length, thus providing roughly the same field of view as an 85mm lens on a full-frame camera. The Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens with its bright aperture is compact, lightweight and exceptional value for money, whereas the faster RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens is the pro-grade lens of choice.

Nighttime cityscapes

A long exposure of a nighttime cityscape taken on a Canon EOS R7 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens. 

The Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens is light enough to carry with you while exploring cities after dark, and its L-series build quality protects against dust and moisture. Taken on a Canon EOS R7 with a Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens at 50mm, 1.6 sec, f/4.5 and ISO400.

A cityscape lit up at night with the buildings' reflections visible in the water in the foreground. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens.

The Canon RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens is a fast, compact and lightweight wide-angle lens that's ideal for photographing nighttime cityscapes. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 with a Canon RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens at 24mm, 0.3 sec, f/1.8 and ISO100.

If you're shooting night-time cityscapes handheld, image stabilisation is beneficial for shake-free shots and the EOS R7 gives up to 7-stops of stabilisation with compatible lenses. To capture cityscapes at night, though, you'll probably need to use a tripod or find a suitable stable surface to rest your camera on, and use a slow shutter speed or long exposure.

As with astrophotography, a fast, wide-angle lens is the best choice for squeezing expansive cityscapes and night-scapes into the frame. The Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM and Canon RF 24mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM are both strong contenders.

The ability to zoom comes to the fore when your movement is limited by buildings and other obstacles in a city setting, and the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens is a great choice, especially if you find you need more telephoto reach to cover the distance or focus on smaller sections of a cityscape or nightscape.

Photographing moving objects at night

The head of a deer, photographed at night with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens and a Canon Extender RF 1.4x.

A super telephoto lens combined with an extender enables you to capture nocturnal wildlife in glorious detail. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 800mm F11 IS STM lens and a Canon Extender RF 1.4x at 1120mm, 1/200 sec, f/16 and ISO800.

A mountain biker surrounded by red and blue light trails performs a jump against a dark sky. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 Mark II.

If you're using a tripod to shoot light trails, you can use a two-second self-timer delay, which gives the camera time to settle after pressing the shutter button. For a more instant response, you can control the camera remotely using the free Canon Camera Connect app, which also gives the option of a live preview of the shot on your smartphone. Taken on a Canon EOS R6 Mark II with a Canon RF 15-30mm F2.8L IS USM lens at 15mm, 8 sec, f/4.5 and ISO1250. © Teddy Morellec

Good telephoto reach will help when shooting moving objects, such as nocturnal wildlife. Lens extenders such as the Extender RF 1.4x and Extender RF 2x can also be very useful for increasing your reach.

You can get excellent results with the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM or RF 85mm F2 MACRO IS STM lenses at shorter shooting distances. That's especially true when using them with a Canon EOS R7 or EOS R10, where the 1.6x crop factor extends the telephoto reach of these lenses to 168mm or 136mm respectively.

The versatile wide-angle to telephoto zoom range of the RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens is also ideal for shooting moving traffic to create light trails with long exposures. If you're shooting a single vehicle and using flash from a Canon Speedlite to add illumination, select Second Curtain Sync mode. This will make the light trails appear to stretch out naturally behind the vehicle, rather than extending in front of it. You can also sweep through the zoom range during a long exposure (zoom burst), to create a different type of light trail with a twist.

Canon's latest mirrorless cameras and supporting lenses give you creative freedom and flexibility while keeping everything simple. There's a lot to discover after sundown, and the right Canon kit coupled with research, patience and practice guarantees capturing great images.

Written by Matthew Richards

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