Night photography can seem like a very difficult skill for amateur photographers to master. But with the help of the right lenses, learning the art of night photography will become much simpler. To discover the best lens for night photography, keep reading.
To avoid all this time consuming research we have created this article to walk you through the best lenses in our opinion for night photography. Keep in mind that what is considered the “best” can vary based on skill level, price range, and your own shooting style. We will cover night photography lens criteria, and include examples of the best Canon lens for night sky photography, as well as the best Nikon and Sony lenses.
- What are the best lenses for night photography?
- Wide Aperture Lenses
- Wide Focal Length Lenses
- Sharp Lenses
- Crop Sensor Cameras vs Full Frame Camera Sensor
- Other Things to Consider
- What is the best aperture for night sky photography?
- What’s the most affordable and low budget night photography lens?
- What other features should you look for in night photography lenses?
- What camera settings should you use normally for night photography?
- What is the best Canon lens for night photography?
- What is the best Nikon lens for night photography?
What are the best lenses for night photography?
Well, we can narrow this down to a few overall lens criteria. When choosing a lens that satisfies your night photography needs it’s best to keep these three things in mind: a large aperture, wide focal length, and lens sharpness.
If you are an amateur photographer, remember to make sure the lenses you purchase also complement the cameras you have. For example, Canon lenses will not fit on a Nikon camera body. Another option is to choose a Sigma lens that fits both Canon and Nikon camera bodies.
The best lens for night photography has to fulfill a large range of difficult criteria. Here’s what those lenses have in common for night photography.
Wide Aperture Lenses
Most cameras will come with a default zoom lens or kit lens. These are not ideal for night photography because most kit lenses have a variable aperture that will change based on the effective focal length. If you really want to achieve the best night photography, you will want to invest in lenses with a constant and fast aperture.
Some of the best lenses for night photography will have a lens aperture of f/2.8 or greater. Many zoom lenses have a fixed aperture of f/2.8. These lenses are expensive but well worth the investment to have zoom capabilities while shooting at night. One of our favorite lenses for night photography is the 24-70mm f/2.8.
Why do you need a faster aperture?
The lens will have to be equipped with even faster apertures such as f/1.8, f/1.4, or even f/1.2. These lenses are often known as prime lenses and normally do not have zoom capabilities but instead have a fixed focal length. These lenses are more expensive because of the fast and constant aperture capabilities they are often lighter and great for traveling with while you chase the night sky, milky way, or other low light situations.
The best prime lens candidates include the 50mm, the 24mm, and the 35mm. However, remember that when lenses are set to a super-wide aperture, most lenses tend to create chromatic aberration or coma issues. This means that your night photography images will have small pointy light sources in them. The light will seem distorted. This can often happen when shooting night sky photography.
As we mentioned earlier in the article, a prime lens can be a great option for night photography. Especially when shooting portraits with the night sky behind your subject. This lens is complete with a lightning fast aperture, that comes in handy when shooting during the day or the night.
Aperture and Night Portraits
If you plan to shoot people during your night photography sessions then you will also want to consider how important aperture is for its bokeh capabilities as well. If you want to photograph the best night portraits, bokeh is very important because it creates beautiful blurred lighting effects behind your subject and in sky photography. The best option may be to invest in a prime lens for wider aperture capabilities and the best bokeh effects.
Keep in mind, a prime lens only has one focal length. Many portrait photographers think the best lens is a 50mm or 85mm, because they compress the background, resulting in gorgeous bokeh.
Many photographers consider this their most preferred lens for all types of photography. The focal length offers a variety of usability including shooting portraits, weddings, interiors, and the milky way. The low aperture is handy for low light situations and the lens is built sturdy and ready to endure harsh outdoor photography environments.
This lens is made by almost all major camera manufacturers and is ideal for night portraits because of its beautiful bokeh. If you are looking to get more creative with your photography you will want to consider this lens. As a prime lens, it forces you to physically move your body around your subject and change your perspective while shooting at night. If you are looking for a lower price point, you may want to consider the Sigma version of this lens.
Wide Focal Length Lenses
The next step when searching for the best lens for night photography is to consider lenses with wide focal lengths or a wide-angle lens. The reason a wide-angle lens is important when shooting in low light is that it enables you to use long shutter speeds and let more light onto your camera sensor. More light on your camera sensor means brighter photos.
Also, keep in mind the earth is moving, which means the stars move in your images. Even though the movement is not obvious your camera will capture this movement and a wide-angle lens helps to protect against low light movement in the night sky. Also, remember a wide-angle lens will have more depth of field capabilities than any other lens. This is why they are important when shooting the night sky, especially when shooting stars or the milky way to fit all of your subjects onto one photograph.
Furthermore, to capture the best night sky photography you will want to stay away from ultra-wide-angle lenses such as a fisheye lens. These lenses will distort the edges of your photo and are likely to cause more chromatic aberration issues when shooting night photography.
Sigma has made this lens available for Nikon, Canon, and Sony mirrorless cameras. The beauty of this lens is it’s wide enough to capture the night sky but also free of lens distortion. The f/2.8 aperture creates nice bokeh and works well in low light situations. Even more, we love the flexibility of the 14-24 focal length.
This is a high quality lens that night photography enthusiasts enjoy as well as real estate photographers working in low lighting conditions. It has been praised for its focal length, sharp edges, and zero distortion when shooting wide landscapes such as the milky way.
Canon enthusiasts love this wide-angle lens for its diverse and wide focal length capabilities. It is made for full frame cameras but is limited by its f/4 maximum aperture. Like most Canon lenses, it is built to last and is weather resistant, making it great for harsh outdoor weather conditions when shooting a night sky.
We also love that it’s built to reduce ghosting and lens flare which can be big issues as we learned when shooting with a wide-angle lens at night.
Here is a video from photographer David Johnston featuring some of the most affordable night photography lenses.
The Sony E-Mount Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS CS Lens is a prime super wide angle lens designed specifically for Sony mirrorless cameras with APS-C sized image sensors. Providing a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 18mm and a broad 98.9° angle of view, this lens is great for interior, landscape, and architectural images. Its fast f/2.0 maximum aperture is further beneficial for nightscapes and other low-light conditions.
The Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS UMC Lens gives you a substantial wide angle of view of 84° with full frame Canon cameras. It can also be used with Canon APS-C cameras. It works well for landscapes, interiors, night streets, and astrophotography. The non-rotating 77mm filter mount provides allows easy use of polarizers and other rotating filter types while the silky-smooth and perfectly focued shots.
Besides, focal length, another key component to choosing the best lenses for night photography is looking at lens sharpness. When shooting a night sky, you will want to look closer at the edges of your photos, and check for distortion. Shooting at wide apertures is more likely to decrease the sharpness of your images.
To stop blurry images when shooting the night sky you will need to use manual focus. This is important because you are shooting in the dark, causing your camera to encounter difficulties pinpointing a focal point. Using manual focus comes in handy to keep your night photography sharp. Any type of lens on your camera will most likely need to be manually focused in low-light situations.
This lens has an incredibly fast focus, even in low-light photography environments. Users seem to really enjoy this lightweight lens, and its ability to create consistent high-resolution images. The high color contrast will make your photography look even more beautiful and photographers are in love with its maximum aperture of f/1.8 making it one of the best lenses for night photography.
This lens falls into our top picks because of its high ISO score, versatility to shoot night sky photography, and indoor low light situations as well as reports of no coma issues even when the lens is wide open.
Users praise this lens for its surprisingly lightweight and protective body. This lens is most likely to be used by photographers shooting in low light conditions at a wedding with a superzoom. It is very expensive so this is mostly used by the pros including wildlife photographers who may need to zoom in on a passing animal in the night sky. It also has good image stabilization, which is important when shooting with a telephoto lens.
Crop Sensor Cameras vs Full Frame Camera Sensor
Before we move onto the best specific lenses for night photography, you will want to consider which sensor your camera has. Obviously, you will not want to invest in a lens that does not fit your camera. First, look at your camera to determine if it is a crop sensor (APS-C) or full frame camera.
This information is important when investing in the best lens for your camera. If you are thinking about investing in a new camera as well, consider the fact that a crop sensor camera has a smaller sensor and will not perform as well when shooting night and sky photography. Consider upgrading to a full frame camera which will work best with a night photography lens because it will allow more light to access the camera sensor.
Related Article: Crop Sensor vs Full Frame Cameras
Other Things to Consider
What is the best aperture for night sky photography?
When shooting the milky way or stars and you want to create trails, generally you will set your lens to the widest aperture, while still being able to manually focus on infinity. If you are trying to include subjects on the ground with the sky as a backdrop, it’s important that you set your aperture to around f/8. Try to keep your ISO as low as possible and use a tripod to steady your camera and set your shutter last to properly expose the photograph.
What’s the most affordable and low budget night photography lens?
If you are not ready to invest in an expensive line of lenses for your night photography you may want to consider these lenses first. Then consider investing in a 50mm prime lens with an aperture of f/1.8. Most of the major brands carry this lens including Nikon, Canon, and Sony. This prime lens will be a good starter lens for your night photography to see if you really enjoy the subject and later want to invest in more expensive lenses.
This lens is one of the smallest and lightest coming in at just under 0.79 lbs. The lens is affordable but you have to be careful when shooting with it because you are more likely to encounter coma and chromatic aberrations. This lens is best for photographers who are looking for a lens that works for landscape photography with the option to use it for night photography.
What other features should you look for in night photography lenses?
Consider these extra features when choosing a lens. Does the lens fit multiple camera mounts? This mostly important if you use a variety of camera bodies and different brands. You may want to double-check that the lens supports filters, and gives you the ability to save settings and details such as metadata.
Lastly, you may be interested in a lens that supports auto aperture, if this is something you typically shoot in. Consider renting the lenses you are interested in from a local camera store before buying. This way you can test out their functionality before making a big investment. We recommend purchasing brands that have been continually tested and given trusted reviews such as Sigma, Nikon, and Canon. Always check for sharpness in the details, how easy the lens is to manually focus in the dark.
What camera settings should you use normally for night photography?
Settings vary depending on what you are photographing but these are some good settings to start with when shooting night photography.
- Set camera to Raw
- Shoot in Manual Mode
- Lens set to Manual focus
- ISO – 200
- Set White Balance to Auto
- Shutter Speed – 1/30th of a second
- Aperture – start with f/8
What is the best Canon lens for night photography?
Depending on what type of night photography you are capturing the “best” Canon lens could vary greatly, but if you want the best overall Canon lens for night photography, we recommend testing the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. This lens has a lightning-fast aperture and is great for night photography. Customers rave about its great focus and the affordable price to get started.
What is the best Nikon lens for night photography?
The same goes for Nikon. They offer an AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G for their camera bodies and customers love the low aperture capabilities and it’s crystal clear photos while shooting in the dark. It’s lightweight and you can easily manually focus at night with this lens.
Night photography is one of the most difficult ways to use your camera equipment. You will encounter many tricky situations in low light and not every lens is up to par with this type of photography.
That’s why it’s important to keep in mind everything we talked about including, focal length, wide apertures, and lens sharpness. You will notice that a lens made for night photography is usually going to be more expensive than other lenses on the market, but keep in mind you get what you pay for. If you want to capture a perfect night sky or a creative night portrait, it’s worth the investment in a better lens.
Also, try to push your equipment to its breaking point by pushing the shutter speed and aperture to their maximums and taking notes on what happens. Whenever you encounter coma, chromatic aberration, and sharpness issues, try some of the night photography tips and techniques listed above to create more professional photographs, or read our article featuring some of the best night photography ideas.
And when it comes to deciding which lens is best for you, make sure you decide before exactly what your budget is and exactly what type of low light situations you will need the lens for. You will need to think clearly about whether you will focus on low light interiors, the night sky, night streets, night portraits, dark events, or a combination. Before spending top dollar on a nocturnal lens make sure you know these key elements to investing wisely.
Lastly, know that the most difficult part of night photography is staying out to capture that perfect night sky. Obviously, the right equipment is helpful, but it’s not everything. Just keep shooting, practicing, recording results and you may just surprise yourself with what you capture.