Northern Lights gear

Best cameras and lenses for Northern Lights photography

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

First, because today there are many good cameras for photographing the Northern Lights, with great sensors that perform at a very high-quality level and allow you to take tack-sharp images.

Secondly, because each photographer has his own photography goals and budget; some people aim at capturing the best Northern lights images, while others just want a memory from their experience seeing the Aurora.

Best Northern Lights gear

Best camera and lenses for Northern Lights photography

Because of this, I have written this post to help you choose the best camera to take pictures of the Northern Lights for you, considering your goals, budget and preferences. We will also talk about the best camera lenses to photograph the Northern Lights.

Additionally, in this article about the best Northern Lights gear, you’ll find more accessories and all the necessary equipment for shooting the Northern Lights.

If you already have the equipment, but you aren’t sure if it’s right for Northern Lights photography, don’t worry. We’ll help you figure it out. And if you still have any questions at the end of this article, you can leave me a comment and I’ll be happy to help.

  1. Best Camera for Northern Lights photography
  2. Best Northern lights camera lenses
  3. Best tripod for Aurora photography
  4. Other gear for Northern Lights photography
  5. Photography equipment rental

Best camera for Northern Lights Photography

Any good camera to shoot the Northern Lights needs to fit some basic requirements:

  • Shooting RAW files: It’s essential to shoot in RAW files in order to access the full potential of the camera and capture as much detail as possible.
Best camera for Northern Lights photography

Best camera for Northern Lights Photography

That said, today, even some smartphone cameras allow us to shoot RAW files in manual mode, and that doesn’t mean that they are quality cameras for Aurora Borealis photography. We can also photograph the Northern Lights with a GoPro camera, but the quality won’t be the same.

For this reason, this section is aimed at the best digital cameras to photograph the Northern Lights, considering DSLR and mirrorless cameras. (If you still don’t know the differences between DSLR and Mirrorless cameras, check our guide.)

We’ll also show you a short selection of the best top-notch compact cameras.

Best full-frame cameras for Northern Lights photography

There is no room for discussion. The best cameras for taking photos of the Northern Lights are full-frame cameras (you can check the difference between the sensor sizes here). They are more expensive, and are generally aimed at enthusiasts and professional photographers. But if you want to make sure you get stunning Northern Lights photos, they are your best bet.

They usually offer good performance in low light conditions and produce images full of details with the lowest amount of digital noise.

In addition, autofocus is fast and accurate, even at night, on these cameras, and you can use them together with the best lenses for shooting the Northern Lights.

Without any doubt, the best cameras to take Northern Lights pictures are full-frame cameras. Below, you’ll find a list with the best full-frame cameras for Aurora photography.

  • Nikon Z7 (Mirrorless)The star Nikon mirrorless camera is a very good camera for the Aurora since it uses the same sensor and has most of the capabilities of its relative, the Nikon D850. The autofocus, battery life, and sturdiness of the D850 are superior, but this one offers the great advantage mirrorless cameras have in low light photography: working smoothly at high ISOs. Pair lens suggested: NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S.
  • Sony A7RIII (Mirrorless): Sony’s A7Rs mirrorless series are top cameras for photographing the Northern Lights. The A7RIII is all you need to take professional Aurora images; it has no noise at high-ISOs, top autofocus, and the best battery life you’ll find in a mirrorless camera. Pair lens suggested: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.

If you want the best possible results and budget is not a problem, you can also invest in the Sony A7RIV, which offers an even better dynamic range with 61 megapixels.

  • Sony A7S2 (Mirrorless): The Sony A7S mirrorless series were specifically designed for low light video and photography. On the A7S2, you can set an impressive range of ISO 50-409600. You can even record live Northern Lights video with this camera. Pair lens suggested: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.
  • Canon 5d Mark IV (DSLR): It is the best full-frame Canon camera for Northern Lights photography. Even though it was released in 2016 and everyone is expecting a new model, it offers incredible quality in low light conditions. Pair lens suggested: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L.

Best APS-C cameras for the Aurora borealis

Crop-sensor (APS-C) cameras can capture the Aurora, but most of them can’t match the quality of full-frame cameras. They usually struggle in low-light conditions, such as when photographing Northern Lights with a new moon, since they don’t allow you to use high ISOs without generating a good amount of noise in your photography.

These cameras and lenses are usually cheaper, and with a few exceptions, they are aimed at beginner and intermediate photographers. One of the best photography tips for beginners is to start as an APS-C camera to see what kind of genre you like to photograph before you go shopping for a full-frame.

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

  • Fujifilm XT-3 (Mirrorless): Its price and functions are aimed at enthusiast/semi-professional photographers, and it’s without a doubt the best crop sensor camera for shooting the Northern Lights. You won’t notice you’re shooting with an APS-C camera since the performance in low light conditions is outstanding. Pair lens suggested: Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4.
  • Sony a6500 (Mirrorless)The Sony a6500 is the “go-to” Sony camera for the Northern Lights in the mirrorless APS-C range. It stands out for its performance in low-light conditions and its wide offer of lenses. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0.

Best Micro 4/3 Cameras for the Northern Lights

By general consensus, Micro 4/3 cameras aren’t the best cameras for Northern Lights photography, mainly for their lesser quality performance in low-light situations and, secondly, for the scarce option of bright and affordable wide-angle lenses.

However, some new models are catching up, and there are two good Micro 4/3 cameras for the Northern Lights:

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

Best cheap camera for the Northern Lights

If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck, these are the best cheap cameras for shooting the Northern Lights:

Best cheap full-frame cameras for shooting the Aurora:
  • Nikon D750One of the most reliable and quality-priced cameras ever made. Pair 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 and cheapest Northern Lights camera sets. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8
  • Sony A7IIThis is probably the best quality-price mirrorless camera for the Northern Lights you can get on the market today. The price (less than $1,000) and its low light performance are simply unbeatable. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8.
Best cheap aps-c camera for shooting the Northern Lights:
  • Sony Alpha a6000For around $500, youcan get a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera suitable for shooting night scenes and the Northern Lights. Together with the Rokinon 12 mm f/2, you’ll have the best cheap combination for shooting the Northern Lights. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8

Best compact camera for the Northern Lights

Even though it can be more challenging, compact cameras can also take decent pictures of the Northern Lights, so we had to include the best compact cameras for photographing the Northern Lights in this guide.

Some people prefer not to carry a heavy DSLR camera or several lenses; if that’s the case for you, a good compact camera for the Aurora can help you take some nice memories of your Northern Lights trip.

*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 Northern Lights. If you manage to make the most of it, you can get even better results 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. Simply don’t expect the same quality results, especially in terms of detail and digital noise levels. 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 helpful to do astro and Aurora photography.
  • Panasonic lx100: Another good compact camera for photographing the Northern Lights.

Best Northern Lights camera lenses

Without the best Northern Lights camera lens, your camera doesn’t really matter.

A good Northern Lights lens will allow you to reach the full potential of your camera, something you really need because of the challenging conditions of shooting the Aurora Borealis.

Best Camera and lens for photographing the Aurora

Best Northern Lights camera lenses

It’s important to use a wide-angle lens for photographing the Aurora since this usually spreads across a great portion of the sky, so you better use a short focal length. There are prime lenses and wide-angle zoom lenses.

Although prime lenses provide higher quality, I personally prefer zoom lenses because they offer more versatility.

However, the most important feature in a lens for shooting the Northern Lights is the brightness. You can shoot the Aurora using lenses at f 4 or even higher values, but you’ll see the best results shooting with lenses at f 2.8 or below.

Besides, the short exposure time and high ISO necessary to shoot the Aurora requires using a lens that’s as fast as possible.

In this section, you’ll find the best lenses for shooting the Northern Lights:

Best full-frame lenses for Aurora photography

Best prime lenses for shooting the Aurora Borealis (Full-frame)

Prime lenses are the best and fastest lenses for photographing the Northern Lights.

  • Sigma 14mm f/1.8 DG HSM: Probably the best general lens to photograph the Aurora. It fulfills the two most important specs in any lens for the Northern Lights: it’s wide and very fast. Here is a sample of an Aurora shot taken with this lens. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony and Canon full-frame cameras
  • Rokinon 14mm f/2.8: This is the best quality-priced lens for Northern Lights photography. It’s wide, light, fast, doesn’t have a strong comma in the corners, and the best thing is that it’s super cheap. The only downside is the lack of autofocus, but when shooting the Aurora, it’s always better to use the manual focus, as I explain in the focus section of this Northern Lights photography guide. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony, Canon, Fuji, Pentax
  • Venus Laowa 15mm f/2: One of the best lenses for the Northern Lights in mirrorless cameras. It’s designed specifically for low light photography. It’s super compact and light, and not absurdly expensive as often happens with lenses offering similar characteristics. Compatible with: Sony, Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras.
  • Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone: Irix erupted in the wide-angle/fast lenses market a couple of years ago, and it’s crushing it. It must be included as one of the best quality-price lenses for shooting the Aurora. Compatible with: Nikon and Canon Full-frame DSLR models and Pentax.
Best wide-angle zoom lenses for shooting the Northern Lights (Full-frame)

If you’re looking for more versatility and a lens for general landscape photography, either of these two could be a great option:

  • Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM: Probably the best general wide-angle zoom lens to shoot the Northern Lights. It’s robust, sharp, and built with impressive quality. Compatible with: Nikon, Sony and Canon full-frame cameras.
  • Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USDAnother good lens for shooting the Aurora. It delivers an exceptional image quality throughout its entire focal length, something really difficult to achieve in ultra-wide-angle lenses. Compatible with: Nikon, Canon and Sony full-frame DSLR cameras.

Best APS-C lenses for Aurora photography

Best prime lenses for shooting the Aurora Borealis (APS-C)
Best wide-angle zoom lenses for shooting the Northern Lights (APS-C)
  • Sony – FE 12-24mm F4 G: This is the best wide-angle Aurora lens to pair with Sony crop-sensor models. It’s not f/2.8, but it’s wide and versatile. Compatible with: Sony

Best Nikon lens for the Northern Lights

Talking specifically about the best Nikon lens for the Northern Lights, you can find:

  • Nikkor 14-24 f/2.8G ED: This is the lens I’ve been using all these years to photograph the Northern Lights. It’s versatile, sharp, and fast. Today, however, there are new lenses offering better specs for a lower price, like the Sigma 14-24 f/2.8.
  • Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED: The best Nikon prime lens for shooting the Aurora. You sacrifice some sharpness shooting at 1.4 with this lens, but you’ll have the chance to freeze the Northern Lights.

Best Sony lens for the Northern Lights

  • Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8: This is the most versatile and the best Sony wide-angle zoom lens for shooting the Northern Lights. I had the chance to test it with one of my participants on my last Iceland Northern Lights photo tour, and I was quite impressed by its brightness and sharpness.
  • Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM: At the cost of sacrificing some focal length in the widest range, this is also a very good Sony lens to photograph the Northern Lights, mainly because of its brightness.

Best Canon lens for the Northern Lights

  • Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM: This is probably the best Canon lens for shooting the Northern Lights. It’s wide and fast enough to capture the movement of the Aurora.

Best tripod for photographing the Northern Lights

A good tripod for photographing the Northern Lights is key. Even though shooting the Aurora is not consider ultra-long exposure photography, your camera needs to be steady for at least a few seconds.

To me, these are the best tripods for shooting the Northern Lights that I’ve been using over the last few years.

  • Sirui T-1205X: I like traveling light, and this Sirui carbon fiber tripod has proved to be one of the best for traveling light and compact. It’s sturdy and stable, and you can add weight to the center column to make it even more stable. Pair ball head for Northern Lights recommendation: Sirui K-10X
  • Sunwayfoto T2C40C: I’ve been using this carbon fiber tripod from the Sunwayfoto brand over the last year. It’s slightly bigger than the Sirui, but offers much more stability and it’s built with better quality materials. Pair ball head for Northern Lights recommendation: FB-36IIDL

 

Other gear for shooting the Northern Lights

To complete this guide on the best gear for shooting the Northern Lights, you also should consider the following accessories:

  • Headlamp: Probably the most essential accessory for Northern Lights photography. Make sure it’s light, reliable, and you can use a red-light mode. I love this headlamp and it’s the one I always use on my Northern Lights trips.
  • Photography gloves: The best gloves for photographing the Northern Lights are The Heat Company gloves. They design gloves specifically for photographers, so your hands and fingers can work at below zero temperatures. You can see here the Heat Company review of the gloves I use.
  • Remote shutter: I normally use the remote shutter that’s built into my camera, but if your camera doesn’t include this mode or if you want to shoot a Northern Lights timelapse, it’s convenient to have a remote shutter for the Northern Lights like this.

Photography equipment rental

That’s all! As you can see, shooting with the best camera and lenses for the Northern Lights is key for getting quality images.

It doesn’t matter what your budget or skills are; there is a good camera to photograph the Northern Lights waiting for you.

In any case, if you can’t afford the camera you’d like, you can also rent the photography equipment in the USA for that particular trip.

In my case, my photo gear is great for the Northern Lights. However, when I take safari or wildlife trips, I always rent a better telephoto lens with Lensrentals. Even better, if you rent your equipment through this link and use the promo code ATLAS15, you will get a 15% discount.

photography gear camera and lenses rental

For example, the one-week rental of a Full Frame SLR Camera (Nikon D850) + a wide-angle and bright lens (Nikon 14-24 f2.8) is priced at $394. If you decided to buy this equipment, it would cost $4500.

If you want to know other companies where to rent cameras and lenses, check that post!

I hope I helped you choose your camera and lenses to photograph the Northern Lights! If you are still not sure if you can shoot the Aurora Borealis with your current camera, leave us a comment, and I will check.

Text and Photography by Dan Zafra - Capture the Atlas Photography Blog

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17 thoughts on “Best cameras and lenses for Northern Lights photography

  1. kimberley bianco says:

    Hi Linda,
    Thanks for the great review! I have a nikon dslr 3400 and I was wondering what is the best lenses for the northern lights shots?

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Kimberly,

      The D3400 is not the best camera for Northern Lights Photography (I previously owned the older version D3200) but paired with a fast prime lens like the Rokinon 10 mm f/2 you can take decent pictures and memories of your Aurora nights!

      Best,
      Dan

  2. Sean Gibson says:

    Hi, thank you for such a brilliant post. I have been reading some blogs that gives me more knowledge about best camera in northern lights photography; I must say this is one of the best among them. You have done a great research for I feel, thanks for sharing.

  3. Lauren says:

    Hi! I purchased a Canon 90D and was wondering what lens you recommend for The Northern Lights. I’ve heard good things about the Rokinon FE14M-C 14mm F2.8 Ultra Wide Lens for Canon, but don’t know if this is a good combination. Would my Canon 90D be enough? If so, what lens do you recommend?

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Lauren!

      Even though the 90D is an entry-level camera, you can still get nice Aurora images if you use the right lens and settings. The Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 is a very good lens (I own that myself), but it’s aimed at Full-Frame cameras. That means that will offer a more restricted angle of view in your camera (Around 22-23 mm).

      For your camera, I’d recommend the Rokinon 16 mm f/2, which is a better option and will offer a nice field of view for shooting the Aurora.

      Happy shooting!
      Dan

  4. Juan Pablo says:

    Hi!

    I’m thinking on buying a good camera.
    Will the FujiFilm x100v take good pictures of the auroras?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Juan Pablo,

      While the Fujifilm X100V is a great camera for travel, vlogging, and for moving light, I always recommend using an interchangeable-lens camera. It also depends on your goals, some people manage to take decent images with compact cameras,
      and that Fuji model looks pretty advanced. However, talking about Northern Lights specifically, I would recommend another system unless you’re planning to do just some casual Aurora photography.

      Hope this helps!
      Dan

  5. Colin McLaren says:

    Hi I have a Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark 3 with a Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 lense will this give me good quality Aurora images?

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Colin,

      That’s one of the best sets for photographing the Aurora with Olympus. One of my friends has shot the Aurora with that kit and the images looked nice, so I’m sure you’ll take beautiful Northern Lights images with that 😉

      Happy shooting!

      Dan

  6. Liz Wickham says:

    Hi, we have a Nikon D3300 and are wanting to shoot the lights in Lapland, can this work with a wide angle lens or should we purchase/rent another camera?
    Thanks
    Liz

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Liz,

      I used to have a Nikon D3200 (The previous version of your camera) and, even though you can take very nice quality images during the day, it’s certainly not the best camera in low-light situations.

      It doesn’t mean that you can’t capture the Northern Lights, you perfectly can, but it depends on your goals; if you just want a picture for the memory of your Aurora experience, it’s fine, but, if you’re aiming at having more quality images, that camera falls short for Northern Lights photography.

      If you go ahead, make sure you pair it with a bright wide-angle lens like any of the lenses covered in the article in the APS-C DSLR section. (A good example is the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8).

      Wish you a happy shooting and good luck chasing the Northern Lights!

      Dan

  7. Diane M says:

    Hi, I purchased the Sony A7III camera and would like to purchase the Voightlander 21mm 1.4 lens .

    Would this combo be OK for northern lights ? Hoping to travel to Churchill , MN or Canadian Rockies .

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Diane,

      You definitely got a killer combo for shooting Northern Lights 😉

      Wish you a happy Northern Lights hunting experience and, please, let me know how it goes after the trip!

      Best,

      Dan

  8. Linda Fairman says:

    Hi I have just purchased the sony a7 mirrorless camera, what is a good lense for taking photos of the northern lights
    Thanks in advance

    • Capture the Atlas says:

      Hi Linda,

      That’s a good camera, I’m sure you’ll manage to take nice Aurora images with it!

      As regards lenses for Northern Lights with your camera I recommend to check the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 that you can find on the “lens section” of the article.

      Happy shooting!

      Dan

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