Northern Lights gear

Best camera and lens 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 Northern Lights, with great sensors that perform at a very high-quality level.

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

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

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

In case you already have the equipment, but you are not sure if it is the right one for Northern Lights photography, don’t worry. We will help you to find it out. And if you still have any questions at the end of this article, you can leave me a comment and I will 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 Northern Lights need some basic requirements:

  • Shooting RAW files: It’s essential to shoot in RAW files in order to reach 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, you can check our guide on best photography gear for travelers.)

We will also make a very 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 Northern Lights are full-frame cameras. 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, producing images full of details with the lowest amount of digital noise.

In addition, autofocus is fast and accurate even at night in these cameras, and you can use them together with the best lenses for shooting 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 Nikon mirrorless star camera is a very good camera for Aurora since it uses the same sensor and most capabilities of his relative Nikon D850. The autofocus, battery life, and sturdiness of the D850 are superior, but it offers the great advantage of mirrorless cameras 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 Northern Lights. The A7RIII is all you need to take professional Aurora images; with no noise at high-ISOs, top autofocus and the best battery life in a mirrorless camera. Pair lens suggested: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.

If you want the best possible results and the 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. In 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 an incredible quality in low light conditions. Pair lens suggested: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L.

Best APS-C cameras for Aurora borealis

The 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 beginners and intermediate photographers.

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

  • Fujifilm XT-3 (Mirrorless): Its price and functions are aimed at enthusiast/semi-professional photographers, and it’s with no doubt the best crop sensor camera for shooting 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 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 Northern Lights

By general consensus, Micro four-thirds 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 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 Aurora, but if you’re decided to opt for this sensor, this is the best micro 4/3 camera for 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 a small Northern Lights time-lapse captured with the Lumix G9. Pair lens suggested: Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux.

Best cheap camera for Northern Lights

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

Best cheap full-frame cameras for shooting the Aurora:
  • Nikon D750One of the most reliable and quality-price cameras ever made. Pair it with a lens like the Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8 and, for less than $1800, 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 Northern Lights you can get in the market today. The price (less than a $1000), and low light performance is simply unbeatable. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8.
Best cheap aps-c camera for shooting Northern Lights:
  • Sony Alpha a6000For around $500, you can get a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera suitable for shooting night scenes and Northern Lights. Together with the Rokinon 12 mm f/2, you’ll have the best cheap combination for shooting Northern lights. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8

Best compact camera for Northern Lights

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

Some people prefer not to carry a heavy DSLR camera or several lenses: If it’s your case, a good compact camera for 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 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 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 besides aurora photography.
  • Panasonic lx100: Another good compact camera for photographing 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. They can be both 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 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 as fast as possible.

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

Best full-frame lenses for Aurora photography

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

The prime lenses are the best and fastest lenses for photographing 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 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-price lens for Northern Lights photography. It’s wide, light, fast, doesn’t have a strong comma in the corners, and the best thing: it’s super cheap. The only downside is the lack of autofocus, but shooting the Aurora, is always better to use the manual focus as I explain on 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 Northern lights in mirrorless cameras. It’s designed specifically for low light photography. It’s super compact and light, and not absurdly expensive as it 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 Northern Lights (Full-frame)

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

  • Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM: Probably the best general wide-angle zoom to shoot 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 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 Aurora Borealis (APS-C)
Best wide-angle zoom lenses for shooting 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 Northern Lights

Talking specifically about the best Nikon lens for 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 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 of freezing the Northern Lights.

Best Sony lens for Northern Lights

  • Sony FE 16-35mm F2.8: This is the most versatile and the best sony wide-angle zoom lens for shooting 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 on the widest range, this is also a very good sony lens to photograph Northern Lights, mainly because of its brightness.

Best Canon lens for Northern Lights

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

Best tripod for photographing Northern Lights

A good tripod for photographing Northern Lights is key. Even though shooting the Aurora doesn’t require super long exposures, your camera needs to be steady for at least a few seconds.

To me, these are the best tripods for shooting Northern Lights that I’ve been using over the last 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 more quality materials. Pair ball head for Northern Lights recommendation: FB-36IIDL

 

Other gear for shooting Northern Lights

To complete this guide on the best gear for shooting 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 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 built-in 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 Northern Lights like this.

Photography equipment rental

This is all! As you can see, shooting with the best camera and lenses for northern lights is key for getting quality images.

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

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

In my case, my photo gear is great for northern lights. However, when I take safari or wildlife trips I always rent a better telephoto lens with Lensrentals. Besides, 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.

I hope I helped you choose the 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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