Northern Lights gear

Best camera for Northern Lights photography in 2021

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

After shooting the Northern Lights for years with different cameras and testing new models, I can tell you that, in a nutshell, these are the best cameras to photograph the Northern Lights:

1. Sony A7SIII
2. Canon EOS Ra
3. Nikon Z7II
4. Sony A7RIV
5. Nikon D850
6. Canon 5d Mark IV
7. Pentax K-1 Mark II

  

System

MPX

Native ISO

LCD

Price

1. Sony A7SIII

Sony A7SIII

Mirrorless

12

80-102400

Fully articulated

$3500

2. Canon EOS Ra

Canon Eos Ra Astrophotography

Mirrorless

30

100-40000

Fully articulated

$2500

3. Nikon Z7II

Nikon Z7 II FX

Mirrorless

46

64-25600

Tilting

$3000

4. Sony A7RIV

Sony A7RIV

Mirrorless

61

100-32000

Tilting

$3000

5. Nikon D850

Nikon D850 shooting the Milky Way

DSLR

45

64-25600

Tilting

$2700

6. Canon 5d Mark IV

Best Canon camera for photographing the Milky Way

DSLR

30

100-32000

Fixed

$2300

7. Pentax K-1 Mark II

Pentax K-1 Mark II

DSLR

36

100-819200

Tilting

$1800

BEST CAMERAS FOR NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Besides having a good camera, using the best Northern Lights camera settings is key to capture the elusive Aurora Borealis. Also, remember that lenses are as important as cameras in night photography, so I strongly recommend using your camera with one of the best lenses for Northern Lights photography.

Best Northern Lights camera

Having a good camera for Northern Lights is key to take the best images – Nikon D800

The top choices in this list of the best cameras for Northern Lights only includes Full-Frame cameras since these are the best to photograph the Northern Lights with less digital noise and more quality.

Nonetheless, in this article, you’ll find a full list of the best cameras to take pictures of the Northern Lights according to your goals and budget. I’ve included APS-C cameras, Micro 4/3, compact cameras, and the best Northern Lights cameras on a budget.

Ready to find the best camera for Northern Lights?

Note: I haven’t split the article into Mirrorless vs DSLR cameras. Check out our guide on that topic if you still don’t know which system is best for you .

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1. Sony A7S III (Mirrorless)

This Sony model is designed for low-light photography and video. On this particular model, you can set an impressive  ISO range of 80-102400, something crucial for the challenging conditions of shooting the Aurora. This is not only the best mirrorless camera for Northern Lights photography, but also one of the best cameras for filming the Northern Lights and for shooting timelapse. Recommended lens: Sony FE 24mm F/1.4 GM.

2. Canon EOS Ra (Mirrorless)

This is the first full-frame mirrorless camera designed for astrophotography and the best Canon camera for Northern Lights. The resolution and specs are perfect for shooting the Aurora, and, if you’re also interested in Milky Way photography or deep-Astro, this camera has a special infrared filter allowing to capture more details and colors in the nigh-tsky compared to standard cameras. Pair lens suggested: Canon RF 15-35 f/2.8 L.

3. Nikon Z7 II (Mirrorless)

This is the best Nikon camera for Northern Lights photography. The low-light performance and high dynamic range of this camera can take your Aurora images to the next level. This is also a superb camera in terms of battery life and weather sealing, something critical for the long and cold Northern Lights nights. Recommended lensNikkor Z 14-24 f/2.8 S.

4. Sony A7RIV (Mirrorless)

This is one of the best Sony cameras for Northern Lights photography. The A7RIV is all you need to take high-resolution Aurora images, and it’s also a fantastic camera for general landscape photography. This is the camera that I’m currently using for shooting Northern Lights and, if you use the right Northern Lights settings, you can take otherworldly images of the “green lady”. (Strongly) Recommended lens: Sony 20 mm f/1.8 G.

5. Nikon D850 (DSLR)

The D850 has one of the strongest bodies and super-efficient battery life. It also offers a huge dynamic range, being the best DSLR camera for photographing the Northern Lights. If I had to choose a new Nikon camera, I’d go for one of the new Nikon Z models, but this is still a good option if you prefer a DSLR vs a mirrorless cameraPair lens suggested: Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art DG HSM.

6. Canon 5d Mark IV (DSLR)

This is the best DSLR Canon camera for Northern Lights photography. Same as the previous models, it offers top quality in low-light conditions. This camera model was launched in 2016, so you can get it at a lower price compared to other high-end full-frame cameras. Recommended lens: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L.

7. Pentax K-1 Mark II (DSLR)

Usually eclipsed by other brands, not many people talk today about Pentax, but they have one of the best DSLR cameras for Northern Lights photography. Pentax cameras are known for being the most rugged and weather-resistant cameras in the market, and this model fulfills those characteristics for shooting the Northern Lights in Canada, Iceland, or other cold climates. The ISO range in this model goes from 100 to 118900, so it’s perfect for capturing the Aurora.. Recommended lens: Pentax 15-30 mm f/2.8 ED.

Best APS-C cameras for shooting the Aurora borealis

Crop-sensor (APS-C) cameras can capture the Northern Lights, 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. Raising the ISO in these cameras usually means generating a good amount of digital noise in your photographs.

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

  • Fujifilm XT-4 (Mirrorless): This camera is aimed at enthusiasts/semi-professionals, and it’s, without a doubt, the best APS-C camera for shooting the Northern Lights. You’ll forget that you’re shooting with a crop-sensor camera once you see the results shooting in low-light conditions. Recommended lens: Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4.
  • Sony a6600 (Mirrorless)The Sony a6600 is an excellent Sony camera for Northern Lights in the mirrorless APS-C system. It’s super light and It stands out for its performance in low-light conditions and the wide offer of lenses. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 12mm f/2.0.
  • Nikon D7500 (DSLR)Even though it can’t beat the low-light performance of the Nikon mirrorless Z50, the D7500 is a good camera for the Northern Lights in the APS-C reflex range, with a sturdy body and many lenses available. Pair lens suggested: Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 AF Pro DX.

Best cheap camera for Northern Lights photography

Diving into the best value for money, these are the best cheap cameras for shooting the Northern Lights:

  • Sony Alpha a6000For around $500, you can get a mirrorless lens camera suitable for shooting the Northern Lights and other night scenes. Along with the Rokinon 12 mm f/2, you’ll have the best cheap combination for shooting the Northern Lights. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 12mm f/2
  • Nikon D750One of the most reliable and quality-priced cameras ever made. Combine 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 cheapest Northern Lights camera setups. Pair lens suggested: Rokinon 14 mm f/2.8

Best Micro 4/3 Cameras for shooting Northern Lights

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

However, some high-end models are great, and there are two good Micro 4/3 cameras for photographing 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 Aurora cameras, but if you’ve 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, along with a good Northern Lights fast lens can achieve magnificent results. Here you can see a short Northern Lights time-lapse captured with the Lumix G9. Pair lens suggested: Leica 12mm f/1.4 Summilux.

Best compact camera for Northern Lights

Even though it can be more challenging, you can also take decent images of the Northern Lights with a compact camera. Following this, I decided to include the best compact cameras for photographing the Northern Lights in this guide.

*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 the Northern Lights. If you make the most of this camera, you can get surprisingly good results, sometimes even better 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. 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 besides Aurora photography.
  • Panasonic lx100: Another good compact camera for photographing the Northern Lights.

Basic requirements in any camera for Northern Lights

To help you make a decision about your next camera for taking pictures of the Northern Lights, I want to remark a few basics that you should check disregarding the camera model.

When you look for a good camera to shoot the Northern Lights, make sure that it meets the following basic requirements:

  • Shooting RAW files: It’s essential to shoot RAW files in order to access the full potential of the camera and capture as much detail as possible.
  • A sturdy body: Photographing the Aurora in Iceland, Norway, Alaska, and similar places with extreme weather, can be challenging for cameras, especially during the wintertime. Make sure that your camera body can endure the cold Aurora nights.
Best camera for Northern Lights photography

Shooting RAW files in manual mode is crucial in any camera for Northern Lights Photography.

Today, many smartphone cameras can shoot RAW files in manual mode, but that doesn’t mean that they are quality cameras for Northern Lights photography. You can also photograph the Northern Lights with a GoPro camera, but don’t expect the same results as with a standard digital camera.

Some other things to consider when buying a digital camera for Northern Lights are:

  • Low megapixel count in the largest possible sensor to capture light more efficiently.
  • The battery life is important, especially during the cold Northern Lights nights.
  • A good weather-sealed camera body is the best guarantee to stand the tough conditions.
  • Focus peaking in mirrorless cameras makes focusing much easier.
  • Having the opportunity to charge the camera with an external USB is useful for timelapse.
  • Having a fully articulated or tilted LCD screen is very convenient to compose.

Since the camera sensor is the most important feature in a camera for Northern Lights, I strongly recommend to check my guide on the best camera sensor size to see why a big sensor with bigger pixels makes a difference in this type of photography!

Conclusion

As you can see, shooting with a camera for Northern Lights is key for getting the best Northern Light images.

Remember that it doesn’t matter your skills or budget; there is a good camera to photograph the Aurora for you, and the only thing you need once you have the right camera is to know the best techniques for photographing the Northern Lights.

Also, don’t forget that as important as the camera is the lens you use. You can check here my selection with the best lenses for Northern Lights photography so you can make the most out of your camera.

Best mirrorless camera for Northern Lights

Get a good camera for Northern Lights, a fast lens, and you’ll be all set! Nikon D800

My last tip before purchasing any camera for Northern Lights is to test it out. These cameras are designed for working in low-light conditions and are usually more expensive, so I always recommend to give them a try first.

In my case, I sometimes rent a second camera for taking Northern Lights time-lapses and video when I’m in one of my Iceland Northern Lights Photo Tours. I always rent with Lensrentals. They operate in the US., and their rentals are affordable and easy to process. Besides, if you rent your equipment through this link and use the Lensrental promo code ATLAS15, you will get a 15% discount.

Night photography gear camera and lenses rental

For example, the one-week rental of a Full Frame Sony a7RIV + a wide-angle fast lens like the Sony 24 mm f/1.4  costs $248. If you want to buy this equipment, it would cost $4.400.

You can also check other companies to rent cameras and lenses in your location.

I hope this guide helps you choose the best Northern Lights camera according to your needs. If you aren’t sure if you can shoot the Aurora with your current camera or you’ve any questions about different models, feel free to leave a comment below and I’ll be happy to help! 😉

Happy Captures and clear skies!

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COFOUNDER & PHOTO TOUR LEADER

Dan is a professional nature and landscape photographer, photography educator, and co-founder of Capture the Atlas. His base camp is in Philadelphia, USA, but he spends long periods of time exploring and photographing new locations around the world.

Apart from shooting the Milky Way, the Northern Lights, and any landscape that can stir powerful emotions, he enjoys leading photo tours to some of the most remote places on Earth.

You can find more about Dan here.

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29 thoughts on “Best camera for Northern Lights photography in 2021

  1. Don P says:

    I am a beginner photographer and currently have a Nikon D5600. What would be the best lens for capturing Northern Lights in Norway.

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Don,

      For that camera I’d highly recommend the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8, it’s a great lens and I’m sure it’ll help you take nice pictures of the Aurora.

      All the best in your Northern Lights chasing experience!
      Dan

  2. Paulo says:

    Hi, thanks for this amazing post!

    would be the Nikon D7200 a good alternative, or would be better to get the D7500 straight away ? If I use the D7200, wich lenses should I get to it?

    Thank you so much!!

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Paulo,

      The D7500 is a newer model with some advantages in comparison with the D7200 but the difference is not that big. I’d pair any of the two models with a fast lens like a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 or a Rokinon 12 mm f/2

      Happy chasing!
      Dan

    • Wayne says:

      On “Best tripod”…

      Ries wooden tripods will vibrate less than those you list. In the cold are easier to work with as well.

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Wayne,

      Thanks for your comment.

      I haven’t tried personally any of the Ries Wooden Tripods, just can offer my opinion from mine and carbon fiber tripods are very good at avoiding the transmission of vibrations.

      best,
      Dan

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Praneeth,

      Between those two models I would take an 80D paired with a fast lens like a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8

      It’s not the best camera for Northern Lights but you’ll be able to take decent images with that setup.

      All the best chasing the Aurora!
      Dan

  3. Kate says:

    I haven’t purchased a new camera in 14 years. I came upon this article looking for advice on cameras to purchase for an upcoming trip to see the Northern Lights. I saw you recommended the Nikon Z50 with the Tokina 14-20 mm lens. The Tokina requires an F mount, though, so I would need the Z adapter. Would that affect image quality? Also, as far as I can tell, the Tokina lacks image stabilization, which also got left out of the Z50. Would that not make it difficult to get quality shots (particularly with long exposure)?

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi kate,

      You can use the Tokina through the Z adapter. There aren’t many native and fast wide-angle lenses for the Z50 yet, so the Tokina could be a good option. The Image Stabilization is not a problem since you’ll be shooting the Aurora/night shots from the tripod 😉

      If you’ve any other questions, please feel free to ask!

      Happy shooting,
      Dan

    • Dan Zafra says:

      Hi Ruby,

      Your camera is not the best shooting Northern Lights or night photography but you can definitely get some nice pictures of the Aurora. Try to use a fast lens and the best settings as we cover in our guide to photographing Northern Lights 😉

      All the best shooting the Aurora!
      Dan

  4. 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

  5. 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.

  6. 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

  7. 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

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. 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

  11. 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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