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Best low-light lens

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by David Em
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The best low-light lens requires a large aperture to capture more light. Here’s your ultimate guide to the best lenses for low-light photos.

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Sigma camera lens.

How to get more light

With light being the foundation of a photograph, shooting in low light can be difficult if you don’t have the right lens. When there’s limited light, the right exposure can mean sacrificing quality.

Whether you’re shooting portraits at night, early in the morning, or somewhere without much light, take the following steps to increase exposure:

  • Decrease shutter speed.
  • Increase ISO.
  • Decrease f-stop (aperture).

Although these three ways will surely increase the exposure and brighten your image, there are problems that you’ll encounter.

Related: How to fix grainy photos

Shutter speed

If your shutter speed is too slow, the image will be blurry. This is a result of motion blur or camera shake which leads to a loss of sharpness in the image.

For handheld photos, the slowest shutter speed depends on the focal length of your lens.

For example, if you’re using a 50mm lens, the slowest shutter speed would be 1/50. If you’re using a 100mm lens, don’t go slower than 1/100. The longer your focal length, the faster the shutter speed.

Depending on how steady your hands are, you may be able to use slower shutter speeds. When you use slow shutter speeds, use a tripod or monopod to help stabilize the image.

ISO

ISO, which is less commonly referred to as ASA, is the sensitivity to light. It originated from the days of film photography where the higher the ISO, the more sensitive the film was to light.

Now, digital cameras have become more popular than film but the idea of ISO remains the same. Instead of film, digital cameras have digital sensors.

Increasing the ISO can result in grain and noise in the image, which means that the photo will lose quality. The key to retaining photo quality is to use the lowest possible ISO.

Often, the lowest ISO is 100, which is also known as the base ISO. The base ISO will produce the highest-quality image, so use it as often as you can.

Aperture

The aperture is the opening in the lens which controls the amount of light that can reach your camera sensor. The larger your aperture, the more light enters your camera, which results in a brighter image.

Related: Holy Trinity of Lenses: 3 Lenses Every Photographer Needs

You can make the aperture larger by decreasing the f-stop number. When you enlarge the aperture, the depth of field gets shallower which means less of the image will be in sharp focus.

Problems arise when your lens doesn’t allow you to use a lower f-stop or the depth of field becomes too shallow. This is why the lens is important when you’re shooting low-light photos.

At f/4, you may be able to capture low light photos but there’s a high likelihood that you’re not getting enough light. Therefore, it would be better to opt for a lens with an aperture of f/2.8 or below.

Many prime lenses have an aperture that goes as low as f/1.4 or f/1.8 which will open wide enough to capture good low light photos.

Best low light lens

Flatlay of 3 cameras.
Photo: Unsplash

Depending on the focal length and aperture you desire to have, the following lenses are the best for low light:

Canon lenses

Nikon lenses

Sony lenses

Sigma lenses

Tamron lenses

Zeiss lenses

Examples of low light situations

Person in dress looking to the side.
Photo: Unsplash

Moving on, you know that these lenses are great for low light so let’s take a look at examples of when you would need to use them.

1. Early Morning or Night Portraits. These times of day are low light because the sun isn’t out yet. Use a fast lens to capture enough light to illuminate your photos without sacrificing quality.

2. Indoor Events. If you’re shooting indoor events, many of them are dimly lit. Therefore, the best lens to use would be one with a large aperture. Zoom lenses with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 can help with getting shots at different focal lengths without swapping lenses.

3. Cloudy Days. Sometimes, cloudy days can be more dark and gloomy than normal. For these types of days, the lens is important because there’s a big difference between f/4 and f/1.4.

Conclusion

The best low-light lens has an aperture of f/2.8 or below. When it comes to affordability, the 50mm f/1.8 is the most affordable lens. Generally, the nifty-fifty ranged from $80 to $200, which is great for a lens that can capture great photos in low light.

More resources:

Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash.

About David Em

David Em.

David Em is the founder of Portraits Refined. He’s a published portrait photographer dedicated to helping photographers develop skills, capture incredible photos, and build successful businesses.

About Portraits Refined

Portraits Refined (PR) is a media company that publishes the latest expert-backed portrait photography tips, in-depth camera gear reviews, and helpful advice to grow your photography business.

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