Finding the best low light action camera can be a challenge since most action cameras are just not designed to shoot in poor lighting conditions. However, there are a few models out there that deliver decent results in low light.
In this post, we’ll take a look at those cameras and see which ones are ideal for low light conditions. For what it’s worth, an action camera will never handle low light photography quite as well as a DSLR or mirrorless camera, but then again, there are certain situations where the only camera that will do the trick is an action camera.
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Top 7 Best Low Light Action Camera Picks That Don’t Suck
1. GoPro Hero 9 Black
It should come as no surprise that the GoPro Hero 9 Black is at the top of our list. GoPro are the pioneers of the action camera itself and have completely revolutionized photography and videography. Year in and year out, their models just shoot higher quality video than any other camera out there.
There used to be a time where GoPros actually had terrible low light shooting but the company has addressed the issue in their new model. The GoPro Hero 9 Black has some shooting modes that are especially designed for taking nighttime videos and photos:
- Night Photography mode
- Night Lapse Mode
- Auto Low Light mode
You should be aware that low light mode will not have video stabilization, so if your camera is moving very quickly, you will have rather blurry video, especially since the shutter is working slower.
Some advantages of the GoPro 9 Black is that it’s waterproof and in good lighting, the Hypersmooth stabilization does a fantastic job of recording silky smooth videos, and it has voice commands so you don’t need to fumble in the dark.
However, GoPro’s battery life always leaves something to be desired.
The touch screen controls make it very easy to use, and if you have the budget, the GoPro Hero 9 Black is one of the best action cameras for low light, period.
Here’s a quick rundown of the other features:
- 5K video/4K video/1080P video recording
- Frame rates of 240 fps/120 fps/60 fps/30 fps (great for slow motion too)
- 20MP still photos
- Livestreaming capability
This video is a good example of the GoPro Hero 9’s low light performance:
2. DJI Osmo Action Camera
The DJI Osmo Action is DJI’s response to the GoPro Hero. Sporting a front and back facing screen, in some cases, the DJI actually records better low light video than the GoPro Hero.
Interestingly enough, both cameras have a 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor, but the DJI Osmo Action seems to have better image processing.
This is quite striking, especially considering that the GoPro has a higher maximum ISO (3200) than that of the DJI Osmo Action (1600).
The DJI Osmo Action also has an electronic image stabilization system called RockSteady. The results are quite impressive and can rival the GoPro’s HyperSmooth algorithm.
The Osmo Action is actually very good at taking still photos in low light as you can take exposures of up to 120 seconds.
You can take really nice city or night sky shots using this function.
However, because the DJI Osmo Action can’t live stream and lacks 5K video, it falls to the number 2 spot. Also, GoPro’s customer service and warranty is much better than that of DJI.
Both the DJI Osmo Action and the GoPro both are superb choices for a low light action camera thanks to their ruggedness, waterproof rating, video quality, and voice commands. The Osmo is almost half the cost, though, so if budget is an issue and you don’t care much about customer service, go for the Osmo instead of the GoPro.
3. Insta360 One R 4K Action Camera
The Insta360 One R is a relatively new entrant to the action camera market, but it’s burst onto the scene with a storm. It’s not cheap: it’s more expensive than the Osmo, but a little less than the GoPro Hero.
As an action camera, it shines. It’s got all the good features you’d expect from a premium action camera:
- 4K video, 1080P video, and great image quality
- A wide angle lens
- FlowState electronic image stabilization
- Slow motion video capture
- Rugged build and waterproof rating
- A backward and forward facing screen
- Voice commands
The reason it makes this list, though, is because of the Night Shot feature which is specifically designed for low light conditions.
If you’re into nighttime photography, turn on the auto low light mode in Night Shot to capture higher quality photos.
The caveat? This only works for still shots.
Low light video is always going to be difficult, unfortunately.
Still, the Insta360 One R is one of the best low light action cameras on the market and is a great fit for someone who’d like something a bit more premium than DJI bu does not have the budget for a GoPro.
The changeable lens is also a huge plus.
Like all action cameras, the battery life leaves a little to be desired.
4. Sony HDR-AS50/B Action Camera(best low light performance)
The Sony HDR-AS50/B is another contender for the best action camera for low light conditions. Sporting a back-illuminated Sony Exmor sensor, it’s exceptional at capturing great video even in poor lighting conditions.
Sony has really outdone themselves with this action cam. It’s packed with features that make it a great companion for shooting action shots.
The one huge drawback, though, is that it can only capture up to 1080p video. This would have been fine in 2016, but nowadays, 4K video is a must, especially since 4K TVs are that much cheaper now. The Sony can do 4K, but only as a timelapse.
Aside from that, the Sony HDR-AS50/B has everything you’d want in an action camera:
- Waterproof rating to 60 meters
- High quality lens
- Slow motion video footage
- Electronic image stabilization
- Stereo microphone
- LCD screen for viewing shots and composition/settings
- High resolution photos
- Built in zoom
Sony is a veteran in the photography industry, and it’s no surprise that they’ve packed alot of functionality into this little photography powerhouse.
Of all the cameras we’ve listed here, the Sony HDR-AS50/B has the best low light performance. The only drawback here is that Sony chose a slightly different design for the camera which makes it difficult to use in many situations. The GoPro form factor is very universal and works with a ton of accessories.
If Sony had chosen the GoPro factor and packed these features into the camera, it would blow everything else out of the water.
5. EZVIZ Action Camera
The EZVIZ Action Camera is quite affordable compared to the pricier DJI and GoPros, which is why we wanted to include this one in our list too.
On the surface, it shoots 1080p/60fps video with a huge 150 degree wide angle lens. There’s very little that you won’t be able to capture with such a wide angle lens. Though one small disadvantage here would be that you’ll get a bit of fish-eye effect.
The reason that the EZVIZ makes our list, though, is the low-light mode. Whenever the surroundings get dark to a certain degree, low-light mode automatically kicks in.
If you use the waterproof housing(you’ll need the housing for this to work), you can take it to a depth of 40 meters underwater.
All in all, the EZVIZ is a surprisingly good camera that ticks a lot of the boxes where the DJI and GoPro fall short. It has a removable battery, takes respectable low light photos and videos, and it’s quite user friendly.
The main disadvantage though is that it’s a bit on the bigger side, and there are no mounts included in the packaging.
6. Yi 4K+ Action Camera
The Yi is Xiaomi’s action camera. Xiaomi has burst on the scene in the past two years as a powerhouse brand that makes nearly everything under the sun.
The Yi 4K+ is a super affordable, high quality action camera. You can’t expect daytime videos like the GoPro, but for most practical usage(casual Youtube or Instagram), you won’t even notice the difference in quality once you’ve uploaded the video.
It can shoot 4K video at 60 frames per second, but if you enable the low light mode, you will no longer be able to shoot 4K. You’ll lose out on stabilization, too.
Still, you’ll get pretty decent results from the 1/2.3 inch CMOS sensor and even though there will be a few traces of grains, the video will be usable.
Like the EZVIZ, the Yi falls short with no accessories being packaged with it, and it’s not waterproof without a case.
7. Polaroid Cube Act II
The last pick on our list is the Polaroid Cube Act II. The Cube is a super cute, small action camera that measures just under 1.5 inch on each side.
It has a decent 124 degree wide angle lens that should capture quite a lot of imagery, and the internal stabilization will help keep your videos smooth even if the camera is subjected to a jerk here or there.
The EXTREMELY cool feature of the Act II is that the bottom of the camera is magnetic, so you can just stick it anywhere to get an interesting vantage point for recording videos.
It takes high quality photos and video, and the low light performance is respectable, too.
More than its low light capability, what drew us to the Cube Act II was really the super cool form factor and convenience that this camera offers.
How does a camera handle low light?
The main factor that determines how well a camera handles low light is the sensor size. A bigger sensor means better light handling. However, since action cameras are tiny by nature, they have tiny sensors, and that’s why they’ll always suffer in low light situations.
On top of the sensor size, cameras have two ways of handling low light situations. One is to increase the aperture, which lets more light onto the sensor. The other is to slow down the shutter speed, which keeps the shutter open for longer, and lets more light onto the sensor.
Back in the day, there was film, but now, there is a digital sensor which captures the image.
Because there’s not enough light coming in, you won’t be able to see as many details or colors as you would in better light.
There’s also a function called ISO which has carried over from the old days of film cameras. In film, ISO ratings referred to how sensitive the film was to light. Higher ISO films were better suited to low light.
Since digital cameras have a sensor, ISO is used by the camera’s processing software to enhace the low light image.
Lately though, the processing software inside cameras has gotten very advanced and a lot of post-processing that you would have had to do on the computer is now done by the camera itself.
Does resolution matter?
When deciding if a camera can low light, resolution is a tricky number to use. Resolution is the number of pixels the sensor can capture. So if a sensor is small and is rated for many megapixels, it just means each pixel is smaller.
A large sensor captures a lot more light, so larger sensors usually have larger megapixel ratings.
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Final thoughts on the best low light action cam
Even though we rated the GoPro as number 1, we feel that the EZVIZ actually falls right between everything and strikes a nice balance between price, image quality, and usability.
If you don’t have a lot of money to spend but still want a nice action camera, The best choice is the EZVIZ.
However, if you want more expandability and flexibility and you are willing to pay the extra money, then you can’t go wrong with a GoPro or an Osmo, either.