Best Lens for Night City Photography

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Night photography produces some of the most spectacular images around in our opinion. With the right equipment, it’s possible to capture the buzz of city life in all its glory. When it comes to executing this kind of photography, it’s important to make sure you’re using the right lenses for night time use.

We’ve spent a fair bit of time assessing reviews and comparisons online to find the best lens for night city photography. We’ve assessed optical performance, price, and overall low-light results to find our favorites. We’ve also tried to choose options from a range of price points and brands.

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Best Lens for Night City Photography

Nikon Lenses

Nikon has built quite the reputation in recent years for producing some absolutely stunning lenses. The options below perform very well in low light conditions and are great lenses for night photography.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

First up is this 14-24mm option. This f/2.8 lens comes with phenomenal optical performance and a package of features that help it to perform very well when capturing images of the night sky or a low-light cityscape.

Built-In Lens Hood

One common obstacle for night photography in cities is glare from street lights and other artificial light sources. The built-in lens hood with this powerful lens almost entirely eliminates the risk of glare. The result is photos with far fewer streaks and less image noise overall.

The hood also has the added benefit of protecting from moisture and unwanted touches.

Optical System That Maximizes Light Performance

The system used for this Nikkor lens is more complex than this article has scope to describe. Relevant to the discussion of good lenses for night photography, however, is the crystal nano coating used on the glass throughout the product.

This coating works in tandem with Nikon’s anti-chromatic-aberration technology to reduce light reflections and maximize optical performance. In short, it helps make every drop of available light count.

Super Wide Angle

Good night photography can capture a city in all it’s glory. The super wide angle of this lens makes it much easier to fit an entire city skyline into frame. If capturing the night sky is more your speed, you’ll have more than enough space for this as well.

Pros:

  • Excellent low light performance
  • Built-in lens hood
  • Wide angle for skylines

Cons:

  • Far from the cheapest option around

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 17-35mm f/2.8D IF-ED

This f/2.8 lens might just be all you need to take your night photography game to the next level. The wide angle focal length of this option gives you all the space you need to frame the city as you see fit. While it’s still a reasonable investment, this is a fairly affordable lens if you’re serious about your photos.

Full Frame Camera Performance

The full-frame format of this lens is great to see, especially within the context of night photography. Full frame lenses come with a number of benefits. You won’t have to deal with a ‘cropped’ effect for your field of view and, perhaps more importantly, it often performs significantly better in darker environments.

Killer Zoom

As a zoom lens, this option is capable of getting up close and personal with whatever you point it at. Even in poor light conditions, you’ll still be able to capture a huge amount of detail when compared to other options on the market.

Pros:

  • Full frame camera performance
  • Powerful zoom that maintains performance at night
  • Relatively affordable

Cons:

  • The autofocus is decent, but not awe inspiring by any means

Rokinon Lenses

A slightly lesser-known producer, Rokinon offers a fantastic range of affordable, effective lenses. The option we’ve chosen is one of the best lenses for night photography we’ve seen at this price point.

Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF Ultra Wide Angle Fixed Lens

This f/2.8 lens comes with everything you’ll need to get some killer night time shots. The ultra wide angle is designed to capture dramatic images with flair and style. The optical system behind this product is impressive and results in some excellent photos in the right pair of hands.

Anti-Glare Coating

Flares and unwanted glare can ruin low light photography in cities. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve tinkered with your camera settings, if your lens is vulnerable to glare, your shot is lost. The intelligent UMC coating on this Rokinon lens dramatically reduces the impact of ghosting and flares, keeping your images crisp and clear

Phenomenal Low Light Performance

This lens comes with a one-two punch for great night sky photography — a low coma and high sharpness level. These combine for night time city shots that are bound to leave a lasting impression. This one is well worth the look in our opinion.

Pros:

  • Anti-flare UMC coating
  • Super sharp photos
  • The ultra wide angle is great for cities

Cons:

  • The left and right sides of your frame can sometimes stretch more than reality

Sigma Lenses

Next up on our brand list is the legendary Sigma. We’ve looked through their line of camera lenses and landed on an f/1.4 option that does very well at night. Whether it’s long exposure shots of the Milky Way or bustling inner city scenes, this Sigma option is a great choice in our opinion.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Nikon DSLR Camera

This lens is perfect for Nikon DSLR cameras and comes with an excellent aperture for night time shooting. Just make sure your camera uses Nikon’s F mount series. That’s what this prime lens was designed to handle.

f/1.4 For Low-Light Performance

The fast, wide, maximum aperture of f/1.4 on this prime lens is a lovely sweet spot for capturing the city at night. While we’re on the subject, f/2.8 and f/1.8 are also good apertures to consider. They let in the amount of light you need without distorting your images.

The Coating You’ll Need

Like many of the best lenses for this kind of photography, the glass elements on this f-mount lens are designed to reduce the impact of glare and other light-related distortions. The result, in this context, is excellent performance in dark city environments.

Pros:

  • Works flawlessly with Nikon f-mount DSLRs
  • Great maximum aperture for night shoots
  • Fantastic overall optical performance

Cons:

  • The autofocus should be faster

Canon Lenses

Canon have long prevailed as legends in the interchangeable lens space. When it comes to the best lenses for this type of photography, there’s a long list of potential options to choose from. We’ve settled on two of our favorites.

Canon DSLR EF 24-70mm F/2.8L Standard Zoom Lens

This f/2.8 lens comes with the focal length, optical performance and aperture you’ll need to get consistently good shots of the city at night. With just a minimal amount of experience, you’ll be able to produce some truly stunning shots.

Canon’s Lens Legacy

While they’re far from the only option out there, Canon have been producing some of the best lenses on the market for decades now. When you buy a product like this, you’re gaining access to a legacy of lens performance with a consistent track record for high levels of performance.

This lens in particular does a fantastic job in sub-optimal lighting conditions.

Durable Construction

Once you’re spending this much money on a lens, a top priority should be choosing a model that will stay with you for years to come. This Canon DSLR is designed with the durability you’ll need when moving from city to city for your photos.

Pros:

  • Great focal length for city shooting
  • Durable construction
  • Compatible with a long list of Canon DSLRs

Cons:

  • Keep in mind that this is a heavy lens

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L is USM Lens

 

This wide angle lens is specifically marketed online as a powerful low-light performer. All things considered, we think the marketing is spot on. This compact EF lens is capable of some gorgeous shots with even the smallest amount of experience.

Razor Sharp

One thing to consider when taking photos of cities at night as how capable your lens is of maintaining a sharp focus in low-light conditions. Fortunately, this full frame lens comes with superb sharpness that holds up very well on even the darkest streets.

Optical Image Stabilizer

In darker environments, even the smallest amount of camera shake can lead to unsightly blurs and streaks throughout your final image. The built-in optical image stabilizer that comes with this f/4L lens keeps your still images rock solid, no matter your conditions.

Pros:

  • Razor sharp focus
  • Built-in image stabilizer
  • Nice, wide angle

Cons:

  • Not the cheapest option on this list

Sony Lenses

Sony is another strong contender for the title of best lens manufacturer in 2021. The Japanese brand offers several lenses that perform very well in dark city environments. We’ve narrowed down the list to just two options. Check them out below.

Sony – FE 12-24mm F4 G Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

This stunning Sony lens works with the company’s FE lens mount and might just be your new best friend when capturing the streets at night. We’re not always big Sony fans, but this lens really impressed us.

If you need a new FE lens for night photography, definitely give this one a look.

7-Blade Circular Aperture

When executed correctly, night time bokeh shots that make use of street lights can be truly breathtaking. The 7-blade circular aperture that comes with this lens makes it easier to achieve this much coveted effect.

Pros:

  • One of our favorite lenses for night shoots
  • Can take awesome bokeh shots
  • Corner-to-corner high resolution

Cons:

  • Doesn’t always play nicely with filters

Sony 16-35mm Vario-Tessar T FE F4 ZA OSS E-Mount Lens

Designed to work flawlessly with Sony’s a7 line of full-frame cameras, this E-mount Sony lens ticks a lot of the night photography boxes. It uses three ED glass elements to reduce chromatic distortion, has a suitably wide focal length and delivers excellent low light performance with minimal image blur.

T Star Coating

Like many powerful lenses in this category, this option uses a special coating on its glass elements to reduce ghosting and other light-related issues. Sony’s T Star coating is no joke and can significantly improve the appearance of the majority of your shots.

Pros:

  • Hardworking T Star coating
  • Minimal chromatic distortion
  • Idea focal length

Cons:

  • Sony’s prime lenses for the a7 can outperform this option

Zeiss Lenses

Last, but certainly not least, is Zeiss. The German manufacturer has been producing excellent lenses for several decades. We’ve chosen one lens in particular that we feel would make a brilliant night time city companion.

Zeiss Batis 2.8/18 Wide-Angle Lens for E-Mount

 

This f/2.8 beast is far from the cheapest option around, but it’s not extortionately priced either. It’s compatible with Sony’s E-mount used by many of their high-performance cameras and can maintain performance at very low light levels.

Legendary Zeiss Coating

When it comes to precision and performance, no one does it quite like Zeiss. One area where this can be seen clearly is with their “T Coating” used on the glass elements of this lens. It does a phenomenal job of eliminating unwanted reflections and flare. You’ll need features like this if night photography is important to you.

Lenses for Night City Photography — Buying Guide

This section contains our brief buyer’s guide for those looking for a lens that can take excellent night time shots in and around cities.

A Large Aperture

The aperture relates to the opening that lets light into a lens. The wider the aperture, the more light that can enter. In environments with very little available light, it’s generally a good idea to use a lens with a wider-than-average aperture like f/1.4, f/2.8, or f/1.8 to maximize your available light.

A Wide Focal Length

This of course depends slightly on your specific subject, but city shots generally involve wide shots of skylines and wider streets. A wide focal length will give you the space you need to capture your subject in all its glory.

Low Coma

The coma of lenses is a complex topic. In short, the term refers to the axis of light as it enters a lens and how it can permanently ruin a shot with no hope for fixing it, even with post-processing. When using a wide aperture, a high coma can lead to streaky lines emitting from any light source you photograph.

This means that when taking night time shots of cities, you definitely need to make sure that you’re using a lens that’s built with a low coma rating.

High Sharpness

Sharp, crisp images are a hallmark of any good photographer. In poor lighting conditions, the importance of a sharp lens becomes paramount. With less light available to support your image, it’s important to make sure you’re using a lens that can keep things in focus.

Reduced Optical Vignetting (Light Fall-Off)

In short, optical vignetting happens when more light reaches the center of an image than its edges. When light enters your lens from a harsh angle, it can lead to all sorts of distortion and noise issues with your final image.

Lenses that advertise low/ reduced optical vignetting are the best way to go for night photography.

Use the ‘500 Rule’ for Night Sky Photography

The problem with taking photos of the night sky is that the Earth is in constant motion. This can lead to photographs with blurred streaks instead of crisp stars. A great way to avoid this common problem is to use the ‘500 rule’ equation.

It sounds complicated, but it’s very simple in practice. The ‘equation’ is as follows:

500 ➗ [the focal length of your lens] = the longest exposure to use before streaks become a problem. Use this little equation whenever you set up your gear to perfect your night photography.

Conclusion

We realize that the number of options out there for great night time lenses can be a little overwhelming at first. We find it helps to set a personal ‘maximum spend’ before considering options more closely. This can make it much easier to eliminate lenses that go outside your budget.

Use the recommendations on this page and our brief buyer’s guide to find the best camera lens for your specific requirements. If you want to learn more about photography and how to become a better photographer in general, be sure to check out the rest of our site!

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