Going for the low light performance. What format or camera is my fave in mirrorless? By Steve Huff

Going for the low light performance. What format or camera is my fave in mirrorless? 

By Steve Huff

I am knee-deep into my Hasselblad X1D review and make NO mistake. I love it, but at the same time I am well aware that there are other cameras that can do very close, similar work, for less. As I have explained, I am one who enjoys the designs and build of cameras just as much as what they can do for the output. The X1D is tops over any I have shot in that area. But there are also things I love about other cameras I own or have shot with. The Leica SL. I love it for some of the same reasons, but with the sensor and EVF of the SL along with great Leica Glass, it too puts out a “Medium Format” look to the images at times. It only lacks in low light when compared to the X1D really, and weight and size (when using something like a 50 Lux SL). The SL and Lux combo, though, is the same cost as the Hasselblad X1D setup with 45mm lens. I like them both equally as much, for different reasons. I even feel that at times, that SL can put out a nicer image than the Hasselblad. At times. Same goes for the Hasselblad, at times.

I shoot a lot in music clubs, and many of my images have never been published or posted here, or anywhere. In fact, I just started working on a year-long project for this club series. So it’s something I love and enjoy, a part of my life enjoyment. I tested many cameras in these environments. From the Leica Monochrom 246 (did great) to the M 240 (failed) to the Olympus EM1 (failed) to the Fuji X-Pro 2 (no go) Leica M10 (did good) and even a Canon 6D (did good). I have shot the A7RII and A9 in this environment as well, and they did wonderful.

My fave two setups here in this scenario though have been the A7RII with a Canon 50 1.2L lens and now the X1D.

Both provided rich, low noise results. This had me thinking today…in reality all I “need” for this series is a Canon 50 1.2L for my A9. Or a Sony 50 1.4 which is also an awesome fast 50 with a Summilux type character. But there it is again, the “need” vs “want”, lol. We all know about diminishing returns here but if my goal is low light performance, the realities are that there are only a few choices in mirrorless that will do it for me. There are a few DSLRS as well, but you guys know I am not a DSLR guy, so I will leave those out.

So as I test this X1D I am truly thinking hard about a few things for my “low light” camera choices..

  1. What solution will deliver the best results?
  2. What solution will deliver the most enjoyment?
  3. What system will inspire me the most to use it?
  4. What system will be the best “bang for my buck”?
  5. What system will give me the least hassles?
  6. What system will print the best at 16X20?

I will answer these below, as I have the answer..but 1st a few low light photos from a few cameras that worked well in these environments…

The original Sony A7s takes the stage…though this club has some better lighting than my usual haunt. At 12MP, large prints are doable, but may not have the most impact. 

Below: The next two shots are from the Sony A7RII with Canon 50 L 1.2. This is a beautiful setup. The A9 would perform in a similar way. 

The Leica Monochrom 246 at ISO 10k. Another gorgeous setup for low light, if you are OK with only B&W imagery. 

The Leica SL is a bit tricky in this situation. I would not choose it as my 1st camera for these ultra low light clubs. But with the right lens, it can work. Just not ideal for really low light. 

The X1d with 45 f/3.5 is pushing the limits due to the f/3.5 aperture. This means the ISO has to be jacked up to 12,800 or 25,600. Luckily, this is ok with the X1D as the results are beautiful regardless but its right at the limits. I ordered a 16X20 print of the shot below..and it is a 1/3 frame crop from the X1D original file.

So the answers to the questions above, I have them.

  1. The X1D is the answer to #1 as to which will deliver the all out best results for what I am doing. But the Sony/Canon comes in a VERY VERY close 2nd. Almost a tie.
  2. Enjoyment? Well, the X1D is. the camera I would enjoy more to shoot. It is what it is.
  3. Inspiration? Well, both really. The Sony and 50 L combo is fun to shoot due to the qualities of that unique Canon lens. The X1D is inspiring all by itself. Makes you want to go shoot.
  4. BANG FOR THE BUCK? Sony wins here. The A9 and Canon lens is under $6k or just about half of the X1D combo. THAT is a chunk O change.
  5. Least hassles? Wells so far neither have given me any hassles, so as of now, both are good here.
  6. Prints? Well, if comparing the A9 to the X1D, the X1D wins. The A7RII would be closer of course due to the higher res. X1D wins. Can’t deny the facts, and that sensor is a beauty.

So by looking at those answers, it is sort of tie between the Sony/Canon combo and the X1D.

If I end up keeping the X1D I may also have to buy a 50 1.2 L (well, in a couple of months) to go with my A9, and shoot them both in these clubs for my year long project. I would add the 90mm f/3.2 for the X1D in about 4-5 months and call it a day for my personal photo gear setup. Would be all I needed. But I am not sure yet on what I will do. That may take me another week or two to grind around in my head. One other camera above, that Leica MM..gorgeous. But I have given up rangefinders these days due to my eyes and deteriorating vision.

But from the Sony to the Leica to the Hasselblad, while none of these are “cheap” options, they are all amazing cameras, and the best bang for the buck in MIRRORLESS for low low light shooting like this with intent to print may just be the original Sony A7RII and that Canon 50 1.2 L. Gorgeous setup, not too large and practically sees in the dark.

If low light is not needed, then we can move onto Micro 4/3 for mirrorless as well, as in decent light that system rocks. Fuji as well. With great light the Fuji colors are so so nice. But this is an article about chasing that fading light into almost darkness, and today we have a few choices in mirrorless that can get the job done. I will say though, the best low light performance of the bunch here is the Hasslebald. It should be for the cost but that sensor made by Sony is a special one indeed. I can’t believe they have not implemented yet in a new Sony body ; ) Hmmm.


  1. Leica Monochrom 246 at ISO 10k. I agree looks amazing. B&W, who cares when it looks that good. Those shots pop more than the color photos.

  2. Steve, you also had very nice low light pics with the rx100 (I remember some Seal concert shots, if I’m not wrong). Maybe you could add some by the small Sony, the same way you did in your prior post. By the way, I love your picture in the toy car.

    • I have 2-3 shots with the RX100 at a Seal show but those are not low light, not at all. They use huge spotlights and one can shoot stopped down if they like. What I do locally is 100X less light than a Seal show ; ) The RX100 would have zero chance. I have tried. The Leica M 240 couldn’t do it either. Pen-F, no go.

  3. Hi Steve, do you have any plans to try and adapt older medium format glass on to this puppy! I personally love the idea of treating the X1d as sort of a hybrid digital back for some older medium format glass …. hassleblad have some stunning glass in V mount that is available for a fraction of it’s original price.
    All the best and enjoy your new camera 🙂 Hopefully you didn’t need to sell the devialet to get this 🙂

    • I really do not plan on buying any old glass, as all I would need is the 45 ad 90. No funds for an adapter and older glass, but if the camera works out for me long term, it is something I would consider. Thank you.

  4. You have done some nice work in low light over the years -never mind the camera used .
    Looks like you have now found your ideal photo tool .

  5. Hi Steve,
    I enjoyed this post and I was interested to hear your thoughts. Clearly the the SL still holds a place as a favourite of yours for other than low light. I have had a brief opportunity to handle one and I love it. I do no not shoot in low light often. I prefer landscape and urban architectural shooting. What is your opinion about the SL for those uses? I really want it but need to remain practical as well.

    • The SL is gorgeous. The 24-90 is amazing as well. Using M lenses, most of them, wonderful on the camera. Its versatile. Landscape and architecture, daylight? I would go SL over almost anything. Id recommend the 24-90 though it will make the system big. I will eventually miss the SL I am sure. It’s not a camera one could be disappointed in IF you enjoy shooting M lenses as well as the AF lenses. If you only have interest in AF, then it may be too large for some.

  6. I don’t see why you’d take the 50/1.2 over a 50/1.4. The difference isn’t enough. Even if I shot with Canon cameras I’d not waste my time with the f/1.2 lens. The price difference is one reason, but not the only reason.

    Nevertheless, your conclusion seems justified. What is interesting here is that the X1D is the way forward for high resolution cameras. It’s smaller than the pro DSLRs, but just as importantly, the larger sensor is going to pay off in the long run.

  7. I know what you mean about the failing vision, making it especially hard to focus in low light. And of course, that’s where some AF can struggle. Good AF is becoming critical as I make ever more laps around the sun….

  8. Great article as usual from you.
    I have a question;Did you test video AF for any of these?(can any do follow focus in low light?)
    And for quick use,using a portable recorder but also connected to the 3.5mm,later on maybe edit the original wav file but also taking direct results into consideration for quick use. Any thoughts which are least bad for audio(using the 3.5mm port and preamps(as low gain on camera as possible) Anyone any thoughts?

    • No medium format will do follow focus, these are not action cameras, period. Even the A7RII would not be up for that. One can add a mic to the X1D or Sony, easily. They both shoot video if you are inclined to do that. But these are more pure imaging machines IMO. With that said, the AF of the X1D is about on par with the A7RII.

  9. Hi Steve, I am really enjoying your series on the X1D with much interest. One question.. is there any other (faster) lens that could be successfully adapted to it, to create an even better low-light power house? I note that the shutter is in the lens so I presume that’s an issue with adapted options?

    • There is also an electronic shutter, this is a mirrorless and Hasselblad activated the electronic shutter in the last firmware update. SO adapted lenses are possible, BUT… this is a large mount so normal lenses will not be large enough I assume. I hear Zeiss Otus lenses work good with the camera though.

  10. Man does not live ( and shoot ) by great low-light performance alone. These cameras are all great as are most others these days in low light.

    • You must have not read or missed where I said this was an article on which camera is best for low light, mirrorless. As well as my experiences using many models in the lowest of light. As well as where I said they all do good in daylight. This was an article about low light use, in some cases extreme low light use. NOT daylight use. So daylight use has nothing to do with this article. For me, 85% of my shooting is in low light. SO this is about my low light camera journey, as I said here, if all I shot was good light I would use my PEN or EM1 II. But man does not live in good light alone, especially me. The only cameras that perform in ultra low light scenarios that I have found, in 35mm mirrorless and now with the X1d, are. the Sony A7RII with a fast lens and the X1D. The Leica’s underperform, Micro 4/3 can’t hang, APS-C can’t hang. That is what this post is about. Thanks for reading. if you want to see my thoughts on using these in good light, see my post from earlier where I do just that.

  11. Any good camera would give a pretty 16×20 in. print. With that jewel you can do them much bigger. I’m doing 40 in. long prints from negatives scanned with a 15 y.o scanner and they’re just gorgeous

  12. I also do a lot of club/music photography and my current favorite setup is Sony A7s and Voigtlander 40mm f2. That lens has a feel and bokeh which is *different* from other photogs band photos.

    Of course, that’s for Facebook or Instagram. For prints, same lens, A7rii.

    Lovely cameras those Sinus.

  13. Hi Steve,
    Interesting article. Curious… which adapter do you use between your Sony and Canon lenses? I presume it is the same adapter you used with the A7r2? Also curious if you have used other adapters besides the one you now use and noticed any pros or cons between them.


Comments are closed.