Best Canon Lens For Photographing The Northern Lights

by Leigh
(Whiteville NC, USA)

Best Canon Lens For Photographing The Northern Lights

Best Canon Lens For Photographing The Northern Lights

Best Canon Lens For Photographing The Northern Lights
Canon 80D Camera
Canon EF17-40 F/4
Canon 5D Mark IV

I shoot a Canon 80d and 5d Mark IV. I’m visiting Iceland in October and hope to see the Northern Lights. What is the best lens to use on either or both cameras?

Hi Leigh!

Thanks for your question about the best lens for photographing the Northern Lights. How exciting! My son lived in Ireland for about 16 months and we got to visit Northern Ireland, although very briefly, and what a cool place to have your Canon cameras ready for capturing some great images. When I was there I had my Canon 70D and my Canon 5D Mark III.


First, my disclaimer: I've never photographed the Northern Lights (aurora borealis), although I have done some photography of the nighttime sky. Most experienced photographer will tell you you need a super fast lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8 or faster. I disagree. I've had good success with shooting stars at f/4. The northern lights are a bit easier to photograph than the traditional very dark sky at nighttime because they are brighter. You can also get some fascinating images by leaving your shutter open for longer periods of time. Be aware though, that the brightness of the aurora borealis can vary, depending on your exact location, the time of year, the time of night (or day) and atmospheric conditions.

You definitely want to have a wide angle lens in the 17mm to 24mm range. A wide angle lens will let you include the landscape in with the lights in your composition. The 17-40 f/f has been a long time favorite among Canon shooters. You can't go wrong if you already have the Canon 28-70 f/2.8(great wedding lens too) or the 24-105mm(my favorite) in your camera bag. Keeping it simple: the lens you use for photography the northern lights must be sharp at its widest aperture and you'll want it to be able to shoot a wide view.

Of course, prime (non-zooming) lenses in general give you the absolute sharpest results, especially when they're wide open. Zoom lenses can give you solid results and are more versatile.


1. I recommend you learn how to read a histogram if you don't already know. You'll be shooting in manual exposure mode and you want to be able to evaluate your exposure and adjust the shutter speed to get the right effect.

2. This likely goes by not saying, but use a sturdy tripod. You want to come home with perfectly sharp images

3. Use your Mark 5D mirror lock-up and either the self-timer or a remote shutter cord to avoid any lack of sharpness.

4. I would shoot your photos in RAW and highest quality jpg mode too. I don't know what your level of experience is with editing your photos, but the amount of creative control you get post-capture when shooting RAW can't be matched at all by a jpg image. You'll have the jog images ready to share right away and you'll have those uncompressed RAW files to adjust exposure, color balance, and many other ways forever.

5. Shoot some nighttime photos ahead of time. This is probably the most important tip I can give you to help you prepare for photographing the Northern Lights. Doing a few practice runs will give you a great idea on what you'll experience, any issues that might arise, and a chance to make mistakes and correct them ahead of time.


Use your 5D Mark IV. The low light performance of the full size sensor and the Digic 6+ processor on your Mark IV is a capability you'll want to take advantage of using in the challenging task of photographing an amazing spectacle under less than an ideal situation, darkness.

The 80D is a fine camera, but it makes no sense to use it when you have your 5D Mark IV available.

Leigh, please please please let me know how you make out with your choice of which lens you use for your northern lights photo excursion and share a few of your images.

Good Luck!


Beginners Tips To Photographing The Nighttime Sky - Excellent article to read, giving you the basics, common sense tips, and common mistkaes newbies make with photographing the nighttime skies.

Click here to read or post comments

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