Digtal Camera for low light?
May 9, 2006 11:22 AM   Subscribe

Looking for a Point-and-shoot digital camera that has really good low-light ability.

As a pro shooter I really like NOT hauling a heavy camera around when I'm not working. But most P&S cameras I try (like my Nikon CoolPix L4 I just lost...) can hardly shoot in a normally lite room without movement blur. (Yes, there is the flash, but you know how crappy on-camera flash looks)

I don't need movies, sound, or weird "modes." 4 megapixels is enough
I need a sensitive sensor and a FAST lens.
Small is good (again, that Coolpix L4 was a nice size) Tiny is unnecessary. Cheap is a plus.
posted by cccorlew to Technology (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Pick any from the Fuji F10/F11/F30 series.
posted by DaShiv at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2006

Don't get a Cannon SD-450, that's what I have and it sucks. The only way to get a truly clear picture is outside, basically.

You might want to look into getting a camera with Image Stabilization. Most panasonics have it.
posted by delmoi at 11:34 AM on May 9, 2006

The Canon SD300 is a great little camera, about 4 megapixels, and goes up to ISO 400.

I took over 2000 pictures with mine when I had it (I gave it to my wife - still works great). I never used the flash. In a bright room, ISO 100 was fine. If it was evening / dim, ISO 200 hardly blurred and still had very low grain.

The other great thing is the size - whenever we'd go somewhere I could put it in my pocket.
posted by blahtsk at 11:34 AM on May 9, 2006

Can I piggyback? I think those Fujis would be perfect if they had RAW. After using RAW with my S70, I can never go back.

Is there something as amazing and small and nice as say, the F10 but with RAW? Or is there an upcoming cam that does it?

All I want is a pocketable (I don't think the S70 is) cam with RAW support.
posted by fake at 11:39 AM on May 9, 2006

Part of the problem is that most P&S are programmed to be extremely conscious of their poor noise performance at high ISO. As a result, in auto mode, they are much more willing to increase shutter speed than raise the ISO. At ISO 50 or 100, you can't really get a fast enough lens on a P&S to do decent work in lowlight. For best results, put it manual mode and set it at ISO 400 (usually the max for the small sensors). It comes down to which camera you think has the least annoying noise--which is a real problem with the cheap sensors, not even noise reduction software helps much. Personally I prefer any of the Canon Powershots, but each has different taste.

On preview, image stabilization (IS) doesn't do much if your subject is moving in low light. You still have too slow a shutter speed.
posted by deadfather at 11:44 AM on May 9, 2006

Should be "they are much more willing to decrease shutter speed", but you probably knew that. And when I say lowlight, I'm talking about your typical bar at ungodly hours.
posted by deadfather at 11:47 AM on May 9, 2006

I always have my SD-450 in 'manual' mode and set the ISO speed myself. In fact, ISO speed is actually the only variable you can set in manual mode other then white balance (and exposure compensation).

On my old camera (Sony DSC-V1) I could set the aperture, shutter speed, and focus myself. The V1 was an awesome camera; it even had that goofy 'night-shot' mode where you could take pictures in grainy infrared if you really wanted too.

In everything other then broad daylight, the Sony blows the Canon out of the water.
posted by delmoi at 11:57 AM on May 9, 2006

I don't think there is a compact camera that compares with the low-light performance of the Fuji's that DaShiv mentioned. I'm eying an F30 for my next compact camera.

In the meantime, I have an S400 which I use at ISO400 for indoor shots. They are grainy/noisy, but better than blury shots, or no shot at all, especially after I process them through Neat Image.
posted by Good Brain at 12:02 PM on May 9, 2006

Film. Any number of point and shoots have 2.8 lenses, some better. Get one that will let you set the ASA. Failing that put ASA stickers on the film cannister. Load the camera with 800 film and set if for 3200 ASA. When you send the film in for processing tell them it was shot at 3200 ASA (you will need a real film lab, not the one at the supermarket). If you have lots of cash, a Nikon SLR and are willing to lug it, this lens will deliver the goods.
posted by caddis at 12:12 PM on May 9, 2006

Elaborating on DaShiv's advice, "Is Size an Issue"
posted by caddis at 12:16 PM on May 9, 2006

The current Panasonics compacts all have IS, but contrary to the OP's criteria, the Panasonic sensors are the opposite of sensitive: noisy and react badly to underexposure. You'll have to nail your exposures and do some noise reduction afterwards to get good low-light photos using a Panasonic. It's doable, but it's not as much of a done deal at it looks on paper. My brother purchased one of the newer Panasonics at my recommendation and I love shooting with it whenever I get a chance to -- but despite how nice of a camera it is, the low light noise issue is a very real one.

For fans of the Canon SD series, the new SD700 (AKA Digital IXUS 800) is the first in that line with IS. You won't find much control over your exposure settings here though: Canon has purposely cut out the manual controls to entice more serious amateurs to upgrade to the their larger S-series -- and, inexplicably, the new S80 cuts out RAW mode, which has long been a mainstay of that series. If there's one thing I've learned as a longtime Canon shooter, it's that Canon never paints itself into an upgrade corner by giving us everything we want in a single camera. Ever. It's always: segment the market and tell people to upgrade next year for Feature X. They're good at being very profitable.

Despite the competition from other brands though, the Fuji F10/F11/F30 cameras are still the low-light compacts to beat. For now.

And a very long shot here, but if you can dispense with "cheap" and are willing to manual focus, you can mount all sorts of lovely, fast, and compact rangefinder glass on the Epson RD-1/RD-1s digital rangefinder. Having grudgingly sold mine to raise some rent money, I can say that they're very much cameras for serious and appreciative shooters.

fake: AFAIK, the smallest cameras out there with RAW are the Panasonic FX01 and the Ricoh GR Digital. As I've previously mentioned with Panasonics, the FX01 has IS but sports one of the noisiest sensor out there, whereas the GR Digital has a cleaner sensor (a widely-used Sony one) with conservative detail-preserving imaging processing, as well as a somewhat faster lens, but the catch: no zoom. Thus far, the compact digicam segment has been all about making and accepting compromises.

deadfather: The Fuji F11 and F30 have aperture and shutter priority for improved control over exposure settings, and have a 1-2 stop noise advantage over comparable small-sensor cameras -- including the Canons, which use the same Sony sensors most other digicams use. Canon's image quality comes from being ahead of the pack with their in-camera processing and not because their compacts have particularly better sensors. (The CMOS sensors in Canon's DSLR's though are another story altogether.)

caddis: Nikon's 28/1.4 and the analogous Canon 24/1.4 are big, heavy pro lenses. My 24/1.4 mounted on a tiny DRebel XT is still a pretty hefty package, especially compared to a compact. If we're playing with film here though, I'd forget about SLRs altogether and go with a 70's compact 35mm with their fast prime lenses. Those are tough to beat in terms of size, speed, and image quality. Unless you're talking about a svelte Olympus OM with an exotic 50/1.2 or something along those lines. Some might suggest a small Pentax SLR with one of their many pancake lenses, too, although those lenses are more compact than fast. And then there are always rangefinders...
posted by DaShiv at 12:45 PM on May 9, 2006

Agreed on the Fuji F10 series. Best there is in Point and Shoot (when it comes to low light).
posted by rbs at 12:53 PM on May 9, 2006

Sun? sony.
The fog of your favorite watering hole at 2 am? Canon.
posted by zpousman at 12:57 PM on May 9, 2006

The Canon G6 has an f/2.0 lens at 35mm.
posted by b1tr0t at 1:02 PM on May 9, 2006

caddis, most point and shoot film cameras only use a limited range of auto-sensing ISO settings, topping out at 400. Are you saying that you have one that'll do 3200ASA? I'd like one of those... I need one that will go beyond 1/100th of a second on the shutter too.
posted by Gungho at 1:24 PM on May 9, 2006

My Sony DSC V-3 has sony's night-shot system, where it can take pictures in extremely low lighting situations.
posted by nomisxid at 1:28 PM on May 9, 2006

Get a camera that has a lens that opens up to f2.0. Every camera has too much noise above 400 ASA as far as I'm concerned. If you want good night shots without blur, get off camera wireless flash and have a friend hold the flash or put the camera on a tripod and remotely trip the camera while using the flash or flashes to light the subjects. The Canon G series is great in this regard because you can plug a pocket wizard in the shoe and just place multiple remote flashes anywhere to light up an entire scene. Now that shit gets me hot.
posted by JJ86 at 1:32 PM on May 9, 2006

DaShiv: Those Fujis look great. Any leads on where to find them? The F30 doesn't look to be out yet, and the F11 looks mighty hard to get ahold of. Is there a reason why?

If only Fugi didn't use their own proprietary memory, I might think about picking one up. ISO 3200 in a P&S?! Gushaw!
posted by deadfather at 2:07 PM on May 9, 2006

The F11 was only released in Europe (and maybe Asia), and the F30 has been announced but has not been released yet (though some people claim to have handled or even own early units).

Be wary of high ISO's in digicams: many companies are now offering high ISO settings for their cameras that are basically unusable, unless you're going to resize your photos down to a small web jpg. Even the aforementioned Fujis don't degrade very gracefully above ISO 400/800 or so. For actual usable ISO 3200 performance, you'll need either a Fuji or Canon DSLR.
posted by DaShiv at 2:23 PM on May 9, 2006

Are you saying that you have one that'll do 3200ASA?

Yes. My Stylus Epic goes to 3200 ASA and has long exposure times.
posted by caddis at 2:23 PM on May 9, 2006

Side question to DaShiv: What kind of camera and lens are you using to take all of those awesome photos at the meetups?
posted by caddis at 2:27 PM on May 9, 2006

I use Canon DSLRs and fast primes, my favorite meetup lenses being the Canon 85/1.2 and Sigma 30/1.4. I used to shoot with a 20D, but have since downgraded to a DRebel XT for financial reasons. For shooting meetups, the body doesn't really matter very much.
posted by DaShiv at 2:54 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

I own the fuji f10 for this very reason, and have been very happy with it. I hightly recommend it. It performs admirably under natural, and low light conditions. It actually takes awesome handheld outdoor night shots. It has little to no shutter lag, and with the flash off it is ready to shoot in the time it takes the lens to open.

What really won me over about this camera is the ability to turn off the AF assist lamp in those instances where it's inappropriate to bathe your subject in unnatural green or amber light before taking a picture. And the battery life is amazing. Under light to average usage, i charge it once every two weeks. It's the ony electronic gadget I own that lets me go on a weekend trip and safely leave the charger at home.

Downside to this camera are the proprietary usb interface, and it's size. It's just a bit to bulky to stick in a shirt or jeans pocket, but just small enough that you'll wish you could.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:38 PM on May 9, 2006

I'm pretty sure the USB port on the Fuji F10 is just a mini 5 B type, which is standard for small devices. No propriety there.
posted by kcm at 11:03 PM on May 9, 2006

This is just a huge thanks to DaShiv- your photographic contributions to MeFi are completely invaluable. Thanks for taking the time to address my question, and proxy thanks for everyone else in the thread, as well.
posted by fake at 7:13 AM on May 10, 2006

My Canon Powershot A520 is pretty decent for indoor no-flash photos. I prefer not to use a flash indoors, because it's so intrusive. I have gotten a lot of decent photos in low-light conditions. Examples here.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 7:21 AM on May 10, 2006

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