Low light pocket digital cameras

One of the areas consumer compact digital cameras often fail to shine is taking photos in low light. Unlike digital single reflex cameras with large sensors, most compacts have small sensors, typically 1/2.3,” that are often packed with a high density of too many megapixels.

Fortunately there are a number of pocketable digital cameras that perform admirably at higher ISO numbers. These relatively new breed of compacts have certain features in common for improved low light performance without a flash:

  • Sensor size and type: a CCD sensor that’s slightly larger than most other compact cameras; and/or a high sensitivity back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • Fast lens: a large aperture at the widest angle of the lens that allows more light onto a camera sensor enabling you to capture photos in dimly light scenes.
  • Wide at the widest angle: 24 – 28mm (35mm equivalent)

Some of these cameras have a premium price but, for many, the extra cost is worth it.

Canon S100

The Canon S series cameras are a favorite among photo enthusiasts because of their outstanding image quality and advanced features, all in a camera that slips into a pocket. The Canon S100 has a new imaging system compared to its predecessor, the S95. The new CMOS sensor combined with the new DIGIC 5 Image Processor promises improved low-light performance up, enhanced image quality and a speedy continuous shooting mode. The S100 has a dedicated video button for taking full HD 1080p video in stereo sound. Unlike its predecessors, you can zoom while recording.

  • 12 megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Sensor size: 1/1.7”
  • ISO: 80-6400
  • Aperture range: F2.0 – F5.9
  • Zoom range: 24-120mm/35mm equivalent (5 X)
  • Approximate weight: 6.98 oz. (198 g) including battery and memory card

Canon PowerShot SD4000

The SD4000 High Sensitivity System provides very good performance in low light. It supports a maximum ISO of 3200 at full resolution. The HS System actively reduces noise and delivers high speed image processing: 3.7 shots per second continuous shooting at full 10 MP resolution with no limit on the number of shots taken and can be used non-stop up to memory card capacity. The SD4000 has simple, but intuitive, controls that are easy to learn and use. [My SD4000 review]

  • 10 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • Sensor size: 1/2.3″
  • ISO: 125 – 3200
  • Aperture range: F2.0 – F5.3
  • Zoom range: 28 -105mm/35mm equivalent (3.8 X)
  • Approximate weight: 175g (6.2 oz)

Nikon Coolpix P300

The Nikon P300 compact camera sports a 4.2x extra wide angle, f1.8 maximum aperture lens. The P300 offers a wide range of manual control including shutter/aperture/programmed and manual exposure. Exposure Bracketing automatically brackets exposure for three shots. The camera sensitivity can be set as high as ISO 3200 at full resolution. Notable features include 20 scene modes, Scene Auto Selector, in-camera editing, Full HD movie mode and Easy Panorama Scene Mode. The camera automatically detects when you’re panning, then combines and assembles the sequence of shots into a 180 or 360-degree panoramic image.

  • 12 megapixel CMOS sensor
  • Sensor Size: 1/2.3″
  • ISO range: 160-3200
  • Optical zoom range: 24-100mm equivalent (4.2X)
  • LCD: 3″, 920K dot
  • Aperture range: F/1.8-4.9
  • Approx. weight: 6.7 oz. (189g)

Olympus XZ-1

The Olympus XZ-1 has a very fast lens ( F1.8-2.5) throughout the entire zoom range. The wide apertures allow photographers to take portraits that highlight the subject by blurring the background, a capability not possible in most compact cameras. The XZ-1 has twin control dials, including one around the lens. It has an ISO range of 100-6400 and shoots at 3.0 frames per second, and 7 or 21 fps in high-speed mode. It accepts optional accessories such as an external flash and viewfinder.

  • 10MP CCD sensor
  • Sensor size: 1/1.63″
  • ISO: 100 – 6400
  • Aperture range: F1.8-2.5
  • Zoom range: 28-112mm equivalent (4X)
  • Approximate weight: 275 grams (9.2 oz)

Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5

The Panasonic LX5 produces high resolution pictures with little or no noise even at high ISO numbers. The sensor also increases dynamic range and color saturation. The minimum illumination of the LX5 is as low as 3 lux in video recording. The LX5 is also a top choice among pros and photo enthusiasts. It has a hot shoe for use with an external flash and there is an optional viewfinder accessory.

  • 10 megapixel CCD sensor
  • Sensor size: 1/1.63″
  • ISO: 80 – 3200 (High Sensitivity Auto mode: 6400 – 12800)
  • Aperture range: F2.0-3.3
  • Zoom range: 24-90mm/35mm equivalent (3.8 X)
  • Approximate weight: 271g (9.6 oz)

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX5

The Sony WX5 has a Exmor R back-illuminated CMOS sensor that does well in low light. It has a ‘Superior Auto’ mode that shoots bursts of between 2 and 6 shots then combines them either to reduce noise or boost dynamic range, depending on the scene. It also has a Background Defocus feature that blurs backgrounds to put emphasis on the main subject, a desirable effect for portrait and macro shots that’s often difficult to achieve with cameras having small sensors.

  • 12 megapixel back-illuminated CMOS sensor
  • Sensor size: 1/2.3”
  • ISO: 125 – 3200
  • Aperture range: F2.4 – F5.9
  • Zoom range: 24-120mm/35mm equivalent (5 X)
  • Approximate weight: 130g (4.6oz)

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Fuji FinePix F300EXR

The Fujifilm F300EXR doesn’t have a fast lens but is worthy of consideration. It has a Super CCD sensor known for very good low light performance. The sensor automatically switches to High Sensitivity and Low Noise (SN) mode to help ensure clean, noise-free pictures. It has a hybrid autofocus system that is as fast as many DSLRs. It automatically chooses between the contrast-detection AutoFocus method used in compact cameras and the phase-detection AF system used in most DSLRs.

  • 12 megapixel Super CCD EXR sensor
  • Sensor size: 1/2″
  • ISO 100 – 3200 (6400 – 12800 when images are shot a lower resolutions)
  • Aperture range: F3.5 – F5.3
  • Zoom range: 24mm – 360 mm equivalent (15 X)
  • Approximate weight:     215g (7.6 oz)

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