A sensor is the heart of a digital camera. Composed of millions of small pixels, it records an image when you take a picture. The size of a sensor pixel has a strong influence on its ability to detect and record light accurately.
For many snapshooters, sensor size is not a concern. And it doesn’t need to be unless you take a lot of photos in low light, require higher shutter speeds for moving subjects such as wildlife and action photography, or if you intend to do a lot of cropping.
Large sensor, less noise
A larger pixel records more light. Because of the way the electrical connections are designed, a larger sensor, which records larger pixels, produces less noise.
Unlike digital single lens reflex and micro four thirds cameras, compacts have small sensors. Photo quality produced by a compact camera can sometimes rival those taken with larger sensor cameras…when photos are taken in very good light.
However, the image quality of many compact digital cameras begins to degrade once the sensitivity is set above ISO 200. At the same time, sensors and the way compact cameras internally handle noise have improved quite a lot in recent years.
Improvements in sensors of compact digital cameras
Manufactures have responded to the needs of photographers desiring compacts that perform well in low light.
Typical compact digital cameras have a 1/2.3 sensor*, but manufacturers now make more advanced compacts with 1/1.7″ and 1″ sensors. These high end compacts are designed with high sensitivity. They often have brighter lenses than found on other compacts, allowing more light to hit the sensor especially at wider angles.
Compact non-interchangeable lenses with larger sensors are usually more expensive but, for some, worth the higher price.
*Note: Cameras with small sensors that have back-illuminated CMOS sensors tend to better in low light than ones that are not back-illuminated.
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