Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $1000
Expert (88 Recommendations and 32 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
November 6, 2008 Updated: November 8, 2008
Overview

Equipped with the best in class bright lens, the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 has steered clear of the megapixel race and instead focused on improving the quality of its pixels. The resulting low light images are less noisy and retain fine details with great corner-to-corner sharpness, making it the best compact camera for low light photos.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is the latest top-of-the-line offering with significant improvements over its acclaimed predecessor, the Panasonic DMC-LX2. This camera is equipped with a sharp and bright wide angle zoom lens with the widest aperture in its class. The lens gathers double the light at the wide end of the zoom range than other cameras. This in turn results in quicker focusing and less noise in images shot under low light conditions (typical for indoors). You get more blur-free shots too as the camera can choose relatively fast shutter speeds.

With this model, Panasonic has commendably steered clear of the megapixel race and instead tried to improve upon the image processing to yield better quality images than its predecessor. However the high ISO (ISO 800 & above) images from the LX3 still suffer from water color artifacts from the noise reduction, but it still manages to retain more fine details than others. Noise is unwanted random colored pixels superimposed on the image, most apparent in images taken in low light level (e.g. underexposed images or images shot at high ISO).

Panasonic LX3 does offer the option to save images in RAW format, which will allow you to get better results. By shooting in RAW format one can get better image quality later during the image conversion to a more popular image format (e.g. JPG or TIFF) after applying noise reduction using the supplied software (or third party software, e.g. Noise Ninja).

The unique sensor design offers optimum resolution for various image aspect ratios (e.g. 16:9 - good for landscapes, 4:3 - for portraits, etc.). During playback you will love viewing these on a high resolution 3” LCD screen. It also offers an HD movie mode.

In a nutshell, the Panasonic LX3 gets the crown of best-in-class camera for shooting in low light conditions because of its bright lens and the availability of a RAW mode.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot G10

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 has a brighter lens, and has an ISO 3200 option at full resolution. However if one does not want the hassles of shooting RAW images then the Canon G10 is preferable because of its higher zoom range, higher resolution, better noise reduction, and the availability of an optical viewfinder.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot SD990 IS

The Panasonic Lumix LX3 has a brighter lens, RAW mode, and an ISO 3200 option.

Pros
  • +
    Bright lens (best in class)
  • +
    Rich feature set (manual, aperture/shutter priority modes)
  • +
    Cleaner high ISO images possible (by shooting in RAW mode and post processing)
Cons
  • -
    Lacks optical viewfinder
  • -
    Water color artifacts in JPG images at high ISOs
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is the Best Compact Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $1000
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
  • Best Price: $402
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 2.5x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.1MP
  • Max ISO: 6400
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (4 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
2
Canon PowerShot G10
3
Canon PowerShot SD990 IS
Customer Rating
Price $402.09 $879.00 $699.00
Size (W x H x D) 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 (1.5 with lens protrusion) in. 4.3 x 3.1 x 1.8 in. 3.9 x 2.4 x 1.1 in
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Sensor Size
7.9 x 5.9 mm 7.6 x 5.7 mm 7.6 x 5.7 mm
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Effective Sensor Resolution
10.1 megapixels 14.7 megapixels 14.7 megapixels
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Shutter Lag Time (including auto-focus time)
0.8 sec 0.6 - 0.7 sec 0.5 - 0.6 sec
Power to First Shot Time 2.3 sec 2.0 sec 1.7 sec
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
24 mm 28 mm 33 mm
Optical Zoom 2.5x 5.0x 3.7x
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Auto Focus Assist Light Available Yes Yes Yes
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.0 f/2.8 f/2.8
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/2.8 f/4.5 f/5.8
Max ISO Setting 6400 (3200 at full resolution) 3200 (1600 at full resolution) 1600
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Viewfinder Available
Yes (optional accessory) Yes Yes
Battery Life 380 shots 400 shots 700 shots
Sensor Raw Format Available Yes Yes No
Flash Recycling Time 4.8 sec - 8.0 sec
Image Quality
Corner to corner sharpness very good very good very good
Low light (high ISO) performance very good (especially by shooting RAW) very good very good
2
Canon PowerShot G10

G10 is the latest flagship premium compact camera from Canon. This camera is a great photographic tool equipped with dedicated ISO dial and exposure compensation dial for quick adjustment of critical parameters.

Within its tough magnesium alloy body, G10 houses class leading resolution sensor, optical viewfinder and 5x wide angle zoom lens which is sharp. It offers RAW mode too. The low light image quality (high ISO performance) is one of the best among compacts.

Equipped with the latest DIGIC IV processor, it has managed to strike a good balance between noise and rich detail under low light conditions. Other useful features are:

  • Face detection Adjusts exposure based on faces in the scene and removes red-eye automatically.
  • Motion detection technology Combining inputs from its Face Detection Technology, the optical Image Stabilizer, changes in scene brightness and changes from frame to frame, it raises ISO to freeze action.
  • High resolution LCD with wide viewing angle If you rather have more tele-zoom than wide angle view than this is the camera for you. Else Panasonic LX3 is the better bet.
Comparison with Canon PowerShot SD990 IS

The Canon PowerShot G10 has a wide angle zoom lens with more reach, a RAW mode, and better handling and availability of Aperture/Shutter Priority modes.

Pros
  • +
    Best in class resolution
  • +
    Good image quality
  • +
    Optical viewfinder
  • +
    Rich feature set
  • +
    Well built
  • +
    Good high ISO performance
  • +
    RAW mode and aperture/shutter priority modes
Cons
  • -
    Smaller pixel size (as compared to LX3's)
Canon PowerShot G10 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $1000
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot G10
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 14.7MP
  • Max ISO: 3200
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Canon PowerShot SD990 IS

The Canon SD990 IS is the latest top-of-line ultra compact from the market leader. The camera has an optical viewfinder, which is a great feature for keeping track of moving subjects in low light. It is the first camera in the highly successful SD series to offer manual modes, providing full control over shutter speed and the aperture.

The camera offers class-leading resolution and features a sharp lens to match it.

Thanks to DIGIC IV processor, the high ISO images are relatively clean and retain enough detail for mid-sized prints (up to 8”x10” size).

Other useful features are:

  • Face detection
  • Motion detection technology
  • LCD with wide viewing angle
Comparison with Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150

The Canon SD990 IS has cleaner high ISO images and an optical viewfinder.

Pros
  • +
    Best in class resolution
  • +
    Good image quality
  • +
    Optical viewfinder
  • +
    Rich feature set
  • +
    Well built
  • +
    Good high ISO performance
  • +
    Ultra compact size
Cons
  • -
    Lacks a RAW mode and aperture/shutter priority modes
Canon PowerShot SD990 IS is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $1000
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot SD990 IS
  • Best Price: $699
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.7x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 14.7MP
  • Max ISO: 3200
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
4
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150

Panasonic is quickly catching up with other leading camera manufacturers and is working hard to improve its high ISO image quality with successive launches. This camera is one of their latest addition to their FX series of premium ultra compacts. This camera also offers class-leading resolution and has a sharp wide angle lens. It features a manual mode, which you can use to control the shutter speed.

The camera uses a bit less noise reduction than usual at high ISOs. As a result the images are grainy but retain slightly more details than others in its class.

It offers a RAW mode too.

Pros
  • +
    Best in class resolution
  • +
    More fine details at high ISO
  • +
    Rich feature set including RAW mode
  • +
    Ultra compact size
Cons
  • -
    More noise at higher ISOs
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $1000
Where to buy
Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150
  • Best Price: $399
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.6x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 14.7MP
  • Max ISO: 6400
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (1 review)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
5
Sigma DP1

This camera is equipped with one of the largest image sensors among compacts. Naturally due to larger sized pixels one expects it to be a good low light camera. However the camera belies the expectation as it misses on image stabilization, AF assist lamp and is a sluggish performer. The lens although of good quality has fixed focal length, which limits its versatility. The lens gathers less light as the widest aperture available is lower than competition. Maximum ISO rating is limited to ISO800 only. Nevertheless it is good camera for landscapes, etc.

Pros
  • +
    Equipped with one of the largest (around 6x in size to that of LX3) sensor among compacts
  • +
    Good quality lens with minimal distortion
  • +
    Good image quality with plenty of details
  • +
    Hot shoe for accessories (e.g. external flash or EVF mounting)
  • +
    Full manual controls including RAW mode
Cons
  • -
    Fixed focal length
  • -
    Widest aperture of f/4.0 only
  • -
    Image stabilization missing
  • -
    ISO rating is limited to ISO800
  • -
    Lacking AF assist lamp
  • -
    Sluggish performer (Not meant for snappy shooter. You have to be patient with it.)
Sigma DP1 is one of the Best Compact Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $1000
Where to buy
Sigma DP1
  • Best Price: $599
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 1.0x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Resolution: 4.6MP
  • Max ISO: 800
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)

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