Expert Recommendation

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Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $500
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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August 14, 2008
Overview

Sitting atop the high-end compact market, the Panasonic LX3 brings a host of powerful low-light features to the table, including an IS system, good high-ISO ability, RAW images, flash hotshoe, and a huge f2.0-2.8 aperture lens that give users just about every tool available to turn out great photos in low-light situations, all in a slim 1.1” thin body.

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My Best In Class Pick
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3

Part of Panasonic’s LX-line of high-end cameras, the LX3 is truly in a class of its own, offering the extensive manual controls and solid build quality that the series has been known for, RAW capture, and a unique 24-60mm (2.5x) lens.

Though Panasonic’s previous cameras have been dogged by noisy sensors and poor high-ISO ability, the LX3’s new sensor and processing engine do a good job of handling noise, producing better than average high-ISO images in low light. The ability to capture RAW images in addition to the usual JPEG also gives users more control over noise processing, in addition to other low-light problems like white balance.

As with all Panasonic cameras, the LX3 also features an image-stabilized lens system that effectively reduces camera shake.

The feature that really sets the LX3 apart, however, is the lens - the camera’s 24-60mm not only provides an extremely wide 24mm wide-angle, but also features a huge f2-2.8 aperture, an unheard of range for a zoom lens on any camera, even among SLRs. The large aperture allows the camera to use lower ISOs and faster shutter speeds, reducing noise and blur.

The LX3 features a pop-up flash, so redeye should be a minimal problem. For more advanced users, the LX3 also has a hotshoe that can be fitted with an external flash, allowing for even more creative lighting options.

At 1.1” thick, the LX3 is almost as small as many ultracompacts, and will fit into nearly any bag or jacket pocket, although its awkwardly protruding lens and longer 4.3” width may make it harder to fit into other smaller pockets.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F100fd

In terms of low-light performance, the F100fd actually performs better at high-ISO than the LX3. However, the LX3 makes up for this with a much larger aperture and a more effective IS system. Combined with its greater RAW and flash control for more advanced users, the LX3 simply offers a wealth of options for low-light situations that the F100fd doesn’t have.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F50fd

Compared to the very basic Fuji F50fd, the LX3 is far and away the more full-featured camera, packing in useful everyday features (24mm wide-angle, more effective lens-based IS, huge lens aperture) and a number of advanced features as well (manual controls, RAW capture, and flash hotshoe). Surprisingly, the LX3 is about on-par with the Fuji F50fd in terms of high-ISO, and can produce even better results if processed through RAW. Combined with its larger aperture and better IS system, the LX3 is a better low-light camera across the board.

Pros
  • +
    Huge lens aperture
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
  • +
    Image-stabilized lens
  • +
    RAW capture
Cons
  • -
    Limited zoom range (24-60mm, 2.5x)
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 is the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $500
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
  • Easy to Use: Yes
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
Best badge
Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
2
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
3
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd
Customer Rating
Price $402.09 $299.95 $278.68
Size (W x H x D) 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 3.6 x 2.3 x 0.9 in.
Weight (without batteries) 8.1 oz 6.0 oz 5.5 oz
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
24 mm 28 mm 35 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
60 mm 140 mm 108 mm
Optical Zoom 2.5x 5.0x 3.0x
Important low-light features
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.0 f/3.3 f/2.8
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/2.8 f/5.1 f/5.1
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Image Stabilization Type Lens Shift Optical (sensor shift) Optical (sensor shift)
Flash type Pop-up Embedded Embedded
Battery Life 380 shots 230 shots 230 shots
High ISO quality Good Superb Good
Low-light rating Superb Good Good
2
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd

Fuji’s line of F-series ultracompacts have long been famed for their low-light ability, and Fuji’s latest offering, the F100fd, boasts both very good high-ISO performance to combat blur and a sensor-shift image stabilization system to reduce camera shake.

While its high-ISO ability doesn’t approach SLR quality, it does deliver significantly less noisy images than the average non-SLR camera, allowing you to freeze most kinds of motion in low-light situations. The F100fd also features a sensor-shift IS system, which doesn’t work quite as well as the more mature lens-shift technology in other cameras, but still helps to reduce camera shake.

The F100fd covers a 28-140mm zoom range, which is good for everyday photography, especially with the versatile 28mm wide-angle. The lens aperture is f3.3-5.1, so the lens captures slightly less light than average, requiring a higher ISO or longer shutter speed.

The built-in flash for the F100fd is embedded into the camera body, making it susceptible to red-eye effects.

The F100fd is a scant 0.9” thin, allowing it to easily fit into just about any kind of bag or pocket.

Comparison with Fujifilm FinePix F50fd

As ultracompact cameras sharing similar SuperCCD sensors, and sensor-shift IS systems, the Fuji F100fd and F50fd are fairly similar cameras. Though they’re both near the top of their class, the F100fd’s newer sensor and processing turn out more detailed and less noisy images than the F50fd. The F100fd also features a more versatile 28-140mm lens, making it a much more versatile camera, although it’s significantly costlier than the F50fd.

Pros
  • +
    Superb high-ISO among non-SLRs
  • +
    Image-stabilized sensor
Cons
  • -
    Slightly small aperture
  • -
    Embedded flash susceptible to red eye
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd is one of the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $500
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
  • Best Price: $299
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 5.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 12.0MP
  • Max ISO: 12800
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
3
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd

Like its older brother, the F100fd, F50fd, boasts both good high-ISO performance to combat blur and a sensor-shift image stabilization system to reduce camera shake.

While its high-ISO ability isn’t as good as the F100fd, it does deliver significantly less noisy images than the average non-SLR camera, allowing you to freeze most kinds of motion in low-light situations. The F50fd also features a sensor-shift IS system, which doesn’t work quite as well as the more mature lens-shift technology in other cameras, but still helps to reduce camera shake.

The F50fd covers a 35-105mm (3x) zoom range, which is good for everyday photography. The lens aperture is f2.8-5.1, somewhat small but typical for an ultracompact, requiring a higher ISO or longer shutter speed.

The built-in flash for the F50fd is embedded into the camera body, making it susceptible to red-eye effects.

At just 0.9” thin, the Fuji F50fd should be able to easily fit into any bag or pocket.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot G9

With the G9 hampered by its typical grainy Canon high-ISO images, the Fuji F50fd is a significantly better low-light performer, delivering cleaner images in low-light situations. In terms of a general-use camera, however, the G9 is a significantly more versatile camera, with a larger 6x zoom range and useful advanced features such as manual controls and RAW capture, while the F50fd simply offers point and shoot functionality.

Pros
  • +
    Good high-ISO
  • +
    Image-stabilized sensor
Cons
  • -
    Embedded flash susceptible to red eye
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd is one of the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $500
Where to buy
Fujifilm FinePix F50fd
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 12.0MP
  • Max ISO: 6400
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (3 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
4
Canon PowerShot G9

The G9 is the latest of Canon’s G-series of high-end cameras. Despite its high price, in most areas the camera is fairly run-of-the-mill - high-ISO performance is about average - good enough to freeze motion and produce detail in most low-light cases, but not without lots of unsightly noise and grain. The G9’s 35-210mm (6x) zoom lens features an f2.8-4.6 aperture, about average for a compact camera.

The Canon G9 does feature a few useful low-light features, however, including an image-stabilized lens to reduce camera shake, and a RAW capture mode that allows advanced users to fine-tune noise processing and color casts from artificial lighting - two common issues in low-light situations. The G9 has an embedded flash, making it susceptible to red-eye, although it also features a hotshoe for attaching external flashes, if you’re an advanced user who wants to get more creative with lighting.

At 1.7” thick, the the G9 should fit into most bags or jacket pockets.

Pros
  • +
    Image-stabilized lens
  • +
    RAW capture
Cons
  • -
    Average high-ISO, extremely grainy
  • -
    Embedded flash susceptible to red eye
Canon PowerShot G9 is one of the Best Compact Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $500
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot G9
  • Best Price: $549
    Amazon See It »
Specifications
  • Zoom: 6.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 12.1MP
  • Max ISO: 3200
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (4 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

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