Expert Recommendation

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Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $500
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
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August 13, 2008 Updated: August 15, 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.

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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 shouldn’t 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.

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 Canon PowerShot S5 IS

Both the LX3 and Canon S5 are full-featured cameras, offering IS systems, pop-up flashes, hotshoes for external flashes, and versatile zoom ranges (the LX3 offering much more wide-angle, and the S5 offering much more telephoto). The LX3 comes out as a better pure low-light performer because of its larger aperture and slightly better high-ISO, but the much longer telephoto range (at the cost of wide-angle) and much cheaper price make the S5 a reasonable option as well.

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 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
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Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3
2
Fujifilm FinePix F100fd
3
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Customer Rating
Price $402.09 $299.95 $649.00
Size (W x H x D) 4.3 x 2.3 x 1.1 in. 3.8 x 2.3 x 0.9 in. 4.6 x 3.1 x 3.1 in.
Weight (without batteries) 8.1 oz 6.0 oz 15.7 oz
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
24 mm 28 mm 36 mm
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Max Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
60 mm 140 mm 432 mm
Optical Zoom 2.5x 5.0x 12.0x
Important low-light features
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Max Aperture (wide-angle)
f/2.0 f/3.3 f/2.7
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Max Aperture (tele-photo)
f/2.8 f/5.1 f/3.5
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes Yes Yes
Image Stabilization Type Lens Shift Optical (sensor shift) Optical (lens shift)
Flash type Pop-up Embedded Pop-up
Battery Life 380 shots 230 shots 450 shots
High ISO quality Good Superb Average
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.

Comparison with Canon PowerShot S5 IS

It’s no question that the Canon S5 and Fuji F100fd are entirely different beasts - the F100fd functions as a point and shoot compact that happens to excel in low-light situations, while the S5 packs in all the features and controls to be a true photography tool. That aside, the F100fd is generally the better low-light camera - both feature IS systems, while the F100fd has a better high-ISO ability, especially straight out of the camera. The S5 does have its own advantages too, including a larger aperture lens (though not large enough to overcome the F100fd’s ISO advantage), pop-up flash to avoid red eye, and a hotshoe for especially advanced users with external flashes.

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 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
Canon PowerShot S5 IS

The Canon S5 is an ultrazoom camera from Canon’s long-running S-series. With a large 36-432mm zoom range, the S5 is a versatile camera that can cover almost anything. The lens’ image stabilization system helps it reduce blur from camera shake. The lens aperture is a very large f2.7-3.5, which helps tremendously to reduce the need for high ISO or long shutter speeds.

The Canon S5’s high ISO performance is average - using a lighter approach to noise reduction, the S5’s images are extremely grainy but also retain more detail than most cameras. This leaves them less usable straight-out-of-the-camera for average users, but easier to work with for advanced users who want to use noise reduction software.

The S5’s flash pops up away from the lens, so red eye shouldn’t be a problem. For advanced users, the Canon S5 also has a hotshoe which allows for external flashes for more creative lighting effects.

Comparison with Sony Cybershot DSC-H50

Compared to the Canon S5 IS, the H50 offers a more versatile wide-angle (31mm vs. 36mm), and its stronger noise reduction produces cleaner out-of-the-camera high ISO images than the S5, although the S5 keeps more detail and can be edited with noise reduction software better. However, the S5’s larger aperture lets it get by with less light, making it the better overall low-light performer.

Pros
  • +
    Very large lens aperture
  • +
    Image stabilized lens
Cons
  • -
    Extremely grainy high-ISO images, unless edited with noise reduction software
Canon PowerShot S5 IS is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $500
Where to buy
Canon PowerShot S5 IS
Specifications
  • Zoom: 12.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 8.0MP
  • Max ISO: 1600
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (5 reviews)
  • Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
4
Sony Cybershot DSC-H50

The newest model in Sony’s long-running H-line of ultrazoom cameras, the H50 is a full-featured do-everything camera, sporting a huge 15x zoom, 31mm wide-angle lens, image stabilization system, rotating LCD screen, and a host of other features.

The Sony H50 has slightly above average high ISO ability - while its high ISO images are slightly blotchy, they’re cleaner out-of-the-camera than most others, and will be able to produce usable results when photographing moving subjects in dark conditions. The H50 also has an image-stabilized lens, helping to reduce camera shake.

The H50 covers a huge 15x zoom range from 31-465mm, making it one of the most versatile cameras around. Its lens aperture is f2.7-4.5, which is above average and will allow you to use shorter shutter speeds or lower ISOs to avoid blur and noise.

The H50 has a pop-up flash, so red-eye shouldn’t be an issue.

Pros
  • +
    Above-average high-ISO
  • +
    Image-stabilized lens
  • +
    Large lens aperture
Sony Cybershot DSC-H50 is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $500
Where to buy
Sony Cybershot DSC-H50
Specifications
  • Zoom: 15.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 9.1MP
  • Max ISO: 3200
  • Easy to Use: Yes
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (2 reviews)
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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