Expert Recommendation

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Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $750
Expert (97 Recommendations and 21 Compliments)
Send a ComplimentComplimented (Change)
October 19, 2007 Updated: December 2, 2007
Overview

Despite approaching three years on the market (ancient in digital camera terms), Canon’s Rebel XT camera remains one of the best low-light cameras on the market, thanks to a low-noise sensor that produces the best high ISO images of any sub-$2000 camera, and Canon’s newly released 18-55IS lens that provides an image stabilization system to compensate for camera shake blur. While there are also many other quite capable low-light cameras (that are perhaps more capable in other areas of photography), the Canon Rebel XT is combines the best high ISO performance and image stabilization system to produce the best pure low-light camera.

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My Best In Class Pick
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (Body Only)

The criteria for this recommendation is simply “What’s the best low-light camera for under $750?” Taken in such a narrow context, the top camera would undoubtedly be the Canon Rebel XT and Canon 18-55mm image-stabilized lens, a combo which combines an effective image stabilization system with the best low-noise high-ISO ability in this price range. The Pentax K10D and Sony A100 are also quite capable cameras with effective image stabilization system but slightly worse high ISO performance, as is the Olympus E410, despite its even worse high ISO performance.

However, low-light ability is only a means to photography, not an end - the more important question is what you want to take low-light photos of. While the Canon Rebel XT is the best pure low-light camera, it isn’t the ideal camera for low-light travel photography, where other cameras can be equipped with a more versatile 18-200 zoom lens and still maintain in-body IS, while Canon is stuck with the more limited 18-55 IS lens. If you want to take low-light photos of sports, the lens recommendation shifts from standard zooms to telephoto lenses.

Simply put, the Canon Rebel XT with image-stabilized lens is the best low-light camera in this price range. Low-light ability shouldn’t be your only concern, however, so you may want to narrow down your search options with more selective criteria to find the best camera for what you actually want to shoot (travel, sports, children, etc.)

Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (Body Only) is the Best Point and Shoot Digital Camera for Low Light Photos Under $750
Where to buy
Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (Body Only)
Specifications
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 8.0MP
  • Max ISO: 1600
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (5 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Excellent by CNET.com

Comparing My Best In Class Pick with Other Good Choices

Product
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Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT (Body Only)
2
Pentax K10D (with 18-55mm Lens)
3
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 (with 18-70mm Lens)
Customer Rating
Price
Size (W x H x D) 5.0 x 3.7 x 2.5 in. 5.6 x 4.0 x 2.8 in. 5.2 x 3.7 x 2.8 in.
Weight (with batteries) 19.0 oz 27.9 oz 22.5 oz
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Sensor Size
22.2 x 14.8 mm 23.5 x 15.7 mm 23.6 x 15.8 mm
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Min Focal Length (35 mm equivalent)
29 - 88mm (3x) 27 - 83 mm (3x) 27 - 105 mm (3.9x)
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Image Stabilization Available
Yes (on lens) Yes Yes
Storage Media CompactFlash Card, MicroDrive SD Memory Card, SDHC Memory Card Memory Stick Duo, Memory Stick PRO Duo, CompactFlash Card, MicroDrive
Battery Type Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable Proprietary Lithium Ion Rechargeable
Battery Life 400 shots 480 shots 750 shots
Max ISO Setting Superb Good Good
2
Pentax K10D (with 18-55mm Lens)

The Pentax K10D is Pentax’s flagship camera, and is one of the most feature-rich cameras on the market, packing in a rain and dust-resistant weather-sealed body and one of the better autofocus systems in this class. While not class-leading, its high-ISO performance is very capable and can easily produce usable images at its maximum ISO1600.

In addition to its great high ISO performance, the K10D also has a built-in sensor-shift image stabilization method - a second generation “Shake Reduction” model which improves upon the performance of the budget K100D model, and according to a recent Popular Photography test, is comparable to the performance of the Sony A700 and Olympus E410 image stabilization. The Pentax K10D comes with the Pentax 18-55mm kit lens, providing a 27-83 zoom range, with an average f/3.5-5.6 aperture range.

The K10D has an effective pop-up flash (although not good enough to replace high-ISO and image stabilization as the primary low-light tools). The K10D also has a dedicated hot shoe for external flashes, such as the $130 Pentax AF200FG.

Pentax K10D (with 18-55mm Lens) is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $750
Where to buy
Pentax K10D (with 18-55mm Lens)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.0x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • Max ISO: 1600
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Dave's Pick at Imaging-Resource.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
3
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 (with 18-70mm Lens)

A relative newcomer to the Digital SLR industry (after it bought Konica Minolta’s SLR division), the Sony A100 was the company’s first foray into the SLR market. Using the same sensor as Pentax’s K10D (both sensors are made by Sony), the high-ISO performance on both cameras is fairly similar - a bit noisier than the Canon Rebel XT, but on the whole very good at high ISO and perfectly usable at even the maximum ISO sensitivity (ISO1600 for the A100).

The A100 has built-in sensor-shift image stabilization, which Sony calls “Super Steady Shot”. According to Popular Photography’s test, its performance is comparable to that of the other leading contenders.

The A100 comes with a Sony 18-70mm kit lens, which provides a 27-105mm zoom range, with a fairly typical f3.5-5.6 aperture range.

The A100 has a similar pop-up flash to other cameras which does better than the embedded flashes built into the camera body, but still produces fairly flat, harsh lighting. The A100 has a hot shoe for external flashes, such as the $180 Sony HVL-F36AM (a bit pricier than the entry-level flashes from other manufacturers).

Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 (with 18-70mm Lens) is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $750
Where to buy
Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 (with 18-70mm Lens)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 3.9x
  • Image Stabilization: Yes
  • Resolution: 10.2MP
  • Max ISO: 1600
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com
4
Olympus EVOLT E-410 (with 14-42mm and 40-150mm Lenses)

Olympus SLRs have always been unique for their use of the “4/3” format - a system which utilizes smaller sensors that are a little more than half the size of the sensors found on most digital SLRs, and 1/4 the size of sensors found on 35mm ‘full frame’ digital SLRs. Because they use a smaller sensor, the high ISO output found on Olympus cameras is significantly worse than the output from most other digital SLRs, producing noisy images that also have less detail due to detail-smearing noise reduction. That said, the high ISO performance is still good up to the highest ISOs (ISO1600) and will produce perfectly usable pictures, just with more noticeable noise than the images produced by other digital SLRs.

The E410 has a sensor-shift image stabilization system of its own, which is comparable to the IS systems in the A100 and K10D cameras. The Olympus E410 kit comes with two lenses: an Olympus 14-42mm lens (giving a 28-84mm zoom range), and an Olympus 40-150mm lens (giving a telephoto 80-300mm zoom range). The 14-42 lens has a f/3.5-5.6 aperture, while the 40-150mm lens has an f/4-5.6 aperture, both fairly typical for lenses in this range.

Thee E410 has a pop-up flash which rises noticeably less than that found on other cameras (only 42mm above the lens, instead of the 54mm found on the Rebel XT, for example). While still significantly better than the on-camera embedded flash, the pop-up flash will tend to produce flatter light and harsher shadows. The E410 has a hot shoe for external flashes, like the $170 Olympus FL-36.

Olympus EVOLT E-410 (with 14-42mm and 40-150mm Lenses) is one of the Best Point and Shoot Digital Cameras for Low Light Photos Under $750
Where to buy
Olympus EVOLT E-410 (with 14-42mm and 40-150mm Lenses)
Specifications
  • Zoom: 10.7x
  • Image Stabilization: No
  • Resolution: 10.0MP
  • Max ISO: 1600
  • Easy to Use: No
More
Want More Opinions? See:
Website Reviews (6 reviews)
  • Highly Recommended at DPReview.com
  • Rated Very Good by CNET.com

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