Good Low-Light Camera for the Cheap?

A friend owes me about $130, which I was going to have him pay me back by buying me something on Amazon. I’m considering a new digital camera.

My old camera fits in my pocket, which is nice, but it’s almost an inch thick, which isn’t so nice. But more of an issue is that I don’t think pictures taken with the flash on ever look good, but trying to take a picture indoors or after sunset, and the shutter speed slows down so that everything gets blurry.

I’m happy to go over $130 if it isn’t by too much (maybe up to $200ish?), but does anyone have a recommendation for something that takes good pictures, even in low light?

Hmm, well, you want to look for one with a larger aperture. This will be expressed as an f/number. In a small point and shoot, I wonder if you can get better than f/2.8…but f/2.0 (smaller f/number means larger aperture) would be even better. Unfortunately that maximum aperture ratchets up the price quickly. See what yours has; chances are it’s f/3.5, and f/2.8 won’t be a huge improvement over that.

A few tips to improve your technique with the existing camera may help. In low light…

  1. Try to brace your camera against a fence, wall, pole etc. to reduce shake.

  2. Like shooting a gun, breathe in, exhale. At the “bottom” of your exhale, smoothly trip the shutter.

  3. A small tripod could help, or any of the variations you find out there.

  4. Try using the self timer. The shake you create when pressing the shutter release can be avoided by triggering the self timer, then bracing until it trips.

  5. Of course, you can switch to flash.

At that price range and particular for that type of camera (compact digital point and shoot), you’re really not going to find anything that I would consider a good low-light camera. The FujiF30 is particular good in low light, with results acceptable at ISO800, and a maximum ISO of 3200. You can also look for cameras with image stabilization, but they tend to be pricier than what you’re looking at. Remember, too, that image stabilization isn’t really going to help with moving subjects, but rather reduces camera shake.

It takes a very good lens to take pictures indoors without flash and have it look good without excessive noise. If you have a point-and-shoot that lets you set the ISO high (and your may already but you weren’t aware of it), this will help, but the pictures will be very noisy. You’re basically fighting physics – the lens in a pocket camera can’t gather enough light indoors, so the camera does its best by lowering the shutter speed, so everything gets blurrier. And you want an even smaller camera but better indoor performance? Ain’t gonna happen.

The only thing you can do is add light: take pictures near a sunny window. Turn on all the room lights you can, tell everybody (and your hands holding the camera) to stay really still, and cross your fingers. Or use the flash. Or just take pictures outdoors.

Or get a DSLR and with a lens with a good F/ratio. I use this with one of these (note the F1.8 rating), and can often take decent to really good pictures indoors with no flash, but I often need to do what I describe above – add light however I can, and I need to deal with a very tight focal plane. This camera does not fit in my pocket and costs more than your budget, but that’s all I’ve got. Sorry!

Do look through your camera menu (or any potential replacement) for an ISO setting; this can really help, but at the cost of noise.

ETA: I see lobotomyboy63 and pulykamell have covered much of this ground while I was typing. I didn’t know a pocket camera could come with image stabilization; that would indeed help, but I’m not sure it would help enough.

It’s not so much an issue of lens as it is with the size of the sensor in these cameras. For reasons I won’t go into, generally, the smaller the sensor and the higher the pixel density, the more noise in the final image.

Doing a quick look through Amazon, at first blush it looks like aperture size isn’t particularly correlated to the size of the lens. Is there a listing of point-n-shoots that is searchable by f/?

The f/number is a ratio, focal length/aperture. You might have a wide angle lens that’s 6mm, so that aperture size doesn’t have to be large for the ratio to be small. Increase to telephoto, like 50mm, and you need a bigger aperture to keep the ratio small.

has some guidance but I don’t know if it can be sorted that way.

Here’s a Leica with f/2.0-f/2.8 lens (it zooms, hence the change of max aperture). $800.

Leica has top end optics and all, which helps explain the price. If you could find such a thing in a different brand, I don’t imagine you’d get off for less than $500.

Thing is, a lot of photogs are going to see that price and say, “Damn, might as well go DSLR.” So the market for such things is also limited, and I don’t think many mfrs are going to bother offering such things.

Note: Suppose you have a camera with f/2.8 maximum aperture on the lens. If you upgrade and get one with f/2.0 max aperture, the light difference is “double/half.” So if you were shooting at 1/30 @ f/2.8, you’d be shooting at 1/60 @ f/2.0 for the same amount of light. That means trying to shoot at 1/4 sec could be changed to 1/8 sec. In many cases it helps but it isn’t a magic bullet.

It doesn’t matter. As mentioned above, there are no cameras for $130 that are good in low light. None. At best they’ll produce acceptable shots at ISO 400 but for many cameras even that is pushing it in low light. The available aperture doesn’t matter nearly as much as the sensor. Besides, the best aperture is usually only available with the lens set to most wide angle. If you zoom in you lose the ability to use that f-stop.

At the under $200 price point you’re limited to mostly entry level cameras or fairly competent compacts with no manual controls. But the reality unless you spring for a more expensive model that either uses a CMOS sensor or Fuji’s SuperCCD you’re going to have disappointing low light performance. Of the models currently offered for sale around $130 I’d look at the Canon A1100 and the Panasonic FS7. If you can find a Fuji F30 that would certainly be a great choice, but they’ve been discontinued for 2 years and people rarely sell them for that little, even used.

I bought this P/S camera for $200. Aperture varies from f/2.8~f/4.8, which is pretty good on a 6x (optical) zoom. It has a lot of manual overriding available.

Wacky…it’s now $700 at amazon’s featured merchant…still around $370 at a cheaper place.

Yeah, but Telemark’s point still stands.There are no good ( what most photographers define as “good”, which is admittedly an amorphous standard ), cheap, low-light cameras, including that one. The sensor is just too small.

P&S cameras can take great pictures in good light, but the greatest limitations are depth of field/bokeh and low-light shooting - physics just works against them.

Admittedly it’s a small sensor. But the OP was asking about a point and shoot going up to $200. That’s what mine cost in Dec 2007. He wanted something small, for around $200. I’m pointing him in the direction of what $200 might buy, recognizing those limitations (although the Canon is probably bigger than desired).

You’re reframing the question as, “What camera with a larger sensor can I buy for $200?” The larger sensor is going to make the camera bigger (probably a DSLR) and push it farther out of the price range.

Well I’m more looking for the “best of its class” than one that is “good”. My one right now, I can turn on every light in the house so it looks bright as day to me, hold the side against the wall, and I’ll still get motion shake.

It’s an 8 year old camera, so I’m fairly sure that almost anything will be better. But, I am often indoors or out after sunset (being nocturnal), so it seems like I should try and account for that as much as I can.

If it’s an 8 y/o camera, what megapixels do you have? That’s gotta need upgrading and will get you some definition.

Yeah, I think there are three outcomes possible…

  1. Buy something for far more than $200 and get a high quality image.
  2. Buy nothing and get no image.
  3. Spend what you can and get a flawed image. But, at least it’s an image.
    Something like this maybe:

Big 12Mp
Max aperture of 2.8 (~7.1 at tele end isn’t great though)
Has image stabilization
Zeiss lenses are excellent
Flash good to 23 feet.

I haven’t read any reviews etc. but you might look on cnet et al. Also I wonder if any “superzoom” type cameras might fit the bill.

Not my intention. Instead I was trying to answer the following OP questions:

Answer: There are none. At least not for most definitions of “good.”

Now this is not the same question as,

In that case probably most new cameras under $200 aren’t likely to be noticeably superior to any other in this particular regard, barring slight differences in aperture. Telemark’s advice here still holds - the Fuji SuperCCD P&S cameras are likely the best bet. Of the current lineup the Fuji F70EXR is ~$280 at B & H, might be cheaper elsewhere.

It’s just a very unfortunate limitation to P&S cameras, one I rue as it has frequently caused me problems as well :).

All these issues aside, the OP’s mention of using an 8 year old camera makes me think that the $200 will be well-spent. Some blur is probably a lack of sharpness due to wimpy resolving power instead of camera shake, slow shutter speeds, and so on. IOW a new camera given these particulars won’t solve all the problems, but I think better images are certain.

Honestly, if your current PS camera is 8 years old, anything you get will be way better than what you have, and you’ll be much happier. Though it won’t have what a real photographer would call good low-light performance, it will probably be good enough for your needs if it has image stabilization.

I second the Canon A1100; my husband has one of these series and loves it. It’s also pretty small and easy to carry around. I haven’t tried the Panasonic FS7, but I do have a Panasonic PS (LX-3) and am pretty happy with it.

I think the OP has some choices but if price doesn’t budge, the decision of which is best…truly pocketable OR (more) low-light capable OR better image quality? Gaining in one area usually means losing something elsewhere.

Here’s a little tool, OP. It lets you select what features you want, then shows the cameras that have them: