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Slow down for sharpness
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Slow down for sharpness

For compact camera image quality, the proof is in the blow-ups

A lot has been written recently about the adverse effect of shooting at ISO 400 or higher with a compact camera, but there's relatively little about what happens to image quality when you deliberately choose the camera's lowest ISO setting.

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Shooting at a low ISO, typically 80 or 100, means you'll need more light, longer exposure, or the addition of flash to illuminate your subject. If your camera has optical anti-shake, this will give you a little more low-light flexibility, but if you don't have this feature you should use a tripod.

Test results

Based on extensive tests of compact cameras with 8, 10, and 12-megapixel sensors it is very clear that the lowest ISO setting will produce excellent image quality, and that our 10MP camera delivered the best image quality overall.

Let's look at the sample photos. All of these are 100 percent details.

At 8MP and ISO 80, details are fairly sharp, but I expected better. Test images were slightly softer at ISO 100, noticeably grainier by ISO 200.
At 10MP and ISO 80, fine details in the hair and eye are clearly visible. This was the best of the bunch. Very slight sharpness loss at ISO 100, becomes more noticeable and small grain begins to appear in dark areas by ISO 200.
At 12MP and ISO 80, fine detail quality is good, similar to what the 8MP camera produced. At ISO 100, quality deteriorates just a bit, not enough to make a difference in smaller prints. Quality deterioration is noticeable at ISO 200.

The Bottom Line

If you plan on making big prints, shoot using your camera's lowest ISO setting.


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