Mud in the fast lane

Three compact digital cameras were tested at high ISOs. They all failed.

We've established that you'll get your best overall image quality with a compact digital camera at its lowest settings, but what happens at their highest ISO speeds?

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Are you willing to accept poor image quality rather than none at all if you're faced with an overly dark shooting situation and can't use a flash and/or don't have a tripod? Is a lousy image better than none at all?

While the last two questions have no right answer, yours should be based on knowing what your results will be. So, here are several ISO 1600 and higher images shot with 8, 10, and 12MP digital compact cameras. Hang on—the road gets rough here...

8MP: Frankly, I expected better quality from our lowest pixel count camera, but the camera's relative age (it's a year old) may have had an effect. It's also the only camera of the bunch with an internal-zoom lens. In any case, at ISO 1600, results are a blotchy, blurry mess.
10MP: Shot with a relatively recent 10MP compact camera, this detail shows slightly better grain than the 8MP, but still unacceptable.
12MP: The 12MP compact camera, at ISO 1600, showed slightly less sharpness, and notably more blotchiness, especially in the shadow areas, where there is virtually no detail.

So for those of us who expected perhaps slightly better quality with a lower megapixel count, the effect was marginal at best and for casual shooters the difference will not even be noticeable.

Our recommendation: Use a DSLR for low light situations that require a high ISO setting to avoid unacceptable digital noise.


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