Best High ISO Image Quality
Nikon DF The Nikon DF has the best image quality we've seen at high ISO, shooting incredible quality images up to 3,279 ISO.

Its a constant struggle in photography to get enough light. Have you ever noticed that basically whenever you're indoors, or outside without a lot of sun, your camera's flash fires? Thats because your camera knows it doesn't have enough light to capture an image without blur. What if you want a natural light shot? To get more light, have a few options:

  • Use a wider aperture lens, these are usually heavy, expensive, and often don't have zoom
  • Use a lower shutter speed, this will cause blurring if you go too slow, especially if your subject is moving, or you're not using a tripod.
  • Increase the ISO setting on your camera. When you increase from say 100 ISO to 400 ISO, you get 4x as much light allowing you to quadruple your shutter speed (say from 1/15s to 1/60s) which might be enough to avoid blur. However, increasing the ISO on your camera usually comes with the tradeoff of lower image quality, specifically you'll see noise in your images, visible as grain and color splotches.

So, for many people, the answer is to buy a DSLR with great low light performance. Turn off your flash, bump up the ISO, and take advantage of natural light to get beautiful photographs. Snapsort uses measurements from DxOMark to quantify how high you can push the ISO on a given camera before the image quality starts to degrade.

DXOMark logo

Snapsort uses measurements from DxOMark for low light performance. These measurements are only available for cameras that shoot RAW which includes all DSLRs and a few high-end point and shoots.

High ISO Example

The following photo shows a great shot taken at ISO 6400, f/6.3, 200mm, 1/250s. If the photographer had stuck with say ISO 100, their image would have been blurry. Instead of getting 1/250s they would have gotten 1/4s, which at any focal length (let alone 200mm) would be blurry from camera-shake.

If you look at the 100% crop of the original image you can see two types of noise: luminance (the grainy dots) and chroma (the color anomalies).

Great image quality at 6400 ISO
A photograph of football players taken with a Nikon D300 by Yourdon A shot of some football players captured using a Nikon D300 DSLR. Photography by Yourdon via Flickr. f/6.3, 200mm, 1/250s, ISO 6400.

100% Crop at 6400 ISO
A photograph of football players taken with a Nikon D300 by Yourdon A section of that photograph shown as a 100% crop.

When to use a high ISO

If you don't have to use a high ISO value, don't! 100 ISO (or 200 ISO) will always get you the best image quality. But, if there isn't enough light to get the shutter speed you need, then bump up that ISO. High ISO settings are often used by sports photographers who need fast shutter speeds to catch fast action, by wedding photographers shooting in dark churches, but photojournalists who don't want to be encumbered by external flashes, and want to use natural light for their images.

Comparing Low Light ISO Scores

Lets compare the Nikon D700 gets a score of 2,303 ISO and the the Canon T2i (a much cheaper camera) gets a score of 784 ISO. How do these two compare?

Firstly, this means that according to the DxOMark benchmarks the D700 shoots great quality images up to 2,303 ISO, and the T2i shoots great quality images up to 748 ISO.

The difference can be expressed in f-stops, using this equation: Log2(2303/784) = 1.6 f-stops. This tells you that the D700 can get 1.6 f-stops more light than the T2i with the same image quality. For example, imagine you were shooting a subject a 800 ISO and 1/15s on the T2i, you could shoot it at approx 2,400 ISO on the D700 at 1/40s and get the same image quality, but likely get a much sharper image due to the faster shutter.

Digital Cameras with Great Image Quality at High ISO

Compact Cameras

The following compact cameras the best image quality at high ISO we've seen, keep in mind that only a few compact cameras are measured.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
from $798
Aperture Wide aperture Help
f/1.8
True resolution High true resolution Help
20 MP
Sensor size Large sensor Help
Nikon CX 13.2x8.8mm

Learn more about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III

Placeholder
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II
from $573
Aperture Wide aperture Help
f/1.8
True resolution High true resolution Help
20 MP
Sensor size Large sensor Help
Nikon CX 13.2x8.8mm

Learn more about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 II

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10
from $998
True resolution High true resolution Help
20 MP
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
69.0
Sensor size Large sensor Help
Nikon CX 13.2x8.8mm

Learn more about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10

Canon PowerShot S120
Canon PowerShot S120
from $399
Aperture Wide aperture Help
f/1.8
Touch screen Touch screen Help
Less buttons
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
922k dots

Learn more about the Canon PowerShot S120

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Mirrorless Interchangeable-lens Cameras

The following mirrorless interchangable lens cameras have the best image quality at high ISO we've seen.

Sony A7
Sony A7
from $1,498
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,248 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
90.0
Autofocus Phase detection video autofocus Help
fast and accurate

Learn more about the Sony A7

Sony Alpha A6000
Sony Alpha A6000
from $620
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,347 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
82.0
Focus points Many focus points Help
179

Learn more about the Sony Alpha A6000

Sony A7R
Sony A7R
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,746 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
95.0
True resolution High true resolution Help
36.2 MP

Learn more about the Sony A7R

Leica M Typ 240
Leica M Typ 240
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,860 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
84.0
Sensor size Large sensor Help
Full frame 36.0x24.0mm

Learn more about the Leica M Typ 240

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Entry Level DSLRs

The following entry level SLRs have the best image quality at high ISO.

Nikon D5300
Nikon D5300
from $720
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,338 ISO
Movie format Full HD Help
1080p @ 60fps
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
83.0

Learn more about the Nikon D5300

Nikon D3300
Nikon D3300
from $597
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,385 ISO
Movie format Full HD Help
1080p @ 60fps
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
82.0

Learn more about the Nikon D3300

Nikon D7100
Nikon D7100
from $1,097
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,256 ISO
Movie format Full HD Help
1080p @ 60fps
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
83.0

Learn more about the Nikon D7100

Pentax K-3
Pentax K-3
from $988
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,216 ISO
Cross type focus points Many cross-type focus points Help
25
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Pentax K-3

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Pro DSLRs

The following Pro SLRs have the best image quality at high ISO.

Nikon DF
Nikon DF
from $85
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
3,279 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
89.0
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Nikon DF

Nikon D4s
Nikon D4s
from $6,497
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
3,074 ISO
Battery life Great battery life Help
3020 shots
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
89.0

Learn more about the Nikon D4s

Nikon D610
Nikon D610
from $1,897
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,980 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
94.0
Color depth Great color depth Help
25.1 bits

Learn more about the Nikon D610

Nikon D810
Nikon D810
from $3,297
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,853 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
97.0
True resolution High true resolution Help
36.2 MP

Learn more about the Nikon D810

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Related links

Discussion

Showing 4 comments

bob (2:21 AM, February 09, 2014)
its also a d300
 
Eduardo (0:49 AM, January 08, 2014)
Your very same comparison says that Nikon D300 maximum range is 3200 ISO, not 6400.
http://snapsort.com/compare/Nikon-D3200-vs-Nikon_D300
 
ccd333 (1:38 AM, April 10, 2013)
Pentax K-5II is definitely NOT an entry level DSLR. That is a complete joke. For someone to classify it as such does not lend creedence to their other views.
 
Hans (9:16 AM, November 01, 2012)
that picture is at 1600 ISO in stead of 6400... thats a huge difference...