Short Description

Sensor light sensitivity refers to a cameras maximum ISO setting. ISO is an international standard that was used to denote the sensitivity of film. Digital cameras retain this notion of light sensitivity. Every time the ISO number is doubled, say from ISO 100 to ISO 200 the amount of time you need to expose the photo is halved. Say for instance your camera needed 1 second to properly expose a photo of your cat , even if you setup a tripod so that your camera was perfectly still your cat might not be. What you need is have proper exposure in less time to avoid blur. You need more sensitivity - at ISO 3200 you would only need an exposure of 1/32 of a second, enough to get a photo with minimal blur if you have a stead hand. Unfortunately the higher the ISO level the less time the sensor has to detect the true colors of the image you're capturing (less exposure time) - because of the reduced exposure time noise is introduced to the photo - the noise is the direct result of the lack of light on the sensor. Less light makes it hard to determine the true value of each pixel. That's the compromise with higher ISOs - more noise and lower quality. At higher ISOs many cameras have aggressive noise reduction algorithms that essentially blur the photo, but many cameras have strong performance up to reasonably high ISO levels, the low light performance rating indicates how high you can take the ISO and expect good quality and is available for most DSLRs

Best Low Light Pro DSLRs

The following Pro SLRs have great low light performance.

Nikon DF
Nikon DF
from $2,747
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 $5,997
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 D750
Nikon D750
from $1,997
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,956 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
93.0
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,229k dots

Learn more about the Nikon D750

Nikon D810
Nikon D810
from $2,997
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,853 ISO
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
97.0
Color depth Great color depth Help
25.7 bits

Learn more about the Nikon D810

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Best Low Light Entry Level DSLRs

The following entry level SLRs have great low light performance.

Nikon D5500
Nikon D5500
from $580
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,438 ISO
Movie format Full HD Help
1080p @ 60fps
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
84.0

Learn more about the Nikon D5500

Nikon D5300
Nikon D5300
from $570
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 D7200
Nikon D7200
from $914
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
87.0
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
1,333 ISO
Movie format Full HD Help
1080p @ 60fps

Learn more about the Nikon D7200

Nikon D3300
Nikon D3300
from $430
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

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Why Shorter Exposure Times are Important

Say for instance you wanted to take photos indoors without using a flash, perhaps of a birthday party, you would want your film to be more sensitive to light so that you didn't need to expose as the photo as long. Longer exposures are problematic because if your subject is moving or your hands aren't completely steady it can result in a blurry image - the blur is even more amplified if you're zoomed in on your subject - for instance at a sporting event held indoors - one small move of your hand becomes a giant movement against your subject who could be hundreds of feet away. Blur can turn your 10MP camera into a .5MP camera in short order. Short exposure times are important to capturing the most detail via a completely steady exposure so each pixels is capturing unique detail.

ISO Examples

The following two shots were taken of the same subject at the same time with different ISO settings on a D90. While the ISO 200 exhibits no noise the ISO 6400 is showing tremendous noise both in color and luminosity. At 6400 ISO your get 4 stops of advantage, meaning you need only expose the photo for 1/16 the time, but the consequences are obvious. At 6400 ISO the usable resolution is probably about 25% of what you're getting at ISO 200 - about 3MP on a D90. But you can do a lot with 3 megapixels so its still quite useful to have.

D90 ISO 200 Example
photo of flower by Nikon D90 at 200 ISOFlower photo at 100% crop shot via a Nikon D90 DSLR at 200 ISO
D90 ISO 6400 Example
photo of flower by Nikon D90 at 6400 ISOFlower photo at 100% crop shot via a Nikon D90 DSLR at 6400 ISO

High ISO Digital Cameras

The following digicam digital cameras have high maximum ISO and larger digicam style sensors.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 II
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 II
from $1,298
Movie format Shoots UHD movies Help
UHD @ 30fps
Light sensitivity High ISO Help
25,600 ISO
True resolution High true resolution Help
20 MP

Learn more about the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 II

Canon PowerShot G3 X
Canon PowerShot G3 X
from $999
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,620k dots
Light sensitivity High ISO Help
25,600 ISO
True resolution High true resolution Help
20 MP

Learn more about the Canon PowerShot G3 X

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX100 III
from $769
Aperture Wide aperture Help
f/1.8
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,229k dots
True resolution High true resolution Help
20 MP

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

Canon PowerShot G7 X
Canon PowerShot G7 X
from $472
Aperture Wide aperture Help
f/1.8
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
71.0
Touch screen Touch screen Help
Less buttons

Learn more about the Canon PowerShot G7 X

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Discussion

Showing 6 comments

Avatar for Fred Krueger Fred Krueger (2:14 PM, February 11, 2015)
This is the best site , what you think of Olympus SL-100 50x, it supports 6400 iso but I imagine that can't be very good .
 
DSLR fan (3:29 PM, January 05, 2014)
nice website man, i really hope u can added more currency option :/
 
RKB (5:05 PM, June 16, 2013)
Your site is the best I have found. Very helpful in comparing cameras - even old ones (mine) to new prospective ones. Many helpful features. I highly recommend this site.
 
Avatar for Carol Marie Rongholt Carol Marie Rongholt (5:10 PM, June 05, 2013)
These are the most informative reviews I have found on the internet! Thank you!
 
Avatar for atul jha atul jha (4:57 PM, June 13, 2012)
very useful information...thanks
 
madie (8:52 AM, March 07, 2011)
informative website