Which Camera Should I Buy?

Real Advice for Real People

Which-Camera-Should-I-Buy
Which-Camera-Should-I-Buy

I'm looking for an ultra-small digital camera, but I want something that will let me take good snapshots in dim light without flash. Would any of the cute "credit-card" cameras be good for this? I also don't want to fuss with a lot of settings or have to buy a lot of batteries.

Adam Kalanovsky
Philadelphia, PA

For low-light shooting, a camera needs a bright lens (f/2.8 or better), the ability to go to ISO 800 or 1600, and digital or optical image stabilization (IS), since very small cameras that don't have optical viewfinders can be hard to hold steady. With ultraslims, you may have to make compromises, but you can get pretty close.

We like the Natural Light mode on the 5MP Fujifilm FinePix Z1 ($250, street), one of the smallest of the ultraslims. This boosts the ISO to 800, with effective noise reduction. But, there's no IS, and the widest aperture of the lens is f/3.5.

Panasonic's Mega Optical IS works incredibly well. The 6MP Lumix DMC-FX01 ($300, street) has it, along with a lens that opens up to f/2.8 at wide angle. And its High Sensitivity setting pushes ISO up to 800-1600. It weighs 4 ounces and the battery is rated at 320 shots per charge.

Another good choice, at about 4.5 ounces with a 2.2-inch LCD, is the 6MP Casio Exilim EX-S600 ($300, street). With an f/2.7 lens at wide angle, it's fine for low-light candids, though keep blowups to 8x10 inches or less-higher ISOs show loss of resolution, due to a blurring filter to suppress noise. Casio claims the battery lasts for 300 shots per charge.

If you switch the mode to Anti Shake from Auto, ISO speeds up to 1600, and digital stabilization resamples to fight blur from hand or subject motion. This mode gives you only as much help as you need: Take the EX-S600 into the bright sun, and it should set ISO to 50 and turn off Anti Shake. And the one-touch Best Shot mode can be programmed to any of 30 still settings-that's pretty darn fuss-free.

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