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Old Sep 11, 2003, 8:12 PM   #1
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Default Steve, Help with better low light handheld camera than D460

Hi, I am getting all disapointed in the new digital cameras. I have a olympus D460zoom. Its old and the CCD is starting to show too many white spots. It has perfect auto color and excellant low light (non-flash) hand held photos. I almost never use flash, so this camera has been a great vacation in resturant and museum camera. So I reserched features and figured the Olympus D550zoom would be a great update and improvement.

Well the 550 had terrible auto low light performance, The color was way too red/yellow hues and the handheld performance yields blurry pictures in the same light the older 460 yielded perfect photos. I called Olympus and they said that I would have to go with a C line to get better low light improvement. I was able to talk the NYC store into upgrading it to an Olympus C4000zoom. Well it has a lot of features I will probably never use, but the handheld low light photos are still not up to the old 460. Color accuracy in auto is not perfect (its a bit blue) and handheld shots are blurry. I tried various manual settings with no improvement. Its not what I need or want.

So I need some help with selecting a camera with better low light handheld performance than the old 460, and perfect color accuracy in auto mode.

Would a Cannon powershot A70 be better? It got a review about soft focus, I like sharp pictures. How is its auto low light (non-flash) handheld pictures?

How about a Cannon Powershot S400 elph?

How about a Cannon Powershot S50?

It has to have perfect WYSIWYG auto color and be able to take sharp non-flash handheld pictures in low resturant level lighting.

Basically I would like a more featured smaller more megapixel faster shot to shot better low light version of the old Olympus D460.

I have no clue if the store will do another exchange, so if anyone would like to make an offer on the Olympus C4000zoom, factory refurbished 90 day warranty, incl all original parts, and that rubber snap cap thing Steve recommended and a rechargable 4xAA 2000ma battery charger and batteries, and a medium sized padded camera case let me know. Its in perfect shape, no scratches or defects on it. I paid $360 and will throw in the other mentioned parts. [email protected]
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Old Sep 11, 2003, 9:40 PM   #2
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One thing you'll need to look at is the light gathering capability of the camera's lens. The better the light gathering capability of a lens, the faster shutter speed you can use - helping to reduce blur due to camera shake/subject movement.

Most compact cameras are going to have a maximum aperture of about F2.8 at full wide angle. But, when using Zoom, the amount of light reaching the lens decreases dramatically. With most subcompact models having a maximum aperture of around F4.9 at full zoom (your existing camera is even worse at full zoom).

Shooting at wide angle allows more light to reach the lens, but the cameras you are considering will probably not be satisfactory in available light shooting situations without flash.

The reason your camera handles it better, is because it's auto ISO goes to 500, and it's 1.3 Megapixel CCD is less dense. As a general rule, the more dense a CCD is (more pixels/square inch), the higher the noise level.

Some newer cameras (like the A70 you are considering) use an even smaller CCD than the other models you're looking it. It would be my last choice in a camera for available light shooting without a flash.

In any event, all of the cameras you are looking at would be worse than yours.

Some camera models have better light gathering -- for example: the Sony DSC-F717 is rated at F2.0 at full wide angle, and F2.4 at full zoom.

The Canon G series cameras are also much better than most (G2, G3). Some of the more expensive Olympus models also have better light gathering capability (C-4040z, C-5050z).

Look at the specifications for the models you are considering to see the maximum apertures available at both wide angle and full zoom -- rated something like F2.0/F2.4, with the first number indicating full wide angle, and the second number indicating full zoom. The lower the number the better.

Another way to increase the useability of a camera is to use higher ISO speeds (which increase the CCD Sensitivity, allowing faster shutter speeds for the same aperture used). But, this will also increase noise levels in a photo -- particularly with most smaller, more dense CCD designs.

The aperture scale (indicated by F Stop) is exponential (F2.8 is twice as dark as F2.0, F4 is four times as dark as F2.0). So, the light gathering capability of the lens can make a dramatic difference in the cameras's ability to use faster shutter speeds to reduce blur due to subject/camera movement.

ISO Speed is linear. For example: ISO 200 is twice as bright as ISO 100, ISO 400 is 4 times as bright as ISO 100. So, if the correct exposure at ISO 100 would be 1/50 second, using ISO 400 would allow you to take the shot at 1/200 second (4 times as fast).

Different model cameras will have their strengths and weaknesses, and a compact camera with a compact lens (that can't gather as much light), combined with a denser CCD (which can mean more noise), is not the best choice for available light shooting.

If you must use a camera with a compact lens, shoot at wide angle (to allow more light to reach the lens), and set the ISO speed to a higher value (for example: 400), to help reduce blur from slower shutter speeds. But, you probably won't be happy with the results due to noise.

Your best bet is to purchase a camera with a faster lens (i.e., wider aperture/lower F Stop Number) for better light gathering capability, if you don't want to use your flash. This will allow faster shutter speeds to reduce blur.

BTW, some of the dSLR's available (for example: Canon EOS-10D) can shoot at very high ISO speeds with low noise.

A new model (Canon EOS-300D / Digital Rebel) was recently announced at a ground breaking price point for a Digital SLR ($899.00 for the body only, or $999.00 for a body/lens kit). It can shoot with low noise at up to ISO 1600. But, you must still take the light gathering capability of any lens you buy for these cameras into consideration (as explained in this post) -- but the higher ISO speeds give you much more leeway in lens choices for lower light shooting.
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Old Sep 11, 2003, 10:12 PM   #3
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Good advice above - my pick of low light consumer/prosumer cameras is the Sony DSC-F717. Discounted now that the 828 is on the horizon, it's a dynamite low light performer which produces superior images.

There really is no such thing as "perfect" color on automatic - too many variables but the F717 is an excellent performer.

One of the main advantages aside from it's very fast lens is the ability to focus in absolute darkness in two different ways. It has a red holographic laser focus aid which gives it precise focus at reasonable distances in complete darkness and it also has twin infrared beams which serve as focus aids as well as illuminating a subject in total darkness without using any visible light. The IR can be used either to focus and shoot in normal mode with flash or in a "clandestine" mode using the IR. The results with IR are grainy and green, but it's still a photo made in complete darkness without the subject being aware.

My pick for low level lighting among non dSLR's.

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Old Sep 12, 2003, 10:12 AM   #4
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Default Thanks for the advice

I just don't understand how Olympus took such a giant step backwards from the D460. I get only one or two bad shots per 100 I take and I do some pretty goofy things like holding a 8x binoculator to the thing on full digital/optical zoom (6x) and doing a handheld telofoto with 48x? equalivalent and with no blurr! Its just such a great and easy camera to use. I like the manual flip up flash. I was able to do shots in the european museums that were saying no to flash without a problem. I could rely on it to take non-aimed spy shots in dark areas and be confident the photos would be good. I can't do that with the c4000. Not unless I put the thing on a table or tripod. You should see how nice the Sistine Chapel shots came out. I guess I will check out the sony 717 but doubt I can return the c4000. Thanks for the fast help with this.

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Old Sep 12, 2003, 1:55 PM   #5
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Default Got to compare a Canon A70 with Oly C4000

Hi again, my office has a new Canon A70 so I did some side by side photo's in the default auto mode. The A70 is a 3.2 MP and the C4000 a 4 MP but I was comparing picture sharpness and color and ease of doing a quick non viewfinder shot hand held in overcast light.

The MacWorld review of the A70 (July 03 p38) was correct, the A70 has a soft almost blurry focus and no way to sharpen it. The day time shots show the C4000 a much superior camera at non-zoom landscape shots and close up (1 foot to 3 foot) shots. Field of view is about the same for both but the C4000 shows much better depth of field. Shots of a text manual at 2x zoom at 2 feet distance also show the C4000 sharper and color more neutral white. The A70 was a bit gray. I was reviewing them on a dell monitor in Win2k so really can not tell about picture color accuracy, but the C4000 seemed to look more how I remember the shots. I will take the pictures home and compare them at home on my 15 inch Ti PowerBook to make a better assesment. That Apple laptop gives me WYSIWYG color accuracy with the old Olympus D460 in auto mode. I can take a picture, put it on the PowerBook and all the colors match the scene I just took, amazing.

On a prior incadessent light condition (very yellow light) the C4000 seemed to be a bit too blue in the auto mode (defalut P) settings.

The A70 seemed to have more saturation and more green as compared to the C4000, but could just be more saturation in general.

I do not have a Canon S400 to play with so if I find one I will report some more comparisons to the C4000.

If anyone would like me to send them the comparison pictures send me a request at [email protected]

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Old Sep 12, 2003, 3:33 PM   #6
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The Olympus C5050, C4040 and C3040 have a F1.8 lens which is excellent fo low light conditions. The colors are very good along with a sharp image. Read Steve's reviews.
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Old Sep 14, 2003, 7:28 PM   #7
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Default Played with Oly C4000 at night some more ques on D40

Well i give up. The C4000 is just not a low light handheld period. Its a daytime and flash camera and a tripod at night camera. It has beautiful pictures, they compress to a pretty small file size, it has oddles of settings and in general anyone with an expensive professional film camera wanting to get into digital you will have fun with this camera. But for me I will return it. The old Oly D460 is just a much better low light handheld. It almost sees in the dark. Its as sensitive as the Sony camcorder down to shaded lamp lit sceens (the Sony can actually see in the dark with its IR mode BTW).

I called the store and Eddy at 520 photo in NYC said to take a week and let him know what camera I want to exchange it for. He has been very understanding and since their policy is for no returns. My friend has a canon S400 elf and if it does half as good a job in low light as the D460 I will just get that one since it seems to do well with color and the sample photos Steve shows are pretty nice and clear. Its also such a cool small device.

I saw that the Oly D40 would probably work for me with its f2.0 lens, but I am concerned about its rather huge file sizes (seems not to compress very well or at all?) and the fact its out of manufacture and unlikely the store will have one. Anyone like to tell me about the low light and file size issues of the D40?

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Old Sep 15, 2003, 2:40 AM   #8
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The Olympus D-40 does NOT have an F2.0 lens.

It's lens is rated at F2.8/F4.8

Ditto for the Canon S400. It's not going to be any better either - rated at F2.8/F4.9

You're going to have to buy a camera with a larger lens to get better light gathering capability.

You're just going from one poor light performer to another. Most of the compact/subcompact cameras are not going to have a wider aperture than F2.8 at wide angle.

If you don't want to spend the money for something like a Sony DSC-F707 or DSC-f717 (F2.0/F2.4), or an Olympus C-3040z, C-4040z or C-5050z (F1.8/F2.6), then take a look at the Canon G Series:

Canon G2: F2.0/F2.5
Canon G3: F2.0/F3.0
Canon G5: F2.0/F3.0

F2.0 is twice as bright as F2.8, allowing you to shoot with a shutter speed that is twice as fast for the same ISO speed.

If you insist on sticking with a lens that is not well suited for available light shooting, then you'll need to use a higher ISO speed (which will mean increased noise). As we have already discussed, your old camera used a less dense 1.3 Megapixel CCD, with an Auto ISO that would go to ISO 500.

So, it was probably increasing ISO speed to allow for better low light shooting. Unfortunately, the denser CCD's used in the higher resolution cameras of today, tend to show more noise at higher ISO speeds than the lower resolution CCD's used in the past.

Also, shoot at full wide angle to let more light through to the sensor.

You can find software to help reduce the appearance of noise in your photos. See this site:

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