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Small digital cameras for low light

December 28, 2010

If you are a teacher or researcher and a photographer, you may have taken flash pictures in a chem lab and ended up with red-eye, glare, reflections, or washed-out colors. While doing field work in the jungle you may have discovered the flash was depleting your battery. After shooting a distant subject, it may have been a bummer to learn that your flash had a limited range. Finding that flashes were prohibited in a certain museum may have even ruined an expensive trip.

Get the point? Using a flash is not always a good idea in low-light situations. What now? In the words of ace detective Harry Hoo, there are “two possibilities!”

The first alternative to a flash is manually selecting a slow exposure. For a really slow exposure you’ll need to take the camera out of your shaky hands and screw it into a tripod. Casual photographers don’t want to be bothered, and a tripod will not help if you need to stop a moving subject.

The other way to avoid a flash is with a wider aperture (lens opening). Aperture is measured by an f-stop number, where lower numbers mean a wider opening. The typical digital camera goes down to f 3.5, but some can go as far as f 1.8. That translates into four times the amount of light!

Until recently, in order to select an extra-wide aperture you pretty much needed a bulky, expensive DSLR camera. Columnist David Pogue recently wrote that there are now at least three good small camera options for around $400. For a full explanation read Small Cameras With Big Sensors – and don’t pass up the humorous video.

[photo Nice aperture blades by Isaac Wedin]

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