Low light is the holy grail of photography. The shot above, for example, was taken outside at 1:50 AM. This is only possible by keeping the camera still and shutter open for 20 seconds. The subjects have to sit still the whole time, like old timey photographs. It is also possible to use a high ISO setting (literally the same ISO standard for companies) to get greater sensitivity to light. That means you can keep the shutter open less and maybe even hold the camera in your hand. The Panasonic LX3 is OK for this, but the new Canon G11 may be better. The New York Times also profiles two more pocketable cameras which may be just as good.
My goal, personally, is being able to capture what I see at night. I think a camera should be able to do this. However, with a long shutter cameras are actually capable of capturing what I cannot see, including otherworldly light. I suppose ISO could do the same things. However, I digress. For low light and general photography I’m interested in the new FujiFilm FinePix F200EXR ($320) and Sony WX1 ($500). The latter seems to have better image quality and does cool panoramas automatically.
However, I still think the FujiFilm F30 is the best low light camera ever made. I have owned two and thrashed them till they fell apart, but they’re magical. The LX3 I have now takes ‘better’ more printable photos but the controls suck and it makes a significant and awkward bulge in my pants. The long exposure trick is cool, but it takes me a minute to get the thing out and set it up for a normal party shot, which stresses me out. It does shoot really good HD video though. For something comparable (not an SLR, but not a compact) I’d recommend the Canon G11. It has great, intuitive controls, and now an improved low light sensor. No HD video, but takes great photos a bit easier than the LX3.
What’s interesting about the G11 and the other low light cameras is that they actually have less megapixels than competitors. That’s because it’s about quality, not quantity. What you need for low light (and better pictures, generally) is a better sensor, not necessarily more megapixels. In fact, putting more megapixels on the same sensor produces granier shots. So the G11 actually dropped to 10 MP from 14 MP for the G10, which I think is great. Hopefully consumers will understand.