S90 vs Digital SLR - low light shots, how expensive?

Started Nov 17, 2009 | Discussions thread
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PaulRivers Veteran Member • Posts: 7,420
S90 vs Digital SLR - low light shots, how expensive?

I own an s90. I have no doubt it's the best available pocket sized camera for low light pics, but it's not quite perfect - from experience my ideal settings on it would be 1/60, ISO400, F...F2.5 (though that's mostly guessing from what I've read). Instead, at -1/3rd exposure comp in typical indoor lighting it wants to shoot at 1/30, ISO800, F2.0. Now the F2.0 and ISO800 I have no problem with, they're not that much worse, but 1/30 doesn't work for me at all. I know because I've tried it - you can't take pictures of moving people at 1/30 without getting a lot of blurry pics. I've learned to deal with, but it's not ideal.

So I've heard all the kool-aid about how great digital slr's are, how the s90 still doesn't meet their low light performance, etc etc, and I figured I might buy one for those occassions when I want nicer indoor, low lighting shots of people. I figured it would be easy, right? I mean digital SLR's are supposed to be soooooooo much better than pocket cameras of any kind - should be a piece of cake.

Unfortunately - that doesn't appear to be the case. I wrote up an entire comparison with borrowed iso pics from another site (unfortunately, dpreview doesn't have an s90 or g11 review yet!) here:


(You're got to go partway down)

It's seem that the following things are the case:
1. A less expensive digital slr (

2. I assumed it would be no problem at all the buy an F2.0, image stabilized lense for a digital slr, if not better. Turns out - I was wrong. If you want an image stabilized lense, the lowest they go (with the exception of an extremely expensive telephoto lense) is F2.8. Canon sells an F1.8 lense for about $100 - but without IS. They sell an F1.4 lense for about $400 - but also without IS. Even their > $1,000 F1.2 lens lacks IS.

3. Oh, and by the way? That F2.8 IS lense? It costs $1,200. If you want an IS lens that costs less than that, they go all the way down to $200 - but you aren't going to find anything better (on the Canon website, at least) than F3.5.

So my question is - how much money does it take to buy a digital slr that outperforms the s90 at low light shots? Let's say we're using it for the kind of stuff that I'm using it for - people, in low lighting, where resolution above what the s90 does doesn't matter (the vast majority of my pics end up on facebook - extra pixels not needed, but blurry shots because of to low of a shutter speed are definitely still noticeable). Also - I can't use a tripod because I need to be able to move around. I can stand in one place, but my subjects are often moving (though not terrribly fast or anything, think walking speed).

Since I'm spending all this money and lugging this camera around, I'd like my new camera to be able to take good pictures in 95% of the lighting situations I find myself in. So let's say that where my S90 meters out at 1/20, ISO800, F2.0, I'd like to be able to take the shot like my s90 was set at 1/60, ISO400, F2.0.

So 1/20 to 1/60 is...2 stops? ISO800 to ISO400 is 1 stop. So a total of 3 stops...

A $2700 Canon 5D is 4 stops better, but with a $1200 IS lense that's 1 stop worse, that brings it down to 3 stops...so it's $3900 for noticeably better performance?

Or the F1.4 lense is $400 - maybe it's 1 stop better at letting light in, but 1 stop worse because it doesn't have IS so it's a draw (but isn't F1.4 like 0.5 steps better than a F2.0 lense?). Let's say it is - so we're looking at a Canon 50D at around $1,000, plus a $400 lense - $1,400, but that's before taxes...

What do you think? I thought I would post in this forum because there would be a lot more people who owned both s90's and digital slr's here that wouldn't see my post in the digital slr forum. Are there flaws in my reasoning? Does your personal experience shooting both cameras give you different results?

I'd love to hear feedback! I'd love to hear that there's some terrible flaw in my reasoning, or personal experience that contradicts my reasoning because I want to be wrong and not plunk down that kind of cash.

But I would prefer, if you would be so kind, to avoid a couple of other topics -

1. How much more detail a digital slr picture has - as I explained above, the s90's level has been "good enough" and I'm just concerned about getting a decent shutter speed with low noise in low light. I have absolutely no doubt any of the digital slr's mentioned above would produce more detail.

2. Yes, I know many people feel 1/30 is just fine for the right kind of pics. But I've tried again and again, and from personal experience I can say that 1/30 does not work for me for taking pics of people where I'm not using a tripod and they're moving. It just doesn't work - I've tried it, again and again, and again.

3. Someone will inevitably throw in a blanket statement about how a pocket camera can never do as well as a digital slr - it's not helpful.

Now, if the f1.4 lense was image stabilized I think this equation would be different. But with a 2.8 being the brightest available lense with image stabilization, what do you think?

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