This year the camera manufacturers announced their brand new digital cameras (digicams) that will be available in the market soon. As usual, they have more pixels, slightly redesigned body, more ‘bell-and whistles’, though nothing special on term of image quality so far. While we have already saw the ‘megapixel war’ last year, which bring nothing but confusion among most people and some of them have misleading the term ‘resolution’ as ‘image quality’ (remember : More pixels doesn’t mean better picture, and hopefully most people now be aware of this), now the quest for better image quality seems won’t reach the end, since the digicam manufacturers always tend to sacrifice image quality for cheaper cost production. They have already crammed a tiny sensor with more pixels for save production cost (resulting poor image at high ISO), now they make the situation worse with creating their new digicams with slower lenses!
Most recent compact digicam’s lenses have large aperture at wide end for about f/2.8. Lens with large aperture called a fast lens because with this large aperture the camera can gather lot of light, then allowing photo taken with faster shutter speed. Whenever the lighting is poor, the camera is still able to take picture with proper exposure without leaving it’s base ISO. This is important since due to it’s small sensor size, a compact digicam should not leave it’s base ISO unless lighting is very poor. This is why a faster lens is a must for camera with small sensor (most digicams use small sensor). The situation is different when we talking about a DSLR cameras. Since DSLR using larger sensor with better noise handling ability, slower lens with max aperture f/3.5 doesn’t impact too much for low light photography. When lighting is dim, a DSLR with f/3.5 lens will raise the ISO yet still capable to maintain the image quality at acceptable level. But if a compact digicam’s lens designed with a relative small aperture (we called it slow lens), then even when the lighting is slightly dim, the camera needs to raise ISO and then say hello to noise.
For user : Smaller max. aperture > less light allowed > should raise ISO > more noise 😦
For manufacturer : Smaller max. aperture > smaller, more simple lens design > more CO$T $AVING > more profit 🙂
It is disappointing for me knowing that these brand new cameras now using slower lens instead use usual f/2.8 maximum aperture :
- Canon Powershot A470 : f/3.0-5.8
- Canon IXUS 970 IS : f/3.2-5.7
- Panasonic Lumix TZ4/TZ5 : f/3.3-4.9 (I love TZ series frankly…)
- Panasonic Lumix LZ8/LZ10 : f/3.3-5.9 (My Lumix LZ2 uses f/2.8-4.5)
- Panasonic Lumix FS2 : f/3.3-5.8
- Nikon Coolpix P60 : f/3.6-4.5 (3.6 is the smallest maximum aperture at wide end I ever know, why Nikon?)
- Nikon Coolpix S210 : f/3.1-5.9
- Nikon Coolpix S550 : f/3.5-5.6
- Pentax Optio M50 : f/3.5-5.6
- Olympus FE310 : f/3.2-4.8
- Olympus FE340 : f/3.5-5.6
- Olympus Stylus 1010/1020 : f/3.5-5.3
- Olympus Stylus 840 : f/3.3-5.0
- Sony DSC-H3/H10 : f/3.5-4.4
- Sony DSC-W150/W170 : f/3.3-5.2
(I didn’t count slower lens on cameras with internal zoom mechanism, since due to it’s design, it is impossible to make faster lens > i.e. Casio EX-V8).
Digicams with small maximum aperture lens only useful when there’s plenty of light available. It will be useless on dim light, unless you raise the ISO with the expense of noise (or you can use flash if your subject is close enough). While we can’t expect a perfect condition when taking picture all the time, thus having a digicam with faster lens is an advantage. Should the lighting is poor, or a flash is prohibited, or we need to take picture with available light for natural look photo, or we need to take picture with higher shutter speed, then we need a camera with larger aperture lens (faster lens). Otherwise, the ISO will raised, and the noise will be visible. Until the camera manufacturers find an effective way to get rid the noise off, I hope they should not reduce maximum aperture on their lenses design. Small sensor, slower lens, what next?