SLRs have large sensors that absorb more light than those in point-and-shoots. CMOS is handy at these sizes because it consumes less power than the charge-coupled device (CCD) sensors in earlier models. And CMOS sensors fit noise-reduction circuitry right on the chip.
At dawn or dusk, you can photograph outdoor vistas too big for a camera flash to illuminate. Inside, you'll capture scenes in the unique ambient light instead of the harsh, generic glow of flash.
Three Cameras With Virtual Night Vision
Canon EOS 40D
As the first company to use CMOS in SLRs, Canon is the benchmark. Capturing 6.5 frames per second, the EOS 40D is one of the fastest semi-professional cameras. Its 10.1-megapixel shots of flowers at sundown were virtually noise-free at a relatively high setting of ISO 800. (The higher the ISO, the greater the light sensitivity.) Even at an extremely high ISO 3200, dimly lit portraits showed surprisingly accurate skin tones.
$1,300 (without lens); usa.canon.com
Sony Alpha A700
Sony's first model with CMOS took immaculate 12.2-megapixel photos of flowers at ISO 800-besting even the Canon. We could preview them on the camera's gorgeous three-inch LCD or on a high-def TV using the HDMI output. But at ISO 1600, overzealous noise-reduction software in the processor wiped out fine details. And at ISO 3200, our model's skin had an artificially smooth, doll-like texture.
$1,400 (without lens); sonystyle.com
This pro-grade camera's 12.1-megapixel sensor is about 2.5 times as large as Canon's and Sony's, letting it capture images in near pitch-black at an astounding ISO 25,600. Photos of a dark hallway closet taken at this level with a pre-production D3 were filled with ugly purple noise but still revealed hidden piles of shoes not visible to the human eye. Images of a flower captured on an overcast day at ISO 3200, however, were crisp enough to make attractive letter-sized prints while an indoor shot of a model taken by candlelight at ISO 6500 created a moody portrait despite some grain in the shadow areas.
$5,000 (without lens); nikonusa.com
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.