From what I've read so far Fuji f31fd, which uses xD card has best low-light performance for compact camera. It sells for about $220 refurbished, $350 new I think. You can find out more by visiting Fuji discussion forum. If you can spare $400, Pentax K100D super is on sale ($100 off rebate) right now. DSLR usually does better than compact in low light conditions...
Fuji f31fd, but get your askates on as it seems to be disappearing as discontinued..
Look at getting a tripod, or if you want it to be more portable, a monopod. You can get very lightweight, compact models for a low price. There are even DIY versions using PVC pipe if you're on an extreme budget..
Higher ISO with less noise obviously will help you a ton, but your budget doesn't allow for the best out there. I think you might see more bang for the buck with a mono/tri pod...
Humidity that high is going to be a problem, I suspect..
The ideal low light camera ( apart from a DSLR ) would be the Fuji F30, which is compact or the Fuji S6500/6000 which is far from compact, but has advantages over the F30 in a photographic sense..
However, both these are not designed to operate in more than 80% humidity ( from the manuals )..
You can get weather protection bags for them, but such high humidity is not really what those bags are for. They are really for rain, maybe dust..
Olympus do a range of really tough weather sealed cameras, but these are not suited to low light, I think..
I'd point you towards the F20/F30/F31fd models in the last analysis, but with the warning to keep them in something sealed when not being used for photographs..
Pentax K100DFuji S5200Fuji E900PCLinuxOS..
Fuji F20 at about $145 USD. Keep it in a sealed plastic bag like others have implied..
I'd consider constructing or buying a bag with a 28mm UV filter used as a window to mount over the camera's lens. Glue a 28mm filter ring to the front of the lens to attach the bag's window..
Yes, I've noticed that. What would be the advantages of the F31 over, say, the A900/A920 (and what is the difference between those two besides $25 in price)?..
Even a DSLR will have a hard time in a cave with no flash. Honestly, your hopes are unrealistic. ISO 800 on anything less than a DSLR will yield a ton of noise, and realisitcally, ISO 800 by itself is not enough for a cave. You can use a flash in a cave - I've done it with surprisingly decent results, but it has to be a good flash. Again, in the DSLR realm..
I am looking for a relatively inexpensive camera to take with me whenI go caving and for other occasions where lighting levels may be low.I probably won't be making many prints larger than a 4x6, maybe a 5x7and most will only be displayed on a computer monitor so high pixelcount isn't that much of an issue. What I AM looking for, however, isgood light sensitivity. I tried taking a Minolta Dimage Z2 on aprevious trip and it didn't really work out at all. Dust and moisturein the air often made the flash ineffective beyond a very few feetout. Our lights penetrated much further, of course, but that wasapparently not really enough for the camera (I had it set to ISO 400)even though it was plenty for us. That camera is also a little on thebig side which made it somewhat hard to manage.
I don't want to spend a whole lot of money on the camera. I wouldlike to keep it no more than $200-250 total for the camera. Obviouslyin an environment like that there is a good chance of it gettingruined by dirt, moisture or general banging around, though I intendto get a waterproof padded case to keep it in when I'm not using itto help protect it. I also don't have THAT much extra money to sparefor it, if it is going to be too expensive I will have to settle forgetting a decent 35mm film camera and some 800 speed film. ImageQuality needs to be decent, obviously the higher the better, buttakes a back seat to decent quality low-light performance. I wouldlike to have at least ISO 800 or so without significant degradationif possible.
Iwould also prefer a camera that uses SD for storage over other, moreexpensive formats..
So in summary, feature importance is:.
1. Good low light performance with decent quality without having torely on a flash (at least ISO 800 if possible)2. Decent picture quality.3. Manual/semi-manual controls.4. Reasonably tough against dirt/mud, extreme humidity (near 100% inmany cases), and the occasional bump.5. Not overly large.6.
AA battery powered..
This camera does not exist for the price you want... unless by decent low light quality you mean 'riddled with noise'...