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Thread: Choosing a camera – small, light weight, good low-light performance

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    Choosing a camera – small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Not sure whether to post here, or under Compact Digital Cameras ...

    I have a fair idea of what features and performance I want, but would welcome suggestions as to what model might suit. There is no substitute for tapping into the experience of others. In addition, writing this post forces me to think carefully about my needs and priorities, and write them down, which I might otherwise be too lazy to do. I am not a photographic enthusiast per se – for me a camera is 90% just a means of recording “stuff” which is interesting, important and beautiful to me – a means to an end. I doubt I’ll ever take shots RAW, too much mucking around, so that makes it important to get the best camera I can that takes good JPEGS straight out of the camera. List of priorities :-

    Size and weight (Priority: Very High)
    Most of my shots are taken on outdoor ‘adventures’, where the camera is stuffed in a day-hike sized pack, so size and weight really matter to me. As I am not a photographic enthusiast as such, I know very well that for me, the practical result of a bulky camera is simply that it will not get carried or used, and I can’t make that point strongly enough. I appreciate image quality though, so a compact point-and-shoot just doesn’t cut it. To put some numbers on what I regard as acceptable, a total weight (including lens) of 600 gms is perfectly OK, whereas above 900 gms is getting too heavy. In terms of size, most non-SLR cameras are OK, the smaller SLR’s are just OK, whereas some of the larger APS-C models are too big.

    Low light performance (Priority: Very High)
    The very compact class of non-SLR is almost certainly not acceptable, the top end non-SLR cameras are potentially OK depending on zoom range and physical size of lens, while any of the SLRs are likely to be OK also. I am not a photographic enthusiast, so will never have a tripod, or external flash, and don’t want to ‘muck around’ to get a good shot. I have in the past been forced to take far too many (hand held) shots at 1/10 or slower, and I’ve had enough of it. To put some numbers on what I regard as acceptable, it is necessary to normalize the lens F-number to a 35mm camera equivalent, by multiplying the F-number by the crop factor. At wide angle a typical APS-C SLR zoom lens does F3.5 with x1.5 crop factor, giving a 35mm equivalent of F/5.2, which I regard as completely satisfactory. Everything is a tradeoff, but if the other advantages were sufficiently compelling, I may accept as poor as F/9, 35mm equivalent, especially with image stabilization which permits longer exposure.

    Articulated screen. (Priority: High)
    My present Canon G2 non-SLR has an articulated screen, and I love it. In the simplest case it enable you to angle the screen out of direct sunlight, or at other times it lets you easily get shots holding the camera above your head or in other awkward positions where viewing the screen or viewfinder would be difficult or impossible. Also protects screen when not in use.

    Image Stabilization (Priority: Medium to High)
    As I said, all my shots will be hand held, and image stabilization is a de-facto way of obtaining a faster lens. I don’t shoot action stuff, so the abilty to get crisp shots at slower shutter speeds is attractive.

    Zoom Range
    Ideal would be a single lens with zoom ratio of between 4:1 and 5:1, any more and the tradeoffs such as loss of light, and size and weight, are unlikely to be acceptable to me. However, I rule nothing out, as everything is interrelated. Possibly a higher zoom range, in a top quality lens, with image stabilization, could work out OK. I’m not a photographic enthusiast, and don’t want to muck around changing lenses, or carrying multiple lenses. That said, the standard ‘twin kit lens’ solution that comes with many low end SLRs will be considered if the other advantages are overwhelming.

    Does it need to be SLR?
    No. I can live without an optical through-the-lens viewfinder, though would still strongly prefer to have a viewfinder of some sort, either electronic or not-through-lens optical.

    Video Recording Capability (Priority: Medium)
    All else equal, of course it is useful to be able to record video. Yeah, I know that even the most basic dedicated video camera is much better, but that is not the point. I’m definitely not going to carry more than one camera (don’t even want to carry more than one lens), so the reality is that any video beats none.

    Cost
    Not important. Um, well, not that important anyway, if it does everything I want.


    OK. Is there anyone else with similar needs and priorities? You guys are enthusiasts who know just about every camera out there – what would you suggest? Also, for anyone who owns a camera that broadly meets these needs, how do you find it? Also, what else should I consider? I have a few potential models in mind, but don’t want to add my bias before hearing suggestions.

    Thanks.
    Last edited by facts_please; 24th February 2009 at 02:22 AM.

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Colin,

    Take a peek at the Panasonic DMC-G1, ticks the boxes for size, weight, articulated screen and I think, NF, although that'll be depend on the very limited choice of lenses for this new format.

    Cheers,

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Take a peek at the Panasonic DMC-G1, ticks the boxes for size, weight, articulated screen and I think, NF, although that'll be depend on the very limited choice of lenses for this new format.
    Hi Dave,

    What a coincidence, the DMC-G1 is at the top of my list, except for PRICE, but I was silly enough to say that didn't matter ....

    Standard kit lens is 28-90mm (35mm equiv) at F/3.5-5.6 (NF 7.0-11.2), which ticks my box, and has in lens IS which for my purposes makes it effectively faster again. In addition, the x3.2 zoom range gives 90mm at telephoto end, slightly more than most of the nominal x3 zoom SLR kit lenses, which I like. The lens is physically smaller than the standard 4/3 lenses, without being slower, which again suits me well.

    The other kit lens is a 90-400mm at F/4.0-5.6, which I would probably get as well. Who knows, if I have telephoto capability that I have never had before, maybe I'll use it... Maybe I'll turn into an enthusiast and carry both lenses .....

    In the pipeline is a 28-280mm (35mm equiv) which is a heck of a zoom range given that the speed is still a respectable F/4.0-5.6.

    Let's see what others come up with, and then look at a price comparison.

    Also, does anyone own a DMC-G1??

    Colin

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    I'll be looking soon for a pocket camera, and the Panasonic Lumix line is at the top of my short list.
    Last edited by Bm7b5; 24th February 2009 at 01:03 AM.

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    I'll be looking soon for a pocket camera, and the Panosonic Lumix line is at the top of my short list.
    To be honest, the Panasonic DMC-G1 is not a 'pocket camera', at 124x84x45mm without lens, though it is the most compact camera presently available with SLR features and performance. It is also available with a very, very compact lens of fixed focal length 50mm (35mm equiv), but personally I need zoom.

    A true pocket sized camera with the speed that I desire is probably impossible to build, because there is no escaping the fact that large lenses collect more light.

    Regardless, some people need pocket cameras, and the Lumix line is definitely worth investigation.

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    Quote Originally Posted by Bm7b5 View Post
    I'll be looking soon for a pocket camera, and the Panasonic Lumix line is at the top of my short list.
    I suspect Rick is thinking more of the TZ5, or forthcoming TZ7 series, rather than the G1.

    Cheers,

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    How would the Canon G10 stack up? http://www.usa.canon.com/consumer/co...&modelid=17624

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    That is a very good question, as I believe the G10 has a very good reputation.

    Size and weight suit my requirement well. Dimensions are 109x77x46mm including lens, and weight is a mere 390 gms including battery. That easily beats the DMC-G1, and of course all of the SLRs. A big tick in this box.

    Next on my list was low light performance. The G10 lens is 28-140mm (35mm equiv) at F/2.8-4.5, which is NF 12.7-20.5 (ie normalised to 35mm) The DMC-G1 is significantly faster at NF 7.0-11.2, whereas I gave an approximate limit for my requirment of NF 9.0 at wide angle. Summing up, the effective speed of the DMC-G1 lens is almost 2 stops faster than the G10, which is a significant advantage to me. However, the G10 is by no means hopeless, and I can't rule it completely out of contention on this account.

    Both cameras have OIS, which in effect gives more light as longer exposures are possible. If the G10 had OIS and the G1 did not, then that would really shake up the comparison. However, they both have OIS, so still the G10 remains almost 2 stops slower.

    The G10 does not have an articulated screen, though it does have a good screen at 3" size and 460,000 pixels.

    Zoom range of the G10 is 5:1 (28-140mm), which I regard as a good all round compromise for a non-removable lens. Any more zoom throws away an unacceptbale amount of light, and stands a good chance of compromising image quality as well. So this box gets ticked.

    The G10 has an optical (not thru lens) viewfinder. The DMC-G1 has a very good quality electronic viewfinder.

    The G10 has movie mode, while the DMC-G1 does not, though apparently the next model of G1 will have an HD movie mode.

    Finally comes cost. The twin lens kit version of the DMC-G1 has a street price of around $1800, versus about $600 for the G10. However you look at it, the G1 is expensive for what it does.

    G10 reviews suggest that this camera is capable of excellent image at or near ISO100, but loses that edge when light is scarce, forcing higher ISO. This is also predicted by looking at the normalized F/numbers, as above.

    In conclusion, the G10 is a contender for my requirements, especially when price is considered. I prefer an articulated screen, but the real sticking point is that 2 stops less in effective aperture compared, for example, to the DMC-G1. That probably rules it out for me.

    Colin S, your slant on this would be welcome, as you have vast experience in general, and an intimate knowledge of Canon cameras in particular.


    In a separate post I would like to briefly talk about how it would be possible to build a "better" (=faster) G10 style camera that would suit me (and many others) better, but to my knowledge no manufacturer does, which is very frustrating.

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    Quote Originally Posted by facts_please View Post
    Colin S, your slant on this would be welcome, as you have vast experience in general, and an intimate knowledge of Canon cameras in particular.
    I'm guessing that the high priority you've given to good low-light performance is because the camera needs to potentially cover a wide range of lighting conditions and not because you'll be shooting in low light all of the time?

    With this in mind, how about the G10 by itself for regular shooting in normal lighting conditions (at which the G10 is superb), and for those times where you need good low-light performance, add a Canon 430EX II flash? With this combination I'd venture to suggest that (assuming subject is covered by flash range) the image quality would be vastly superior to other cameras with twice the native low-light performance, but without flash.

    http://www.dpreview.com/news/0806/08...non430iiex.asp

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    wait for Fuji F200EXR for low light performance.
    its a small sensor but its performance is expected to be better than some of the older large sensors.

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    I suspect Rick is thinking more of the TZ5, or forthcoming TZ7 series, rather than the G1.

    Cheers,

    Precisely. I have had my eye on the TZ5, but am waiting to see what their quarterly release of 5 new models look like, before pulling the trigger.

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    I'm guessing that the high priority you've given to good low-light performance is because the camera needs to potentially cover a wide range of lighting conditions and not because you'll be shooting in low light all of the time?
    Yes. Most of the time a G10 would be OK, just as most of the time my ancient G2 (F2.0-2.5) was OK, but I do get annoyed in situations where I do run out of light, and I know that my 35mm film SLR would have walked it in.

    With this in mind, how about the G10 by itself for regular shooting in normal lighting conditions (at which the G10 is superb), and for those times where you need good low-light performance, add a Canon 430EX II flash? With this combination I'd venture to suggest that (assuming subject is covered by flash range) the image quality would be vastly superior to other cameras with twice the native low-light performance, but without flash.
    You are right of couse, that a decent external flash would be a useful accessory. Actually, I own an ancient flash already, but never use it as I can't be bothered carrying it around, as it adds significant bulk and weight to the camera. OK, so I get what I deserve! Even so, there are some shots where a flash doesn't help. One example is indoor situations where you want to photograph your child on a stage in a large hall, receiving an award, or in a play or musical performance, or whatever. A professional photographer would have course use a flash, and would also be relatively close to the subject. However, you can't have every parent setting themselves up at in front of the stage, so in practice such shots must usually be taken from your seat, or aisle, well back in the hall. Distance is too great for flash, and in any event, it's often not polite in these situations to annoy everyone else with camera flash. In such situations, an SLR can get a useable shot, whereas a point and shoot cannot, in my experience. There are other situations as well, where simple application of flash leads to horrible reflections and highlights of shiny surfaces, or shooting a subject behind glass, where at least for my purposes I can get a better shot without flash and without mucking around, IF the lens+camera is fast enough. Even outdoors, I not infrequently run out of light because it is too early in the morning or too late in the afternoon, which may be combined with highly shaded location under a dense forest canopy, or deep dark gorge or whatever. Again, flash is often not going to help, and I don't carry a tripod, so a reasonable native low light ability is just plain useful to have, even though not required most of the time.

    Am I just making excuses, or do others have similar experiences?

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    Hi Colin (f_p),

    Some alternatives to flash and tripod:

    You could always try a gorilla pod (I assume they sell them in Aus), this could work for some such occasions, they're small and quite light I believe, would suit the G10 and the biggest might even manage the DMC-G1.

    The other 'stand-by' tripod alternative is a 'bean bag', rest it on a rock and put camera on it, take picture with 2 second self timer. Use it for a pillow and you've got something in the rucksack that can multi-task.

    Cheers,

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    Re: Choosing a camera suggestions welcome

    Quote Originally Posted by facts_please View Post

    Am I just making excuses, or do others have similar experiences?
    It's not so much a case of "making excuses" as it probably is the need to accept that no one camera is going to do all of what you want - especially in the situation where you want to photograph someone onstage; even in a professional environment - to do the job properly - you're talking long lenses - tripods - remote flashes - diffusers - remote triggers etc.

    It's a bit like saying a want a car that's economical - easy to park - cheap to buy - and is also capable of winning formula 1 races ... it just not possible with the current state of the technology.

    Perhaps you need to work out a points system for each model in contention, taking into account variaous camera abilities -v- frequency of needing those abilities (with probably other variables as well)?

    Having said all that, you'd probably be amazed at the kind of range you could get from a G10 on a high-ISO setting with a 430EX II; failing that any compact that has the ability to take an external flash probably needs to be given serious consideration; yes, it's something else to have to carry, but if you want the performance then that's something that just comes with the territory. If all else fails, spend an evening with a Canon 1 series camera and long lens - after that a compact with an external flash will seem like it's heaven sent!

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    OK guys, I get your point that I could make a lot more of whatever camera I had by using a flash and even the most rudimentary tripod. Even so, no matter how you look at it, when light is at a premium everything is easier and better with another 2 stops to play with. I don't rule out a G10 class of camera - am still thinking about it.

    What would annoy me about a G10, is just how much better it could be. The lens on a G10 could be made quite a bit bigger, as per the Finepix S6500 for example, and still the overall camera dimensions and weight would fit my requirements.

    The reason why a 'larger-lens' G10 does not exist, is purely because this would not be practical with the small 1/1.7" sensors currently used - a larger sensor would be required. It costs a great deal of money to develop a new size of sensor, and the production cost will only be economic in very large quantities, so I can undertand why no manufacturer, as yet, has been prepared to introduce a new, larger sensor to the point-and-shoot market. There is glaring gap in the market here waiting to be filled, in my opinion.

    A top end point and shoot designed around a crop factor of x2.7 (1" sensor) would be extremely interesting, and comfortably whip the pants of a G10, though I must stress that the lens would also need to be larger than on an G10, as the increase in performance comes mainly from the additional light gathered by the larger lens, not from the larger sensor per se.

    It may even be possible to build 'not too big' point-and-shoot camera based around the x2.0 crop factor sensors used in the 4/3 SLR cameras. The standard lens that comes with the DMC-G1 is not that much bigger than those found on some of the 'superzoom' point-and-shoot cameras, such as the Finepix S6500, which makes for the possibilty of 4/3 SLR performance in a camera with a similar size to the S6500. Very interesting indeed. However, the zoom range would need to be modest, as in 4:1 or 5:1, or else the lens would be too big, or the potential advantage swallowed up by the loss of light always associated with a large zoom range.

    I promise not to rave any more about hypothetical cameras on this thread, which was supposed to be discussing what AVAILABLE camera would suit my needs ...

    Another on my short list is the Olympus E-420

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Quote Originally Posted by facts_please View Post
    no matter how you look at it, when light is at a premium everything is easier and better with another 2 stops to play with. I don't rule out a G10 class of camera - am still thinking about it.
    Maybe yes, maybe no. If light is at a premium you may well get a VASTLY better image from the likes of a G10 with an external flash than with a camera that's 2 stops better in low-light conditions, but without an external flash (in fact as a regular user of external flashes I'd bet money on it). With compact cameras it doesn't take too much of a drop off in available light to be a challenge to ANY of them.

    What would annoy me about a G10, is just how much better it could be.
    Shouldn't enter in to it - you can only play the cards you've been dealt.

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    You want a Canon or Nikon, 6 to 8mp, APS-C format, compact digital. Heck, we all do. Why can't I buy one? I thought they'd be here by now; what's the hold up?

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Quote Originally Posted by facts_please View Post
    The reason why a 'larger-lens' G10 does not exist, is purely because this would not be practical with the small 1/1.7" sensors currently used - a larger sensor would be required. It costs a great deal of money to develop a new size of sensor, and the production cost will only be economic in very large quantities, so I can undertand why no manufacturer, as yet, has been prepared to introduce a new, larger sensor to the point-and-shoot market. There is glaring gap in the market here waiting to be filled, in my opinion.
    Possibly, that's why I suggested the G1 as just such a beast; bigger sensor, bigger lens, but no reflex mirror taking up space in the body, if it didn't have interchangeable lenses, but a slightly bigger zoom range instead, you'd be sorted.

    Quote Originally Posted by facts_please View Post
    Another on my short list is the Olympus E-420
    No IS on that, need E-520 for that, but it is a bit bigger too.

    Cheers,

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry Peach View Post
    You want a Canon or Nikon, 6 to 8mp, APS-C format, compact digital. Heck, we all do. Why can't I buy one? I thought they'd be here by now; what's the hold up?
    I'm not sure what you are driving at. A compact camera in APS-C format is not possible, but what I actually said was a (relatively) compact camera, say S6500 size, with a 4/3 sensor. Such a camera arguably exists now as a DMC-G1, with performance that for practical purposes matches the APS-C SLRs. Now, rebuild the G1 with a non-removeable 5:1 zoom range lens and it would be slightly smaller and lighter again, and a lot cheaper, and I agree with your statement. Heck, we all want that. Why can't I buy one?

    I also mentioned that it is possible to build a compact non-SLR with a 1" sensor, that would provide a bridge in performance between existing compacts and SLR's, that presently does not exist.

    My apologies to all for breaking a previous promise about drifting off the thread - blame it on Henry for deliberately provoking me

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    Re: Choosing a camera small, light weight, good low-light performance

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    Possibly, that's why I suggested the G1 as just such a beast; bigger sensor, bigger lens, but no reflex mirror taking up space in the body, if it didn't have interchangeable lenses, but a slightly bigger zoom range instead, you'd be sorted.
    Agreed, except for price. Re lenses, I'm quite sure that a fixed 5:1 zoom lens would suit me better MOST of the time, and I believe that would be true even for most photographic enthusiasts. However, I can also see the appeal of the twin lenses offered with the G1. On balance, I would be satisfied either with the fixed 5:1 of the G10, or the twin lens option of the G1 - each approach has it's advantages.

    As I see it, any way you look at it, the G1 is a more capable camera than the G10, and at times those capabilities would be useful and satisfying to me. I think I would enjoy owning and using the G1 more than a G10, knowing that the camera would not limit what I wanted to do, either now or into the forseeable future. The price of the G1 is ridiculous, though I suspect the price will drop. While I am waiting, maybe I should take the advice of Colin S and buy a decent external flash, and get used to using it with my present Canon G2, and see how that works out for me.

    As you say, the E-420 does not have IS, nor the lovely articulated screen of the G1. However, street price is around $750 for the twin lens kit, vs. $1800 for the G1, so again the G1 looks expensive. The weight with standard lens is almost identical, and the G1 is slightly smaller, but there is not much in it.

    My options appear to be the G10, G1, or E-420, or possibly E-520 but that's getting bigger than I would like. Any other suggestions?

    Colin S mentioned previously that most of his landscape shots were taken at between F/11 and F/22. Those seemed like high F/numbers to me at the time, but on reflection they are probably obtained with his 35mm format DLSR?
    Last edited by facts_please; 25th February 2009 at 10:19 PM.

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