More compact camera buying (and shooting) info

This is an update and continuation of my article: First major LX5 review published … if you’re looking to buy a high quality compact camera: Group test: Canon Powershot S95, Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX5, Nikon Coolpix P7000

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Of the three cameras listed, which really are the cream of the crop (with the addition of just-released Canon G12 comparison shots data), I recommended the Canon S95 for the average shooter, but the Panasonic LX5 for those like myself whom shooting wide angle at 24mm is really important. And there are other considerations which I didn’t mention.

A friend asked me which compact camera he should buy for his wife. She wants to shoot a school graduation in which she’ll be fairly far from the subject. I recommended the Nikon P7000, because it reaches out to 200mm, and the f/stop is still just 5.6, which is the amount of light the lens lets in (the bigger the number the less light).

Here are how these four stand up with zooming range and light gathering ability:

Canon S95 – the most compact of the bunch and great lcd:
28-105mm and f/2.8 – 4.5 (f/4.5 at 105 is the trade off for its ultra-compact size)

Panasononic LX5 – second most compact, extra wide-angle and very fast lens:
24-90mm and f/2.0-3.3 (90mm is the shortest zoom, but 24mm-wide is awesome!)

Nikon P7000 – larger, heavier, but really reaches out there with relatively low f/stop:
28-200mm and f/2.8-5.6

Canon G12 – bigger, like the Nikon, probably the sharpest (slightly), but not much better than the G11:
28-140mm and f/2.8 – 4.5 (notice how the S95 is 4.9 at 105mm while the G12 is faster at the longer 140mm length. I took this Kenny G shot hand-held at 140mm with the G11 from the back of the auditorium. Most would probably have trouble holding it that steady for the long exposures required by the low light of a concert. TECH NOTE: This shot was slightly cropped, which would be less necessary when shooting at 200mm with the Nikon P7000 — Kenny G’s face could have been clearer/more detail — but shooting even longer with a lower f/stop at 200mm would have been even more difficult to hold steady in this low-light setting.)

Bigger and heavier has its advantages (though we’re not talking that much bigger and heavier). It’s harder to keep an extremely lightweight camera steady, which is a huge consideration if you’re shooting at maximum telephoto distance, especially at 200mm!

Though image-stabilization (gyros) makes it possible, technique is important when shooting a telephoto lens hand-held. If it’s bright, and you’re shooting wide open (fastest f/stop – smallest number) the shutter speed can be faster, which makes it easier to not blur the shot. But if you’re shooting at 200mm in artificial light, you may want to increase the ISO to 400 or more and shoot wide open for sure.

Higher ISOs will add some ‘noise,’ which the camera will try to blur out (if shooting JPEG, which most people do. I shoot only in RAW), so the shot won’t be quite as sharp. But these cameras will do well at 400 ISO, and can go even higher if you’re still blurring the shots. I shoot everything at the lowest ISO unless I need to increase it for reasons such as mentioned here.

It’s crucial to not breath when squeezing the shutter, as it’s crucial to only move your shutter finger. Practice makes perfect. Check your shots by zooming into the photo on location, so you won’t have surprises afterward. And as I said in my previous post on these, the Canons show great detail while the LX5 is really disappointing in that you can only zoom in a few clicks without everything getting blurry. It’s good enough for checking basic sharpness though.

If you have any questions, feel free to comment below. I love these little cameras; though, they’re still sub-par for shooting fine-art prints with. I’m waiting for the next generation micro-4/3rds cameras to change that somewhat. But they’ll be bigger than any of these, except with the fixed-focal-length pancake lens, which I wouldn’t find very useful, because they’re always some middle-of-the-road focal length that I would rarely shoot at.

Happy shooting!

Jeff : )

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