Help: Need Camera Suggestions!

Almost every week someone asks me “how the heck do you take pictures on airplanes without feeling like a complete freak?” Well, the easy answer is, I don’t — I take one for the team. I take pictures on airplanes like a freak so I can pass along my experiences to y’all.

Frankly, I’ve never had an issue taking pictures in international first class. Usually everyone has enough personal space to the point that nobody’s weird looks can bother you. And overall I’ve been quite pleased with the Canon Digital Rebel I use. However, during my most recent trip to Frankfurt in Delta business class, I realized just how much of a freak my picture taking seemed to make me. I swear the southern gentlemen seated across from me in business class (with a cowboy hat and curved mustache, of course) thought I was assembling bombs for Al-Qaeda when I was switching my lenses around.

Anyway, I’ve also noticed that lately I’ve ended up just leaving my camera at the hotel when in foreign cities, especially in Europe. In Asia I can’t blend in no matter what, but in Europe I have a chance… until I pull out my huge camera bag and fanny pack (okay, maybe I made that second part up).

Anyway, it has occurred to me that I need a second camera. I’m not quite ready to retire my Digital Rebel, though I find myself in more and more situations where I need a camera that’s better than my iPhone but not quite as bulky as my Digital Rebel.

I’m hoping for a camera with a rechargable battery, that shoots well without flash (for all those hours I spend on airplanes), and has somewhat decent zoom. Most importantly, it has to be small.

With that in mind, does anyone have any suggestions? I’m open to just about anything. I’ll be buying one in the next month, so if anyone knows of any specials or anticipates any specials on a decent camera soon, I’m all ears. That being said, I’m more concerned about quality than price (within reason), so if there’s a great camera that’s not on special, I’m fine with that too.


  1. Some of the Panasonic point and shoots produce pretty decent photos. I just picked up a new DSLR, the Nikon D3100. Does 1080p HD video, as well as great shots. Low light works very well.

  2. I have a Canon G9 and love it. Fits all the criteria you mentioned and is relatively affordable.

    I think you’d fit in a little better in Asia if you had the camera around your neck and wore a suit.

  3. You need a Canon digital elph series camera. Sleek and small and takes fantastic pictures and movie. Best of all, it is a champ in low light- perfect for airplanes.

  4. How small, mate?

    I picked up a Canon PowerShot SX30IS, with 35x zoom, and it’s sort of manbag-sized but not pocket-sized. It fits neatly in my iPad manbag along with the iPad, and doesn’t bulge outwards like I’m just waiting for my special security screening. I got a tiny little tripod for distance shots up Wellington Harbour and for macro stuff and it works quite well. I’m pretty pleased with it.

    Alternatively, I was playing around with my mum’s little Canon pointyshooty thing (whatever it is, the one that’s like GBP150 off Amazon) on the train the other day and it’s pretty good, takes some reasonable pictures too, but no better than my iPhone 4.

  5. I also have a G9 and have enjoyed it. The newer models (now at G12) have much better sensors, so you’ll have no issues using it without flash. The IS is great, and it has a hot shoe for when you decide you need a bigger flash. The G9 is small enough that I can drop it into my front pants pocket without looking too odd. It has full manual mode, built-in ND filter, shoots great video.

  6. I have a Canon digital elph that I use for my inflight pictures. Inexpensive, takes great pictures in low light situations without using a flash, and inobtrusively slips in and out of my front shirt pocket for a quick 5 second shot of my inflight meal.

  7. There’s about one right answer to this question: Panasonic DMC-LX5

    I’m a rabid Canon guy. You should hear me mix it up with the Nikon guys. But in this case, the S95 just doesn’t cut it. It’s been beat by a lowly Panasonic.

    I’m in a very similar position to you. I have a Canon 7D (and T2i) and about $7K of glass, but I need a pocket camera that doesn’t make me want to commit suicide after use, when comparing to my DSLR’s results. I’ve done hours and hours of research and finally settled on the Pano DMC-LX5. The Canon S95 was the runner-up. You can compare both at this EXCELLENT photo comparison site.

  8. I love my Canon PowerShot S90. I almost never need the flash even in low light. Manual settings almost comparable to a DSLR. It’s a great compact camera.

  9. If you go to this year’s Flyertalk United International First class food thread, the meal pics I took of my flight in F to NRT (Rittenhousesq) were taken with a Canon Powershot SD1400 IS Digital ELPH.

  10. Hey Ben,

    A few good choices these days. As always, there’s a trade-off between image quality and size. There are a few prosumer compact cameras out there with fast lenses (and other goodies), but they won’t fit in your pocket. So I’ll give you both categories:

    Excellent compact cameras that will NOT fit in your pocket:
    * Olympus ZX-1 (just came out, very good specs)
    * Panasonic Lumix LX5
    * Samsung EX1

    Very good compact cameras that will fit in your pocket:
    * Samsung TL500
    * Canon S95

    My pick of the bunch is the Samsung TL500. It’s a good size for your pocket, has a fast lens (F2.2), great HD movie mode and lots of other good stuff. You can read my full review of it here:

    Don’t be fooled by the on-paper measurements of the LX5 (which is a great camera). The specs exclude the protruding lens.

    Most of all, I’d go for a camera with a fast lens. There are literally thousands of cameras in the compact range, but only a handful have a relatively fast lens (high max aperture), which will help with low light photography, noise reduction, depth of field, etc.

    Hope that helps.

  11. The Olympus Pen series gives you SLR performance in a smaller form factor. Interchangable lenses let you take wide angle for that whole cabin pic, low light for those dinner shots, and with no p&s shutter lag.

  12. I love my Casio Exilim digital camera. It is lightweight, takes great photos and is not expensive. If I had to buy another camera tomorrow and had tons of money, I’d still buy this again. Both of my OMAAT “Guess the Photos of the Day” were taken with my trusty Casio!

  13. Big SLR – go for the Nikon D90. Top of the line, shoots video too. You can adjust the ISO to go super high and take night photos w/o a flash.

    If you just want a point-and-shoot, Cannon S95. Don’t have one, but hear it’s great. Thinking of buying to supplement my picture taking when I can’t take out the big old clunky SLR.

  14. LX5, perfect choice for your requirements (great fast lens, great high ISO performance).

    Check it out for yourself.


  15. I guess I really should explain why I’m so adamant that the LX5 is better than the S95:
    20% larger sensor – there are only two main differences in image quality between DSLR and compacts: lenses and sensor size. The LX5 wups up on the S95 on sensor size which leads it to better performance in every category that matters
    20% wider angle lens – for me, that is the second most constricting thing about a compact vs. a DSLR–it feels like I have a telephoto lens at the widest setting! Adding 20% to the wide end is very, very important, especially if you’re shooting inside a small metal tube (i.e. airplane) or even getting airport architecture shots or cityscapes
    500% closer macro – important for those detail shots
    300% the FPS – this is the most constricting thing about compacts: FPS. It takes FOREVER to take a picture with a compact. By the time the camera focuses (see next point) and actually takes the picture, the action has moved to the next room. 6 FPS is just STUNNING; that’s 62% FASTER than the Canon Rebel T2i!
    Faster autofocus – this and this give practical testimonies (I was unable to find an objective test) of Panasonic’s much-acclaimed Sonic-Speed AF system and all-around quickness in taking pictures
    400% the exposure time – you can take 4x longer exposures at 60 seconds max, double that of most DSLRs (without bulb mode). This is very important for cityscapes or any place that you’re taking long-exposure pics in the dark (the tarmac from the RCC, a plane cabin at night, etc)

    As to the pocketability issue, the first reviewer I linked above writes this:

    So what does the S95 have going for it? Well to tell you the truth, the only thing that I can see is that the S95 is slightly smaller and has a more “pocket friendly” profile. Honestly as pockets go there are two kinds of pockets that will fit either of these cameras. The first type are pockets that are too small for either. The second kind are pockets that would be comfortable for either – like a big jacket or coat pocket. Who cares – In my reality you can either stick either one in the pockets you have or not. In my jeans neither would be too comfortable. In my shirt? Are you kidding? In my coat – both are fine.

  16. I’m also a big-glass Canon guy but my pocket camera is a Panasonic Lumix LX5. It has two big things going for it. It has a FAST and WIDE lens. f/2.0 @ 24mm equivalent. Just what you need in tight spaces in low light.

    The S95 that gets a lot of mentions is f/2.0 @ 28mm equivalent which, to my liking, just isn’t wide enough.

  17. I am going against the trend here!

    If you don’t have an iPhone4, then consider get an iPhone4 and use its 5MP camera as a cheaper alternative.

    I recently lost my entire set of Nikon DSLR equipment (Camera, lens, filters, and other gadgets) and have been camera-less for the month of Jan. I have looked at all the camera suggested in this thread, but still have not pulled the trigger. I will eventually get a new Nikon DSLR to do travel photography ( not just taking photos inside the airplanes/hotels), but in the meantime, iPhone4 has done a decent job for me. Look at the Flyertalk’s United International Flight Menu thread, all my photos posted were taken with iPhone4. No, they are not in the same league as taken with my lost Nikon DSLR, but they are fine for taking photos of airlines food, cabins and hotel rooms,

    If you really want a point&shoot, I’d like to suggest Canon G12….because I just love the flip screen, and I have been a huge Canon G series Powershot fan. I still have a half broken G3 in my backpack as an interim solution for travel photography until I mentally get over the loss of my Nikon DSLR to get a new replacement.

  18. Try a Olympus PEN or Sony NEX and retire your Digital Rebel. The mirrorless cameras give you both compactness and good DSLR-like image quality

  19. Another vote for the Canon S95.

    I’ve always owned a Canon SLR and and a Canon IXUS/ELPH using the latter for pictures on planes.

    Recently, I bought an S95 to replace the IXUS and the difference is drastic. The picture quality without a flash is excellent.

    It’s small, the controls are familiar (a big plus for me) and both on the web and in print, the picture quality is fantastic.

    The Ixus/Elph series cameras are smaller but the image quality just isn’t quite as good. In low light you end up with a dark image or something that’s just too artificially bright. The lack of manual controls is frustrating.

    The G12 is bulky and slow in comparison to the S95.

  20. I bought the canon S95 to replace my digital ELPH. So far the camera has lived up to expectations. It’s also small enough to fit in a pocket.

  21. I just changed to a G12 for this purpose.

    No matter what, think about shutter lag in whatever small camera you buy. I’ve been through a few and some are OK, while others are painful. When you get down to a few final selections, look at the full review on DPReviews and check for picture quality at a variety of focal ranges. I ruled a few out because of distortion issues. Also, check for noise at higher ISOs. The same photo at the same time at ISO 1600 on my G12 and on my 60D show much more noise on the G12. For my uses of the 12, I’m OK with the extra noise and the softness of noise removal software. Your mileage may vary.

    The comment about fitting in pockets is spot-on.

  22. Since you already have an SLR, don’t buy another one.

    Get an easily pocketable P&S. Which conveniently excludes ultrazooms.

  23. Somewhere I read an article about the best cams for bloggers. The thinking was that the more impressive a camera looked, the more likely that someone would tell you to stop shooting. The Canon S90 (now S95) won hands down for it’s small size and photo quality. I’ve got an S90 and love it.

  24. I second/third a lot of the comments. I have a Canon S90 and love it, so now that the S95 is out, you should get that! Small enough to not make the people across the aisle gawk at you, but still great quality.

  25. I would recommend the LX5 although I own the Leica D-Lux5.
    The optics are world class. I get great pictures that are as good as the SLRs.

  26. I would also go with the suggestion of the Panasonic LX5 primarily because of the Leica lens that it has. With this, you get a good part of the way to a Leica without paying the price. We have an old Leica D-Lux1 and a newer C-Lux2 – the D-Lux is actually much better in low light situations.

  27. I took the inflight photos in my recent trip report ( using my HTC Evo…it has an 8 megapixel camera…when I wanted something larger I’d use my Nikon D80. I think cell phones are getting close to having decent enough quality to the small point and shoots that I’m not sure it’s worth getting a small camera, assuming you plan on refreshing your cell phone semi regularly

  28. Another vote for the Canon Digital ELPH. It’s great for most photography, fits in your pocket, and is cheap. Also, there are versions with up to a 5x zoom feature and some can record 720p video. I’ve upgraded from the SD200 to SD600 to SD890 over the years and have been more than satisfied with the quality and value.

  29. LX5 is the point-and-shoot to have if you don’t want to carry around a DSLR. If you really need something more compact then the s95 is great.

  30. Holy crap, I think I’m in love… with all of you. Seriously, you’re all awesome, thanks so much for all the advice. Sounds like it’s either the S95 or LX5. I’m leaning towards the S95 since it has gotten a bit more support here.

    A couple of follow up questions, if y’all don’t mind:
    1) Does it matter where I buy the camera (does everyone charge $399), or is there any place to get a “deal” on either camera? Seems like the S95 is $30 cheaper at Sams Club, though I’m not a member.
    2) It seems like the S95 doesn’t come with any memory sticks. Any thoughts as to which I should buy and how many I need to get maybe 300-400 pictures without having to dump them on my computer? And any place to get a “deal” on those, or is Amazon, Best Buy, etc., best?

    Thanks again. Seriously, you guys are AMAZING.

  31. Alot of the recommendations so far are just too bulky for even a point & shoot, like the G. I like the Samsung models a previous commenter mentioned, but also, Casio Exilim and any SD series Canon, like the SD990, but there are less expensive SD series cameras. S95 is great, too, and u wont go wrong if it feels like you like the size, but if u want an ultra compact, SD series is the way to go.

  32., particularly if you have Prime, is always a good place to look for cameras and supplies as is B&H Photo. Canon’s USA website’s online consumer store has, in the “Refurbished” section, a refurbished S95 for $319 plus shipping. I’ve bought refurbished equipment from Canon and it is as good as new.

  33. Lucky

    (1) Can’t help you there as I am in the UK not the US, but when I visited in late November and almost pulled the trigger on buying an S95, Amazon and Best Buy had the lowest prices. (I bought mine from Amazon on my return).

    (2) Again I’d recommend the same retailers as a good start. In terms of SD cards, I’ve always used SanDisk Extreme and Ultra cards. There is an appreciable difference in read/write times and reliability.

    I have a 2gb SanDisk Extreme III in my S95 with the image quality settings as high as possible, 10 megapixels, 3648×2736 and it claims I can take 760 pictures with an empty card.

    While you are out shopping Lucky, can I recommend an iPad with the SD card attachment. You can dump your pictures onto your iPad and see what they look like on a bigger screen.

  34. Hey Lucky!

    A few recommendations, depending on size (I’ve owned all)
    Canon S95 (smallest) – good camera, good pics, might be too much of a shock from a Rebel
    Canon G10 (medium, fixed-lens) – good camera, better pics, sensor is too small (G12 is the same, the new version). Reliable. Really long battery life. Screen OK.
    Sony NEX-5 (full APSC sensor, interchangeable lens) – I’m surprised only one mention of this. This is my current camera. It’s fantastic, and the low light performance is just stellar. The pancake lens also can make is really, really small. Flash detachable. My perfect camera.

  35. Something else just occurred to me. Sometimes the lighting in your shots can be tricky. Occasionally the hotel room looks really dark because there’s a large window in the background which is fooling the camera. Or a similar situation inside a plane. If you get a camera which shoots ‘raw’ files you can adjust the shot later to be better exposed. I know the S95 shoots raw files but I’m not sure about the others.

    As for SD cards, I’d look at the camera’s specs. If it can only write to cards at a certain rate, then there’s no point in buying cards which can work at faster rates. The fastest cards are mostly a benefit if you’re using the camera to shoot video. Having said that, if the price difference between cards is only a few bucks then it might be wise to get the faster one. Then in the future it will be fast enough to work with whatever camera you buy.

  36. Nokia N8: an unlocked pentaband 3G phone with a 12 megapixel camera Carl Zeiss lense used by professional photographers.

  37. Lucky, I LOVE my Panasonic DMC because of the zoom and the Leica lens but it is not the best camera for taking low-light pics, the flash is just too weak. The size and weight are great. Plus I have AMAZING photos and videos (HD!) in general but my camera is just not perfect for indoors snapshots. The dial on the top is touchy and the battery life leaves a lot to be desired. I will buy the camera again once they solve the flash issue. For now I recommend you go for the S95.

  38. To clarify, I have the DMC-ZS3 because I wanted the 10X optical zoom. Maybe the option to add a flash makes the LX5 a good choice but I think I would miss the zoom. Let us know what you decide. I’ll probably go DSLR this year or get yet another point-and-shoot.

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