Compact Camera for Low Light Photography (Restaurants etc)

Discussion in 'Open Gear Talk' started by weebly, Apr 8, 2014.

  1. weebly

    weebly New Member

    Apr 8, 2014
    Hi all,

    I'll start by saying that I'm absolute novice when it comes to cameras. To date, I've survived by using the camera on my phone. I would like to purchase a compact camera and need some recommendations.

    I need the camera to take pictures mostly of food at markets and (some not very well-lit) restaurants. It needs to be compact and I prefer not to use flash so as not to draw attention or disturb other diners.

    I have looked at the Sony RX 100 ii, but it is quite expensive and not as compact as I would like it to be. Was wondering if anyone had other suggestions?

    The pictures will only be posted on my blog or facebook page, so I'm not worried about print quality.

    Many thanks in advance!
  2. Biro

    Biro Super Moderator

    Aug 7, 2011
    Jersey Shore
    A good second choice would be the original Sony RX100, which is basically the same camera without a hotshoe or tilting rear LCD. And it has the previous version of the one-inch sensor. But it's still pretty good. And it's $100-$150 cheaper.

    After that, I'd say the Fuji XQ1 would be a good choice. It has a smaller 2/3" sensor but that's still larger than most compact cameras. It can be found easily for $399. If you don't mind zooming manually (by twisting the lens barrel instead of toggling a lever), the older Fuji XF1 wouldn't be a bad choice. It can be found for around $199.

    After that, you might try the Panasonic LF1, which has an even smaller 1/1.7" sensor but still gives good results. It also has a longer zoom range and is thinner (better for pockets) than the cameras I've mentioned. It even has a small electronic viewfinder in case you're using it in bright sunlight and you can't see the rear LCD very well. The LF1 can be found for $299.

    If you insist on cameras that are smaller than these, the image quality isn't going to be that much better than your phone's camera. Hope this helps.
  3. Archiver

    Archiver Top Veteran

    Jul 11, 2010
    Melbourne, Australia
    Depending on your budget, perhaps a Panasonic GM1 with the Olympus 17/1.8 or 25/1.8 might suit you. The camera itself is incredibly small, and with a small lens will fit into a jacket pocket or shoulder bag pocket with ease. The images will be considerably better than almost any small sensor camera, and about as good as an aps-c sensor size DSLR. You can see some GM1 images here:

    An alternative is the Panasonic LX7, which has a very fast f1.4 lens and great images for a small sensor camera. But if you want to shoot in dimly lit restaurants, a large sensor camera with a fast lens is the way to go for best quality, even on the web.
  4. mattia

    mattia Regular

    Dec 20, 2013
    If the RX100 is already too big, the other serious compacts will be much too big.
  5. Chrisnmn

    Chrisnmn Veteran

    Jul 8, 2012
    Auckland, New Zealand
    Chris Leskovsek
    ^That. perhaps the RX100 is the "smallest" serious compact there is. anything else is bigger, and for what is smaller, I would stay with the cellphone. no joke.
  6. rbelyell

    rbelyell All-Pro

    May 14, 2013
    NY Mtns
    the one thing that super small sensored cameras cannot really do well is lowlight photography. so wanting something smaller than an rx100 that does what you want is just not possible.

    if your purpose is lowlight photography, imo, you will not achieve that with smaller than m4/3 sensor. the lowlight ability of my very small and cheap epl5 surprises me all the time, its very good. pair it with a cheap 14/2.5, or the 17 or 20 pancakes and you have as small and cheap a rig as you can get that does what you want it to do.

    and heres a way out thought. since you are a novice, ask yourself if you are happy just taking pictures or if youd like to learn photography. either answer is fine. but if youd like to learn more about photography, about setting apertures, shutter speeds, how they interrelate etc, you may want to consider a used fuji x100. you can shoot it in 'auto' mode, just like the other cams youre considering. but it has manual aperture and shutter speed controls that will help you learn photography and it can be had for around $500 or so. the camera is wrist-strappable, though certainly not as small as an rx100 or epl5. but what it is is a tool you can learn from and you will love the lowlight results.
  7. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    At $500, the X100 is one of the best deals out there. Have a closer look at the size of it, in person if possible. If you're willing to stretch from "cellphone" size to that, you get something incredibly capable in dim restaurants.

    X100, 2am after wedding, The Grill, Athens GA:

    <a href="[email protected]/8094290361" title="DSCF7471 by gordopuggy, on Flickr"> 8094290361_d3e46d7b88_c.jpg "800" height="531" alt="DSCF7471"></a>
  8. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Hi and welcome, weebly!

    The X100 is wonderful in low light but it is not small, not really. If you have the need to be unobtrusive, I'd suggest the Fuji XF1. Here is a good review about the camera: when reading these reviews you need to remember that you don't have to get deeply involved in all the various controls unless you want to. This camera would fit in a coat pocket and in a small bag... I don't know if you're male or female, but writing as a woman I can tell you that this camera is an easy fit in my bag. In addition you can get it with a really nice slipcase that protects it.

    Here's a section from that review that gives you some info re low-light:
    P.S. If you buy a camera from a reputable store such as B&H Photo you can actually try out the camera for a certain amount of time but always read the returns policies. And if you live in a city that has a good camera store, you can go in and try it out - bring an SD card or buy one from them, take the card home and see what you think on your computer on your blog's site, etc.
  9. serhan

    serhan All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    Sony RX100 would be my first choice. Fuji xf1/xq1 are also at similar size as RX100. It is hard to find a compact w/ better IQ under that size. Panasonic lf1 and Olympus X10 might be the other choices. X10 has a smaller sensor but it has a faster zoom lens to compensate that.
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  10. demiro

    demiro Serious Compacts For Life

    Dec 15, 2011
    The RX100 would be my choice as well, but I will also throw out the Sony TX30 as a possible suggestion. It has a built in LED lamp around the lens, which may allow for those dimly lit restaurant shots without use of flash. Can't say I've done it, but it seems possible. The TX30 is a waterproof camera, so maybe paying for something that is not important, but I don't recall seeing other cameras with the LED. It is noticeably smaller than the RX100.
    • Like Like x 1
  11. dougjgreen

    dougjgreen Regular

    Jan 10, 2014
    If you had a big enough budget, the best choice would be a Panasonic GM1 and a fast prime (15mm f1.7, 17mm f1.8, 20mm f1.7, 25mm f1.8, or 45mm f1.8 would all be good useful choices). But that body and any one of those lenses is $750-900. At $500 or less, the Sony RX100 is probably as good an option as is out there.
    • Like Like x 1
  12. jporos

    jporos Regular

    May 8, 2013
    I've taken many food pictures with my Leica D-LUX 6...













    The D_LUX 6 (which is the same in terms of innards with the Panasonic LX-7) is small, unobtrusive and has a very fast, excellent lens (f1.4 - 2.3) that more than makes up for its small sensor. Good luck!
    • Like Like x 1
  13. BBW

    BBW Administrator Emeritus

    Jul 7, 2010
    betwixt and between
    Great examples plus you get that nice wider lens which would be (and clearly is) very important for these types of shots. I used to have the LX5 and always loved it at its widest angle.
  14. One thing to think how much iso u really need vs the widest aperture available on the camera u pick. For example, most p&s cameras can't do much better than around iso 400 but a inch inch sensor camera like the Sony rx10 or rx100 or Nikon one can do max iso of 800 to maybe 1600 (ymmv). A m43 camera like the gm1 that was mentioned about iso 1600.

    The constant aperture rx10 w/ the 24-200f2.8 vs the lx7 w/ a starting aperture of f1.4.. That's 2 stops difference.. At the wide end, the lx7 could do better or at least equal the rx10 but at long end the rx10 comes out way ahead both in terms of max focal length and effective low light (f2.3 at iso 400 or so vs f2.8 at iso 800 to 1600).

    The Fuji xtran sensor based p&s cameras do tend to have slight better high iso capability than your typical under one inch sensor camera though.

  15. mnhoj

    mnhoj gee aahrr

    Jan 27, 2012
    With stationary subjects lower shutter speeds and I.S. can be used.
    Dark lighting and small sensors can work.
    Although subject isolation will be an issue if that's also a necessity.
  16. john m flores

    john m flores All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    Actually this is one area where the greater DOF of a smaller sensor can be an advantage. At fast apertures and normal focal lengths, even a Micro-Four Thirds will struggle to fill the frame with an entree and have a significant part of the plate in focus. I had a Panasonic LX7 that was good but not great for foodtography. The Sony RX100 (used) may be the best compromise at the moment, even if I have a soft spot for the Pentax Q series
  17. yakky

    yakky Regular

    Nov 30, 2013
    Rx100 is the most compact camera that puts out big camera files. I've owned an Xf1, X10, S90, and LX7. None come close to the Sony in my experience.
  18. Chris2500dk

    Chris2500dk Top Veteran

    Dec 22, 2011
    Copenhagen, Denmark
    Nikon coolpix A or Ricoh GR would also be options, but they're more pricy than a RX100.
  19. weebly

    weebly New Member

    Apr 8, 2014
    Thanks all! Lots of great information. I think I'm settling on the RX100 (second hand). If I can't find a good deal, the sony TX30 looks interesting because of the LED. Many thanks again!
    • Like Like x 1
  20. john m flores

    john m flores All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    Oh and one more yourself a favor and get an 18% gray card to custom white balance your food photos. Restaurants are notorious for having their lighting temperature all over the place, and relying on the cameras built-in or auto settings may bring you close but not close enough.

    Also, have your dining companion get a flashlight app for their smartphone-the kind that can turn the phone screen white. That will make all the difference in the world in a dim restaurant, won't distract like a flash, and can be moved to the side of the camera to help add some contour and shape to the plate.

    Lastly, print out business cards that you can hand out to curious fellow diners.

    Good luck!
    • Like Like x 1