Best quiet digital camera for low-light and candids?
January 11, 2012 3:50 PM   Subscribe

What is the best digital camera (and possibly lenses) for street photography, candids, and low light situations?

I'm trying to find the best digital camera setup that:
  1. ... takes good photographs without flash in low-light.
  2. ... is reasonably quiet, possibly with a silent operation option.
  3. ... is reasonably pocketable (in a jacket, at least).
A few months ago I got really excited about the Fuji X100, but pretty much everyone seems to hate the (apparently major) focusing issues. Otherwise, it would be perfect: APS-C sensor, silent operation, close to pocketable, and it even has a reasonably wide, fast lens. (One non-requirement is that I don't feel strongly about interchangeable lenses.)

I currently have a Canon 40D DSLR with some fast primes, but I find that it's too bulky for me to carry around regularly and it seems too imposing for casual candids. However, it's spoiled me for image quality, unfortunately.

The enthusiast handheld segment seems to have all these options now, from the Panasonic GX-1 to the Olympus PEN cameras to Sony's NEX line to the new Nikon 1s. However, there are so many different sensor sizes and incompatible lenses that it's hard to figure out which, if any, would really be good for street photography, candids, and low light situations without flash.
posted by pbh to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Ricoh GR-D III and IV are worth looking into.

They have the option of 'snap' focusing which is makes quick street photography possible, are dead quiet, and perform quite well in low light, in no small part because of the fast 1.9 lens.

And they are the smaller than any of the other cameras you mention.

The IV version adds a separate autofocus mechanism so it focuses twice as fast as the III, a brighter back screen for outdoor use and some image stabilization (even better in low light). Finally the controls are a joy to use. Ricoh cameras are designed by and for serious photographers and you can lay things out in a way that works very well for your workflow.

GR-D IV is about $600 on amazon.

I love my GRD III.
posted by ccoryell at 4:31 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Canon G1X maybe?
posted by pyro979 at 5:13 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's your budget?
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:29 PM on January 11, 2012

Response by poster: > What's your budget?

I'd be happy spending anywhere $500--$1400 for the right camera, which seems to be pretty much the full range of prices for "enthusiast compacts" or whatever the right term is. (That said, I can't afford, e.g., a Leica M9.)
posted by pbh at 5:38 PM on January 11, 2012

We have a canon S90 - it's great in low light w/o a flash. I think the current S100 is probably even better...
posted by NoDef at 5:58 PM on January 11, 2012

i have the x100 and love it, it was basically the BEST travel camera for europe. it does have focusing issues but it hasnt been a dealbreaker. i got some really great night pictures in paris with the cam :)
posted by raw sugar at 6:04 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's been mentioned in these threads before, but some folks have recommended the Olympus Pen E-P2 (body only) and the Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f/1.7 pancake lens, which is a 40mm equivalent on a 35mm SLR. The Panny lens gets rave reviews. I'm still thinking about springing for this, but then thats digital camera #4 ...
posted by carter at 6:27 PM on January 11, 2012

I'm not much into street photography, but I recently bought a Nikon V1 for other reasons.

It's tiny, stealthy, and has the fastest autofocus available among any non-DSLR cameras. It also has an excellent eye level viewfinder in addition to the rear LCD.

It is 100% silent when using the electronic shutter.

If I were into street shooting it would absolutely be my weapon of choice.
posted by imjustsaying at 3:36 AM on January 12, 2012

In addition to what's been mentioned: Have a look at DxOMark for lens and sensor benchmarks. Here's the
sensor benchmark, ordered by low-ISO performance:

The highest places on the list are dominated by expensive SLR cameras. Please scroll down :)

And you can get a table, with low-ISO performance on one axis and price on the other axis. (It's a little cluttered though ...)

The view is a little complicated at first, but it's worth a 5-minute study when buying a camera.
posted by krilli at 4:02 AM on January 12, 2012

I'm also looking for a camera that does well in low-light situations (my son is a gymnast and I take pictures and video in a dimly lit gym from a distance, no flash allowed).

I am debating between the
Sony Alpha NEX-5N and the Samsung NX200

I found this article really helpful in narrowing down my choices to these two cameras:

The reviews on are also helpful.

I decided against the Olympus and Panasonic lines because they are 4/3 cameras and have a smaller sensor than the Sony and Samsung so they will not (intrinsically) do as well in low light situations.
posted by LittleMy at 5:31 AM on January 12, 2012

Ultimately, low-light photography performance is dominated by detector size (due to inarguable physics - both stray photon noise and electrical Shott Noise go down as the square root of pixel area).

If the camera doesn't output raw (only JPEG), then the camera's noise reduction technology comes into play, and produces a variable (same-to-worse) level of noise than a raw picture filtered by the best-possible noise filter would be.

Regardless, a small detector is never going to outperform a much bigger detector, so pay attention to the detector size when purchasing.


For these reasons, I went with a 2nd-hand Canon 5D mark I. The internal noise reduction isn't nearly as good as the Mark II (but this doesn't matter if you post-process Raw). There's no video (a Mark II improvement). And there's mirror noise, so really stealthy candid shots aren't as easy. But the low-light performance of the full-frame detector is unsurpassed. Used Ebay prices range from $850-$975, and you can pick up the "Nifty Fifty" f1.8/50mm lens for about $100 used; 80-200 EF tele's run a little bit higher, and may be better for street photog (but you won't get down to f1.8 for low light with them). Put together, both lenses and the camera are under $1200.

Something to think about.


If you don't want the mirror noise, or simply want a cheaper solution, I've always LOVED Nikon's (better-rated) CoolPix series of cameras, and also the high-end Panasonic Lumix prosumers. With a flip-out LCD screen (available on some models), true stealth street photog is easy-peasy!
posted by IAmBroom at 6:22 AM on January 12, 2012

Also worth looking into are the Lumix LX3 and 5.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:54 AM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm a big fan of the Lumix line with the Leica lenses. They're not as fancypants as it sounds like you're used to, but they are excellent for on-the-spur street photos--they took awesome honeymoon pics because they turn on and focus so quickly and are very small. Good for when timing matters. They're a great deal in my admittedly super amateur opinion.
posted by ifjuly at 12:13 PM on January 12, 2012

I too have the x100 and have found it eminently portable and quiet. The focusing issues are not that much of a problem if you make it a point to take multiple shots as I do.
posted by Dragonness at 12:20 PM on January 12, 2012

There are many perfectly good options, but if I were you, I'd go for a Micro 4/3 model. They have the best lens selection of the EVIL cameras, the Panasonic and the Olympus lines offer numerous quality models for a range of prices, and you can always adapt them for use with legacy manual focus lenses. The compromises you make with the sensor over an APS-C sensor are, in my opinion, fairly minor in comparison to the advantages that the actual cameras offer over the NEX line, especially considering the small and relatively mediocre lineup that Sony has at the moment.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:46 PM on January 12, 2012

The quietness issue is something that lets a lot of cameras down. For example none of the NEX line are silent in operation. I've stuck with an LX3 for years because it is pocketable, has a great 24mm lens, and is completely silent. However, low-light capability is poor compared to today's smaller cameras.
posted by londongeezer at 12:39 PM on January 13, 2012

I have the x100 and it lives up to all the hype. For high iso you have to go to something like a D3 to best it. It is also the quietest camera I have ever encountered, I think quieter even than Leicas. No one will hear a thing unless they are in a quiet room within a foot or two of you.

The autofocusing is not on par with a DSLR, especially in multi-area mode. That seems to focus only on the most contrasty object in the frame. I do use it a lot, but I have to check to make sure where the camera is focusing. The spot focus mode (x100 calls it "area") seems to work very well. You can easily move the spot around the frame if you want but I just keep it centered and use the lock-focus feature and recompose. I have no issues with how this camera focuses. I have very few shots end up out of focus and it achieves focus lock quickly. Perhaps you can demo one in a photo store not too far away to test how it will focus. (Tip for in-store demos: take your own memory card and format it in the camera at the store, then you can take lots of photos and then bring them home and check the photos on a high-res monitor.)

If you are into landscape photography and like very well saturated colors this may disappoint. On just about anything else, especially pictures of people, its colors are outstanding. Basically, the colors are very accurate and beautiful, but they do not supersaturate that well.

For me one of the best features is how well it handles. It is balanced and fits well in my hands; it shoots well from the hip and it is easy to hold level and guess where it is pointed without looking through the viewfinder or at the screen if you want candid and discreet street photos. The dials and controls provide maximum flexibility with quick adjustment and are logical. I almost never need to go into the menus, I can just turn one of the dials or use a dedicated control, and when I do need the menus the main choices are right up front, not deeply embedded. You cannot really appreciate the value of good handling until you have used a camera that has it. It will make your pictures better more so than anything else, at least it does mine. This is among the best handling cameras around. Everyone has a weakness though, and the X100's handling weakness is the nearly useless manual focusing ring.

This is a great camera. I read a lot of reviews prior to purchase and now that I have had it for some time I think perhaps that Ken Rockwell's was closest to how I feel about the camera now.
posted by caddis at 8:52 PM on May 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

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