ISO pocket-friendly camera
March 15, 2014 3:29 PM   Subscribe

In search of a decent, relatively small camera to use for research and traveling, preferably under 500 bucks. I don't really want a DSLR, because I used to travel with an SLR and a massive lens and I don't want to deal with it now (nor do I really need it.) Is this or this enough camera? Would this be too much camera? Or this?

I currently have a little Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX100, which has been surprisingly good for the size and will be coming along as a backup, and a several years-old Canon Powershot SX200IS which has also been pretty solid in the past. Looking for something a little more advanced and grownup than both of these.

Macro: must be able to shoot details/objects well in low light museum conditions, and quickly.

Preferably: would be able to charge batteries outside of the camera and have the ability to purchase spares. Fairly sturdy. Decent zoom a plus. Ability to take standard, pretty landscape photos also a plus.

Not essential: Continuous shooting.

Absolutely don't care about: anything involving wireless options, Wi-Fi, connectivity to Facebook, and video beyond the very occasional use.

I went through the related questions, but they either seemed aimed a higher price point than what I want or older than a year, but if there's good advice that I missed, please let me know! Thanks!
posted by jetlagaddict to Technology (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Canon S95 or later variants. I bought one years ago and have never felt the need to upgrade it, unlike my previous point-and-shoots. Simple, small, takes great photos.
posted by pravit at 3:47 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Sony NEX line is great, but is not "pocket-friendly". There's a pretty big difference between mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras, so I'd suggest first deciding which type you want.

I just bought a Sony RX100 MKI, and it's great. Meets all your criteria.

The Wirecutter is a great resource for this kind of thing:
posted by entropic at 3:49 PM on March 15, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry, pocket friendly was more to say "doesn't take up an entire purse" since I have no actual pockets big enough for any size camera. The review on the Sony RX100 MKI on CNET both says that's it's a little more expensive than I want and that there isn't a manually-triggered macro, but it sounds great otherwise-- have you used it to shoot in macro or to shoot details on objects? Has it worked well?
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:58 PM on March 15, 2014

I don't have a specific recommendation for you, but I can at least point you to, which has all sorts of reviews as well as tools like a buying guide, or you can tailor your search to match the features you want, or see what the most popular cameras are. The site may look a bit intimidating at first, but it's not hard to home in on exactly what you're looking for. And once you find a likely candidate, it's easy to jump past the specs and techno-jargon to get to their well-written and clear conclusions.
posted by Greg_Ace at 4:02 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Take a look at the Panasonic Lumix LX5 or LX7. I have an LX5. Short of a DSLR, the macro is great. The low-light performance is merely good, but I don't know how much better you can hope to do at your price point.
posted by jon1270 at 4:24 PM on March 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Canon S95 or S100. Excellent quality in a small size.
posted by danceswithlight at 5:02 PM on March 15, 2014

I've also used the S95/S100 and it's extremely pocketable, good quality, and shoots RAW. The Sony NEX series (in the process of begin renamed to Alpha) are also great cameras, though not as small. I'd avoid the 20x zoom-type cameras, since they're likely to have slower lenses, and if you're interested in low-light, you'll want the fastest lens you can get. The sensor size on the Sony is much bigger so you'll bet better low-light performance from it.

The S100 goes down to f/2.0 (at wide angle) and you can get an f/2.8 pancake for the Sony.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 5:45 PM on March 15, 2014

I have the NEX6, and I loooove it. I have found it surprisingly easy to take really nice photos.
It's not a tiny camera, but not as large as a DSLR either. I wouldn't call it pocket sized.
I've found the lens that came with it is not great for really tiny, super close up macro stuff, if you want to get the tiny object with shallow depth of field effect. If you just want a picture where you can see the small thing, it's fine. But you can also but other lenses for it, though that might defeat the point of a small portable camera for you?
I keep it set on full manual mode most of the time, and it's easier to use this way than any other camera I've used- the live preview is very good.
It's quite good in relatively low light conditions, the big sensor size is great.
You can charge the battery outside of the camera, and I assume purchase spares. It feels fairly sturdy in your hand, if a little front heavy- it's a small camera for the size of the lens. I think the lens that comes with it is 16-50.

You may also be interested in purchasing a used NEX3, which I think is the precursor to the NEX6.
posted by Adridne at 6:48 PM on March 15, 2014

Nthing the Canon S95/100, which is far and away the best point and shoot I've ever used. It's also literally pocket sized, even in girly jeans with tiny pockets. You can pick them up for about $200, as last I checked, and there are battery chargers (and spare batteries for sale) that will let you charge batteries outside the camera. (I use mine so that I always have two batteries with me, since I inevitably forget to change the one in the camera.) I frequently use mine to shoot details of knitting projects in low light (like, in a room with a single low-wattage nightstand lamp turned ont), and the shots are amazing.

It's a great camera--I strongly rec.
posted by MeghanC at 7:22 PM on March 15, 2014

have you used it to shoot in macro or to shoot details on objects? Has it worked well?

I own an RX100, and yes, I've used it for this type of work. It's great. Having said that, I don't think I would recommend it to you based on your criteria. It's "too much camera," as you said. Specifically, part of the reason behind the RX100's cost is its full-manual operation. It's a pocket camera for serious photographers. You don't appear to need that.

I would concur with people steering you toward the Canon point-&-shoot series. I'd defer to other people on which current model is best for your purposes, but I have owned several cameras in that line and they are terrific.
posted by cribcage at 7:31 PM on March 15, 2014

I have an Olympus PEN E-PL5 with the Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens. It works great in low light. I've taken a few shots in a museum lately. You can check them out if you want.

The camera is quite small. If you find the 45mm too bulky, you can buy the Zuiko 17mm f2.8 which is a lot smaller. You'll lose some speed, but you'll gain some "pocketability".

Both of the lenses I'm suggesting do not zoom (they're prime lenses), but they'll be able to take some decent details shots. With the 45mm, the kit is way over 500$, but I was able to buy it at a nice discounted price. Maybe you'll be lucky too !
posted by agregoire at 7:59 PM on March 15, 2014

The small camera market at the moment is packed with great cameras. Makes it difficult to recommend. Try and go hold some of those mentioned in this thread and see how they feel! My 2 cents....

The Sony RX100 is definitely considered to be the best p&s digital camera at the moment. Consider used from a reputable source or refurbished and you may get a bargain! (spotted this on ebay... which you may consider worth the risk of buying unseen)

If you're looking at the Sony NEX you are getting a DSLR sensor in a smaller body but I don't really like the Sony lens lineup. The NEX 3's with the 16mp sensor (F3, 3N etc) are awesome cameras and the churn in the Sony line is so fast that you can pick them up very cheaply. My carry round cam is one of those with an old Pentax 50mm lens. Love it and it's cheap enough that I can just chuck it in my bag and not care. Not over large at all (lots smaller than a dslr) but deffo not pocket sized. Total cost was about £200 for me. If you want an auto focus lens make sure you get the 16-50 collapsible kit lens. The older 18-50 is big and fugly. The nex range is the best option if high iso was your only concern but I do find the lens line up a mixture of interesting and too expensive for my fun cam. I do find it am absolute joy with cheap old manual lenses but I do work as a photographer so working manually is no bother for me....

You could also look at M43 like the Olympus Pen series. The e-pm2 is possibly the cheapest at the moment. Again, any of their cameras with the 16mp sensor are great. Try and get the collapsible newer kit lens, not the older larger one. Get the cheapest you can and then look to get a 2nd hand panasonic 20m 1.7 which is small and fast but about $250 and may take you over budget. Lets in about 2-3 times the light of the kit lens does so you can shoot at lower ISO in the same conditions.

The other p&s's mentioned in this thread are all good and seconded that the Canon p&s cameras are generally very good and make people happy. Also consider the Canon EOS M. It didn't really catch on but it's not a bad camera and again has an aps-c DSLR sensor and you pick it up with the 22mm kit prime for less than $400 and would give you near dslr results in a very compact package.

Best of luck!
posted by Mr Ed at 12:11 PM on March 16, 2014

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