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The Best P&S Cameras – Late 2010 Edition

Everyone has to start somewhere, and countless music photographers working in the photo pits started out as fans in the crowd. Point & shoot cameras have the advantage of being compact, unobtrusive, and relatively inexpensive. Here's a look at three quality point and shoots for the budding live music photographer that were introduced in 2010.

My current recommendations for P&S cameras for photographing live music are the three models aimed at the “serious compact” market segment:

All three of these models offer manual shooting, RAW, and excel in low light by offering some of the best high ISO performance available outside of DSLRs and mirrorless APS-sensor cameras.

Canon S95

This little camera packs a lot of features in a very small form factor, including a sensitivity range that goes up to “big-boy” territory of ISO 3200. The S95 offers very similar image quality to the flagship G12, all in a decidedly tiny package.

Unlike the Panasonic LX-5, the lens on the S95 retracts to be essentially flush with the body, making this a great pocket cam. The movable dial around the lens serves as a manual control that can be set to control a range of settings – a very nice touch. Still, with the most compact body out of all the cameras I'm recommending here, the Canon S95 requires going into the menu more due to the limited real estate to dedicate to physical controls.

With a zoom range of 28-105mm (35mm equivalent), this camera is going to be best suited to stage-front photography.

  • Pros: Very compact, manual controls, RAW, excellent high ISO performance for a compact
  • Cons: Limited zoom range, slow lens, no hotshoe for external flash
  • Price: $389

Panasonic LX-5

The Panasonic LX-5 picks up where the fantastic LX-3 that I won leaves off – literally. The LX-5 offers an expanded 24-90mm range with an aperture of f/2 to f/3.3. Now, while the maximum aperture at the telephoto end is now f/3.3, the aperture at 70mm is still f/2.8, just like the old LX-3, so in effect you're not losing anything. For anyone with a DSLR and a 24-70mm midrange zoom, you'll feel right at home.

With a 24mm focal length on the wide end, the LX3 features the best option for wide angle photography, which is perfect for smaller clubs and big stages alike – if you can get close enough.

In an upgrade from the LX-3, the new camera features a jog-dial on the back for an even faster and intuitive shooting experience.

Just like the S95, the LX-5 shoots RAW offers full manual control, which I consider a must-have feature for concert photography.

As a bonus, the LX-5 features a flash hotshoe, and since it uses an electronic shutter, it can flash sync at speeds several stops faster than your conventional DSLR. Very nice if you're using off-camera flash and want a “dark daylight” effect.

  • Pros: Excellent image quality, manual controls, RAW, fast aperture, 24mm wide angle, HD (720) movie mode
  • Cons: Limited zoom range, slightly too big to be truly pocketable, external lens cap
  • Price: $399

Canon G12

If the LX-5 and S95 are compacts, the Canon G12 is distinctly more mid-sized, with a beefy and dense weight to it that just begs for serious consideration.

The G12 boasts very similar characteristics to the excellent image quality of the smaller S95, all while possessing dedicated manual controls and dials for ISO for great handling. At 28-140mm, the G11's 5x zoom lens features the longest range, albeit at a slower f/2.8-4.5 aperture – a stop slower than both the S90 and LX3 at the wide end.

I'd consider the G12 the most capable camera of these three in terms of range, but it's still going to be best suited to shooting right at the front of the stage.

The only real downside to this excellent camera is the large form factor – it's great for the feel in hand, but the Canon G11 may not fit the “small camera” allowance of most concerts.

In upgrade over the old G11, the new G12 now shoots 720p video as well.

  • Pros: Excellent manual controls, high ISO performance
  • Cons: Larger form factor may not be appreciated by security
  • Price: $470

End Notes:

These days, most concerts allow fans to bring in “small cameras” with no restrictions. While these three point & shoot cameras don't truly begin to reach the image quality of even entry level DSLRs, they're some of the best options for anyone shooting from the crowd and clamoring for space at the barricade.

Where To Buy

If you've found these recommendations useful, or anything else I share here at www.ishootshows.com, please consider buying from B&H Photo or Amazon.com, my recommended retailers, for your next photography purchases.

  • Canon S95
  • Panasonic LX-5
  • Canon G12

When you buy through these links, you get some cool gear, and it helps support this site. So buy yourself something nice, and I can keep pouring cups of the oolong tea that fuels crazy DIY projects made out of kitchen supplies and helps me bring you music photography tutorials & daily concert write-ups.

My Camera DSLR and Lenses for Concert Photography

Nikon D750:
I use two Nikon D750 for my live music photography. Amazing high ISO performance in a compact body with tons of pro features.
nikon-24-70mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 24-70mm f/2.8:
For most gigs, the 24-70mm is my go-to lens. Exceptional image quality at wide apertures and super-functional range.
Nikon-70-200-squareNikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR:
A perfect pair to the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, I can basically shoot any job with the midrange and this lens. Superb image quality.
nikon-14-24mm-f28-lens-squareNikon 14-24mm f/2.8:
Ultra-wide perspective, ridiculously sharp even wide open at f/2.8. I love using this lens up-close and personal, where it excels.
More Gear Recommendations

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There are 44 comments

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    • Todd

      I think the P7000 is a very good entry for Nikon after not having anything competitive for a long time in this market, but I still recommend the G12 over the P9000 for its better high ISO performance.

  1. Lorraine

    Any reason Fuji isn’t listed? I’ve had the F30 for years and had some good luck (when I’m front row). I bought that one a few years back because they have a good reputation for shooting in low light situations. Was thinking of getting a more recent Fuji, but open to suggestions (hence visiting this article).

    • Todd

      I think Fuji did an amazing job with the F30, but for a similar compact camera, these days I would recommend the Canon S95. You get a wider zoom range and a faster lens in a tiny package that has great image quality for such a tiny camera.

        • Nancy O

          @Lorraine,
          how did your S95 do at concerts? I just bought an S95, went to a concert and find that a lot of my videos have audio distortion. I have since found (by googling) youtube videos and other people posting having the same issues when using their S95 at concerts: audio distortion.

          Did you experience the same?

          Nancy

          • Lorraine

            http://www.flickr.com/photos/starstruck76/5427052308/in/photostream/ Here is the first concert video I’ve taken with it (last month). To be fair I was on the barricade, so being right in front of the speakers will sometimes prevent clear audio. The bass will overpower everything.

            What I’m having trouble with is figuring out why it won’t record/take a photo right away. In other words, sometimes when I press the button, it doesn’t take a photo. I don’t know if that’s because it’s trying to prevent me from taking an out of focus shot or what. And on top of that (with photo/video) it sometimes goes out of focus the minute I press the button. Any advice there?

  2. Todd

    Reader Doug Springer just posted a great comment on the previous article – I thought I’d re-post it here as it has some great advice from Doug’s experience with the Nikon P7000 and Canon G12.

    doug says:
    December 2, 2010 at 3:00 pm (Edit)
    As a bit of an update from the commenter side…

    I bought a Nikon P7000 a couple of weeks ago in anticipation of the upcoming Roger Waters show. I was going to get a G12 until Nikon announced the P7000 with 7.1X zoom, still following Canon’s lead in the format as far as features. I used it for a little under 2 weeks, including at a local club show, and I returned it for a G12 the other day.

    The main issue with the Nikon was its painfully slow write times to the card. In RAW mode, with fast class 10 cards, it’s 2 seconds per image. Make the mistake of using the 5-shot bracketing mode and it’s 10 seconds before you can shoot again. I also found the images less than sharp, especially at the long end of the zoom. It did shoot nice HD video(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dg_aFLd9Y0U), but be forewarned that the mic is mono (not that stereo mics on a P&S give much separation), hence the external jack, I suppose.

    So far, the G12 is a much better camera. The extra zoom would be nice, but 5X is still acceptable. If it wasn’t for the lack of ‘enough’ zoom, I may have bought an LX5. I prefer the way the G12 fits in my hand – although the flip-out screen adds a little bulk, the ergonomics (for me) are that much better than the P7000. More importantly, the image quality with the tests I’ve shot are obviously sharper in similar conditions.

    As for size limitations at shows, since it’s almost impossible to know what the venue’s policy is until you get there, I almost always smuggle a camera in by putting it down my pants. Very few pat-downs by male security people will include another guy’s “junk” (especially now).

  3. Ian Mylam

    Fantastic, Todd – a very useful review. I’ve been thinking for a while about buying a Point & Shoot, but couldn’t see the wood for the trees. Thanks for the shortlist! One thing you didn’t mention was viewfinders, or the lack of them: I believe in this group, only the Canon G12 has an optical viewfinder. Call me old fashioned, but I just can’t get along with holding the camera away from my face with an electronic viewfinder to take the shot. In a low-light situation such as a music gig, I feel anchoring the camera against my face must help with getting a sharp image given that shutter speeds may be slow. This in itself would weigh heavily in favour of the G12, in my view. What are you thoughts on that? I guess a counter argument might be the ability to hold the camera up to shoot over the crowd at a show and still be able to see the electronic viewfinder?

    Best wishes,

    Ian (now saving up for that 85mm f/1.4 ;-)

    • Todd

      Hey Ian,

      For a camera like this, I don’t really miss the viewfinder. The reason being is that the viewfinders are actually so bad on these kinds of cameras. Unlike a DSLR where you can expect 90%+ coverage, these smaller cameras do much worse (only 77% coverage with the G12!), and there’s further inaccuracy due to the fact that the image is not TTL. In short, the VF is a very rough guide at best, and paradoxically, the screen is going to be your best best for true and accurate framing.

      Of course you’re right, it’s not the best situation for stable shooting to have the camera farther away from your body, but for me the viewfinder on even a nice cam like the G12 is almost useless.

      Thanks for the comment.

      PS: Just signed up as an affiliate w/ Amazon.co.uk – not sure if you ever buy from there, but thought I’d let you know.

  4. Ellen Zuckerman

    Hi Todd,

    Thanks for sharing this information. I have actually been using a Canon G10 for the past 1 1/2 years primarily for concert photography and have been very happy with its performance as a high end p&s. I have had very few issues with security at shows–typically they just check to ensure it does not have an interchangeable lens.

  5. Elisa

    I just picked up an LX5 – compared to my normal slr kit (5d/7d + glass) the size still seems tiny;) I love the responsiveness…will be playing fan photog on an upcoming cruise so we’ll see how it does!

    • Nancy O

      I ckd yr website and love your work! Am interested in knowing yr thoughts on the LX5 once you’ve played fan photog on yr upcoming cruise.

  6. Sara

    hi Todd~
    I came across this blog just in time. I have an LX-5 and will be going to a concert in a week or so, hopefully will be in the first 5 rows of a small general admission venue. Do you have any advice on camera setting for concert? :)

    • Rocco

      Hey Sara,

      though I do not have the experience Todd has, I do hope that your shoot came out well.
      As far as advice for success……be as steady as possible, shoot as wide as your composition with allow (this will probably increase your shutter speed and allow for shooting at a faster f stop thus decreasing lens movement), shoot manual RAW and after you see acceptable images, keep shooting and try not to review every image every time you shoot.

      This is a wonderful website and one I suggest you read as thoroughly as possible.

      Rocco

  7. Ed.

    Hello Todd,

    Trying to decide what P & S camera is best for getting in a venue that does not allow pro cameras. 2010 you suggested the Canon G12 but now it has been upgraded to the G15 w/ 1.8-2.8 lens and a longer zoom. Of course there is the G1 X but it’s larger and does not have the zoom or wide aperture of the G15. It does however have a larger sensor and a articulated screen. If I can’t get my pro Canon in the venue I’m leaning at purchasing the G15. What do you think?

    Thanks,

    Ed.


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