Home :: Choosing a Compact Camera

I’ve had my Nikon D90 for a while now, and I like it a lot. I have Nikon’s 18-200 VR lens, and both SB-600 and SB-800 flashes. I carry all of these with me every day. I use a LowePro Slingshot 200, which makes it all quite easy to carry, and keeps the camera quite quick and easy to get to. Even so, it’s a lot to carry, especially when you’re just nipping to the shops, or going to work and back.

There’s a camera in my phone (Nokia E71), but it’s awful.

I’d been thinking for a while that I’d really like a compact camera, that I could take everywhere, without needing the weight and size of my usual kit. My birthday is coming up, and my parents kindly said they’d send my birthday money early so I could spend it when I had time off work.

My first thought was a Canon Ixus. I’ve had an Ixus before, and loved it. I’ve had other Canon cameras before, and never been disappointed. It was the safe choice, and the most likely choice, but I was going to take the chance to have a look around and read some reviews.

I wanted some decent zoom range, especially at the wide end. The more zoom range the better. I also wanted it to be small. The bigger the zoom range, generally, the bigger the camera. I had some trade-off issues to work out.

The front-runner for a while was the Canon Ixus 120 IS (Search for "Canon Ixus 120 IS" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US). It had a reasonable zoom range, 3x, starting from 28mm. It was very small, and very nicely designed. Like almost all Ixus cameras, though, it had no manual control, and the zoom range still wasn’t great. I was finding some good recommendations for Panasonic’s Lumix range. Their ‘travel zoom’ cameras had an amazingly good zoom range for their size, but still seemed a bit bigger than I wanted.

I had a look at what our local camera shops had in stock. I really like Cameras Plus, but they didn’t have anything much of interest. J&A Cameras had a few brands in stock, and opened the cabinet for me to poke a few. I really liked the feel of the Panasonics, but didn’t quite like anything they had enough to go for it.

After a little more reading online, I was starting to feel a little frustrated. There were plenty of reasonable options, but nothing stood out. The Ixus 120 was still the best option, and I loved the way it looked, but it certainly didn’t stand out on features.

Then, I happened on a review of the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX550 (Search for "Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX550" on: DuckDuckGo, Amazon UK, Amazon US). It had a 5x zoom, starting at 25mm, which improved a bit on the Ixus. It wasn’t much bigger. The styling wasn’t quite as nice, but still looked pretty good to me – brushed metal is always a win. It had full manual control. I also wanted to use pics straight from the camera as far as possible, and it had two ‘rough’ modes that looked like they might take the sort of pics I like.

I really wanted to go somewhere and just buy it, but that didn’t seem to be an option. Nowhere seemed to actually stock it at a store. Amazon had it, though, and could deliver it the next day, so I ordered there.

It arrived the next day.

So far, it’s doing just what I wanted. The Film Grain mode takes wonderfully ‘dirty’ low-res mono shots. The Pinhole mode takes nice low-res, low-saturation shots, with lots of vignetting. In its normal modes, it takes decent quality shots.

It’s nice and small, fits well in a pocket, as well as in a very small bag, and it makes pics I’m happy to throw straight at Flickr, without processing first.