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, please consider buying from B&H Photo or, 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.