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Small cameras for travel

I'm looking at the Panasonic TX90/ZS50 camera to take on my Italy tour in September. Does anyone have an opinion on this camera? I'm not a serious photographer. I'm not sure the photos taken on my iPhone 5S will be good enough for low light, as in churches or at night. But can a camera take pictures as fast as my iPhone? Thanks!

Posted by
22861 posts

Most point and shoot cameras will out perform your iPhone. I use a small Cannon. If you buy a new camera be sure to use if frequently prior to leaving so that you understand and can use the options. If you have been using only an iPhone, that is a lot of camera to move up to. There are a lot of good point and shoot camera at half that price that would meet you needs.

Posted by
2480 posts

I have been using these little Panasonic cameras for years. I love them. I know there are less expensive cameras out there but these little things are great! I've bought many of them at Costco. They used to run about $200 there. Maybe they still carry them. I see the version you're looking at has more bells and whistles than my current one but I bought it about 5 years ago. Still....a great little camera.

Posted by
32051 posts


I would highly recommend buying a P&S Camera for your tour rather than being limited by an iPhone, and the Panasonic models are a good choice. I couldn't find any references for a "TZ90", but did find some information for the ZS50/TZ70. You may find it helpful to read this detailed review....

I'm a photographer and have found that while iPhones can produce reasonably good images in some situations, they also have serious limitations, especially in low light conditions or with moving subjects. If you want to have some memorable images from your holiday, having a "proper" camera will be the best idea.

If you decide on the Panasonic, be sure to go through the owner's manual before your trip so that you're familiar with the operation of the camera. Also be sure to pack along an extra battery, a few memory cards and a good quality case.

Posted by
185 posts

I have a similar Panasonic camera, I think it's the model previous to the one you are asking about. I took it on my trip to China last year. I was fairly happy with its picture taking, except for the fact that it was pretty slow on startup and focusing in low light conditions. We went on a night boat cruise and I ended up just using my iPhone because the camera was not reacting quick enough to capture the pictures I wanted. I also am not a serious photographer, but this camera only met my needs in certain situations. It was nice to have in addition to my iPhone, but if I had it to do again I probably would have gone with a point and shoot in a lower price range.

Posted by
986 posts

See the long discussion on various cameras here:

If you want a better, but much more expensive, camera, look for larger sensor and bigger aperture. See link above for explanation.

The Panasonic ZS50 is similar to the Nikon S9900 or the Canon SX710 discussed in the other thread. Smallest sensor you can find on a typical point and shoot. Slow lens meaning the aperture is small (f-number is big). The only redeeming thing is that it has a big honking 720x zoom which basically means you can take an okay photo of something really really far away in very bright light. If you want really sharp noiseless photos shooting handheld without a tripod in dark conditions like inside a church for large prints, then this is probably not the right camera. But as an inexpensive basic point and shoot with a huge zoom, it is good. And always cool to have the name "Leica" on your camera.

Posted by
930 posts

If you want a daylight camera, this sounds perfect. But since you mentioned low light then cameras of this type have a sensor that is too small to take good photos. I would recommend a bit larger camera with a micro 4/3rds sensor. These cameras represent a tradeoff; not as big or heavy as regular 35mm equivalent digital cameras, with a sensor that is about 1/3 the size of the one in those cameras (but 4-8x as large as the one is pocket cameras -- see

Posted by
382 posts

"But can a camera take pictures as fast as my iPhone?"

Somewhat confused.

Did you mean:
Can you take pictures with a camera as fast as with your iPhone?

Or did you mean:
Is a camera's shutter speed, frames per second, etc. are as fast as your iPhone's?

I think you meant the former.

Posted by
986 posts

Smartphones appear to be fast cameras because the devices have become an extension of people's bodies. Thirty years from now, there will be a generation of people with arthritic fingers permanently gnarled in the shape of an iPhone and necks which will not allow them to look lift their heads to look another person in the eyes. At least, they can still facetime each other.

Initially, a new camera will be more cumbersome. There is a lag to take it out of your bag or pocket, to remove the case, to turn it on, to rack that big honking zoom, to auto focus and to trigger the shutter. That is why it is important to familiarize yourself with the new camera and all of its features before the trip. And you should just strap it to your wrist while touring. Eventually, using it will become second nature.

The one inch sensor cameras suggested in the other thread will more than double the cost of your Panasonic. A Micro Four Thirds will more than triple the cost. It is up to you how serious you are about photography and how much expense you are willing to tolerate. Generally, you get what you pay for.

It is possible to take very good photos in low light conditions with a cheaper camera. Even low end cameras have the ability to have shutter speeds as long as 30 seconds. Long shutter speed gives more time to let more light to hit the sensor. The problem is camera movement. Ideally, a tripod can be used, this is inconvenient and usually not permitted in may sites. I suggest you learn how to hand brace your camera securely against horizontal or vertical surfaces, e.g. railing, wall, columns, table, garbage can and push the shutter without moving the camera. It may take a couple of tries (just review the photo and zoom in on a fine detail to see if the photo is sharp or blurred). One of my favourite tricks is to put on a 2 second timer, lay the camera on the floor, push shutter and step back to take very sharp photos of church ceilings. A sharp photo from a $150 point and shoot beats any blurred photo from a $5000 DSLR.

Posted by
32051 posts


Some further comments......

"But can a camera take pictures as fast as my iPhone"

A Camera will be faster than your iPhone. By the time you get the phone out of your pocket, turn it on, enter the code (if necessary), click on the Camera app (and wait for it to start up), take the picture and then fuss with the settings afterwards to optimize the picture, a P&S Camera could have taken several pictures.

Another good comparison is between a P&S camera and a dSLR. I can get pictures much faster with a dSLR and generally get good results, which is one reason I go to the trouble of packing a large camera all over Europe. It provides me with a great deal of flexibility in terms of not only camera controls but also the choice of Lenses to fit each situation.

I have an older Panasonic TZ40/ZS30 and it has quite an extensive range of controls so it's capable of getting good pictures in a variety of situations. If you learn how to use it, you shouldn't have any trouble getting good pictures in low light or other challenging conditions.

Posted by
703 posts

Barbara, while I own a few DSLR's on all of my europe and US trips I take my trusty canon S120 ( now S200) because it weighs 'nothing' fits into my pocket like a phone. literally. and is capable of very good photos. AND in very low light and wide angle

I am not saying to buy one, but I am saying that having a small , very capable, camera can be great compared to lugging around one that doesn't fit easily in your pocket etc. as lots of places don't let you take photos and often you just want to take quick ( good quality) shot.
The problem that I have found is most camera places only want to sell the small cameras with huge zooms etc and don't stock cameras like the S200 or the sony rx100 etc
lots of zoom is not always the best.
Great to see your looking at a small usable camera, have fun.

Posted by
15448 posts

I have a Canon point&shoot that's a couple years old. It's the Sx260 HS with a 20x optical zoom. I wear it on a lanyard around my neck most of the time. That allows me to take photos pretty quickly. I use the zoom mostly for detail, like church facades, ceilings and such, and it's great. It also does well with stained glass. But it is not good for low light situations - dark interiors or night shots. I doubt any point&shoot will do much better, the lenses are just too small to let in enough light. For that I either carry a larger, heavier, bulkier camera, similar to an SLR, but smaller with a fixed lens. Or I buy postcards.

Posted by
488 posts

Thanks for all your replies. Sorry not to mention that I have used a Nikon Coolpix 7900 about 10 years ago and I loved it and it's small size and nice quality pictures. I have a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 that I took on my last trip to Sicily, but I could take bursts of pics with my iPod (yeah, very poor quality pics) and at home I can take bursts of photos with my iPhone and my Lumix was slow to take one pictures after another. (I like the burst of photos so I can get at least one photo with people with their eyes open or the wave breaking, etc, etc).

I do not want to carry around a big camera, looking for something to put in my pocket and I want to be able to take pictures inside of churches that aren't all blurry and too dark using a small "pocket" camera. And so the pics aren't blurry when I put them on my travel blog. That's why the review for the mentioned Panasonic sounded good. But maybe I have to trade off being able to take bursts of photos for the clarity of a real camera.

I'll look into all your comments. I appreciate your thoughts!!

Posted by
382 posts

With clarification, your questions have become less blurry :-)

To combat blurry shots in dim light, the common solutions would be a faster lens (i.e. smaller f-stop number), at a high iso, and with the camera held correctly. Based on the specs of the two Panasonics, there doesn't seem to be any significant difference in the lens and iso that will help improving blurry shots.

The Sony RX-100 may help with a faster lens, a higher iso and a high burst mode. But the price tag is bigger, and the zoom shorter.

But learning how to hold a camera correctly will definitely help, regardless of what camera.

Posted by
15448 posts

Barbara, I travel with iPod Touch (works like an iPhone) and a camera. As I said, with the camera around my neck, it's easily accessible and I don't feel like it's a problem to carry around. I wouldn't be comfortable carrying a camera in my pocket anyway - afraid it would fall out or that I'd drop it taking it out or putting it back in. Then there are pickpockets . . . Have you compared your current camera and iPhone in low light conditions?

The best site for choosing cameras is (recommended to me by a pro) and I've used it every time I've considered buying one. In fact, I wouldn't buy a camera without doing research there first. You can compare new models with old ones (like the ones you have or had) to see how they size up against each other.

Posted by
32051 posts


One other thing to mention, regardless of which camera you buy. If the camera has GPS capability, I'd suggest leaving this switched "OFF" as the GPS increases power consumption, which means your battery will go flat much quicker.

Posted by
613 posts

Although I love to shoot with my iPhone, I would not want to rely solely on the iPhone for an important trip.

I am not familiar with the specific model that you mentioned, but I was very happy with the Panasonic LX-7 that I took to Italy a couple of years ago. The LX-7 is small and compact, with a very fast lens and a reasonable and practical zoom range. You can see a few examples from my trip, including some low light shots, here -

The LX-7 is still on the market. If you want a bigger sensor, the Panasonic LX-100 is a another option, although it is considerably more expensive. In general, I have always been a fan of Panasonic cameras.

As others have mentioned, good technique -- keeping the camera steady -- helps a lot in low light. I would also stay away from extra long zooms; it's too difficult to hold them steady.

Posted by
219 posts

Not to confuse the issue with another camera but I find my Nikon p310 to be really good in lowlight. Much better/faster than my iPhone. I saw some really good lowlight photos that were taken with one a few years back on a message board and had to have one. I bought a refurbished one. My daughter in the mean time moved to Lyon, France and when we visited she loved that p310 so much she gave me her dslr to take home and took my p310. I in turn bought another refurbished one. It does take some really nice night/low light shots without a tripod. It has a wide 24mm lens, and is f1.8. I used it at the Fete de Lumieres in Lyon a few years ago and it is really good inside churches/museums, w/o a flash. I tend to use it over my dslr inside churches/museums. I take it and my dslr on all my trips.

Posted by
635 posts

I offer the following only as my answer, not the answer.

I appreciate good camera equipment, but while traveling I appreciate mobility more. Everything is a tradeoff. So my primary travel camera is a pocket-sized Canon S120 point-and-shoot. It does some nice things, and most of its deficiencies can be remedied with a little Photoshop tweaking when I get home.

My last trip was interesting, though. Last May I took my 14-year-old grandson to Rome and Munich. The S120 was in my pocket, and in my bag was a backup, an older Samsung WB150 point-and-shoot, of negligible size and weight. I had packed the Samsung on previous trips, but had never needed to use it.

But this trip was different. While on the flight from Chicago to Rome, I was shooting some window views from the airplane and suddenly noticed a big, black dust spot in the middle of the Canon's frame. The camera was toast, so I stuffed it into the bag, and dug out the Samsung to put it into the game.

Ryan and I landed at FCO; we took the FM1 to Ostiense, and started the two-mile walk to our lodging on Quirinal Hill, as planned. We were still at Porta San Paolo just a block from the station, and after less than a dozen photos, a dust spot appeared on the Samsung! This one, though, was just at the top edge of the frame, so I decided to go ahead with it, and compose photos with the intent of cropping out the spot later on.

That worked well for the next ten days. But on our last full day in Munich more spots appeared, making the camera unusable (I'd never had dust spot problems like this before, and this was really getting annoying!). So my last day's photos were taken with ... you guessed it ... my iPhone.

My grandson, meanwhile, had left his Nikon DSLR at home and brought only his iPhone -- and he took home some absolutely stunning images.

Go figure.

Posted by
3763 posts

I think people tend to get a little hung up on the camera, vs. the photo itself. Just like some audiophiles will just rave over an album of terrible music just because it's so well recorded.

Most pictures turn out fine, most of the time. They're just vacation snaps and are designed to evoke memories and prompt recollections. They're not meant to be blown up for wall murals at a photography school.

Posted by
6 posts

I took a Sony a5000 as it seems to be a good compromise between weight, cost, size, and features. I was overall happy with it. It isn't something you can keep in your pocket, unlike, say a point and shoot Lumix but it fits easily in any bag. The main place that cameras with larger lenses shine is in dark museums. If you are primarly interested in outdoor daytime shots, especially of people, a modern phone is probably sufficient. Here's an example with a Samsung S5:

And a Sony a5000:

Posted by
986 posts

Russ in the last post provides a sample comparison between a top android phone (at the time) and a very good mirrorless camera.

If you compare the two and if you cannot see the difference, then you should be happy with taking your holiday pics with a decent cellphone and not bother with the expense or weight of a dedicated camera.

On the other hand, if you zoom in to 100%, you can compare the finer details (e.g. the lettering in the globe or the cameo in the front and centre). If this difference is important to you, you need to spend the extra money on dedicated camera. How much better of a camera depends how much you are willing to spend and how much you are willing to lug. Generally, more money and more weight equals better image quality.

But regardless of what camera equipment you wish to use, there are always techniques you can apply to improve the image quality. Russ, I hope you don't mind my comments:

  1. Try and level the horizon. In the first photo, the camera is tilted to one side. It usually takes me two or three shots to get a level beach/ocean shot. I review and delete until I get it right. If you can superimpose a grid on the screen display, it helps a lot.

  2. Regardless of image stabilization, you can always improve the shot by learning to hold the camera super steady. That first shot may be suffering from some blur. When I shoot objects in a display case, I usually press the camera lens so that it is flush against the glass. I will slide the camera up or down, left or right and zoom until I get the best composition and then I press the shutter while the camera is braced firmly against the glass. This reduces any vibration blur. Also, if the lens is braced against the glass, you can reduce glare or reflection from the glass which improves the contrast. (PS Do not press too firmly against glass while zooming or you risk damaging the lens mechanism as it zooms in and out. Also, try not to leave finger prints on the glass!)

  3. If I want sharper detail in a still shot, I will not use the auto ISO (which will default to a higher ISO to prevent blur inside low light conditions), but will manually set it to the lowest ISO. But when you do that, the shutter speed can be long which increases the blur. See comment # 2.

It takes a little knowledge and some extra time and care when you click, but the images will be better.

Posted by
3 posts

The ZS50 is a very capable PS for a reasonable price. You might consider spending a little more for the new ZS100. It has a larger 1 inch sensor and a faster lens but with less zoom at 250mm. It's also slightly larger and heavier.