Historical challenge: Night Street Compact

Following up on the Low ISO Street by Night article (where I shot hand-held at ISO200 for the entire evening), I wanted to continue with the theme but switch things up – with a 10 year old point and shoot compact camera. In the previous article, the OM-D’s superior image stabilization was almost like cheating so let’s take that advantage away and replace it with a traditional tripod in this session. In 2008 I purchased, for RM299 (about USD70), a Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8 for use at a construction site supervision (during my years as a geotechnical engineer). It has a tiny 1/2.5″ image sensor, no ability to shoot RAW, usable ISO with no higher than 200, just 8MP and a short, obsolete spec sheet. So what can we expect to get out of the Panasonic LZ8?

I am deeply troubled when I observe many photographers or smartphone camera users being so careless during shooting and subsequently blaming the inadequacy of their cameras. The biggest challenge has always been low light shooting. In a dimly lit situation any camera will default to an auto-ISO setting of 3200 or beyond and it may also significantly compromise shutter speed. Yet you often see people operating cameras single-handed. Knowing that hand-shake is a real problem and ignoring the fact that high ISO will compromise the quality of the image, the blame rests on the photographer, not the camera. Therefore in this article I want to use an obsolete camera (any camera available today should outperform the LZ8) to shoot Kuala Lumpur night scenes. While executing my shots I made sure I did absolutely everything possible to optimize image quality.

Shooting everything in JPEG means I must ensure my exposure was spot on – any under or overexposure spells disaster. To get the best out of that tiny 1/2.5″ image sensor, I set it to ISO100 for all the shots. I also set the Noise Reduction setting to the lowest in camera and dealt with noise later in post-processing. A tripod was used at all times to mitigate any hand or camera shake. Self-timer of 2 second was activated to prevent vibration due to the press of the shutter button. I was using Aperture Priority, and the LZ8 allows the shutter to drop down to 60 seconds for long exposure shots. The camera has built in dark frame reduction to get rid of the hot pixels. I was shooting along the new face-lifted River of Life walkway in the city.

Reviewing the results from this session, I was actually pleased with the outcome. In fact the 10 year old Panasonic LZ8 may easily outperforms many flagship smartphones today if care and proper techniques are applied during the shoot. At base ISO, the LZ8 produces beautiful details with good tones, colors and even respectable dynamic range (some blown highlights cannot be avoided). The LZ8 has one very distinct advantage over a smartphone though, its ability to zoom (from 32mm wide to 160mm telephoto). Having an optical zoom allows perspective compression which generates more composition alternatives.

In fact, the 8MP images from LZ8 has enough resolution to match many higher megapixel smartphones today. No matter how many megapixels you have in a camera if you do not care enough to ensure good shooting technique, you lose the megapixel advantage. Using a tripod may not be the most convenient thing to do but as a photographer you do what you have to. Thisseparates a great photograph from a mere snapshot. Convenience is not a luxury that photographers can truly have when trying to create great images.

MT and I had a conversation earlier about how we were once happy with our compact cameras. Of course we have moved on but while we are chasing technical perfection, let’s not forget that there is a lot more to photography than just having the best equipment to do the job. I always believe that if the camera can take a good photograph yesterday, it can still take a good photograph tomorrow, even if there are better cameras out there tomorrow. We can always upgrade our camera and lenses, however nothing can replace the attention to detail, care, effort and strict discipline enforced during the shooting process.

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Comments

  1. I am impressed, what you’ve pulled out of the Pictures, Ming. The best camera, is that one, that’s with you…to quote Chase Jarvis.

    Reminds me about my Sony V1, V3…even the Olympus C-5050, C-8080, i should look for its charger & batteries, and have some fun with it. I do like these old compacts, as well as the usual CCD sensors inside it, and that goes also for these old Nikon/Pentax/Sony DSLR, CCDs have so nice true to life colors. For instance, i do prefer my old Nikon D80 at ISO 100 anytime over the D90, D7000 on ISO 100.

    Good Light!

  2. Who cares about gear?

  3. I’m still using my Canon S95 and am still pleased with it. One of the great ones of point & shoot!

  4. Well done! This is the reason a still keep my LX3, often in b/w and square mode.

  5. scott devitte says:

    If you were buying a new currently available, compact, that would give any added advantage to the above. what would it be?

  6. A different and interesting write-up, I really enjoyed it. And you’re right, it’s amazing the results you’ll get with a lot of care and attention. Maybe some photographers today are buying better and better equipment so it will help to overcome their bad habits?
    You and Ming are making me want to visit your city someday, it looks beautiful.

  7. Nicely done…I love seeing the new gen returning to old school techniques. Having learned oon film (and still shooting it periodically) a tripod was a must-have for good night photography. Once I had that it was the lowest ISO film I could find — once you have a tripod, we settle for for ISO 400 and more grain /noise)? I love breaking out a tripod and doing a slow night crawl through a part of the city. Winter is best, although fall comes in close (I don’t know if there is a big difference there for you, but the light quality challenges drastically in Quebec and New England from season to season). These are really nice images, and quite good from such a small sensor. Great job on both exposure and processing, and very nice article…!

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Christopher for the kind words. Using tripod is not my usual style, but as a photographer I also have to train myself to use whatever tools necessary to get the best out of the situation. In this case, the tripod has become a crucial part in getting clean shots for night shooting. Unlike where you come from, Kuala Lumpur is always hot and sticky and we sweat like pigs even when we crawl around the city shooting slowly! I wish we have winter here.

  8. Robin, I am really enjoying these fun and differnt topics you have been posting, please keep them going! I am breaking out my old DLux 4 and Olympus E5 to re-try cameras that have not received love in a while. Thanks for the inspiration!

    Adam

  9. I have the same camera and I got excellent results during a trip to Peru last year. I decided to take film cameras to the trip and the little digital Panasonic just in case I could need digital practical side. I left my m4/3 at home. We went to a park in Lima that at night there was an espectacle of light and dancing waters full of colour. I took the tripod and the little panasonic with me that night . I was amazed with the results I got.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Glad to know you have the LZ8 too. The main reason I got it, besides being budget-friendly, was the availability of full P,A,S and M modes. And the Manual mode allows slow shutter speed down to 60 seconds exposure, which was incredible!

  10. Your conversation with MT rings true. The Canon Powershot G10–my first real camera–blew me away in it’s day. It was party to some of my fondest memories from early travels. Daniel Kahneman said, “the confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.” Despite it’s shortcomings compared to current technology, I cannot unlike this camera. It’s satisfying to hear people share their satisfaction with “antiquated” gear. It immediately disarms one’s subconscious from thinking about the gear instead of the photo.

    • Robin Wong says:

      The Canon Powershot G10 was a powerhouse! I have not used it extensively but I remember being very impressed with what the G series can do, each and every generation. Yes, there is a lot more to making images than obsessing about gear all the time. Our cameras are more than adequate, we just have to focus on making images!

  11. An excellent illustration of the importance of paying attention to the details in image making. Thanks for this timely and useful friendly reminder.

  12. Robin, some lovely images that have your “trademark” colour palette. I doubt that few, if any, would have guessed the age of the camera you used, had you not given the game away. Did you need to do much PP on these images?

    One point that did arouse my curiosity was when you said that the camera maxes out at 200 ISO. For a camera in 2008, this would be ridiculously low and so I wondered if DPR had ever reviewed it, and they did as part of an 8 camera group test where it came out overall winner. In its day, and for this class of camera, it was well specified. And clearly, no 200 ISO limit, it goes all the way to 1600 ISO. But like other cameras of this ilk, you wouldn’t want to use this except in a dire emergency.

    • Robin Wong says:

      Terry, thanks for the kind words. I am not so sure about the color as I did no adjustment at all, it was straight out of camera. I had no option to change the white balance settings in post-processing since it was JPEG. I did minor PP, mostly adding contrast (yes, I add a lot of contrast to my shots) and balance some exposure here and there mainly for consistency.

      The maximum ISO for Panasonic LZ8 is 3200. I meant to say the “usable ISO is no more than 200”. Anything more than ISO200, the noise is quite bad and the camera engages heavy noise reduction to smear details, producing smudgy output.

  13. stephenjohndawson says:

    Excellent work, you proved your point! Think before you shoot, and don’t blame the camera 🙂

  14.  To, WordPress Best wishes of Dussehra 2018 19/10/2018

  15. What a beautiful sentiment expressed poetically .
    This is a timeless idea whose time has actually come today with the explosion of equipment coupled with a disproportionate decline in general image quality

    • Robin Wong says:

      Thanks Abhijeet. Sometimes we do need to stop and ask ourselves, are we using our gear to its fullest potential?

  16. That’s a fun thing to do. It would be interesting to bracket some shots and try some luminosity masks just to see what you could make of them. Sofie Lee shoots old compacts too. https://www.dpreview.com/interviews/5683481585/sofi-lee-on-digital-nostalgia

    • Robin Wong says:

      Hey JM, I acknowledge that bracketing and having a composite HDR output will do the highlights and shadow details good, but I was keeping things as simple and easy as possible. After all, it was a compact camera!

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