Post by By Andy Ihnatko’

In a fairly loose definition of the term, the block of Vermont Sharp Cheddar in my fridge is a pocket camera. I’ve just given it a test and sure enough…it fits in my pocket.

(Actually, now that I’ve broken off a hunk to nibble on, it’s become even more compact and convenient.)

I have my reasons for inserting the cheese into this narrative. I was a bit peckish and the cheese was just sitting there. But primarily I want to make the point that the term “pocket camera” isn’t a reflection of a camer’a size. It reflects the camera’s design philosophy.

What do you expect from an SLR? Well, you want to be able to take the best photos possible. An SLR is big and clumsy and you can’t use it without attracting a lot of attention. Changing lenses is a pain, and puts the camera’s innards at risk. Sure, go ahead and take a walk through its menu structure if you must…but pack a couple of days’ worth of provisions and a space blanket in case you get hopelessly lost.

(“Six different color profiles,” was all the 34-year-old systems administrator could say after he was finally found and rescued by National Guard helicopters. “The thing kept asking me about my ‘perceptual intent’ over and over again, no matter how pitifully I begged it to just let me take another picture.”)

All true. And who cares? Convenience and ease-of-use are always desirable features but that’s not why you buy an SLR. You buy an SLR to have a fighting chance at walking away from that place and those circumstances with the best photo that could possibly have been taken.

The Panasonic LX3 carries that philosophy into a pocketable size. Bravo! But as I say…it isn’t a pocket camera.

The philosophy behind a pocket camera is a bit different. Its goal is to place as few barriers as possible between your desire to take a picture and actually taking it. Each of its design decisions is meant to keep you from thinking “I’d like to take a picture. But honestly, I just can’t be bothered.”

And that’s why I own a Nikon P6000 instead of the LX3.

  • The Nikon has a smooth shape that easily slips in and out of any pants or jacket pocket. The LX3’s lens makes it a tight fit for smaller pockets. It kept getting caught, even on the seams of the ample, shoplifter-friendly pockets on my 511 Tactical Pants. I also worried about the cap popping off in my pocket and scratching that fantastic lens. I often felt that I couldn’t be bothered to either wear the LX3 around my neck or to put on a belt pouch.

It’s a fundamental maxim of photography: the $120 shirt-pocket camera that you actually have with you takes way, way better photos than the $2700 SLR that you decided to leave back at the house or the hotel. This stuff really matters.

  • The Nikon has none of the LX3’s silly retro-style mechanical slider switches. Often, I’d often spot a opportunity for a silly, casual snapshot and the LX3 was there on my belt but I’d it holstered. Unless you’re wearing it around your neck, the first step with the LX3 is to examine all of the mode switches to make sure that every setting is where you left it. I couldn’t be bothered for something so silly.
  • The Nikon’s body is far less cluttered and its UI is far easier to navigate. I was absolutely comfortable with the P6000’s features in fewer than fifty frames. Whereas with the LX3, I was still forced to employ the Random Walk algorithm to find certain needed functions after a month.

Most of my complaints about the LX3 run along those lines. It’s not a heroically comfortable and practical camera design. It’s not as though Panasonic dips every LX3 in glue and then rolls it around in a bucket of tacks and glass shards before boxing and shipping it. It’s just not a terrific camera for those shots in which you’re not motivated to work very hard, or where circumstances prevent you from staying put until you get it right.

That backstage photo at the Colonial is a perfect example. I had the LX3 in my hand already. I stopped, composed a shot, and clicked the shutter. If the camera had messed up the shot for any reason…well, I’d have lost the shot. This guy was being very nice to show me around and I didn’t want to waste his time by stopping and futzing with the LX3’s settings.

I took the P6000 on another cool tour while I was in San Francisco. But it was a whole different story. When I reviewed the shot I had just taken and didn’t like it, I had no qualms about calling an audible thanks to the camera’s friendly design. “Increase the ISO to 400; decrease exposure one stop; flash on slow-synchro, minus 1.3 compensation. Engage!” And about two seconds later, I had the photo I wanted.

The difference between these two cameras is pretty simple. Folks who wish that their SLR were as compact as a pocket camera will love the Panasonic. Folks who wish their pocket camera had some of the power and flexibility of an SLR will love the Nikon.

Onward. The P6000 has two characteristics which made it the presumptive nominee from very first day I had it:

Ergonomics. This is one damned comfortable camera to hold. The grip is thick and coated with diamond-textured rubber; the grip rolls around the right side of the camera and ends in a severe edge that your fingertips will naturally lock into. Your right thumb settles into a rubber saddle in the back.

The P6000 comes with a neck strap but I’ve never bothered to attach it. I feel as though I can walk thirty blocks with it in my hand without the slightest worry of dropping it. (All the same, yes, I’ve attached a wrist strap as a begrudging nod to Murphy’s Law.)

And that makes it a better camera. The P6000 never leaves my hand and in the second or so it takes to raise the camera, I’ve thumbed the power switch and it’s ready to shoot. No need to grasp it with two hands, no need to take it out of a pouch. Result: I take more photos.

The physical layout of buttons is tops, too. When navigating though its menus, you can hold the camera in both hands like a game controller. The buttons under your left thumb select features and modes while your right thumb chooses options for those modes. The buttons themselves are big and well-spaced, and can be easily pushed by thick, beefy workman’s fingers like mine. They’re labeled in no-nonsense white letters and can easily be read in low light. A scrollwheel rounds out the UI nicely.

Customization. The LX3, the Canon G10, and the P6000 each have two custom user settings on its mode wheel. Click from “P” through “A” and “S” all the way to “U1″ and presto: your camera has recalled all of the settings you used the last time you were in a diner and found yourself sitting behind a majestic stack of pancakes that demanded to be documented.

(Yes, I have a “Diner” setting on my camera. What of it, tough guy?)

But the P6000 really runs with this idea. It has two buttons on the back of the camera just for your custom settings. I use flash exposure compensation so frequently that I wish I could get to that option in just one keypress. No sweat: I’ve assigned it to the “Fn” button. A “MyMenu” button brings up a custom menu with six slots that you can fill with any functions you desire.

Between these two buttons, even the most sophisticated features of the P6000 will never be so tricky to engage that you “can’t be bothered” to get the shot right.

Other features that I love:

  • Wireless remote receiver. $17 bucks on Amazon buys you Nikon’s tiny ML-L3 wireless remote. It’s an automatic buy. The sugar-frosted tourist side of you will enjoy being able to get your picture taken with your family standing next to the World’s Largest Drywall Screw in Ox Stocking, Montana. The crunchy-wheat Artiste side will bring the remote into play when shooting long, tripod exposures.
  • Fixed-range Auto ISO. On top of the usual full-auto and “high ISO” auto modes, you can tell the P6000 not to set the ISO any higher than 400, 200, or 100…your choice. So when you’re in a shooting situation where high-ISO noise is absolutely unacceptable, you have the option of ensuring that the P6000 never chooses a setting where that’ll become an issue.
  • Interval shooting. It’ll shoot a sequence of photos at a frequency ranging from every thirty seconds to every hour. There’s even a special time-lapse movie mode where every shot will be a new frame in an movie file. You sure wouldn’t pay extra for this feature but when it happens to be there in the camera, it inevitably triggers your “Sure, why the hell not?” impulse. Check out video I shot on a train ride to New York City followed by a walk to a lunch meeting in the Village. It shot a frame every thirty seconds throughout the journey.
  • Optical viewfinder. Which is a useless feature as far as I’m concerned but hey, there are people out there who apparently enjoy getting nose grease on their LCD screen. I ask you: did Ansel Adams insist on looking through a teeny little glass peephole? No, he did not. He composed his Yosemite landscapes by looking at the big, luxurious live preview image on the huge LCD on the back of his bellows camera. No, I’m certain you’re right: you’re so much smarter than Ansel Adams.

But there’s one standout new feature that’s won the P6000 a lot of attention: it has a built-in GPS receiver. With the GPS feature turned on, each of your shots is tagged with the precise coordinates of its location.

The damned thing works. I often forget that it’s tagging photos until I’ve uploaded them to Flickr and the service pops it onto a map. I don’t have my copy of iLife ’09 yet but I predict that I’m going to waste many hours generating moving-map globe animations of my Tuesday journey from the post office to the comic book shop to the pizza place next to the comic book shop to the movie theater the next town over.

The P6000’s GPS feature is by no means foolproof, nor does it come without a price. When you first turn the GPS on, it can take several minutes for the camera to get its initial location fix. And like most GPS receivers, it needs a clear shot of the sky…it’s probably even more persnickety than most. So don’t count on it working indoors, or in a cluttered downtown, or off-planet.

And the GPS knocks the hell out of the battery. For that reason, I tend to keep the GPS switched off unless I know I’m going to find the location info interesting later on. It’s still a killer feature, made all the more so because its presence didn’t drive the cost of the P6000 above its competition.

My nominee for biggest tease among the P6000’s feature set: the Ethernet port. An ability to automatically slurp the contents of your memory card up to Flickr or Facebook or the destination of your choice is enticing. But in reality, you can only transmit pictures to Nikon’s “My Picturetown” service.

And it’s just a 100Mbit port. Uploading a day’s worth of vacation pix will take about ten minutes short of forever. Nice try, Nikon. Please call me back if you ever do a firmware update that makes this feature more flexible and practical.

Let’s break up this little love affair with some complaints:

  • The battery kind of sucks. Even with the GPS turned off, I mean. The P6000’s shots-per-charge is in the mid-200’s (according to published benchmarks) while the LX3 and the Canon G10 are up closer to 400. It’s not a dealbreaker (it only gets in my way when I’m traveling, and it’s easily solved with the purchase of a spare battery) but it’s a notable problem.
  • Shot-to-shot speed also kind of sucks. A JPEG takes about a second to write; a RAW will cost you about three, and when the shot buffer is full, you’ll be cooling your heels for five or six seconds. This is DEF-in-ite-ly not a sports camera. The Panasonic and the Canon are no champs either, particularly in RAW mode. But if you have only six seconds to get a good picture of the President as he makes his way past you on the ropeline, would you rather be able to take six photos, or eight?
  • Can’t auto-bracket in RAW mode. Which seems like a really smart decision. The folks who care enough about image quality to shoot RAW aren’t the same people who like to bracket exposure for safety, after all. (Attention, Nikon: this is sarcasm. As a guy who shoots a lot of HDR sets, I hope there’s a damned good reason why this limitation exists.)
  • No live histogram. I’m not as dependent on this feature as some people are. It’s very handy to be able to preview the data you’re about to capture before you press the shutter. I rarely use it (I tend to look at the histogram when I review the shot I’ve just taken), so I don’t really miss it. But this seems like a weird omission on a $500 camera.
  • Occasional blowouts. I do indeed read other people’s reviews to compare their experiences with my own. And apparently, some folks can create a situation in which the P6000 will blow out certain highlights. We’re not talking “in general,” here; we’re talking about situations like shooting at the sky through the canopy of a tree and then magnifying the results to see where it might have screwed things up. In the P6000’s defense, I haven’t noticed a problem with blown highlights in my own shots, and it appears to be a case of the P6000 choosing a sub-optimal combination of shutter, aperture, and ISO (as opposed the P6000 being organically unable to shoot that scene without blowouts). But facts is facts, and the G10 appears to handle that specific situation better.
  • Movie mode isn’t HD. Another odd choice for a $500 camera. The Panasonic does 720p; the Nikon (and the Canon) are stuck in 2005, with 640×480 resolution.

Room for improvement, clearly. But for my pocket camera needs, it was really no contest. The Nikon’s image quality lags behind the LX3’s. Yes, and so do all others within the Panasonic’s price range. I haven’t a single complaint about the P6000’s image quality, and its overall usability makes it the champ in my book.

I’ve had my P6000 for almost three months now. I’ve used it at parties, at family gatherings, at news events, for once-in-a-lifetime events, as a generalized capture device. I’ve even used it for those times when I don’t have my SLR and yet I deign to don the Beret of Artistic Arrogance and Coalesce A Moment Into An Immortal Photograph That Has The Power To Heal The World.

And the P6000 has never let me down. After three months, I’m still certain that it’s the perfect choice for me.

Tomorrow: I wind all of this up by finally talking about the Canon G10. It seems I have more than a few sentences to say about it. Hunh.

Join the conversation! 22 Comments

  1. More great info about these cameras Andy. Im glad that the P6000 is working out for you! The G9 will shoot a frame every 1 or 2 seconds and make it into a movie… a feature that I love! For some reason this isn’t present in the G10? I would hold into that feature and give users the ability to choose from more options like 1,2,5,10,20 and 30 seconds.

    There are some really cool features on the Nikon that I wish my G9 had… GPS, wireless remote receiver, etc. but also some feature (that you mentioned) that I wouldn’t want to give up… Live histogram, auto bracketing in RAW and the higher quality video mode.

    When the G9 released, I was ready for a P&S so when this newer round of high quality P&S came out I wasn’t looking to drop more money on another. Hopefully Canon will get things together with the G11 (or whatever its called) or Nikon will add some of the G9 features that I love to the processor of the P6000. And could it possibly be just a little smaller?

    Im looking forward to hearing what you have to say about the G10 tomorrow. Although I doubt that its going to be very nice lol.

  2. Thanks for the review and comparison. I think. ;-) Now there’s a decision where I thought there was none. Hmm.

    You’re a no-flash kind of guy – so the P6000 does fine compared to the LX3 in low light situations? Hmmm.

  3. I use Lumix exclusively.. why I don’t know, like the glass… but now I figure I need a PS for better low light shooting
    Man, Nikon needs to do something with that chip sensor and say get to 6-9 MP with 16400 ISO

  4. I haven’t used the P6000, Andy, but I think your review of the LX3 is very fair. I got mine about a week ago and put it through its first field tests this week. Wow! Amazing image quality for such a small camera, but it offers as many soft and hard switches to throw as the cab on a steam locomotive.

    I am already swearing mightily at the dual function “take a photo/view a preview” switch. Why in the world couldn’t Panasonic have anticipated that when I:

    (a) remove the camera from my pocket,
    (b) take off the manual lens cap,
    (c) turn on the power,
    (d) bring the camera to my eye and
    (e) press the shutter button half way to focus

    I really want to take a photograph, not flip that little switch back to “take a photo” mode just because I forgot to do it earlier or it toggled in my pocket?

    BTW, the LX3 does offer a way to cap the maximum ISO in auto ISO mode, which you noted as one strength of the P6000.

  5. Interesting article and point of view. Fully respect it. I just think some people (like me for instance) would never drop $150+ for a decent true “pocket camera” and carry it in my pockets where I have change, keys, or worst yet my back pocket where it can be bent and cracked. If I want a truly ubiquitous camera, it’s my cellphone’s. That thing is guaranteed to be with me all the time (unlike the $150 pocket camera) and although it’s not an amazing camera it covers 90% of the casual situations where I had no camera but only my cell phone. Then, for all those other “predictable” casual situations I’ll chose a good quality compact camera (G10 in my case) and take care of it by carrying it in a small unintrusive soft-case. Even if the G10 were smaller and simpler I’d never drop it in my pocket with keys or change. I’ll also add that the G10 is probably just as quick to “set up” for a quick casual shoot than any smaller/simpler camera, just turn the dial to “Auto” if not already on it and press the shutter, it might even be quicker with the G10 given the zero wait time after turning it on, and comparatively much faster focusing.
    Again, it’s all about trade-offs and what’s important for you. To me, I want my point and shoot pictures to be of top quality, and have good camera response time. Plus no matter how small the G series gets, I will not treat it like change in my pockets and therefore won’t mind having to take a few rare shots with my sub-standard camera phone to benefit from all the advantages the G10 has to offer for 90% of my other point-and-shoot pictures.

  6. Great video, and relly thinking in getting P6000 to take it where my dSlr won’t go. One quick question Andy, The suction cup for the camara, where did you get it?

    Thanks

    GB

  7. Thank you for your review and I appreciate your style of writing and your sense of humor. Love your work on MBW also. I agree with most of your review as alot of it is a subjective thing based on your preferences. Just a couple things I would like to point out from my point of view.

    The Nikon’s inclusion of an optical viewfinder has 2 benefits. 1 being that it is a familiar way for people to use a camera and second, and I believe to be more helpful, it always you to brace the camera for steadier shots in low light. Granted you *should* have a tripod or at least a mini-pod like oh… the Gorillapod ;-) but they are not always present.

    I should also state that I am a Nikon dSLR and SLR user of many years and have purchased a Nikon compact for my mother but I use the LX3 as my everyday carry around camera. For me no camera larger than an iphone is a pocket camera as I wear jeans and hate wearing jackets so the lens protrusion was never a factor. I admit I would prefer to not have a lens cap. The styling in my opinion is perfect for what I would like. It has the retro feel of classic cameras and just feels right in my hands. The metal body feels very stable compared to the mostly plastic bodies of most camera and that includes many dSlrs. The mechanic switches have never been a problem for me and in fact I enjoy them since I can have it off or in sleep mode and make most of the adjustments i need before i even turn on the camera. The record/play button has never been an issue as i find it natural that i push up slightly on that button as i pull it up for a shot. The mechanical switch of the flash is something which I adore. Flashes going off automatically have been the bane of my existence with point and shoot cameras.

    I tested the Canon G10, Nikon P6000 and the Lumix LX3 before deciding to spend my money on the LX3. For me, it is almost perfect as an everyday always on me camera. My dSlrs and their heavy 2.8 zooms have now been relegated only for work and “serious” photo walks while I can get great shots of the best bowls of ramen and interesting structures.

    Once again, great write up and I look forward to reading what you have to say about the Canon.

    Your fellow photographer in the diner snapping away for a full minute before eating.

  8. Interesting (and humorous article). All I can say is that I bought my son (a photography student) the P6000 for Christmas and he loves it. I have the G9 and am jealous of the GPS feature…

  9. So did Nikon actually fix RAW for the Mac then? Last I checked the P6000 had a custom RAW format that was for Windows only, and being a Mac guy that likes to shoot RAW, this was a deal breaker for me. I’m surprised there was no mention of this limitation in the article.

  10. What I know about cameras, especially the technical terms, would fit on my little finger, but I am slowly learning!

    What had me laughing out loud was this paragraph:
    (”Six different color profiles,” was all the 34-year-old systems administrator could say after he was finally found and rescued by National Guard helicopters. “The thing kept asking me about my ‘perceptual intent’ over and over again, no matter how pitifully I begged it to just let me take another picture.”)

    I’m an Incident Commander for Search and Rescue and while I’ve not yet heard that particular
    reason for getting lost it’s not out of the realm of possibility. As long as I don’t get lost in the middle of nowhere enjoying my new photography hobby I’ll be okay. I would be very embarrassed if the teams I work with had to rescue me!

    I learn something new everyday on TWIPPHOTO. I love the camera critique and hope you’ll do another series soon. Like what P&S to carry when climbing waterfalls?

  11. Maybe I’m missing some subtle sarcasm here, but I don’t understand what you’re saying about the ethernet connection. First, I can’t imagine why you’d want one. Second, I can’t understand why/how they’d limit it to connecting to a specific site. Third, I really can’t see how 100mb/s is too slow for file transfer…

    Your reviews are entertaining so far, but I’d like to see some more talk about the technical capabilities of the Nikon. I mean, there’s a million P&S cameras that have good ergonomics – what sets the LX3 and G9/10 apart is image quality and low light performance. How does the Nikon stack up?

    Ben

  12. Andy, you always crack me up. Great review! There are tradeoffs in every decision, but the show-stopper for me regarding the the P6000 was the 640 x 480 video resolution. I don’t expect 1080i/24p in my pocket, but a 13.5 megapixel camera should be able to support higher resolution videos. I think I’ll wait for the next generation of these little cameras.

  13. Thanks for the review. I started listening to TWIP and surprisingly like it as much as TWIT and MacBreak Weekly. On your recommendation bought the Nikon P6000. I have the Nikon D300 which I love, but it’s bulky and my wife swipes it from me. This is just what I need. I’m looking forward to getting it in the mail (via Butterflyphoto.com). The fact that Apple came out with GeoTagging of photos and the gps enable features of this camera pushed me to get it.

  14. I agree with Craig. I think I need to devise a longer commute so I have time to listen to TWIP and TWIT.
    I’m a Canon guy, myself, not because I love Canon so much but because I have so much invested in L glass and I know the controls. For P&S I was a Nikon fan (CoolPix 4500) but have favored the oddball Sony DSC-M1 in recent years. Well, it may be time to upgrade my P&S (the Sony is now four years old). I’ve heard everyone rave about the G9. If I really want a Canon P&S would I be better off with a used G9 or a new G10?

    PS. I love the bird sounds in your Mom’s back yard.

  15. I go along with much of what you say here about the Nikon P6000, but I’ve tried uploading the RAW (NRW) files from a Nikon P6000 to my Apple PowerBook 12″ G4 running OS 10.4.11 and neither iPhoto or Image Capture recognise the files. I’ve installed Digital Camera Raw Compatibility Update 2.4 – http://bit.ly/2V8xbu -. and this still doesn’t work. Also the files sizes are huge – 20 MB each and the dimensions are fixed at 4224×3158. I think this RAW/NRW format is still an issue, especially for Apple Mac users, and I think this should be taken into account when deciding to purchase the Nikon P6000.
    I notice Nikon still have a problem themselves with the NWR codec; general info here – http://bit.ly/139K3s – and specifically – http://nikonimglib.com/info/nrwcodec/ .

  16. I’ll save my G10 comments for the proper place. But I sure don’t put the P6000 in a pocket with my keys and change! It sits alone in a pants or jacket pocket.

    But you see what I’m talking about; it’s an easy thing to slip a camera pouch onto my belt, but I’m not going to do that when I’m out running errands, or just headed downtown for a meeting. If I feel that a camera needs a belt pouch (or a neck strap) then that camera is going to get left at home a lot, where it can’t do me any good as a camera.

  17. The window mount is homemade, using a GPS window mount I bought at a flea market for five bucks. I’ll do a post sometime about how to turn anything into a camera mount.

  18. It was a problem for about three weeks. Then both Apple and Adobe updated their RAW drivers to support it. It’s a non-issue.

  19. I obviously missed that in the last RAW update, but sure enough, there it is on Apple’s list of supported cameras. Thanks for pointing it out.

  20. Since I always carry a purse (and the camera is usually in the purse unless I forget and leave it next to the computer), I always have my LX3 (and even my FlipMino). It’s not even a really big purse. The 2 MP camera on my iPhone is just not acceptable for even an outdoors shot.

  21. It’s exactly as I stated. The P6000 has an Ethernet port. It can only be used to upload pictures to Nikon’s photo service, and it does so pretty slowly. So it really isn’t useful and that’s a shame because I could see an Ethernet port as a great little feature.

    re: picture quality — I think the only significant things that can be said in any piece like this would be “The Panasonic takes better pictures than the Nikon” and “The quality of the P6000’s pics haven’t let me down in close to three months of shooting.”

    I could do bench tests and analyze the components of the camera and cover the earth in side-by-side photos, but (a) other sites have already done a fine job of that (I love DPresource.com) and more importantly (b) it really wouldn’t offer any significant new data.

    And dear Lord, I WISH there were a million P&S cameras with good ergonomics. As a shooter and as a reviewer, the greatest annoyance of a camera is never “images are oversharpened at 64 ISO; noticeable fringing shooting at 400 ISO with wide apertures.” It’s always “I turn the camera on and click the shutter and nothing happens…because there’s this stupid mechanical ‘Playback/Shoot’ switch that always gets bumped into the ‘Playback’ position.”

    The P6000 is by no means a mediocre camera. But I’d rather have a mediocre camera that behaves exactly the way I expect it to every single time than a $2000 Leica that requires a full-body check of all of its switches and settings before I can shoot.

  22. Please do. I love home made kit. (a-la-lifehacker) pardon my french.

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