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A Hidden Gem of a Compact Travel Camera

by Globetrooper Todd | 14 Responses
Panasonic LX3 Travel Camera

My previous favourite compact travel camera was the Panasonic Lumix LX3/LX5. It has a fast (F2.0) and wide (24mm) lens, shoots HD video, is a joy to handle, all with very good image quality.

It’s still a cult classic after more than 2 years, but I have one major gripe with it: it’s simply not pocketable. Some people claim the LX5 is pocketable, but that’s just nuts. And nuts are what the LX5 looks like when it’s in your pocket. Don’t be offended when friends ask if you’re just happy to see them. But I’ve found a near-perfect compromise…

Camera Size vs Quality

First, let me backtrack a little. I previously wrote a piece giving three important tips on finding the right travel camera. I also spoke religiously about the travel experience and how there’s no point burdening your travels for the sake of a photo. In other words, I suggested sticking with compact cameras that are unobtrusive and quick to use.

I still standby that, but I also must admit I have a new-found appreciation for great travel photography, which typically requires the power of a much bigger DSLR. Some of these photos truly transcend the concept of ‘travel photography’ to be genuine art. Not the type of contemporary abstract art that makes your brain hurt, but the type you can appreciate for its form over its subject.

However, despite my new appreciation, I’m leaving the haute travel photography to the pros for now. I just wanted to mention that and give Dave some credit for showing me the light (albeit arranged in a particular way).

Samsung TL350 Travel Camera

The Samsung TL350 – Intro

Samsung just released the TL350 (aka WB2000) camera with loads of fanfare. But the fanfare was for its bigger brother, the TL500. The TL500 is a direct competitor to Panasonic’s legendary LX3/LX5.

The problem with both of these cameras (the TL500 and LX5) is that they’re not pocketable. Although Panasonic claims the LX3 is 27mm thick, it’s actually 50mm due to the articulated lens and lens cap.

The Samsung TL350 – Pros

So this is where the Samsung TL350 comes in. It’s only 22mm thick, but it also has a fast (F2.4) and wide (24mm) lens, longer zoom than the LX3 (5x optical), full HD video (1080p @ 30fps), a super-doooper AMOLED LCD screen, slow-motion (up to 1000fps), optical and digital image stabilization, full manual control, it can shoot images while taking video (okay, a novelty), and even save photos in RAW format.

The Samsung TL350 – Cons

Samsung TL350 Top View

In terms of image quality, I expect the LX5 and TL500 (with their faster lenses and larger sensors) to trump the TL350. But it’s a compromise we have to make when literally downsizing.

I would also have liked a GPS receiver and fold-away USB connector, but now we’re really talking novelties. This list would be much longer if we were talking about its big brother, the TL500, which doesn’t even shoot HD video (???).

The Samsung TL350 – Competition

The only other rival out there is a Panasonic camera that hasn’t been released yet: the FX700. It has a slightly faster lens (F2.2) and is mostly operated via a touchscreen (both a positive and negative). So why didn’t I wait? Well, it’s a few mm thicker, more expensive, and misses out on some interesting features (the high-res LCD, dual capture and slow-mo).

Samsung TL350 Back View

The Samsung TL350 – Price & Conclusion

What about price? The Samsung TL350 is only $299 on Amazon. The problem I had with buying this camera was convincing myself it could be the best compact travel camera for half the price of its competitors. Nonetheless, it’s now on its way and I’m really looking forward to capturing more great moments due to its pocketable size.

I’ll come back for a hands-on review and give you accurate measurements. Fingers-crossed it’s really only 22mm thick.

Posted in Gear & Gadgets | August 20th, 2010

14 Responses to A Hidden Gem of a Compact Travel Camera

  1. I currently use a panasonic lumix compact and a Canon 400D SLR, I find having both a compact and an SLR allows me more flexibility when travelling. Sometimes you want the advantages that the SLR offers (lens flexibility, generally higher quality of shot), and sometimes you just need the pocketable unobtrusive option of the compact.

    • Hi Laurence, thanks for dropping by. I’m coming around to your way of thinking. The problem is I travel with a single ~30L bag. So to fit even a small DSLR with a small lens would mean relinquishing something fairly major. We are heading to India soon, so maybe the jacket can go (but we have chilly Mongolia after that) :)

      • Wow, I’d certainly struggle to travel that light, it’s an ideal for me but i’m not sure I can compress down to that size! I couldn’t give up on taking my SLR with me, I find the results are just worth the extra weight…

  2. I carry a Canon 40D with 3 lenses while traveling (yes I know excessive) but as my drinking camera or this-area-is-sketchy camera I use a Sony Cybershot which is between 200-300 and I’ve been really impressed with it, particularly it’s food setting.

  3. I’ve been looking at the Lumix because it seems to be a good compromise between a point and shoot and a DSLR. I’m planning on using a small pack as well and having a DSLR would cost some valuable real-estate.

    I’ll be interested in what you think of the TL350 when you get your hands on it.

    • Hi Nick. I have it in my hands now, but will use it a little more before I put up a hands-on review. First impressions, it doesn’t handle as well or feel as solid as the LX3, but then that’s expected. The menu system is really good, the AMOLED screen is nice, takes great pictures so far, etc. But the zoom is noisy (can be heard loudly in video), and even the auto focus or image stabilisation makes a lot of noise. More to come in a proper review :)

  4. There is something about that Panasonic Lumix LX3/LX5 that looks kind of old-school, I like it! I’ve got my eyes on the Canon EOS 550D (seems awesome!), but I’m not quite sure yet since I like cameras that are pocketable too.
    I look forward for the review about the Samsung camera!

    • Hey Sofia, yeah the LX3 is very cool. But that old-school look is only good until you keep forgetting to take the lens cap off :) It’s a great camera though, but just not pocket-sized. The Samsung has been going great. Pics are amazing and we take it even to the laundromat because it’s so small. I’ll put up a hands-on review very soon.

  5. TL350 is the MC Hammer of point and shoot digital cameras ….. ” You Can’t touch this ” I have fallen in love ….

    10mp resolution and SHARP images with less in camera processing than a Canon S95 ….. When I downloaded the first images it reminded me of the Nikon D200 images, The LCD Screen “oh my god ” almost 700,000 dots …. Panasonic should have this on the LX5 …

    Shoot 10mp images while recording 1080P video, shoots amazing images @ 10fps, 24mm with very little distortion, Body and Lens Image stabilizer, Cmos sensor, HDR images, Shoots RAW and Raw+Jpeg, full metal body with Canon style finish, I could go on forever with this cam, and finally it fits nice in the shirt pocket and tight jeans !

    I’m in love with my new companion and really tired of carrying all the crap around in the camera bag when all I needed was a small compact camera . I have shot with Canon 1Ds, 1D MkIII, Canon 5D, and my first Canon a D1, I have owned several Nikon cameras too, the Canon color made me change brand. All i’m trying to say is that ” I know a quality image and have been around for a while “.

    The images out of this $269.00 camera that I bought on ebay leave you speechless.

    Highly recommended.

    Dr. MD

    • I totally agree MD. Now that I’ve used it even more, it really is a great camera for its size. Especially in developing countries where it can be a little dubious to take pictures of people in public, this little camera is small enough to take pictures unnoticed, but the results are still great.

  6. I just got mine in the mail today. I haven’t shot any real photos or video with it yet, so I can’t attest to it’s IQ, but here are a few things I noticed out of the box:

    Delights:
    - The build quality is really good (aluminium)
    - The OLED display is bright and beautiful
    - Manual on CD (saves trees! but also an annoyance)

    Annoyances/concerns:
    - No auto EB (ahh… missed that in the specs.)
    - No separate battery charger (battery charges in camera)
    - Proprietary data/power cable (USB to something…)
    - Proprietary RAW format
    - I don’t trust the wrist strap
    - Flash awfully close to the lens (shadows at full zoom?)
    - “F” memory means the card is empty; “E” means it’s full
    - Now way that I’ve seen to completely disable digital zoom (although, zooming stops at optical/digital boundary)
    - Thumb wheel works a bit funny
    - Manual on CD

    • Hey P,

      Thanks for your thoughts; all helps others decide.

      Of your annoyances, the ones that matter most to me are 1) the crappy thumbwheel, 2) no separate battery charger. The other thing that has annoyed me over time is that the video record button is a little temperamental. It doesn’t always engage first time, so it’s easy to miss one-off events. For the record though, we’ve had no problems with the wrist strap and I believe most cameras have proprietary RAW format. Also, despite the fast lens, the flash really is needed in low light unless using a tripod, and the results with the flash are rarely stellar.

      Still love the camera and think it’s the best for its size, but always want a little more. Unfortunately, upgrading would mean a much bigger camera (say the new Lumix GF2 coupled with the F1.7 20mm lens), which I don’t think would justify it in the end.

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