best ultracompact camera under 1″ thick

Which pocket camera to buy? The past month or so I’ve been doing extensive research into the best ultra-compact camera. Ultra-compact cameras are generally considered to be 1″ thick or less. This camera will be carried in my pants pocket at all times. So for me, the thickness can not be more than 0.8″. I had a couple 1″ thick cameras many years ago and they are simply too thick to be everyday pocket cameras.

Here’s my complete list of the 20+ cameras I looked at that are under 0.8″ thick. They are in order of thickness (some of the specs came directly from other camera review sites, some involved me converting the manufacturer’s mm measurements):

0.58″ Casio Exilim EX-S12
0.5975″ Sony Cyber-shot DSC-T90
0.63″ Samsung TL100
0.656″ Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX1
0.689″ Sony DSC-TX7
0.697″ Sony Cyber-shot DSC-TX5
0.709″ Olympus FE-3010
0.72″ Canon PowerShot SD780IS
0.72″ Casio EX-Z33 (only $75 as of this publication of this blog post)
0.73″ Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP1
0.73″ Panasonic DMC-FP2
0.73″ Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP3
0.73″ Samsung Tl225
0.73″ Samsung TL220e
0.744″ Samsung CL65
0.744″ Samsung ST1000
0.75″Sony Cybershot DSC-G3
0.76″Samsung SL-201
0.78″ Casio EX-G1 (rugged, all-weather camera with a design to match)
0.787″ Olympus FE360
0.79″ Canon PowerShot SD940IS
(note the lack of a Nikon in this list. This saddens me. I grew up in a NIkon family. However, there’s simply no Nikon cameras under 0.8″ thick)

This camera will be used mostly to capture spur-of-the-moment candid shots of my daughter and soon-to-be-arriving baby. I’m getting real tired of the low quality of my cellphone camera. My SLR is ALWAYS preferred, but it’s not always in the same room. I also want to be able to use the camera for my on-location art/design work.

It’s amazing the amount of bells and whistles that are available in ultracompacts nowadays. Some of these features are silly and misleading and some are truly great. So, I decided it was worth the extra bucks to pay for the truly great features. That led me to three cameras that stood head and shoulders above the rest. And I can’t decided which of the three to get.


Samsung’s official page for the TL220 and the TL225, arguably the best ultracompact camera currently on the market

The only difference between the TL220 and TL225 compact cameras is that the TL225 has a larger LCD screen and it has tilt and vibration options meaning you can tilt the camera to flip through photos and it vibrates when the camera is turned on and after it takes a photo. Those features just consume extra battery power. What good is a camera is the battery is always dead or almost dead?

Here’s what stood out:

27-124.2 (35mm equivalent) LENS
More and more ultracompacts are getting 27 and even 24mm lenses instead of the standard 35mm. What does that mean? The smaller the number the easier it is to be sitting on the couch and get my daughter to fill the fill the frame while she’s standing on the rug. Wider lenses are generally good for indoor shots.

You read that correctly. I LOVE THIS. There’s an LCD screen on the back and the front of the camera. Unfortunately, Samsung is marketing this function as a way to take self-portraits. Ugh. That’s cute and all, but they’re missing the real value of having an LCD screen on the front of the camera. It allows for alternate compositions and different angle options. I can hold the camera at arm’s length sideways, compose the shot and take a photo of something/someone standing in front of me. NICE. REALLY NICE. It also allows for angle shots from the ground for more dramatic compositions. This is especially fun for baby photos. The front-side LCD mimics some of the benefits of an articulating LCD and anyone who reads this blog knows I love articulating LCDs. (links to past posts about articulating LCD screens here, here, here, and here.

One more thing that Samsung added to the front-side LCD is a visual numeric countdown for timers (silly, but kinda fun for family shots) and a range of animated cartoons to get the attention of babies, kids, and even some adults. This animation thing is a fun little feature to show off to the family, but I doubt its true value. In my family, my daughter would just want to walk over to the camera, hold the camera and watch the animation rather than just stand where I wanted her and take her picture. So I see the animation having counterproductive results realistically, but it’s still something a little fun to surprise people with.

You can also download 20 different animations specifically for the front LCD on Samsung’s website. Currently there’s no way to upload your own custom animation.

There’s only three buttons on this camera: the shutter, zoom and playback buttons. Everything else is controlled through the touchscreen LCD. Now, I actually prefer to have the tactile buttons. It makes for using the camera’s functions much faster and more intuitive. So the reason why I’m deciding to go touchscreen is because of one really incredible feature: focusing.

The touchscreen LCD allows you to tap on the screen to focus anywhere in the composition. It can be a nightmare getting a non-SLR camera to focus on the area that I want in focus. Too often I end up comprising the composition I want because the camera won’t focus on what I want. With touchscreen focusing I can now focus on whatever I want and I love it.

This camera will also continuously take photos once every 0.9 seconds as long as you want until the memory card gets full. That’s nice. There’s a feature called Motion Capture which takes 6 frames per second. However, the quality is terrible at 640×480.

The TL220/225 can prevent camera shake at the point of the lens (optical stabilization) and at the point of the imaging sensor (digital stabilization) at the same time. This results in minimizing camera blur in low-light conditions. However with DIS active, there is no control over the ISO setting. Apparently DIS will decide what ISO is best.

The camera will take three successive photos in less than a second at different exposures. This sort of at thing could ALWAYS be done manually through the EV settings, but this AEB option does it under a second and makes the bracketing process so simple and easy.

IMAGE QUALITY has the best sample photo archive on the internet for digital cameras. High ISO is a serious consideration for anyone taking photos indoors. I really hate the flash on any point-and-shoot camera and I avoid it all costs which results in taking photos at higher ISOs. Which of the three ultra-compacts has the best high ISO performance can be debated. It comes down to personal preference. The TL220 and TL225 has a very consistent appearance of noise throughout the photos in high ISO modes. Meanwhile the Sony DSC-TX1 and TX5 has areas that have less noise applied and areas with more noise applied.

This a timer that takes the photo when it detects that there’s no motion. It is intended for tripod shots of a group where the people are moving around and the photographer moves from hitting the shutter to jumping into the shot. It takes the shot when everyone stops moving. Pretty cool. It could make for an interesting art series. Though it’d be more interesting if it took the photo when it sensed motion in the frame rather than the opposite.

battery life: Having the extra LCD on the front probably will consume more battery life than other digital cameras with just one LCD. Though it’s super easy to turn the front LCD on and off. You just tap on it!

battery recharge: The battery can only be recharged while in the camera. So it makes for having a backup, charged battery a difficult challenge.

burst mode: 0.9 frames per second isn’t that great, especially when compared to the TX1 below.

no focus during movies: This is really unfortunate. The camera can not change its autofocus while filming in movie mode. The focus range used at the start of the movie is what is maintained until the end of the movie. So if you focus on something close-up when you start filming and pan out to show something/someone at a distance, that something/someone will be blurred. The TL220 was the front-runner until I tested this feature in Best Buy during my fourth trip comparing the TL220 and TX1.


official page for the Sony DSC-TX1, quite possibly the world’s best ultra-compact camera right now

Here’s what stood out:

It’s the thinnest of the three cameras I’m considering. It is 0.656″ (almost 5/8″), while the TX5 is 0.697″ and the TL220 is 0.73″. That’s huge considering that whatever ultracompact I buy will be carried around all the time in my pants pocket.

Ten photos in one second at highest quality level. Many SLR cameras can’t do that. Pure awesomeness!! Babies and children’s expressions change in an instant and now I have a better chance of capturing those moments. There’s also two slower burst modes. The slowest takes two photos per second until it gets to ten total photos, which is basically a 5 second timeframe, then it stops to process the ten photos. I can not find stats on the middle range burst mode. There is no continuous shooting mode like the TL220.

I was freaking out in Best Buy when I first used this feature. Hold down the shutter, then pan the camera horizontally or vertically and that entire pan is captured in one photo. It’s wild. Though the image size is only 4″ by about 20″ wide at 300 dpi. So there’s serious down-rezzing going on. But it’s still a really incredible feature.

For a long time I was trying to figure out if this is a gimmick or not. And after some review, I’m sold. It looks to be a pretty solid tool. Hand-held twilight reduces noise levels in low-light photography through its process of taking three consecutive shots and merging the data together.
samples of Sony’s Hand-Held Twilight:
JohnL3’s TX7 at 160 ISO
JohnL3’s TX7 at 320 ISO
JohnL3’s TX7 at 400 ISO
nanchang_express’s WX1
nanchung_express’s WX1 #2
cindy47452’s HX1
leonburant’s WX1
Chris Pirillo’s WX1 (yes, that’s the Chris Pirillo former Tech TV host of “Call for Help” and owner of what looks to be a really nice kitchen
Trung_DT’s WX1
Henrique Luna’s HX1
Henrique Luna’s HX1 #2
clie_au’s HX1

It does the same thing as hand-held twilight, but works harder at trying to get rid of motion blur. The result ends up more noisey than hand-held twilight because it uses a faster shutter speed and thusly pushes the ISO harder. Sony claims it works even when your subject is moving. I still have yet to see specific real-world examples of this feature.

It’s very misleading that Sony uses the term “HDR” for this function. It shares similarity to HDR, but really is different in its essence. What this feature does is take two exposures and it combines them so any subject that has poor backlighting won’t be overpowered by the shadows generated by the backlight. It’s a nice feature that will help these situations, but it certainly isn’t a fix to these situations.

The DSC TX-1 does indeed autofocus while filming unlike the Samsung TL220. So if you start filming something close-up and then move the camera to something further away, the camera will autofocus on the fly while filming. Nice. Not even Nikon’s much-heralded SLR, the D90 (retail $900), can autofocus will filming.

See the Image Quality section in the Samsung review above. It comes down to personal preference.

While shooting in Program mode, I noticed that every time I focused on an area the TX1 gave a reading of the aperture and shutter speed. I really liked that. I know exactly what I’m shooting that way.

Only one image stabilization function: The TL220 offers optical and digital stabilization at the same time. Fortunately, Sony went with optical instead of digital. If you’re going to have just one of the two, then optical is the way to go. But, the TX1 does have Anti-Motion Blur which attacks blurred photos in a different way. So not having the digital stabilization may not be a bad thing.

lens: it’s a 35mm lens. The other two cameras in the top three have wider lenses.

shutter speed: the slowest shutter speed is 1 second compared to the TL220’s 8 seconds. (Note: The TL220 can only attain 8 second shutters while in fireworks mode where it focuses only to infinity. Anything closer will be blurred. Otherwise, the TL220’s max is 2 seconds.)


official page for the Sony DSC-TX5

Here’s what stood out:

It’s the exact same camera as the TX-1 except for the following. The TX-5 is waterproof, dustproof, shockproof, freeze-proof. Dustproof is very nice to have in a camera that’s going to be in my pocket every single day. The lens is 25mm which is much better than the TX1. It’s also slightly thicker at 0.697″ compared to 0.656″. And it won’t be available until sometime in April 2010 which means it could be April 30, 2010.


The TL220 has creative freedom with its second LCD, but it’s the thickest of the three. (Though 0.73″ is pretty darn good!) And it has a good wide angle lens along with the endless continuous shooting.

The TX1 doesn’t have the pseudo articulating LCD and years past I swore I wouldn’t buy a point-and-shoot again without a swivel (or swivel-emulating) LCD. It also has an average wide angle lens, but it the twilight feature is very strong, along with the absolutely incredible burst mode. Also keep in mind the camera thickness is the best of the three. It’s less than 5/8″ of an inch. That’s incredible.

The TX5 has the best wide angle lens of the three. It’s dustproof which can’t be undervalued for a pocket camera, and it has the TX1’s great burst and great twilight function. It’s size thickness is #2 among the three.

Which should I buy? I was leaning towards the Samsung TL220 until I discovered at Best Buy that the TL220 can’t autofocus while recording movies. I really value the freedom that the second LCD will offer me, but I know the TX1 will fit ever so slightly better in my pocket and it comes packed with incredible features. If I had to decide right now (which I should cuz that second kid could come any minute), I would go with the Sony DSC-TX1. Too many great features in an incredibly slim package to pass up.

If you like this review and will be buying one of the cameras above, then be sure follow the links below: