Shooting the Neon of Beale Street, a Point and Shoot vs Micro 4/3

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

Beale Street Neon – Memphis, Tennessee

Like Austin, Memphis has a reputation for great music and a healthy nightlife. Beale Street is where the action is, downtown, with loads of bars, restaurants and live music joints. It’s equivalent to Austin’s 6th Street but with so much more. Not only is it more famous, it’s cleaner and more family friendly. But what really enticed me was the plethora of neon.

I’m a sucker for neon. The colors are wonderful, of course, and when combined with old buildings with texture, at night, it’s a recipe that’s hard to resist. It’s a visual feast for someone who loves to shoot the city. That’s one of the reasons I brought my Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II, the neon along with my plan of shooting the fireworks during the 4th of July. I knew the higher performance and low light capability of the camera would be better suited than a point and shoot with a small sensor. While I’ve shot successfully with the Panasonic ZS50, I knew it wasn’t well suited for the night.

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

As expected, the Olympus, with a fairly large micro 4/3 sensor, did a fine job. Coupled with the 12-40mm Pro zoom with a constant f2.8 aperture, scenes like these are easy to capture, especially with the help of a capable in-body image stabilization.

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

But, on a lark, I put the Panasonic ZS50 to the test and the results surprised me. Under the Scene mode, a “Handheld Night Shot” option did a remarkably good job. The camera shoots a burst of photos and combines them in-camera to create a single clean image. When coupled with the ZS50’s also excellent image stabilization, it’s hard to believe what a small sensor camera can achieve these days.

Is the Olympus OM-D superior in image quality? Absolutely. But for a small, carry anywhere point and shoot that’s 7x less expensive, the Panasonic did a remarkable job. Computer technology has remarkably augmented a smaller sensor to give very usable results, even in tough low light conditions.

Here’s more neon from Beale Street. Not sure which camera I used? Hover over the photograph with a mouse to see the exposure details.

Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessees
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessees
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessees
Beale Street Neon - Memphis, Tennessee

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8 thoughts on “Shooting the Neon of Beale Street, a Point and Shoot vs Micro 4/3

  1. Very cool, what is about neon that attracts people, I’m one of them too! Nice work Andy, technology is blending together, most digital camera’s these days will take a decent photo, sure a larger sensor will produce better images but unless you’re enlarging them to bigger than average it won’t be that noticeable. My favourite “little” camera is a Canon S120, many of my photo’s on flickr have been shot with it and some people who know their camera’s are quite impressed. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thank you, John. Yup, and if you go by the old film snapshot standard (for most people) of printing at 4″ x 6″, these will look even better. It all depends on how large the output is going to be.

  2. For me, the detail in the bricks tended to give away which camera was used for the shot. The E-M5 definitely seemed to capture the detail better. But like you said, the Panasonic did a workman’s job in capturing Beale Street.

    1. Yeah, I think there is a sharpness difference. Part of it is not just due to the sensor, rather stacking multiple images shot at 1/8 of a second, handheld is bound to have challenges. I think the greater limitation is the dynamic range with the smaller sensor. Something that can’t be overcome even shooting at the base ISO 80, on tripod. But again, quite amazing for the small device.

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