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Camera Recs for Restaurant Pics [moved from General Chowhounding]

I have eaten at some great restaurants over the years -- The French Laundry, Alinea, Cyrus, Nobu -- and have blogged about my meals. But I have always resisted the temptation to take pictures of the dishes because I didn't want to distract other diners by whipping out my bulky camera.

I would like to take the occasional discreet snapshot, however, if I had a camera thin and small enough to slip into my pocket but powerful enough to take clear pictures in minimal light. Anyone know of such a machine?


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  1. I use an Olympus 710.

    It actually has a food setting too.

    I am quite happy with this camera.

    1. Someone else was asking this not too long ago, so try the search and see what they found out.

      1. Having a food preset on the camera is very convenient but taking food photos is quite complicated. You can rarely take a snap of food that does it justice. You really need all sorts of sophisticated equipment and even then some foods just aren't photogenic.

        But, pay no attention to me. Photography is a hobby and I get kinda anal about it.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JockY

          Melanie Wong does a beautiful job, and I didn't even notice her camera, it was so small-- I didn't see what it was. I'm petty certain she didn't use flash, either, because it was not obtrusive at all.

        2. My treo takes really nice (640x480) pictures in low lighting. I always have it with me anyway (on vibrate, of course), and it's pretty discreet - when you use it you just look like you're reading your emails (pretty rude too but my normal dining partner is used to it). I have a canon SD900 that's really small, most of the new digital cameras are. It has macro and autofocus and takes even better photos but I'd be worried about forgetting to suppress the flash if I used it in a restaurant.

          1. I have a Canon 750 with a 3" screen. Costco is selling it for $220. Trouble is you can't easily set the flash off, it's a multi-step operation. Which is very inconvenient when you don't want the flash to disturb other diners.

            1 Reply
            1. re: PeterL

              press the large round button to the right -- that's the flash settings -- then press until you get to no flaah -- takes just a second to do.

              I have the Canon SG800 IS -- love it -- love the 28mm option for a nice shot -- as well as the amazing macro function.

            2. since you want to take pictures without the flash on ..... make sure any camera you get has Image Stabilization ( IS ) most cameras nowdays do have this but there are still some that don't.

              1. Interestingly, pwas watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations show about South Carolina cuisine and he actually poked fun at nyc "food nerds who take pics of their high end plates". I know I was tempted to take pics at Per Se but didn't want to draw attention.

                You need a spy camera! My Grandfather had one when I was a child. It was the size of a tampon (pardon the reference) and I thought it was the coolest thing ever!

                5 Replies
                1. re: lynnlato

                  Yeah, I'm one of those food nerds. That didn't stop me from taking pics at Per Se (I asked beforehand -- they said as long as I didn't use the flash it was fine). But they didn't come out very well because of the low lighting.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    I really wanted to at Per Se also. But I was afraid I would be distracted. In hind site, I wish I would of b/c it would of sealed the courses in my memory forever!

                    And you know, there was a woman at a table in close proximity to us that was just chatting away on her cell phone... very loudly I might add. And we made a subtle comment to one of the servers. She said they discourage cell phones but they never approached the woman, which I thought was interesting particularly given that they work endlessly to ensure a controlled environment.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      That woman may have been a VIP client as Per Se is supposed to ensure a controlled environment. I've read somewhere on chowhound about the staff approaching a man who took off his jacket.

                      btw, when I take pics I take my small pocket-sized digital camera, not my huge enormous one. I think if you're discreet it really shouldn't be a problem. I have not been stopped at restaurants but have been stopped at some food shops as they probably thought I was working for the competition.

                  2. re: lynnlato

                    I don't really care what Bourdain has to say, as good as his show is at times.

                    The main issue with food photography at restaurants is low light. Since you probably don't want to take a picture with flash (especially if you're dining solo) the way to overcome this is by using a long shutter speed. And because of that, you better hold your camera REALLY still. As somebody farther down said, brace your wrists or forearms hard and still against the table.

                    Also, my new digital camera (Panasonic DMC-LX2) has a "food" mode, but I haven't used it yet. However, I'll say that's one of the things that motivated me to buy that camera.

                    1. re: tvdxer

                      What in the hell is "food mode"??? I can't imagine how or why that mode should be different than any other "mode" meant for photographing inanimate objects. Ha!

                  3. I have a Canon SD1000 and it's awesome. Slender and lightweight, it fits into any purse or pocket (even small evening bags!). It has a large and clear screen, so you can see your pictures clearly right after you take them. I set mine on manual and adjust the exposure time for the lighting level. Then, I change the white balance to compensate for the type of lighting used and change to the macro setting.

                    Longer exposure times do set up for blurriness without a tripod, but I found that if you brace your wrists/forearms against the table and hold as still as you can, it still works pretty well. I'm going to invest in one of those "gumby" tripods that you can wrap around a table edge and they're pretty small, so in a casual restaurant, it won't be noticed. However, I wouldn't use them in the high-end places.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: geekyfoodie

                      I have so far resisted the temptation to snap photos in the big temples of haute cuisine -- Alinea, TFL, Cyrus, Nobu -- but those are the plates that are so gorgeous. I'd love to put them on my blog, but at the same time I don't want to interfere with another diner's experience or, for that matter, my own. In a casual spot, I'm in full Austin Powers mode. Recently, I was questioned by an employee as to why I was taking a picture of the new Dunkin Donuts in our neighborhood. I said I worked for Krispy Kreme and we were suing for donut infringement. That seemed to satisfy him because he went back to his cigarette.

                      1. re: LPM

                        I wouldn't use the tripod or flash in high-end places, but I did take photos in the dark environs of Morimoto (the location in Philly). Stupidly, I didn't really tinker with the exposure time, so the pictures turned out pretty dark. Photoshop helped make them more clear, but they're still pretty ugly. I put them on my blog, but I'm kicking myself for not better utilizing the manual settings on my camera (I was using an older model at the time).

                        I don't want to take away from the experience (others or my own), either, so I snap a photo and shove the camera back into my purse. What I like about my new camera is that even a swiftly taken picture turns out pretty well.

                        Btw, I completely support suing for donut infringement. ;)

                    2. With a long time exposure and a micro-tripod you can get satisfactory results from any small camera that has a fully manual exposure mode. But I do prefer to use a large digital SLR with tripod, for better image quality. These pictures taken at in dim light at Per Se with a Nikon D70 camera and exposures from 1.5 seconds to 20 seconds. I asked the concierge on the phone when placing my reservation and was told that as long as flash isn't used it is no problem.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: bcaulf

                        so... did you have a tripod beside your table all evening?

                        i'm heading to aquavit and i'm trying to decide if it will be a handheld cam evening or a full out dslr type of night.

                        1. re: pinstripeprincess

                          I used a 12-inch mini tripod with the camera attached. It was on the floor between the table and wall most of the time. When a course was served I moved the plate into the light in the middle of the table, put the tripod on the table, and made one or two pictures. I was using a 60mm macro lens which was helpful in framing the tiny courses.
                          Here are all the pictures from that trip: http://public.fotki.com/bcaulf/food/p...

                          1. re: bcaulf

                            Nice pics! I've got a question for you. Do you find that taking all this effort eating detracts you from enjoying the food? I like to remember my meals but I find that fiddling around with the camera kind of takes away from the experience. It's kind of like taking pics when I'm vacationing -- I just like to be in the moment without any thought to commemorating it.