I use a Mirrorless camera 90% of the time for my Street Hunting. The other 10% is split into 35mm film Rangefinder cameras and my iPhone. This is not by chance. Mirrorless cameras have many advantages in Street Photography and we will talk about the most important ones below. Before we get into that though, I would like to tell you in simple words what a Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera is and give you a few examples.
A MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Camera) is a camera that does not need a mirror to work, as a DSLR does. It uses interchangeable lenses, unlike digital compact cameras and usually has a large image sensor, from Nikon CX, to m4/3 to full frame. A few good examples of MILCs are the SONY NEX System, the Leica Digital M System, the Olympus OM-D, The Fuji X System and more. So, from the above description you can understand that for example the very popular Fuji X100S is not a MILC since it doesn’t offer the option of changing lenses, but on the contrary the Fuji X-Pro1 is a MILC because it works without a mirror and works around an interchangeable lens system.
Mirrorless Interchangeable Cameras are small in comparison to DSLRs and therefore can be carried around on long lasting photo walks without being in the way. Some of them if equipped with pancake lenses or retractable zoom lenses can even fit in your pocket. Even strapping a mirroless camera around your neck does not make it feel like it is in the way. I wear my NEX-6 around my neck most of the time during the summer, or stuff it in my jacket pocket during the winter. Nothing to it.
Of course being small wouldn’t be all that helpful if the MILCs were heavy. MILCs in general are light cameras. Some are even as light as compact cameras, especially if they are equipped with pancake lenses or retractable zoom lenses as mentioned before. But even if equipped with other larger lenses, they are still much lighter than DSLRs, giving you, the Street Photographer the advantage of taking long photo walks without feeling the weight of the camera and making you uncomfortable in any way. For example my NEX-6 weighs much less that even my 35mm Yaschica Electro 35 CC and MG-1. It is never inconvenient to carry around my neck. I have even gone on 7-8 hours photo walks in harsh conditions (brutal heat and scorching sun) without feeling the slightest annoyance for the weight of my camera.
This is a very important thing when shooting Street Photography. You need to take photos using discreet gear in order to stay out of the way of the people you shoot and to blend in with the surroundings. MILCs are small and if you have a black one, you can be even more discreet. Imagine stepping in front of a person with a huge DSLR, with a big fat 50mm lens strapped on! That person will see you and react. Whereas if you had a little Mirrorless camera, you would appear as innocent as a tourist using a compact camera. The thing is DSLRs have been affiliated with Photo Journalists and Paparazzi so people react much more to them.
4. Shutter sound
Due to the fact that MILCs do not have mirrors, they are more silent than DSLRs. All Mirrorless cameras have options to turn off the beeping sounds and any other fake shutter sounds. They can become completely silent but for the slight sound of the shutter which is sweet an gentle. When shooting in the streets, the ambient sounds of the surroundings are enough to mask the soft click the shutter makes. You can even be sitting behind someone and take a photo without them ever knowing. I have done this many times. If I had a DSLR it would have made a huge CLACK sound and I would have been noticed. Some newer MILCs have options for dead silent mode, rendering the cameras totally silent.
Little MILCs have nothing to be jealous about as far as speed is concerned. DSLRs are the fastest cameras, but MILCs are not considered slow. My NEX-6 can shoot up to 10 fps (frames per second) and can autofocus almost instantly. It can go up to 1/4000th of a second and can freeze a speeding bird in the air easily. I have made some shots on the street that I wouldn’t have been able to make using a manual camera or a compact camera. If you get to know your Mirrorless, you can do some pretty amazing things with speed.
6. Image Quality / Sensor size
As of today the only Full Frame Mirrorless cameras are the latest generation of Leica M Series cameras. Following those in image sensor size are the SONY NEX System cameras and the Fuji X cameras using APS-C sensors and then come the Micro 4/3 cameras, such as the Olympus and Panasonic MICLS. The Micro 4/3 image sensor which is the smaller of the bunch, is still a big sensor and can produce some very impressive images. The APS-C sensor of the SONY and Fuji cameras are identical in size to the ones used in the Nikon and Canon Pro-sumer range of cameras, such as the Nikon D7100. Quality on those little cameras is just amazing! Lastly the Leica uses the Full Frame size sensor that is the top of the line in image sensor size and can shoot with superb results. So in other words, a small, light, discreet MILC can shoot as fast and with the same or even better quality than a Pro-sumer DSLR camera. What does that tell you?
7. DSLR Functionality (Shooting options)
Most if not all MILCs have full DSLR functionality. That means that you can shoot in Automatic mode, Intelligent Auto mode, P mode, Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Speed Priority mode and full Manual mode. You can choose between single shot more, burst shot mode, timer mode, also you can choose to Autofocus or Manual focus and more. Having all these available options can really help you become very creative with your Street Photography. It also gives you the ability to adjust to any circumstances. So for instance you can use your Mirrorless camera to shoot awesome looking Street Portraits and use the same Mirrorless camera to shoot night shots, or long exposure shots, or freeze motion shots, you name it! You literally have all the options and functionality your would have as if you were using a big DSLR, but in a much more compact size!
8. High Tech features (Wifi, GPRS)
This is something that is very interesting. Most MILCs, being High Tech products, also offer some really cool High Tech features! The features mentioned are not available on all MILCs. Some have some of these, others might have them all. It depends upon the make and model of the camera. So some interesting features are the following:
- WiFi connectivity that gives the Mirrorless camera the ability to share all shots taken to the web, or to share photos to a smartphone, a tablet or a desktop computer.
- Location information (if supported), also
- Cool photo effects,
- High Resolution Touch Screens,
- EVFs (Electronic ViewFinders!) with eye-detection, dioptre adjustment, vignetting correction technologies,
- Auto Portrait Framing,
- Sweep panoramas and many, many more.
9. Interchangeable Lenses
Street Photography is great when shot at a focal length of 35mm. It is also interesting when using a 50mm lens. Then there are other Street Photographers that like to use long focal lengths and others that love to use wider lenses. Well, if you have a MILC, this is not a problem. You can change lenses and change the way you shoot immediately. Roam the Streets with your 35mm lens on your Mirrorless, capturing candid moments and another day, when you want to make Street Portraits, just stick that 50mm on. Are you indecisive? Is it hard to go with a prime lens. No problem because MILCs can also use great zoom lenses. All camera manufacturers of Mirrorless systems now have a wide range of lenses from which you can choose from in order to pump up your arsenal. Also, there are lens manufacturing companies, such as SIGMA and ZEISS that make lenses for most if not all MILC makes and models. All you have to do is to screw your lens of choice on and you are ready to go.
10. Adapters, adapters, adapters!
This is the single most important reason why MILCs are the most awesome choice for Street Photography and in general photography if you ask me. The Mirrorless market is on the rise and many Camera Manufacturers such as SONY and other 3rd party companies such as Metabones offer a variety of lens adapters that can be used on MILCs. How do all these adapters prove useful to you the Street Photographer? Read on and you will see.
Adapters give you the ability to use more lenses with your MILC. The options are numerous. Why? Well, for example you can find lens adapters for the NEX, the Fuji X and all M4/3 Mirrorless cameras that will allow you to use Leica M mount lenses. You can also find lens adapters that will allow you to use Canon lenses, Contax G Zeiss lenses (some say the sharpest lenses ever made), Voigtlander lenses, Nikor lenses and more. Just imagine the image quality that you can achieve during night Street Photography sessions using a Leica 50mm Noctilux-M f/0.95 lens on your NEX System! Ok, it might be tough to use for fast paced Street Photography, but Street Photography is not fast paced always. I can think of many ways to use that awesome lens, but of course if I could afford that lens I would own a Leica M 🙂 .
*Tilting screen (Not all Mirrorless cameras)
This is the last reason why I think MILCs are great for Street Photography but you will notice that it is referred to as the +1 in the title of the blog post. The reason is because a tilting screen is a feature that not all Mirrorless cameras share. Actually most of them don’t have a Tilting screen, but the ones that do, can really help you get creative and to snap some amazing low/high angle shots with fresh looking POVs (points of view).
MILCs or Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Cameras are great for Street Photography. The reasons are obvious if you ask me! They are small, discreet, light, fast, silent, pumped with High Tech, they offer DSLR features, Interchangeable lenses galore and some even have tilting screens to make your life even easier when shooting in the street. Those are the reasons why I prefer shooting with a MILC.
Dear reader, please, share your thoughts in the comments if you feel like doing so! We would love to hear your opinion and learn more from you.