Many street photographers choose to use compact cameras rather than DSLR or Mirrorless cameras. This post will hopefully highlight some of the reasons why.
1. Size and Weight
Obviously, by its very name, a compact camera is small and light. Therefore they are easy to carry around and the size and weight don’t become a burden when you are out for several hours, walking the streets, looking for new material. A photowalk for 2-3 hours can be quite tiring particularly if it is hot. If you carry a lot of equipment you will tire quicker, both physically and mentally. A compact therefore is a good option as you will hardly know it’s there in terms of its size and weight.
As with any other type of camera the cost varies greatly from 30-40 euros/dollars to over 1000. Many of us already have a compact camera (maybe for family holidays, parties etc) so why not use them. If you haven’t already got one then it needn’t be expensive to get started with street photography and to start getting some great shots. Nothing beats practice and getting out there. So whatever you’ve got, or can afford, use it.
3. Image Quality
Even the most basic of compact camera can produce images of great quality. They would certainly be good enough for sharing on Social Networks and for making smaller size prints from. Obviously the more you spend the more functionality you get but that doesn’t necessarily mean the images will get better. Remember it’s YOU the photographer that makes and composes the image. The camera just captures it for you. All the images I have posted so far both here and on the various Social Network sites were produced with a Canon SX240 Compact Camera. This camera can be bought new for about 200 euros and gives you a certain amount of manual capability to let you get creative. So, if you’re not sure what sort of image quality you can get from a compact, take a look at my images to get some idea.
4. Carry As A Spare
Street photographers like to travel light. It can be tiring walking the streets, particularly in hot weather and carrying a bag full of equipment makes it even worse. It also makes you more conspicuous if you are carrying a camera bag full of equipment. Those that use a DSLR or Mirrorless camera will very often walk the streets with just the camera and one lens (possibly a 35mm or 50mm prime lens). But what if you have a camera failure, or forgot to charge your battery? Also you may see a composition that requires a different focal length. Therefore, if you have a DSLR or other type of camera and a compact too, take the compact with you as well. You can stick it in your pocket and it weighs next to nothing so you won’t even know it’s there. One day you will need it!
5. Take It With You on Days Out With The Family
Again, as with the point I made above, if you are going out for the day and photography isn’t the primary aim, take it with you. Maybe you are going on a trip to the beach or a water park with the family and you don’t want to be carrying a bag full of camera equipment along with all the other stuff. Or you might not want to risk getting sand in your DSLR or Mirrorless lenses and body. Take a compact. You can pop it in a plastic bag to protect it and it’s there in case you see anything interesting. You never know when a great shot will present itself and if you don’t have a camera with you that shot is lost forever!
6. Different Focal Lengths In A Small Package
As I mentioned earlier, many street photographers that use cameras with an interchangeable lens system will very often go out with just the one lens e.g. 35mm, 50mm. So what happens if you come across a great composition that doesn’t fit well with that focal length? Most compact cameras have a zoom (or different focal lengths) to varying degrees, so if you are carrying the compact as a spare there is a better chance of getting the composition right in camera!
7. Get Places Larger Cameras Can’t
Spyros and Andrew have already mentioned this with the mirrorless camera and the mobile phone camera respectively so I won’t dwell on it too long. The fact is, the smaller the device the more places it can go. Through railings, gaps in fences, etc etc.
8. Inconspicuous and Discrete
Inconspicuous and discrete equipment play an important role in street photography. Many a time I have been able to get a shot of a person a couple of feet away without them knowing by using a compact camera. Many of them are small enough that, at a glance, they can look like a mobile phone. I have been playing with a technique where I compose the shot on the LCD screen at chest level which can look like you are texting on a phone. It also gives a different perspective to the normal eye level shot. So play about with some techniques of your own to remain inconspicuous. The camera is small enough, you just need to find a way to suit your style.
9. Look Like A Tourist, Not A Photographer
Blending in with the crowd is also a very important part of street photography. The idea is not to draw attention to yourself. How many tourists and people in general do you see walking round with compact cameras and phones snapping pictures of everything in sight? So blend in with them, look like a tourist and more often than not people will have no idea you have just taken their photo. If you want about with a camera bag, tripod strapped to it and a great big DSLR swinging from your neck you are going to get noticed!
10. An Affordable Way To Get Into Photography and Learn The Basics
As I mentioned earlier it’s you, the photographer that makes the photo not the camera! You could go out and buy the latest and greatest equipment that you can afford but it won’t make your photos any better unless you learn the basics. So if you are new to street photography (or photography in general) get that compact out of the cupboard that you only use once a year for the family holiday and practice with that. Learn about composition, light, what makes a good image. Even if you shoot in “automatic” mode, study the data when you upload your photos to the pc. Look at the focal length, aperture or f stop, shutter speed etc and learn from it. Look at the data on other people’s images that you like and learn from that too. If you do this, when the time comes to get better equipment you will be able to make a much more informed decision regarding the type of camera you want, lenses you require based on the focal lengths you generally shoot at etc.
Any camera can be used for street photography. They all have their strong and weak points. Use what you have and practice, practice. Remember, all my photos on my profile page were taken with a compact so take a look and see what a relatively cheap camera can do!
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I hope you enjoyed it.