Finding the right camera for street photography
Since I started street photography I have gone through many different cameras and it’s taken me this long to find the perfect one. I thought I would write this blog post to help people when choosing the right camera for street photography and my hope is it might stop you from making the same mistakes I did and in the process stop you from wasting money and your valuable time.
I have changed my camera many times over the past 6 years. I started my trip through the digital world of photography with the Nikon D300, then I moved onto the Fuji X100 (loved this camera), then back to Nikon and before moving to Fujifilm (which I’ve been using for the past 2 years) I tried Canon, Olympus and Leica. Why have I got through so many cameras? Well, first off it’s not easy finding a camera that you can get comfortable with straight away! Even if you are lucky enough to find a camera that you do find comfortable, it’s not to say that you won’t start looking for a new camera almost straight away (come on, we all do it!) it’s human nature to keep looking forward for the latest and greatest – hoping that we find something that is even better and more comfortable than what we have. That mythical magic bullet that will make us an awesome photographer.
The March of Camera Technology
If you look at how camera technology has changed over the past 10 years, it’s easy to see why I keep feeling the need to change my camera. As digital camera technology has continued to advance there have been many improvements in the technology behind the cameras. For me, the biggest change within the photography world has been with the advancement of mirrorless tech, which for me has improved the fastest over the past few years and still continues to improve to this day. In fact, the rate of change is so fast that we are having trouble keeping up with it! Just look at the number of mirrorless cameras Sony and Fujifilm have been launching in the last few years alone! With each new leap in technology cameras are getting smaller, faster, lighter and more powerful. To use just one example, think back to the digital cameras from say 10 years ago and look at the ISO performance and compare it to the present day; ISO performance has seen massive improvements, so much so that now I can now shoot at 6400 (and higher) and still have a clean usable photo, this wasn’t possible 8 years ago.
Full Frame No More?
Back when I first started looking for a digital camera I was told there was no point in looking for any camera unless it was full frame, but this has now changed. I no longer consider full frame cameras the default choice. For street photography, cameras with cropped sensors can take a photo with equal image quality to those with a full frame sensor, and, in my opinion actually better. In my early days of using a digital camera I never would’ve even thought about using the out of camera jpegs from my full frame DSLR, jump just 6 years to the present day and I’m now using the jpeg’s straight out of my Fuji APS-C mirrorless camera.
So what should you be looking for in a street photography camera? For me there are 3 important steps for choosing a camera for street photography:
Lightweight Camera for Street Photography
For me, the weight is the most important thing to take into consideration when looking for a street photography camera. Remember, you have to carry the camera all day. So for street shooting, I would not recommend a DSLR. I’m not saying that DSLRs are bad for street photography per se – after all my first digital camera was Nikon D300 and I used this for just over a year. The trouble was after just a few hours of using the Nikon I was dead on my feet, the camera was comfortable to hold but it weighed a tonne. And this is where the technology has improved – mirrorless cameras are perfect for carrying all day. Most mirrorless cameras can weigh less than the lenses for a DSLR. I don’t even notice the Fuji camera I use today, it weighs nothing and because of this, I can stay out shooting for longer.
Discreet Cameras are Key for Street Photography
Discreteness in street photography is very important. Having a big bulky camera like a DSLR is going to get you noticed, and again this where the mirrorless camera comes into its own. The smaller the camera the better it will be for street work, remember that most of the time you’re looking for the spontaneous candid moment. As I’ve said above I’ve gone through many cameras looking for the perfect street camera. As a result, I wouldn’t recommend a silver and black camera (or any other colour for that matter) – go with all black camera, as this blends in with most clothes and people don’t tend to notice it as much. I now use a Fujifilm X-E3 (which is black) this camera is small, light and discreet and because of this it allows me to get up close and personal and I would say that 90% of the time it doesn’t get noticed.
Good Function Makes for Fun Street Photography
Function is so important when looking for a street photography camera. If the camera is complicated to operate it will end up driving you nuts and you just won’t bother using it. Now, this doesn’t just include the menu on the camera, which can end up being like a minefield, but on most modern cameras, you can customise the menu to your needs. Functionality for me comes down to the button placement on the camera – does my hand knock the buttons when I carry it? Can I customise the buttons and camera to do what I need?, If the answer to the first question is no and yes to the second then I’m going to get on with the camera. You need a camera that you’re not fighting with and can use instinctively. What do I mean? Well, when I’m on the streets all I want to do is focus on the photo I’m about to take, I don’t want to be thinking about the camera. If I can forget that I’m holding a camera and just work on instinct, this is the best way for me to shoot.
Price – Budget is Important for a Street Photography Camera
Last but not least is the elephant in the room – the cost. You have to set a budget for your camera and lens and then stick to it, it’s all too easy to overspend and trust me most the time you don’t have to. You don’t have to buy a brand new camera, in fact, I would highly recommend you don’t buy a new camera for street work, you are more likely to worry about the camera and this in turns takes your concentration away from the streets. So my advice would be, buy a used camera that’s a few years old. This saves you money, and in most cases, you’ll end up with a high-end camera for a good price. Here in the UK, there are many photography shops that offer great deals on secondhand gear, you can pick up a Fujifilm X100, X-T10, Olympus OM or Sony A7 for under £500. There are many bargains out there and it wouldn’t take you long to find something. With the money you’ve saved by getting a good deal on a camera you can take a trip somewhere really exciting for street photography, attend a workshop, or buy some photo books!
Choose the Right Street Photography Camera for You
Finally, let’s ask the big question – Does it matter who makes the camera? The simple and straightforward answer is NO. Finding the perfect tool for any job isn’t easy, but let’s be honest here and say that the hunt for the right tool is half the fun. If you find a camera that you are happy with and it does everything you need it to do, then don’t worry what name is on it.
Let me remind you, “The photo is all that matters”.
Stay sharp and keep shooting
Hey John, whilst I certainly agree with you that a small discreet camera helps with street photography, I also think that depends on the style of shooting that you do, as you say. I sometimes break out the DSLR for some street shooting (usually use an X-T2) and find I use it in a different way and get some different images,
I would agree you can get some very different looking photos when using a DSLR