Best cameras for street photography
What’s the best camera for street photography?
When we consider what might be the best kind of camera for street photography we should think less about ultimate image quality and more about a camera that is small, discreet and quick to operate. The best camera for this kind of work will be one that doesn’t make you stand out, doesn’t draw attention to you and which allows quick access to the key settings you will need to find when out in the thick of the action.
There are a number of basic choices to be made and different camera types to consider.
Are DSLRs good for street photography?
Most people who have been taking pictures for some time will already have a digital single lens reflex (DSLR), as this is the most popular type of camera among enthusiasts and professionals. A DSLR has what is called an optical viewfinder, which is the window on the back of the camera that allows us to see through the lens, and each model has a range of lenses that can be fitted and exchanged.
The benefits of a DSLR for street photography
The benefits of DSLRs for street photography centre mainly around their speed and the range of accessories and lenses that each model will be compatible with.
At the moment all DSLR focusing systems are faster in real-life use than other camera types. They track moving subjects more easily and find subjects in low light more quickly. Other camera types are catching up, but for now at least they are still behind especially when it comes to subjects that don’t keep still. On-sensor contrast detection systems, as used in compact and compact system cameras, are more accurate, and can be faster, when shooting still subjects but they can’t compete when the subject is moving or light levels are low.
As DSLRs have been around for longer than other types of interchangeable lens cameras, there is a greater choice of lenses in the range of each of the manufacturers, as well as a host of excellent quality lenses from independent makers – such as Sigma, Tamron and Tokina.
All DSLRs have an optical viewfinder, which offers a clear view of what you are photographing. In bright conditions a viewfinder is easier to use than the rear screen of a camera, as these can overpowered by reflections.
The reasons you mightn’t use a DSLR for street photography
The main reason you might choose not to use a DSLR for street photography is that these cameras are generally more noticeable than types that are smaller and less ‘professional’ looking. When you wave a DSLR at a stranger he or she will be more inclined to see you and assume you are a professional than if you were holding a small camera. This doesn’t have to be a problem, but DSLR users will be more conspicuous on the street purely because of the way the camera looks. DSLRs become more conspicuous when they have large zoom lenses fitted, but with a reasonably small body (they do exist – EOS 100D for example) and a small lens the DSLR user can blend in effectively too.
Going back to viewfinders – although an optical viewfinder makes it easier to compose an image in bright conditions than a rear screen does, they don’t offer nearly as much information as a rear screen. They don’t allow exposure preview, demonstrate the effect of white balance settings, or display menu options for scrolling and changing.
Are DSLRs good for street photography? Summary
While there are positive and negative points concerning using a DSLR for street photography, they are rather negated by the fact that most enthusiasts already own one, and only the particularly keen photographer will buy a separate camera system specifically for street work. If you are a DSLR user you can make fantastic street images, just you will stand out a little bit more than those with smaller cameras.
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In my very humble opinion, the Fuji x100 series might be the ideal digital camera for street. Perfect focal length (23mm APS=35mm full frame), fast f2.0, built in 3stop ND filter, leaf shutter, and dead silent. Oh, and did i mention that the Fuji Xtrans sensor is possessed of some amazing voodoo image processing? Fuji is the new Leica!
It is a really great camera Jeff, and one that’s very popular with street photographers – for the reasons you mention. A lovely bit of kit.
Would you say the Sony A7s is a small enough stealth DSLR? Small body but with punchy crisp photos, nice little pop out viewfinder… what lens would you recommend for all round street photography?
I would rather take my Sony around with me than my Canon 70D. This Sony makes my Canon feel like a giant after a while. 🙁
Yes, James, the A7s is small enough and makes a good street camera. The shutter is a little noisy though, so try not to get too close to people in a quiet environment. I aim for a lens with a standard focal length – so equivalent to 50mm on full frame. I think that gives a realistic view.
Funny,most say you need a compact,quiet,fast AF for street photography. Not knowing much I dove in with my outdated Pentax K20 with a big ole Sigma 18-250 lens and just captured the memorable photos of my life! Just sayin’!
I’ve also shot a lot with the Pentax K20D and loved it. Such nice raw files! It is a great camera for everything, and works well for street photography, though given a choice I would always go for something small, light, quiet and discrete. Thanks for sharing. Damien
It’s not a simple question if one considers all the needs of a serious street photographer. If you look at just aspect it seems easy enough. What you need is
1. Portability – to have on your person every time you step out like your phone – SMALL
2. Inconspicuous – non-threatening (for want of a better word) – SMALL
3. Sneaky – stealth matters – QUIET SHUTTER / TILTING LCD
4. Speedy – Capture that moment – FAST FOCUS / QUICK START UP
5. Power saver – Stay on the street the whole day – DECENT BATTERY LIFE
IQ and financial considerations are personal issues.
PS : my two penny worth. Did not make my struggle to choose one any easier 😉
lol – no, I’m afraid it isn’t an easy question, and there are so many considerations of personal taste to take into account as well. Small cameras tend not to have great battery life, but a solution is to have a spare or two so you can shoot all day.
Have a look at the Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7 – it has most of the things you’ve listed and it is a decent price. Spare batteries can be had from Hahnel. Best wishes, Damien
My personal opinion has been that one needs to reduce the list of expectations. I did it by deciding I did not need to zoom (not too much anyway) and make sure I get as wide an aperture I could. Compact size remains a need. I ended up buying two different cameras for slightly different purposes. The RX-1 is my first choice if I am going specifically for a shoot. The 35 mm f/2 fixed lens is awesome and gives terrific images. If,however, I want to just have a camera ready just in case I need to use it, I carry the more portable RX100 mk4 which goes into my jeans pockets and has a terrific 24-70 lens which is very good for low light. Clearly RX1 is my first choice. For any one wanting to buy one, I would recommend RX100 if you find the RX1 too expensive – which it is:(