The best camera for street photography

Jun 30, 2016

Martin U Waltz

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The best camera for street photography

Jun 30, 2016

Martin U Waltz

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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What is the best camera for street photography? What do you recommend? That is the question I get asked most. In the last years I have been changing cameras a lot always in the search for the better on. In retrospect I can say gear swapping did not really help me improving my photography.

Let me share some insights of this journey.

The minimal approach – the best camera for street photography is the one you have.

The camera you have right now is just fine. Street photography is not very demanding in terms of technical requirements. While it might be difficult to do wildlife photography with a smartphone or a small compact camera, shooting street with these are viable options. I took the photo above during a morning run with a smartphone, an outdated one by todays standards. And the smartphone was just good enough to capture this scene in the gorgeous morning light. So it is true. Whatever camera you have right now, it will be good enough.

The idealistic approach – get the best street photography camera on the market

What does the ideal street photography camera look like? It comes

  • in a small unobtrusive form factor,
  • it has a large sensor
  • capable of doing high iso shots with little noise,
  • a fast wide angle lens,
  • a high speed autofocus and finally
  • a silent shutter.

Unfortunately no camera excels in all these categories at the same time. Even if your budget is unlimited you will have to compromise.

martin-waltz-street-photography-berlin-2-17

The  photo was taken in front of the french embassy in Berlin, the night after the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris, France. Here I needed the high iso performance in order to deal with the low light. The silent shutter allowed me to get close without disturbing or distracting. The camera I used was a Fuji X100S, one of the few cameras coming close to being the ideal street camera.

The personal style approach

Street photographers around the world are using gear that is seemingly far from ideal. DSLRs, vintage film cameras ranging from mirrorless over SLRs to middle format, Smartphones etc. It is not that these photographers do not know better (or can not afford better), it is a matter of their personal style and choice. Again, anything goes.

martin-waltz-street-photography-berlin-1001872

So be a film shooter, a Leica shooter, a middle format shooter, whatever floats your boat.

The best street photography camera is the one you like

I tried many cameras, pretty much all of them served me well.. Yet some cameras I simply did not like. I tried to like them, because they were so very well at what they did. Powerful tools. Or I tried to like them, because they had this iconic reputation. Leica worked for Henri Cartier Bresson, Bruce Gilden and Alex Webb. Surely I would be happy with a Leica? I tried, more than once. I did not warm up to it. Eventually I allowed myself to accept that like and dislike was even more important than an impressive spec list or an iconic brand name. My friend Tony Cearns wrote: Are my cameras just tools?  No! Tools yes, “Just” no! There is no point in using a camera that is not a joy to use. And joy to use is a very personal thing.

My camera choice

My go to camera for street photography is the Ricoh GR. It is a popular choice among street photographers. What I like about it:

  • it is very small and lightweight
  • great image quality
  • near noiseless shutter
  • APS-C Sensor

Yet the two features I really adore: The camera can be fully operated with one hand. The flash can be set to shoot manually. The flash power can be regulated manually as well. This means it is great for flash street photography even when you are shooting in all manual setting.

martin-waltz-street-photography-berlin-2012819

I took the above shot while carrying a suitcase and messenger bag, one free hand was enough to get the shot.

Yet the Ricoh GR is not perfect. Sensor dust is a problem, the lightweight body is susceptible to camera shake and finally the lens opens only up f 2.8.

If you are looking for an alternative to the Ricoh GR, have a look at the Fuji X70 or the the Fuji X100T.

Final Thoughts

There is no point in studying reviews and spec lists, as all cameras available today are more or less good enough. The best camera for street photography is the one you like working with. If you want to study something, read the manual, because mastering your camera matters.

About the Author

Martin U Waltz is an internationally acclaimed award winning photographer and visual storyteller.  Martin is a founding member of the berlin1020 street photography collective.  You can find out more about Martin on his website, and follow him on Instagram.  Also published here and used with permission.

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13 responses to “The best camera for street photography”

  1. Matthew Whited Avatar
    Matthew Whited

    The best street photography setup is a crappy camera with expired film.

  2. catlett Avatar
    catlett

    Odd contradictions. At the start you talk about large sensors and wide angle then your preferred camera you list aps-c sensor size as why you like it. Which is it? aps-c crop factor obviously is not optimal for wide angle and is obviously a smaller sensor than many small, lightweight cameras available have. All I can think of is that some (Nikon being a glaring example) are putting even smaller sensors into their mirrorless?

    1. Vincent Avatar
      Vincent

      aps-c is the biggest sensor in popular main stream camera’s after Full Frame, so in the world of street photography, it is still on the big side. Look at M4/3 and the 1″ in mirror-less and even smaller in the point and shoot body’s. I don’t think it’s a contradiction. You don’t have to go that wide for street photography that the wider angle becomes a problem for aps-c.

      1. catlett Avatar
        catlett

        “after full frame” is the point. There are full frame unobtrusive cameras on the market so it is a contradiction without explanation in the article as to why that instead of full frame. Curious since large sensor is 2nd on the list of important characteristics.

  3. Stereo Reverb Avatar
    Stereo Reverb

    I have the Fuji X100s and it is a SLOW focusing camera if you use it for locking on a focus point. (Unless you shoot zone focusing, in which case, there’s no issue there) My hands down favorite street camera is my Canon 5d3 with a 24-70 or a 35mm 1.4. No it’s not a small camera, but with a camera sling, it stays by the side of my waist out of sight and i can bring it up to my eye to compose a photo, lock focus, and fire off a shot all within 3 seconds, then back down again, before anyone knows what just happened. While i have plenty of film cameras, including a Ricoh GR1v, which in itself an awesome street camera, my 5d is used 99.99% of the time for street stuff.

  4. Gabs Avatar
    Gabs

    Nikon DF black + 35mm 1.8

    1. Gabs Avatar
      Gabs

      I have also the A7RII and with a Batis 2/25, or Sony 2.8/35, I’m unobstrusive because people think I have a “tourist camera”.
      The A7SII would be even better, for low light performance.

      1. Gabs Avatar
        Gabs

        On the very cheap side look at the Olympus E400 and put a small prime lens on it.

        1. Gabs Avatar
          Gabs

          I had a Oly EPM2 and it’s very very small, good enough at ISO3200, and plug it a Panasonic 1.7/25

  5. Ralph Hightower Avatar
    Ralph Hightower

    Right now, I don’t have the AE Motor Drive FN mounted to my Canon F-1N, so it’s smaller and less intrusive than my Canon A-1 with the MA Motor Drive. Both film cameras are smaller than my 5D Mk III.
    But shooting film may bring more interaction: “Are you shooting film? That’s so cool!”

  6. Yes Modo Avatar
    Yes Modo

    1st world problem.

    Picked up my Monochrom M9 tonight after its 3rd sensor replacement in less than 24 months (1st was dead pixels, 2nd was corrosion (got replacement old generation sensor), 3rd time was corrosion of replacement sensor, this time got a new generation sensor.

    Last 2 months, I’ve been shooting with GRII. It’s a joy to use and love the output when I nail it.

    Determined to sell the M (because it’s the logical thing to do, yeah??) but it feels so good in the hand, it’s killing me.

    I’ll probably list it too high$ so no one is interested. It’s like my mistress and the GRs my wife.

    Word to you all….don’t buy a Leica because it’s an addiction that will suck you in like nothing else I’ve experienced.

    Just don’t do it.

    1. Gabs Avatar
      Gabs

      Leica Q ?

  7. Hector Macias Avatar
    Hector Macias

    But that’s a park