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 searching for the best one. In retrospect, I can say gear swapping did not really help me improve 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I took the photo above during a morning run with a smartphone, an outdated one by todays standards.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.
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’t afford better), it is a matter of their personal style and choice. Again, anything goes.
So be a film shooter, a Leica shooter, a medium format shooter, whatever floats your boat.
The best street photography camera is the one you like
I tried many cameras, and 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 good 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 are: the camera can be fully operated with one hand, and the flash can be set to shoot manually (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.
I took the above shot while carrying a suitcase and messenger bag, one free had 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 only opens up to 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.
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 a Berlin-based photographer, digital marketer, and a founding member of the berlin1020 street photography collective. You can find more of his work on his website, Twitter, and Instagram. This article was also published here.