This article will help you by showing the key considerations when buying a street photography camera. There are also recommendations for the best street photography camera and lenses you can use with your current cameras.
Please try to remember that better camera does not mean better photos. The best way to shoot better photos is to shoot more photos. Consider this before upgrading. However, there is something to be said about using the right tool for the job.
I love camera gear and it would be fair to say that this is a common feeling amongst photographers. Just remember that whatever camera you end up with you need to have it on you at all times. Here are some important considerations to make before making your next investment:
Start by imagining how much you are able to spend on a camera. This is always the best starting point. Without a figure in mind you are liable to come out the other side with an expensive camera and a serious case of buyers remorse. Buyers remorse will just lead to you blaming the camera for your terrible photos. "I could have taken a better image if I had that good camera!".
Gone are the days where big camera = good camera. Cameras are now getting smaller can match the image quality of a larger DSLR. Camera size is an important consideration in street photography. It will often shape the reactions that you get from subjects. So think small.
Ease of use
You should aim to know how to use the camera with your eyes closed. In street photography often the moment only exists for a split second. If you are fumbling with camera settings you will miss the shot. Sometimes the ease of use is a difficult thing to judge before holding and using the camera yourself. Try to hold the camera in a store before buying. If that is not possible, read reviews and search for information on the ease of use.
Auto focus speed
As technology gets smaller we have seen great advances in mirrorless camera autofocusing speed. The last thing you want to be doing is waiting for the camera to focus when you have your eyes on an incredible scene. Keep this in mind when making your next purchase!
Low light performance
For me this is one of the important considerations when buying a camera. This is important you want to use your camera handheld, at night without a tripod at long shutter speeds. The size of the camera sensor and with the maximum aperture of the lens are the main contributors to low light performance. Aim for a lens with a maximum aperture of f2.8 or less.
Do you want a camera with interchangeable lenses or are you likely to use the one camera with one lens for the majority of the time? You can vary the type of images you are able to capture by changing from a telephoto to a wide angle lens. This unlocks a world of creative opportunities. However, individual lenses can often be expensive, sometimes costing more than the camera itself. So considering a fixed lens camera will ensure that you can't spend thousands on lenses. This will force you to improve your composition and will make you a better photographer.
Good street photography comes when you are up close and personal to your subjects. If they haven't noticed your big camera yet they sure will when you push that shutter button. Most of this noise comes (in a DSLR) from the mirror moving out of the way to let you take the photo. Some mirrorless cameras are even capable of completely silent operation!
If you are looking to get the best all round camera for street photography then you can stop here. The Fujifilm x100T has long been known as the "fun" camera for professionals. It is the cameras that professional photographers lust to use after putting away their big cameras. You can see nothing but positive reviews for this camera from all over the web. Ken Rockwell said it is "the worlds best digital camera".
If the cost of this camera is still a bit much then check out a used x100S. These can be had for around half the price of a new x100T. But I must stress that the x100T is at the pinnacle of street photography digital cameras. It comes with a crisp 35mm f2 lens and an APS-C sensor. It is fantastic in all lighting conditions. The leaf shutter is completely silent, you can just hear a tiny "tick". It has an electronic viewfinder that is the best in the business and the film simulation modes are second to none.
I have an X100s and can recommend it to anyone that is looking to get into street photography. The Canon 5D mark iii I use for most of my nature shots just ends up getting angry looks on the street. I found I would come back with an entire shoot of people staring angrily at the lens. With the smaller x100s or x100t you don't have the same trouble.
If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses and would like to consider using it for street photography, it is best to use a fixed focal length. This helps you move and connect with the scene. With a zoom lens you will often find yourself standing in one spot and moving the zoom ring in and out.
Most street photography is conducted between 28mm and 50mm (on a full frame sensor). A 50mm lens will allow you to stand a little further from your subject whereas with a 28mm lens you will have to get close to them to fill the frame. The best focal length that I have used tends to be in the middle at 35mm. A 35mm lens gives you the best of both worlds. A comfortable distance from the subject (2m) but also a wide enough angle to allow you to capture the whole scene, when you need it.
The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Wide-Angle Lens produces wonderfully sharp images. I have personally been shooting with this lens for 6 months now and can highly recommend it. This lens is best used on a full frame Canon DSLR.
If you are using a crop sensor Canon camera (such as the Rebel line of cameras) then it is better to use a wider angle lens. The Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Wide Angle Lens is perfect.
If you are using a full frame Nikon DSLR then check out theNikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Lens. This lens has great reviews and can be had at a relatively low price.
If you are using a crop body Nikon camera then check out the Nikon 24mm f/2.8D AF Nikkor Lens. It is a little more expensive but produces fantastic images.
On the Micro 4/3 system there are a large number of lenses to choose from. In order to maintain the 35mm equivalent focal range I suggest getting a 17mm lens (about 34mm when converted). After an exhaustive review on a number of sites it appears that there is a common consensus on the Olympus M.Zuiko 17mm f1.8. Is the best in the business and even available in black or silver!
In terms of accessories for street photography, I take the less is better approach. The less you are carrying around, the more concentration you can put into your photography. But there are some small items that can help you on your journey.
If you have a DSLR then use the OP/TECH USA Utility Strap. It is comfortable to use for long periods of time and keeps the weight off your neck and the camera by your side. When you raise the camera to you eye the camera travels along the strap. This means that the strap does not ride up behind you. I have been using this on the 5d Mark iii for years and it is absolutely brilliant.
For smaller mirrorless cameras then a neck strap is the way to go. There are a lot of smaller leather light weight straps that are very comfortable to wear for long periods of time. I picked up a basic adjustable leather handmade strap to use with my Leica. This was reasonably priced, looks great and functions really well.
Off Camera Flash
If you are shooting with the x100T or another camera with a built in flash, just use this. The flash will remain unfired for the majority of shots you will shoot . But when you need a little fill flash (bright sunny days or on dark nights) the built in flash will do a great job.
Off camera flash is a concept whereby you hold the flash in one hand and the camera in the other. This allows you to use the flash in creative ways and get interesting shadows across your subject's face. You hold your camera in your right hand and a flashgun in your left hand. It is connected either wirelessly, or by a cable. If you extend your left arm up high and out to the left slightly it is possible to create some stunning shadows across the face of your subjects.
To get started with off camera flash you can pick up a TTL Off Camera Shoe Cord and a Yongnuo Professional Flash Speedlight Flashlight Yongnuo YN 560 III . This will set you back under $90 but will allow you to capture some amazing street portraits.
Photographers such as Bruce Gilden are absolute masters of this technique and are able to capture beautiful street portraits. See the video below for an example of this technique in action.
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Ben Kepka - The Cultured Kiwi