Is there an Ideal Street Photography Camera?
Certain characteristics can make a camera more ideal for street photography. We say "more" because most cameras will have the features you need to take decent street pictures. However, some cameras are more ideally suited for both a serious and hobby street photographer. Why make it harder on yourself? If you're in the market for a decent - even great - camera to use for street photography, read on! You should find our tips useful in your hunt.
What to look for in a street photography camera
Portable and Light
An excellent street photography camera should be light, compact, and easily transportable. You should be able to carry it around while shooting street photography without feeling weighed down by your camera. In other words, you should be able to "pack lightly" when going out to shoot.
If your camera can't autofocus quickly, you're going to lose a lot of opportunities for a great shot. Your camera needs to have a fast (and very accurate) autofocus.
The best street photography images are shot without the awareness of the subject. (That's not to say that you shouldn't tell them or show them what the pictures you just took of them.) If you're pulling out a lot of conspicuous camera equipment to take a shot, you risk intimidating the subject. The more inconspicuous your camera, the more likely it is that your subject won't feel at ease.
For a lot of people, hearing the constant shutter clicking of a camera is a significant distraction. The best street photography stems from candid shots. Just as you want a fast autofocus camera, you should also seek out a quiet camera.
Now that we've discussed ideal characteristics, WHICH cameras are best suited for the street photographer? Let's look at four candidates.
Overall, a DSLR will offer you the best images. Between its vast offerings of manual settings along with its superior sensor, you can't beat today's DSLR cameras for street photography.
Here are some key features:
Its many features and settings mean you can be more nimble in adjusting settings to your needs.
DSLRs typically offer interchangeable lenses making them highly attractive to savvy street photographers. Being able to switch between wide angle and telephoto makes life less complicated on the go.
High-speed shooting means the ability to capture a minimum of four frames per second.
Things to know about DSLR:
Lots of manual features can mean investing more time in learning the camera and becoming adept at using it on the go.
They're not the cheapest cameras. With all these features, you can expect to pay more, particularly for the more sophisticated ones. This can means thousands of dollars.
Lastly, they don't meet the one characteristic we've identified as being critical for street cameras: they tend to be heavier and, often, bulkier. They're not ideal if you need to travel far with it.
Before DSLR there were film cameras, of course. Aficionados of these classics still have some excellent options available to them even if there are fewer labs printing film. In recent years, film cameras have improved and continue to draw back some past users and attract a younger set.
If you're interested in spending some money, we recommend sticking to a longstanding champion of film cameras - Leica. They offer both analog and auto features, great lens options, and easy to haul around.
Some key features of film cameras/photography:
Film cameras mean waiting to develop your images to see what you shot. There is no preview as you get with DSLR.
Film photography also means a limited number of pictures per film roll which translates to the need to be careful and self-disciplined. It's an entirely different process for photographers and one you might have to adapt to if you're not used to it.
Film photography fans will tell you that nothing, including presets, beats film for capturing grain, color, and texture.
Things to know about DSLR:
Because you can't preview your shots as we mentioned above, you must wait until you have your prints in hand to see how your images turned out.
Film cameras mean sending out your film roll to be developed or having the right equipment ($$) to set up your own darkroom. This adds time and money to using film cameras.
No instant uploading to your computer or social media without first scanning your images.
Think of a mirrorless camera as a DSLR without the internal mirrors and more compact in size as a result.
Some key features of mirrorless cameras:
They are ideal for street photography because without the internal mirrors they're smaller than a typical DSLR and usually cheaper. However, expect to pay in the $1,000 range for the better cameras.
You can use various lenses with them.
More recent versions have WiFi connectivity and touch screens making it easy to share your photos instantly.
Things to know about a mirrorless:
While you can use different lenses with a mirrorless, you have fewer options than with a DSLR.
They have a shorter battery life which will mean more charging. You'll need to carry a spare.
They can function as a point-and-shoot camera because of their features and versatility. You can use it on auto or use its advanced settings and features to adjust shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and aperture.
While they can be used as a point-and-shoot, they do have slower autofocus thanks to having a smaller body.
We've written extensively on the value and quality of smartphone cameras. They can save you money because it's in a phone you'll use anyway, and the quality is giving DSLRs growing competition. As far as using them for street photography, let's face it. You probably have a smartphone on you more often than you do a separate camera.
Three key features of smartphone cameras:
They are regularly updated given how frequently smartphones are upgraded. The latest technology features high-resolution 12-megapixel cameras with a maximum wide aperture of f/1.8 or f/1.7.
They're convenient to use and discreet to carry around making it the most portable street camera around, and they're far less intimidating to the subject.
You can easily edit your images right in the camera.
Things to know about smartphone cameras:
More pros are turning to smartphone cameras for easy pictures to upload instantly to social media. The quality is so impressive these days that there is a growing appeal and annual competitions recognizing images shot on smartphone cameras.
There are limited features available on smartphones which translates to less ability to manipulate settings such as aperture or shutter speed.
While smartphone camera images are increasingly professional in quality, it doesn't always amount to the same quality of a professional camera when shooting in lower lighting or trying to capture motion. That sometimes can be an issue for street photography.
Battery life is an ongoing issue in smartphones - mainly if you're using other applications on the phone simultaneously.
You don't have to have an expensive camera if you are just starting out in street photography, especially if you're an amateur photographer developing your skills. What matters is that you get out there and hone your craft and practice. As your skills and knowledge develop, then you can upgrade to a more appropriate camera for your particular needs.
If you're already a skilled photographer, then you'll likely find it less daunting to upgrade your camera. Keep in mind, that some specialty camera stores will allow you to rent a camera. You might spend some money upfront trying different cameras, but it could mean not wasting money on a camera you end up disliking or which doesn't suit your needs.