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 one. In retrospect I can say gear swapping did not really help me improving my photography.
Let me share some insights of this journey.
Thoughts on the best camera for street photography
The good news is street photography is not very demanding from a technical point of view. So pretty much all cameras on the market will work for street photography.
The best street photography does not exist.
What does the best street photography camera look like? It comes
- in a small unobtrusive form factor,
- it has a large sensor
- a water sealed body
- 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. Even if your budget is unlimited you will have to compromise. The best camera for street photography is an unicorn. It does not exist.
More specifically: Is it fun using that specific camera. The best camera for street photography is the one you enjoy using. Many street photographers around the world are using gear that is seemingly far from ideal. DSLRs, vintage film cameras ranging, middle format 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. They enjoy using these cameras.
I tried many cameras, pretty much all of them served me well. Yet some cameras, I simply did not warm up to. 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. Let’s talk about Leica for street photography. Leica worked for street photography legends like Henri Cartier Bresson, Bruce Gilden and Alex Webb. Surely I would be happy with a Leica too. I tried, more than once. And I found out: Leica is not for me.
Surely I would be happy with a Leica for street photography?
Over time I realized: There is no point in using a camera that I do not enjoy shooting with.
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. I have owned all four models of the Fuji X100 series. The first models were far from ideal, the autofocus was terribly slow. Yet I always enjoyed using the Fuji X100 .
Recommended street photography cameras
Let’s discuss some real life camera choices that are actually on the market.
Use the smartphone for street photography
You can absolutely use a smartphone as a street photography camera.
I took the photo below during a morning run with a smartphone, an outdated one by today’s standards. And the smartphone was just good enough to capture this scene in the gorgeous morning light. More important than the camera specs was my willingness to take 20 shots while the sprinklers were spraying water on me.
The mobile photography has improved dramatically over the last years. Smartphone cameras can do far more than providing nices pictures for Instagram. The image quality is good enough for prints in decent sizes. Mobile photography can be found art galleries. By all means mobile photography has grown up. Given the rather low technical requirements of street photography, a smartphone will work just fine as a street photography camera.
A smartphone is great for street photography.
Using a smartphone as a camera for street photography has indeed some advantages:
- The smartphone has an ultra compact form factor
- It is the camera you do not leave home without.
- No camera is more inconspicuous.
- Zero budget requirement for gear, if you own a smartphone already.
With good light, the smartphone is a pleasure to use on the streets. At night and generally in low light situations things become more difficult. If you are into night street photography, a camera with a larger sensor will be a better choice.
The Fuji X100F is the fourth model of the X100 series and Fuji has constantly improved the specs while preserving what was already good. And the hard work that Fuji has put in shows. Today the Fuji X100F is my favorite camera for street photography. I rarely leave home without the Fuji. Here is what I like about this camera:
- silent shutter
- fast lens f2/23mm lens
- fast autofocus – reliable in bad light situations
- electronic viewfinder and electronic enhanced rangefinder
- excellent image quality
- 24 MP APS-C sensor
- good high ISO performance
- great ergonomics
- compact body, no camera bag needed
Again the Fuji X100F is not perfect:
- The body is not water sealed,
- the display can not be tilted and
- the lens is very susceptible to flares.
Ricoh GR III
Ricoh GR III launched in early 2019. It is a serious spec bump compared to the Ricoh GR / GR II in the same compact form factor. What I like about Ricoh GR III
- 24 MP APS-C sensor
- excellent image quality
- can be fully operated with one hand
- extremely compact form factor
- shake reduction system
The GR III is a lot of fun on the street. When I was testing the GR III, I really came to enjoy anti-shake system. This makes partially blurred images really easy.
What I did not like
- No built-in flash
- Battery life is very short (200 shots)
- The AF speed is not overwhelming.
The GR III is a wonderful camera for street photography. The same goes for the Ricoh GR / GR II. Particularly for the price sensitive buyer – and for those who care for a built-in flash might want to consider a used Ricoh GR / GR II
Ricoh GRIII vs Fuji X100F
Both are absolutely great cameras for street photography. Usually I prefer the Fuji X100F over the Ricoh GRIII:
- The 23mm lens (35mm full frame equivalent is simply more versatile than the 18mm of the Ricoh GRIII
- The Fuji lens is one stop faster giving me more leeway at night and in low light conditions.
- For framing I can use either the display, the optical viewfinder or the electronic viewfinder. I find myself using all these options
- The Fuji has a built-in flash
- I like that the operating of the Fuji is very similar to the film cameras back in the day.
I will go with the Ricoh GRIII
- if I expect to shoot at close range,
- when travelling and I’ll have only one hand free, or
- if I need an absolutely inconspicuous camera
The Leica Q features
- a fast f1.7 / 28mm lens
- a compact body
- a full format sensor
- outstanding image quality
- a spray water sealed body (Leica Q2 only)
I see many street photographers using the Leica Q like Siegfried Hansen. I have yet to meet a street photographer using the Leica Q who has not been happy with it.
I feel the Leica Q has two major disadvantages:
- a very high price point
- a fairly bulky body
Let us consider the price point for a moment: Instead of the Leica Q you could get a Fuji X100F, a Ricoh GRIII and a photo trip New York, London or Paris. That’s quite a choice to make and really a question about personal preference. If you are a 28mm person and the price point does not scare you away, the Leica Q is well worth a consideration.
Camera systems for street photography
If you are doing more than street photography, you might be interested in a camera system. Here are some camera systems that work well for street photography,
Micro 43 Systems
Many street photographers are happy with the Micro 43 system, it easy to understand why:
- excellent image quality,
- compact bodies,
- a great choice of high quality lenses
- very affordable rates for camera and lenses
The major drawback for me: Micro 43 sensors are not the best choice when it comes to high ISO behavior. So if you are into night street photography, the Micro 43 system might not be your best choice.
Fuji X Series
Beyond the X100 the Fuji X-Pro series and the Fuji X-T series are very popular among street photographers. The Fuji X system is certainly one the best mirrorless systems on the market. There are wonderful lenses for street photography like the excellent and affordable Fujinon XF 23mm F2 R WR. Of course, the strong ties between the Fuji marketing and the international street photographer community does not hurt either.
Sony Alpha 6 / Alpha 7 series
Sony produces a fine choice of mirrorless cameras featuring APS-C and full format sensors, add to this a good set of quality lenses to choose from. I own the Sony A7 RIII and the image quality is second to none. I feel the Sony Alpha 7 series is an excellent choice, if you are looking for a full format camera system that works well for street photography.
The Leica M Series
In many ways the Leica M series is the classic street photography camera system. Many street photography legends used to work with the Leica M system and some still do. Many of those iconic street photographs we have come to admire were shot with a Leica M.
If we judge the Leica M by today’s standards of usability, the combination of a rangefinder and manual focus lenses seems to fall short. But is simply not an appropriate comparison. You won’t judge a Ferrari sports car by the size of its trunk or on how easy it can be parked.
Leica M is for fans.
Opting for a Leica M means choosing brand reputation, photography history, iconic design and as Leica fan will never tire to assure you – a unique image quality. Leica M is a system for fans, much like a Ferrari. You need to be able to afford it and you need the skills to operate it.
If you are in the market for a camera system that works well for street photography, easy-to-use and at a reasonable price point, then Leica M is obviously not for you.
The Influence of Marketing
And finally let us not ignore the power of marketing. We all can be easily influenced and biassed. Most big brands like Ricoh, Panasonic, Olympus or Leica and particularly Fuji are working the street photography scene very hard. Only Sony camera marketing ignores the street photography scene completely. I feel the limited use of Sony cameras in the street photography niche is mostly due to poor marketing on Sony’s side.
When you are about to choose a camera, think about it: What are you buying into? A camera system, an iconic brand or recent marketing activity?
Do you need a full format camera in street photography?
There is a lot going on in the market for full format mirrorless cameras. Canon, Nikon, Zeiss and Panasonic have recently introduced or announced new full format cameras. Well, the verdict is still out out if any of these new cameras are up to the already existing competition in this segment.
As for street photography and full format the verdict is in. You don’t need a full format camera to shoot street photography. Yes, a larger sensor has the potential for higher image quality. Yet this comes at the price of higher cost and a bigger size. And in terms of image quality will there be notable differences in real life tests? I don’t think so. I have shot many thousand images with M43 and APS-C cameras, not once have have I thought: “Yes, great shot, if only I had taken it with a full format camera.”
There seems to be a tendency to larger sensors in more compact bodies. But unless I can get a full format cam at the same price point and the same compact form factor as the Fuji X100F I will happily continue to use APS-C.
Consider a used camera for street photography.
Of course, we all like to have the newest and the latest. The shiny new toys. Yet getting a second hand camera for street photography might be even a better choice.
- Obviously a a second hand camera is a budget friendly choice. If you are looking for a cheap street photography camera, get a used one. And there is money left for things that actually might help you to become a better street photographer like photo books, travel or photo workshops.
- Buying a used camera is a great way to do an in-depth test, to find out if that particular camera works for you. If it does not, you can simply resell it – with very little or no money lost in the process.
- If we are honest, there haven’t been any groundbreaking technical revolutions in the camera industry in recent years. All novelties are in the category of improvements. Faster AF, more megapixel, larger sensors. A camera that was great five years ago, is still a great camera.
- Shooting with a used camera is far more relaxed in my experience. There is a limited amount of money at risk and the first signs of wear and tear are already there. Much easier to expose a used Ricoh GR to the rain than shiny new Leica gear worth a small car.
If you are in the market for a camera, check out the second hand market. The best camera for street photography might be a used one. This is particularlly
An older model of the Fuji X100 or Ricoh GR will serve you well. Both the Ricoh GR and the Fuji X100 series are out there for quite some time. This means older models are available at bargain prices.
Look for a street photography camera that is fun to use. Don’t spend too much time worrying about spec list, review or iconic brand names. In the end all cameras will do just fine for street photography.
Without further ado: My recommendations for the best street photography camera.
The Fuji X100F combines high image quality, a compact form factor, a fast lens and a silent shutter.
The Ricoh GR III is extremely compact, has a great image quality and can be operated with only hand.
Consider using the camera a smartphone for street photography.
If you are looking for a budget street photography camera, go for a second Ricoh GR or Fuji X100. You do not need the latest model in order to shoot street photography.
As for camera systems I feel the Fuji X (APS-C format) and the Sony Alpha 7 (full format) are clearly ahead of the crowd.
No matter what street photography camera you are going for, what really matters is your ability to operate the camera even under the most difficult circumstances. You will only be successful in taking these fast street photos if you know your camera by heart, if you can operate it at night or during a heavy rain in the blink of an eye.
Note : Ricoh Germany provided me with a Ricoh GR III for testing purposes.
Martin U Waltz is a photographer, educator and writer in Berlin. His passion is street photography. The streets of Berlin are his preferred hunting ground.
Martin has written and co-authored several books on street photography. Martin has won numerous photography awards and his work has been shown in exhibitions around the world.
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