treet photography has quickly become a trend in pop culture and social media, as evidenced by the posts that we see daily on our Facebook and Instagram feeds. While it is traditionally known to be a photography style that captures candid moments of humanity and emotion, photographers have challenged this definition by capturing street images that are more carefully planned out and feature human subjects in a variety of public places.
Today, more people continue to try street photography. Whether it’s to take fashionable OOTDs in the city or to capture more serious material for photojournalism, it definitely gives the shooter an opportunity try different things and make use of the raw beauty of the streets to create compelling images.
If you’re interested in breaking into this photography niche or improving your street photography skills, you may want to know: what’s the best camera for street photography?
In this article, we’ll touch on all of the most commonly used cameras for street shooting and give you the pros and cons of each to help you decide which one is best for your needs.
Street Photography Camera Guide
Many might argue that the best camera for street photography would be the smallest one, but seasoned photographers will tell you to use whatever works for you. After all, we all have our own preferences when it comes to a camera’s functionality. Here are a few important things to consider when choosing between some of the most popular types of digital cameras.
The DSLR takes the cake when it comes to image quality. It has a big image sensor that produces the largest images, plus it has tons of manual camera settings that allow you to have more control over the camera’s shooting behavior and image quality. The Nikon D750 ($1496.95), with its deep grip and tilt-out LCD, and the drool-worthy Canon 5D Mark IV ($3199) are premium DSLR options for street photography and many other imaging applications.
- Features & Settings – The biggest advantage in using DSLRs is having a wide variety of camera features and settings at your disposal. You will surely encounter different lighting situations, objects, and people out in public areas, so being able to adjust the ISO, shutter speed, aperture, white balance, and the like would be very helpful.
- High Speed Shooting – DSLRs will also allow you to capture four frames (or more!) per second, which is great for when you want to shoot subjects in motion, like kids in the park or pedestrians crossing the street.
- Interchangeable Lens Feature – For many street photographers, this is probably the most important aspect of a DSLR camera. Imagine going for a photo walk, or even catching festivals and parades on the street when you travel. Having a camera that can alternate between a wide and telephoto lens provides significant ease in capturing your desired images without moving around too much.
- Expensive – Known to be the most valuable type of professional digital camera, a high-end DSLR could easily be worth more than a thousand dollars, so it may not always be the safest and and most practical option for street photography.
- Complex Features – Due to its fully customizable features and manual settings, beginners will have to spend a little more time learning how to operate it before they can start shooting.
- Heavy / Bulky – The biggest disadvantages of using DSLRs for street photography would have to be its weight and size. The last thing you want to concern yourself with when you’re traveling and trying to frame a good photo in public is how heavy the camera feels in your hands.
Before digital photography came to be, film was the way we produced our pictures. More importantly, film cameras were responsible for capturing some of the best street photographs in history. Film cameras have evolved alongside digital cameras, and now they’re considered to be the “different” approach to photography.
Highly popular camera models like the Mamiya 7 II and the classic Leica M6—upgraded to Leica M7 ($4550)—are still some of the best film cameras for street photography for their mix of analog and automatic manual camera settings, quiet operation, premium lens choices, and portability. If you have the budget for it, check out other Leica film cameras, as they typically produce some of the best cameras for street photography.
- Tangible Output – Film cameras encourage you to process your photos to make them tangible, and therefore feel more real and meaningful.
- Trains the Eye and Mind – Because film cameras operate with film instead of memory cards, which means a more limited number of shots, these cameras help discipline the photographer to think their shots through before they actually shoot. It works well with street photography, which is really about looking for a story rather than taking a photo spontaneously.
- Aesthetics – Film blends light and color beautifully in a way that digital cameras can’t—yet. It’s also known to produce a visually pleasing grainy texture and add a vintage touch to photos, which we keep on trying to mimic with imaging filters.
- No Preview – Film cameras may also be difficult to use for the generation that has grown up with a viewing system in their camera, because using film doesn’t allow you to instantly preview or delete your photos.
- Limited Shots – With this kind of camera, there’s not much space for trial and error. Unless you have an unlimited supply of film, it isn’t practical to take too many shots of the same thing.
- Time-Consuming Prints – This kind of camera obviously lacks the instant gratification that their digital counterparts can offer in two other ways: developing film photos usually take a while, and you can’t upload the photo for social media sharing without scanning it.
A mirrorless camera is designed to function like DSLRs, but without the internal mirrors, hence its name and more compact size. This also means they’re typically the cheaper (but not always) and more portable professional digital cameras, making them one of the best cameras for street photographers who want a combination of professional features and maximum portability.
A lot of amateur photographers prefer mirrorless cameras for their good compromise of quality and ease of use. The Canon EOS M3 ($429) and Olympus PEN-F ($999) are ideal mirrorless cameras for street photography for their portable, lightweight build and high image quality.
- Compact with Multiple Lenses – Think of mirrorless cameras as smaller and lighter DSLRs. Their main advantage is that they are compact and yet allow the use of different lenses, while giving you the range and quality that point-and-shoot cameras cannot. This also makes them more practical to bring on long photowalks.
- Advanced Settings – This camera allows you to tweak your aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and other advanced settings, similar to that of a DSLR.
- Social Media Friendly – A lot of mirrorless cameras today have touch screens and Wi-Fi connectivity, which makes it easier to share your work instantaneously on social media. For most photographers, his makes street photography much more fun, interactive, and rewarding.
- Slower AF – The downsizing sure comes at a cost. Unlike DSLRs, earlier mirrorless cameras use contrast detection instead of phase detection to focus on subjects, which slows down its autofocus speed. To get around this, you’ll need a mirrorless camera that at least offers both.
- Limited Lens Options – Since DLSRs have been around longer, mirrorless cameras have to wait before having as much lens options to choose from—but they’re definitely catching up.
- Battery Life – The battery life of mirrorless cameras doesn’t last very long, primarily because the camera uses an electronic viewfinder (rather than the optical one found in DSLRs). However, this shouldn’t really matter as long you carry a spare.
Compact digital cameras (also known as point-and-shoot or pocket cameras) are designed to be simple and user-friendly. All you need to do is point, shoot, then let the camera do the rest. Aside from being very handy, it has automatic functions and a built-in flash, so you won’t have to worry about complicated settings. The Canon Powershot G1 X Mark II ($649) and Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX100 ($597.99) are some of the most popular and reliable point-and-shoot cameras for many imaging applications, including street photography.
- Small and Light – Some point-and-shoot cameras are even smaller and lighter than smartphones, making them easier to bring and store in your pocket. It attracts the least attention out of all the other cameras and helps you move around as freely as you wish, which is exactly what you would want in street photography.
- Silent Operation – This camera is quite suited for taking candids because its zoom and shutter are usually quite silent.
- Programmed Settings – What makes this type of camera well-loved by beginners is that it normally has basic, pre-programmed settings for portraits, sports/action shots, macros, night photography, and several others, which you can quickly access with a switch or dial.
- Fixed Lens – In street photography, you can’t really manipulate the elements surrounding you as you do in a studio or other controlled environments, so it’s advisable to use a variety of lenses that allow you to at least zoom in and capture scenes from different angles. Unfortunately, point-and- shoots come with fixed lenses.
- Lack of Camera Functions – This camera also has limited functions, such as little control over aperture and shutter speed compared to other cameras. It also often does not shoot well in low light conditions. This makes shooting moving objects, attempting night photography, or achieving a narrower depth of field more difficult.
- Average Quality Images – While point-and-shoot cameras produce higher resolution images than smartphone cameras, the quality is usually still lacking. Of course, there are some models, like the Ricoh GR II compact camera, that can give you close to DSLR-quality images that allow for larger prints.
Smartphones seem to be giving other digital cameras a run for their money. Every time a new phone is released, it usually comes with an upgraded built-in camera, on top of many other functions and features that make it highly useful to consumers. For instance, leading smartphone brands Apple and Samsung recently released their iPhone X and Galaxy S8 phones, which feature high-resolution 12-megapixel cameras with an impressive maximum wide aperture of f/1.8 and f/1.7, respectively.
- Discreet – When you do street photography, you want everything to look and feel as organic as possible, without anyone looking at you as if you’re out on a mission. This makes smartphones highly suitable for street photography—your subjects won’t be intimidated by your presence because seeing a person using a smartphone isn’t as distracting as seeing someone with a DSLR.
- Convenient – This is the lightest and easiest camera to carry around for photo walks or any other casual outings. It won’t really feel like you’re bringing a camera, since it’s already built into your personal smartphone.
- Modern Specs – The recent smartphone cameras are sharp enough that even pro photographers use them for their Instagram grids and display photos. Some professionals even use smartphones exclusively for their work.
- Editing On The Fly – Your phone is probably the device you’re most familiar with, so understanding the functions of the camera and touching up your images using your go-to photo editing app won’t take much time at all—no exporting needed.
- Lower Image Quality – Smartphones simply don’t produce the kind of quality that other digital cameras do, especially when it comes to capturing moving objects and shooting in low light areas—both of which you’ll have to deal with in street photography.
- Limited Settings – There’s no way to manipulate settings (such as shutter speed and aperture) because they aren’t readily adjustable in most smartphones, unless you use a third-party application that allows it.
- Shorter Battery Life – You can easily run out of battery as you use your camera on top of other applications.
Characteristics to Look for in the Ideal Camera for Street Photography
Once you’ve decided on what type of camera you want to use for street photography, it’s time to narrow down the options even more. There are many brands and models within each camera type, but when choosing one specifically for the purpose of street shooting, it’s best to choose one that has the following characteristics:
Small, Lightweight, and Portable
Unlike other photography niches such as portraiture or architecture photography, street shooting requires the photographer to be on the move constantly. Due to this, it’s best to avoid cumbersome cameras that’ll slow you down and tire you out.
As previously mentioned, street photography is all about capturing humanity in its organic state. The thing about people, however, is that once they know that a camera is present, they may start to behave differently or more consciously. To avoid this, a street photographer should choose a workhorse that is mostly inconspicuous—avoid cameras with shiny silver bodies or colorful housings.
For the same reasons, you’re also going to want a camera that can remain silent throughout operation. The click of a shutter is sure to give you away when you’re trying to stealthily shoot candid photos of your subjects, so opt for a camera with a quiet shutter.
Candid photos are hard to capture, and you can miss out on a lot of amazing shots if your camera is too slow when it comes to focusing. Fast (and accurate) autofocus is always extremely useful when shooting moving subjects.
Fast Shutter Speeds
When you’re shooting street scenes and subjects, everything always happens fast. For this reason, street photographers normally use fast shutter speeds to enable them to capture the action.
Durable and Weather-Sealed
Obviously, street photography entails being outside and dealing with varying weather conditions. This may not be too important for some people as you can easily buy accessories to help you protect your camera from rain and other elements, but if you can, choose a camera that is durable on its own and has some sort of weatherproofing properties.
Built-In Image Stabilization
Again, not too important if you plan on using a monopod or tripod. But since those camera stabilizing tools are sure to make you stand out from the crowd, it helps to have a camera (or lens) with built-in image stabilization to reduce camera shake while shooting handheld.
Each camera has its pros and cons, but choosing the best street photography camera for you should be a lot easier once you realize your priorities and needs as a street photographer.
If you’re an aspiring photographer with hopes of building your skills and becoming a professional, consider investing in a mirrorless camera that offers manual camera settings and can deliver professional quality images in a more handy package. If you’re a beginner who simply likes taking snapshots, then a point-and-shoot or a smartphone with a good-quality camera may be the more favorable and affordable option.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling experimental or adventurous, maybe using a film camera can give you the unique results you’re looking for. And if you’re willing to go all out to produce the best quality images no matter the cost and gear size, a DSLR may be for you.
It’s always a case to case basis with a layer of factors to consider, but as long as you’re comfortable with your camera, then you’re ready to face the fun challenge of street photography.