As a Hong Kong-based professional photographer, I do a lot of street photography in this beautiful and energetic city. From time to time, I receive questions such as “Can you recommend a camera that is great for street photography?” or “What is the best camera for street photography?”
My answer is pretty much the same as I told my readers in my other blog posts, written about
- the best cameras for wedding photography
- the best lenses for portraits and headshots
- best photography equipment and cool camera accessories
that it is difficult to define the best camera for street photography, but you can find one that best suits your needs, skill level and which can produce the photos you like.
In this article, I am going to talk about how to pick a great camera for street photography and my top picks.
Best Cameras for Street Photography - Quick Summary
Best Compact Cameras for Street Photography
Best DSLR Cameras for Street Photography
Best Mirrorless Camera for Street Photography
Best Camera for Street Photography - What to Consider?
Many factors enter into the decision as to which camera is the best camera for street photography. Some factors will have a different weight for each individual. Before looking for the best street camera for you, consider these questions:
What Will You Do With Your Photographs?
I know, this might seem like a stupid question, however, it is very relevant. If you plan on just sharing your street photographs online and on social media channels such as instagram and facebook, then this is not much of an issue.
However, if you think you may want to display your photographs or even sell them, then it is something to keep in mind. Most cameras will give you acceptable prints up to 11x14 inches, but beyond that many cameras will fail you.
How Will You Shoot?
Do you want to just blend in? Give the appearance of a casual tourist? Taking fast candid photos, shooting from the hip? Or approach people and ask if you can photograph them? These questions could lead you to different size cameras.
What Can You Afford to Lose?
There are a few points to consider with this question. Some cameras might make you the target of people who would like to have it as their own. Another point to consider is accidental damage.
What would happen if you were jostled in a crowd and your camera dropped to the ground? Some cameras might be destroyed while others might just get some scuff marks. How likely are these scenarios for you?
Sometimes when we photograph in the street, we like to create a sense of motion in our frame. To know more about this and other tips on motion photography, check out this highly popular blog regarding motion and sports photography.
Best Camera for Street Photography - The Build
We see the camera and even smartphone manufacturers touting the size of the megapixels of their cameras. Megapixels are the area of an image being stored expressed in pixels. The number of horizontal pixels times the number of vertical pixels gives you the total area. While it does give you some grounds for comparison, it does not give you the means to compare quality.
A 16MB DSLR camera with an APS sensor will give you a better quality image than a 16MB cell phone with a 1/2.3" sensor (assuming all other factors are the same).
The camera sensor is the device that takes the incoming light and translates it to a digital image. Noise and distortion of light change depending on the size and quality of the sensor size. Furthermore, smaller sensors do not leave much leeway to crop images.
The larger the sensor, the more light it can translate. This means the possibility to improve sharpness, record both shadows and highlights, and capture a broader range of tones. I say possibility because it still depends on the photographer to use the camera properly and take the best photo.
The sensor is the most expensive part of a camera. Additionally, the size of the sensor will impact the size of the camera, power requirements, and the size of the lens used. These will influence the size and cost of the camera as well.
Sensor Sizes of Different Types of Cameras
The old 35mm film size is the standard that digital sensor sizes are measured against. Lens sizes are also generally given as the 35mm equivalent. Let's look at a few common sensor sizes:
Full Frame: A full-frame camera has a sensor the same size as a 35mm film camera. These are cameras for the professional digital photographer and are often a considerable investment.
APS-C: Advanced Photo System type-C (APS-C) sensors are used in many DSLR cameras and some point and shoot cameras. When compared to the full frames they have a crop factor of 1.5, giving outstanding results. However, they allow 2.4 times less light to be recorded when judged against the full-frame sensor. On the other hand, compared against the 1/2.3" sensor, they allow 15 times the amount of light. You will find some professional-level cameras using APS-C as well.
1/2.3" sensor: these sensors are the most common size in small cameras and some better cell phone cameras. The image size is 1/35th of the 35mm standard. Noise can become a problem if you make large prints. If you are looking for web and social media quality, this size sensor should meet your requirements.
Size and Weight of the Camera
Most street photographers will tell you "light and small" is the way to go. A large fancy camera and extra lenses will likely draw attention to you. As will a large camera bag. Most street photographers would rather blend in and not call attention to themselves. Most APS-C type cameras will be smaller and more suited for street photography.
You may spend a better part of a day walking around taking photos, so it will not take long before you start to feel the weight of the camera and anything else you cary! A camera that will fit in a jacket pocket is the preferred size for many professional street photographers.
Street photographers generally take a different view on lenses than photographers in other genres. You will often see media or sports photographers loaded down with a camera and several different types of lenses from long 400mm zooms to 70-200mm f2.8.
When it comes to candid shots, the preference is for a fast focus fixed length lens, called a prime lens. These lenses generally allow more light to pass compared to a zoom lens. Working with the same focal length allows you to develop your “eye” and the general consensus among street photographers is a 35mm or 50mm prime lens.
Even before you look in your viewfinder or screen, you will know what the camera is seeing. As you become familiar with your camera and lens combination, you will quickly find the best composition for your image.
Do take into consideration which lens you are planning to use before buying your camera.
There is nothing more frustrating than having framed the perfect candid shot, but your camera has not finished focusing. Today's cameras are much better at auto-focus than cameras of even 5 years ago. Still, difficult conditions can confuse the camera. Low light and low contrast conditions may lead to longer than expected focusing time.
Face recognition software has even come to many cameras, even low-cost ones. Cameras with this feature will prioritize faces as the focus point. You will, however, need the option to turn this feature off.
Sound of Shutter
The sound of the shutter is highly recognized. If you are trying to keep a low profile while taking your street photographs it may be something you may wish to control. Today's cameras are very quiet, in some cases silent. A quiet shutter, especially in religious buildings, is a must.
I would suggest you pick a camera with a more quiet or silent shutter for taking street photography since you never know when you will need this option.
Best Camera for Street Photography - Our Recommendation
The first thing you learn when looking to buy a boat is there is no perfect boat. To get some features, you may have to forego another feature. Buying a camera is similar. You may have to give up one thing to get another.
Defining the best camera for any function is difficult. To make things easier to discuss, we will bracket some cameras into different groups.
Best Compact Camera for Street Photography:
If you are looking to make your entry into street photography as a serious amateur or work your way into a professional career, a compact camera may be your best choice. These cameras are an investment but will not require you to mortgage your home. They are better than low-level point and shoot cameras and can help you provide high-quality images.
The Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is a great camera. This all-in-one camera has corrected many things that were seen as faults in its earlier version. I do think this camera is great for street photography and traveling.
If you are looking for a small size camera that comes with a great quality zoom lens, aperture control, high image quality, and would work in dimmer light, you will probably love the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II.
One of the most impressive first impressions is its small size. The Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II is 4.37"(110.9mm) x 2.4"(60.9mm) x 1.81"(46.0mm) in size with a pop-up viewfinder. It weighs just 12 oz. ( 340g) including the battery and memory card. This allows the camera to easily fit into a pocket.
Do not be fooled into thinking this is a run of the mill compact camera. The camera has a 1.0-inch stacked CMOS giving it a whopping 20.1 Megapixel image. Compact cameras generally have a 1/2.3" sensor. While not up to the level of APS-C it is a huge improvement over the old 1/2.3" sensor. The PowerShot can save images to four different JPEG sizes. The 1.0-inch stacked CMOS allows it to also save in RAW format.
When you save an image in a camera in JPEG format, the processor in the camera makes some adjustments. These adjustments cause some of the original information to be lost. A high contrast JPEG might lose details in the shadows or highlights.
RAW format records all the light information that the sensor receives. Sort of like what film does. However, it is not usable directly from the camera, it needs to be processed first. When it is processed, all the original information is there for you to use. Canon's PowerShot G5 X Mark II allows you to save both RAW data and JPEG images.
The autofocus is fast and you can “track” the subject so that a moving subject will stay in focus. The autofocus tracking allows shooting at up to 20.0 fps. The RAW burst mode (no JPEG) allows shooting at up to 30.0 fps. One amazing feature is being able to change the point of focus by touching the part of the image on the touchscreen that you want the AF point to be.
The PowerShot comes with a 5x optical zoom lens. The lens covers a range from 24mm wide-angle with an aperture of f/1.8 to 120mm telephoto with an aperture of f/2.8. This lens performs well in low light situations. The camera has an advanced Optical Image Stabilization system coupled with digital zoom. Using both the optical and digital zooms allow a 17x zoom.
The camera has a builtin flash and will record 4k video as well. It comes with a battery, battery charger, and wrist strap.
What is Not That Nice?
I love the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II, but if there is one thing I don’t really like is the pop-up viewfinder. It’s just… not my thing.
The Ricoh GR III is another pocket-size camera that is an outstanding choice for street photographers. Professionals seem to give this camera mixed reviews. Like Opera, you will either love this camera or hate it the first time you use it.
I am a fan of this camera: it is small and comes with a big sensor and a high-quality lens, which produces super sharp and high quality images. I also love the shake reduction tech used to keep the camera stable.
This camera is slightly smaller and weighs less than the PowerShot. The GR III measures 4.3" (109.4mm)×2.43"(61.9)×1.31"(33.2mm) and weighs just 9 oz (257g), including the battery and SD memory card. This camera can easily be operated with one hand.
The lens is a fixed 18.3mm (28mm in 35mm equivalent focal length) instead of the PowerShot's zoom lens. Having a fixed-length lens vs a zoom lens is a personal preference, however, most street photographers prefer the fixed wide-angle lens. The aperture of both camera's lenses is F2.8.
Sensor Quality and Image Format
The Ricoh GR III comes with a great quality sensor, having a 24 MP APS-C sensor. The high-quality sensor combined with the camera's shake reduction system gives the photographer excellent image quality. It will save both RAW and JPEG formats as well.
What is Not That Nice?
I am pretty happy with the Ricoh GR III, but these are the things that could be improved:
- It does not come with a flash
- Battery life is pretty limited, so you may need to carry a spare one
- Does not handle noise well in low light situations.
The Ricoh GR III comes with a hand strap, rechargeable battery DB-110, USB Cable, USB Power Adapter and a power plug.
Best DSLR Camera for Street Photography
While DSLR cameras are still the camera of choice for photojournalism, they are not as popular among street photographers.
The 35mm Single Lens Reflex (SLR) and the digital replacement, Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR), were the camera of choice for assignments outside of a studio, and these cameras have interchangeable lenses.
DSLR cameras are larger due to the space required for the mirror system. Mirrorless cameras were seen as superior, however, the cost was much greater. The improvement of technology has led to a reduction in the cost of mirrorless cameras nowadays. The price difference between DSLR and mirrorless cameras is getting closer.
The top camera for street photography in our DSLR selection is a Nikon. True to the classic Canon vs Nikon debate, the second choice is a Canon.
The Nikon D750 is your chance to step up to a DSLR that has a full-frame sensor, while still lighter and smaller than many DSLR cameras. This is a very easy camera to get to know and fits in well for street photography. The autofocus is very quick, so you will not lose a shot because the camera was not ready. While larger than the cameras we have already discussed, it is not so large that it will draw a great deal of attention to you.
Features and Specs
The Nikon D750 uses a full-frame 24 Megapixel sensor giving a maximum resolution of 6016 x 4016 pixels, RAW, and JPEG files available. The camera can shoot continuously at 6fps. The video is up to Full HD 1080p/60.
The 51-point AF system gets high grades for speed and sharpness. If you feel that the AF is not fast enough, you can reduce the number of points that are being evaluated. The camera does have a built-in flash.
Generally speaking, this camera comes with great specs for producing excellent image quality. Manual controls and a fast autofocus system provide a smooth, continuous shooting experience. It's also great for video enthusiasts!
Size and Weight
The camera body is 5.6"(140.5 mm) x 4.5"(113 mm) x 3.1"(78 mm) with a weight of 26.5 oz. (750 g). The Nikon D750 comes in different configurations allowing you to purchase the lens that meets your needs.
Your selection will add to the size and weight of the camera obviously. If you already have AF NIKKOR lenses, they will work with this camera. For street photography, the lens I would recommend is an AF NIKKOR 24-70mm f2.8 lens with virtual stabilization. The f/2.8 lens gives an outstanding low light performance.
In the box, the Nikon D750 DSLR Camera comes with a Lithium-Ion Battery (1900mAh),
Battery Charger, USB Cable, Neck Strap, Body Cap, Eyepiece Cap, Rubber Eyecup, and a Software CD-ROM are also included.
The Canon 5D IV is an outstanding DSLR camera. In many areas of comparison with the Nikon D750, it outperforms it. Just when we look at the price and what is included in the package, Nikon is probably a better value option. But then at the end of the day, it’s more about whether you are a Canon or Nikon person.
Features and Specs
This camera also uses a full-frame sensor, however, it is at a larger 30.4MP while D750 comes with a 24.0 MP resolution. It has a slightly higher continuations frame rate of 7fps and does shoot 4k video. The maximum resolution is 6720 x 4480. The 5D even has a built-in GPS for Geo recording.
The camera incorporates a 61 point AF system, with different focusing modes.
Size and Weight
The size of the camera is 5.9"( 150.7mm) x 4.6"(116.4 mm) x 3" ( 75.9 mm) weighing 1.76 lb / 800 g, without a lens. The recommended lens is a 24-105mm zoom with a maximum aperture of f/4.
What’s Not that Nice?
- The package comes with no built-in flash
- Comparing with the D750, Canon comes with a higher price tag
Best Mirrorless Camera for Street Photography
The world is full of technological advances. State-of-the-art computer systems five years ago are now often considered near obsolete. New advances in technology have accelerated the development of many items including mirrorless cameras.
Prices of mirrorless cameras are continuing to fall as new models are released. The recent release of a new camera by Sony may make it the best on the market and accelerate the popularity of mirrorless technology.
The Sony Alpha a7C is great for street photography, and way more than that. The Alpha a7C is Sony's latest release, and it is turning heads everywhere.
It is a 24.2-megapixel full-frame mirrorless camera that is the size of a compact camera (4.88 x 2.80 x 2.35 inches). Currently, it is the smallest full-frame camera on the market and outperforms most DSLR cameras. It also costs less than most DSLRs.
Feature and Specs
The continuous shooting rate of the a7C is up to 10fps with AF/AE tracking. The tracking system is a Fast Hybrid AF (phase-detection AF / contrast-detection AF). Depending on the setting it can utilize as many as 693 points to determine the best focus.
The auto-focus can use face and eye detection as well as being locked on to a subject. As the subject moves, the focus will be maintained.
The camera performs well in very low light situations and has an impressive EV-3 to EV 20 metering sensitivity. The ISO range is 100–51200, however, it has an expanded range of ISO 50 to ISO 204800. A great feature for street photographers is the ability to take exposure bracketed images with one click.
There is a side opening monitor that can be tilted to achieve the best viewing angle, and it has a small viewfinder. This allows for easy candid shots.
Functions and Add Value Points
The Sony Alpha a7C has equally impressive video recording.. The full-frame sensor and video processor allow exceptional depth-of-field control, and clean low-light scenes while shooting in 4k mode with a 6k oversampling.
The battery life of the Sony Alpha a7C is just outstanding, I was using it for the whole day and didn’t even need to use the spare battery. Available for USB charging just makes everything so convenient.
What’s Not That Nice?
The user menu is just a bit too complex compared to other Sony cameras and there is no built-in flash.
Best Camera for Street Photography - Are You Ready?
The most important thing about street photography is to have fun and to see the world in your own way. Look at life around you and grab a milisecond of it with your camera. If one of these cameras catches your eyes, that is great. But do not feel that you have to have the best to get started. Start with what you have, even your phone.
Street photography is about now, even a few seconds might take that photo away. I have written an article regarding motion and sports photography tips, I hope it would help you out in taking great street photography as well.
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A big thanks to Phottix for the professional lighting equipment provided to Ali G Studios.
All photos are © Ali Ghorbani and Ali G Studios
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