Street Photography 101: Use the right gear

How can I write a post about what the ‘right’ gear is for street photography when there is obviously so much gear out there that it is impossible to have used anything but a fraction of it (unless you’re Ken Rockwell that is)?

The short answer is, I can’t, and so I’m not going to. What I can do though is talk about what attributes I think a good street camera should have, and what camera best meets those for me. Here’s my ‘must have’ list of street camera features therefore.

A street camera should be small, light and unobtrusive. Mirrorless cameras were a game changer for me and revolutionised my approach to photography including the type of images I made. The small size of the camera bodies as well as the lightness of the lenses that could be attached meant that it was now possible to carry a quality ‘system’ camera all day long without getting an aching shoulder or back pain. Such cameras are ideal for street photography, not just because they are lighter but also because their small size means you are less likely to be noticed as being a photographer and can move about more freely without people wondering why you are pointing your camera at them.

A street camera should be weather resistant. I’m a firm believer that street photography should not just be a fair weather pursuit. If it were, it would be very difficult to practice here in the UK where rain is is frequent and increasingly torrential. Having a camera and lenses that are weather resistant is, therefore, essential.

A street camera should allow for lenses with a selection of focal lengths. I know the jury is out on this one. Many street photographers say your kit should be as simple as possible and using one lens can push your creativity by forcing you to adapt to differing situations with what you have at your disposal rather having the ‘crutch’ of a bagful of lenses to fall back on. I however do prefer to at least have the option to change lenses. I like to carry at least a 50mm (full-frame equivalent) and wide-angle lens with me.

A street camera should not get in the way of making images. On the street things can happen quickly and you often don’t have the chance to mess about setting up your camera. This is why it’s a good idea to have your camera preset to cover 80% of what you’re likely to come across. For the 20% of what you cannot be prepared for it’s definitely good to have a camera that allows you to quickly change settings when you need to. For this reason I like to use cameras that give as much control externally through buttons and dials rather than having to navigate your way through overly complicated menu settings.

A street camera should be ‘nice’ to use. I know this one sounds a bit frivolous and unnecessary but it does help if your camera feels right and makes you want to get out and take images. Look and feel should not take precedence over any of these other attributes but should be a consideration. If your camera feels right when you are holding it, allows you to quickly do what you want and just feels more desirable then you are more likely to have it with you when a picture opportunity arises.

A street camera should be affordable. What’s affordable to one person is going to be completely beyond the budget of the next person so talking about ‘affordability’ when it comes to gear is always going to be relative. Whilst I am not advocating you should break your bank balance when purchasing gear I am a believer in buying the best you can afford. That’s not to say you can’t create amazing images with even the cheapest of cameras (or phones) but what spending a little more can give you is reliability and more shooting possibilities. The latter comes from shooting in bad weather, maybe faster lenses or just more options with what you can do with your camera. As I say, none of these are by any means essential to have to capture great images but may increase your chance of getting more ‘keepers’.

“Where's Ozzie?”, Birmingham, England, 2021 (Fujifilm X-Pro3, XF35mm F2, 1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 160)
“Where’s Ozzie?”, Birmingham, England, 2021 (Fujifilm X-Pro3, XF35mm F2, 1/500s @ f/5.6, ISO 160)

It has often been said that “the best camera is the one you have with you” (I believe this was originally attributed to Ansel Adams). For most people this would almost certainly mean their smartphone. I actually prefer what Frank Lehnen says in this blog post however.

The best camera is the one that gives you the most fun, that makes you want to grab it automatically and make nice photographs.

Frank Lehnen

So, given all this, what is my preferred street camera? I am now a fully signed up Fujifilm X Series user. I love both the styling of their cameras as well as the great quality that their APS C sensors give. On top of this their lenses are super sharp as well as having fast autofocus and are relatively affordable. Fujifilm make a large range of cameras to fit most budgets but for me their best camera body that fits my criteria above is the current version of their X-Pro series, the X-Pro3.

The X-Pro3 is a rangefinder camera and so not, strictly speaking, ‘mirrorless’ (as in, it never had a mirror in the first place). The X-Pro3, when released garnered a great deal of attention and became a bit of a Marmite camera, you either loved it or you hated it. It took me a while to warm to the fact this could be the right camera for me but it certainly ticks all of the boxes in my list above:

  • Whilst not small enough to be pocketable it’s certainly light enough to carry around all day without really noticing it is there.
  • The X-Pro3 is weather resistant (fully so when coupled with the Fujifilm ‘WR’ designated lenses).
  • The Fujifilm X Series have an impressive range of small, light and weather resistant lenses of the ‘right’ focal lengths for street photography (i.e. 24mm, 35mm and 50mm full-frame equivalents).
  • Once set up, the X-Pro3 is really easy to use and adjust quickly meaning you don’t have to dip into the menu system.
  • The X-Pro3 looks great, fits well into my (large) hands and is a dream to use.
  • The X-Pro3 is not the most affordable Fujifilm camera by any means (in fact it is one of the most expensive of the X Series range) however it’s well worth it if you can afford it, especially when compared to say the Leica M Series).

If you’re still not convinced then take a look at this video by street photographer Hugh Brownstone who says of the Fujifilm X-Pro3 it “speaks to your eye, your heart, your head – and your soul“.

That works for me!

Go to previous Street Photography 101 post.

2 Replies to “Street Photography 101: Use the right gear”

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