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The best camera for street photography?

mike3996

Veteran
Apr 2, 2018
104
I formulated some time ago that after using some Fujifilms X100T + XT1, Leica Q, and Olympus PEN-F*, the ultimate camera or camera system for an enthusiast street photographer is the Fujifilm. I feel terrible about making this conclusion without having tested the very strong contenders, the Ricoh GR(2) and the Lumix LX100 (mark 2).

* (I bought myself since then the Leica M-P 240 with the 35 Summicron ASPH, that they say is pretty much the king of street photography. I haven't put the camera in street action just yet, because I haven't had the chance. But even before acquiring this object of desire I kind of knew it will not be as good an overall performer as the Fujifilm. But we'll see, come summer.)

How can I decide for sure which is the best just like that? Well it's actually very easy. Like everyone, I have drawn and collected a set of premises that I hold true personally. This set of premises changes over time as my situation and my preferences evolve. To ever make anything out of a camera review, you should know about the premises that are hold true. When you have your premises, you can draw logical implications and conclusions. Say Alice says Fuji X100 (the original) is too slow at focusing, and Bob says its AF is just perfect. Alice and Bob can both be correct and perfectly logical at the same time because they must have different set of premises they hold true. (If they shared their premises, one of them must be wrong.)

Anyway, people usually leave out their premises, which is a shame but also very human. Making a comprehensive list of premises would be very technically accurate but perhaps it doesn't make for good English prose. Not to mention, making the list is not easy at all.

But maybe I'll try, consider this a somewhat deconstructed "comparative review". Actually I wrote first the body of text and now am cherry-picking the premises from there as I spot them.


* Street photographer's camera (with lens) is petite and not too heavy
* The camera has to be actually nice to look at. You're not shooting landscapes, architecture or paid models; you're shooting strangers who don't know you. A cute toyish camera that doesn't threaten is worth a lot.
* I most usually prefer silver to black, (if the design is not botched)
* You're telling a story so having it possible to acquire very shallow DOF is not necessary
* Street photography is largely a low-fidelity genre.
* The camera is quiet if not silent to shoot.
* You should be able to comfortably shoot your camera in any kind of weather.
* Ergonomics matter: you should be able to operate and trust your camera without looking
* Having good zone focus capabilities is a must: no matter how amazingly fast your autofocus is in your latest Sony, a prefocused lens is there, faster.
* One-way tilty screen is actually better than the full-on-swiveling screen.
* Direct controls greatly preferred over PASM.
* I like wide angles. I find tight compression very clinical in most street work.
* Right eye dominating, I prefer the rangefinder style viewfinder placement over the traditional SLR style placement.


Now let's apply these premises to the cameras or camera systems.


Handling and ergonomics

This is alone a large reason why Fujifilm dominates. The X100 series fits my hand very well, I don't need any thumbsups or halfcases. Just a wrist strap and I'm good to go. The weight is just right at around ~440-460 grams. The body balances well. The buttons on the X100T are pretty much the best I've used, and I believe the X100F is only better with its added joystick and more buttons.

Leica Q at 660 grams does come pretty close, though. Its design is actually very superb, offering you builtin thumb rest and the weight is manageable. Q is not packed with customizable buttons but if you simplify, it works well.

I also have to hand it to Q, in that when I first read the reviews and looked at sample images (at DPR) they were very lackluster and didn't really cultivate GAS at all. When I went and actually handled Q in my hand, the build quality alone made me pretty convinced that the Q is the real deal. Made me GAS I just had to satisfy 2 months later.

Olympus works but isn't anything particular in any section. It's around the same heft as the Fuji (feeling a bit more dense though) but the buttons are pretty cramped and don't have the best feeling.

Looks

As per my premises, in candid shooting how the camera looks actually matters. It is because you are aiming your device at strangers, you don't want to be cultivating negative reactions towards yourself. If you ask for a quick portrait with a stranger, having a cutesy tiny "film camera" helps you get the response you're hoping for.

A silver Fuji X100 or the Pen-F are sure pretty. The all-black and chunky Leica Q doesn't win here. (The silver Q might be better, but to my eye it's not silvery enough.) So far I also got a very positive reaction to my silver M-P. "Someone's shooting a real camera for change", someone said.

Image quality

Now I'll largely disregard IQ out of the comparison because street shooting is pretty much the most "low-fi" of different genres. The content, the emotion and the story dominate.

Hell, people even crush shadows and add grain to the images just because it can add to the reception of the image. So definitely you don't need high fidelity cameras for street work.

But there is one thing about Leica Q that I have to put on a pedestal. Its lens-sensor-combo is so sharp it gives you cropability like no other (that I shot). There is immense value in taking a casual shot of a street and later finding out there's a very good 1500x1200 crop of the full 6000x4000 image that makes just a wonderful shot. And with Q you can do that crop pretty safely. It'll look wonderful.

Silence of operation

Following the theme of stranger-friendliness you don't want to draw attention to yourself. One doesn't catch the decisive moment with just one carefully timed shot -- even the masters work the scenes and shoot loads.

The very moment I got the X100T in action I instantly developed a deep appreciation towards quiet shutters. X100T is the quietest of them all. Leica Q comes a good second (it also has a leaf shutter but it's louder) and then the Olympus. Olympus has a pleasantly muted focal plane shutter. After a quick trial at a retail store I think the Fuji X-Pro2 has a pleasantly "quiet" shutter as well. Fuji X-T1 is louder, the MP240 very much so.

If I were to switch all my existing gear to go Fuji-only, I'd get the X100F as my main camera simply because of the leaf shutter (and the fact my preferred FL is 35).


Weather sealing

This one goes to Fuji, too. None of my current cameras does WR quite satisfactorily. With Fuji I could be using an X-Pro2 with a WR lens and be quite sure I'm safe. You could do the same with Olympus (have an E-M1 as your rainy-day body) but Olympus has fewer compact WR lenses than Fuji.


IBIS?

Now with Olympus having IBIS and a smaller sensor, is it a good tradeoff against a larger sensor with no IBIS... well I just managed to say how IQ doesn't mean much in street shooting so perhaps I can't say much other than absolutely, an IBIS does help expand your shooting envelope.


Features to help autofocus

Fuji (the X-Trans 2 generation) wasn't very superbly capable with autofocus. (My experience only involves the slow lenses: X100T's builtin one, 35/1.4 and 18/2.) The acquisition works pretty fast but a big theme around my missed shots was that Fuji tended to focus on the background.

While being faster to attain focus, Olympus PEN-F sadly shares this problem.

Leica Q on the other hand seems to nearly always prefer what's nearest in the focus rectangle. The amount of keepers I get with Q compared to the X100T is just insane. Q also focuses very quickly in good light -- overall a stellar implementation of CDAF.

But in very dark situations the CDAF of Leica Q (or the PEN-F) will result in duds quite easily: pointlike light sources turn into bokeh balls, and the focusing engine decides that the sharp edge of a bokeh ball is in focus. I believe a hybrid solution like X-Trans 2 Fuji or newer, has way less problems.

Overall autofocus (esp. those systems where you can focus anywhere in the frame) does have its place in street shooting because you can use your wide lens pretty and focus on the subject even though it looks like you point your camera elsewhere. With a DSLR (or Leica M) you have to resort on focus-recompose tricks or zone focusing so yeah, trickier.


Features to help manual focus

Leica M basically dominates the accuracy and ergonomics of manual focus. Leica Q offers a standard mirrorless featureset that is probably implemented better than average. Fuji has a good standard mirrorless feature set, but certain bodies like the X-T3 go the extra length in making sure you're all set for some MF action. I'm talking about the dual view feature where you can see the magnified focus area and the whole frame at the same time to keep your composition and your focus in mind simultaneously. Very good stuff!

Olympus gets the job done but I won't say it's any pleasure to use.

Zone focusing is a big thing, and Fuji is the king here as well. Fuji bodies offer an electronic focus distance scale for all native lenses, which is huge. The fact that Olympus doesn't do this, and all the "exciting" M4/3 lenses don't have a physical distance scale, makes Olympus a poor street shooter.

Leica M lenses (and Q) sport a good focus distance scale. The lenses also are designed for manual focus use from the start, so they're bound to be great. But in zone focusing it's just sometimes difficult to deal with the shallow DOF. With Q it's been hard to get good and sharp results while zone focusing whereas with Fuji X100T I got really good results from the start. Native Fujifilm lenses are fly-by-wire and cannot be reasonably fitted with focusing tabs so Leica has an edge here: with the developing finger feel you'll gain a good sense of what's going to be in focus, if you stick with zone focusing.

Fujifilm also provides a nice hybrid mode: in MF mode with a native Fujinon lens you can still autofocus by using the AF-L button. I never experimented with that mode of shooting much but it could be huge. All in all, the more I shoot Leica M, the more I start to see how Fujifilm truly understands and appreciates the street shooter and their needs.

Olympus makes a handful of lenses that have a physical focus distance scales, but the lenses themselves aren't necessarily what I call very beautifully rendering. YMMV -- if you love the 17/1.8 then you're all set for good zone focusing.


Exposure handling

When EVFs started to be a thing, I instantly fell in love with the idea. I've shot through EVFs for 3+ years now. I like it so much that I can keep my exposure within bounds like that.

Now all the cameras have a good evaluative metering, which all behave pretty much the same. The exception is the Leica M, where you probably want to prefer the classical center-weighted metering to keep battery usage and shutter delay at minimum. This is why I give the evaluative metering a win in this instance. If you shoot certain styles of street shots with no time to react to changing light, the evaluative metering is a good friend. Leica sensors don't like overexposure and will clip easily, so if you just manually expose or let it to chance, you run a decent risk of severely under- or overexposing.

Olympus is the easiest in this manner, having a stop of leeway in the highlights. Fuji X100T comes close, although I have to say I didn't shoot raw with the Fuji that much.


Lenses size-wise

Olympus and M4/3 have the compactest lenses, but are the most compact lenses the best performers? Sadly, no. If you can forgo the zone focusing altogether, then Panasonic's offerings are the best you can do with rendering and size in careful balance. Just shame about the distance scales.

Fuji offers some compact lenses, some larger ones. The funny thing is that Leica M glass tends to be around the same size if not smaller. If you want to go the ultimate in size (having ZF capabilities), go Leica M.

If you really prefer the 35mm equivalent, then a Fuji X100 series body as your main camera makes a lot of sense and it's a tiny lens, not to mention all the other niceties of the body.


Lens character

I'm not sure I should write about this here. I'll say just this: I don't mind the deep DOF of M4/3 at all, it's just that the (Olympus) M4/3 lenses I've used render OOF areas somewhat uglily. It doesn't always blur out but turns into a haze where you have difficulty determining what's going on. For comparison, with Fuji X100T I often closed the lens to f/5.6 and still got a nice gradual transition to OOF so it's just the Olympus 17/1.8 that doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.

The larger Olympus PRO lenses have a good performance, I understand. But they're so large it makes little sense for me.

Panasonic's M43 lenses seem to perform much better, but the problem is the lack of the focus distance scale. If only Olympus (or Panasonic) offered a Fuji-like electronic scale on the screen, the positively tiny Panasonic 14, the 20, or even the 12-32 could have so much life as a zone focus glass.

And the fullest of character of course goes to Leica M and some of the good legacy lenses you can have for "peanuts".


Small but helpful things: flash

Fuji X100T and the leaf shutter and the builtin flash makes all the difference. Some street photogs don't understandably use flash, others swear by it. The small builtin flash may not have the best guide numbers out there but it provides the little push that goes the longest way reducing your post-processing times. And X100T's TTL metering for flash is wonderful -- among the main reasons Ken Rockwell named the X100T "the best camera ever". Like the Apple crowd puts it, "it just works".

Fuji XT1 and Olympus come second because they ship with an external flash that doesn't need own power. But the problem is that you have to remember to keep that unit with you. There's nothing like a builtin flash that's just there for you. Also the XT1's TTL metering wasn't as perfect as the X100T's.

Leica Q and M come last because there's just no good TTL flash support or ecosystem for them, so you're probably going to go manual on that one. Not that it's a bad or a difficult thing, but still.


In conclusion

All in all, Fujifilm as a system or as a compact camera (the X100 series) is the best street shooter's tool I can hope. The title that is traditionally given to Leica, perhaps because of historical reasons, I felt like drilling into the reasons why I felt Fuji was so good.

A year ago I got myself into Olympus for the sole reason of it being perhaps the best street shooter's tool, but sadly the features of the body and the lenses didn't lend themselves to allow me to announce it the winner. And they're so close, if they just did something with the focus distance scales.

But yeah, it's not like Leica is garbage. Far from it! If you want that film like performance and the best tonality in a compact form, you can't go wrong with the Q. The cropability is a big aspect and of course the manual focus features are very good with both the Q and especially with the M.

You may have noticed that some of the Fuji's wins are based on the fact that I don't master everything yet. If I practiced enough and learned to accurately meter the light (both available light and flash) then Leica wouldn't be any worse than Fuji on those departments. That's something I simply have to practice, it's nothing more complex than that. I have already practiced the aspects of prefocus, so why not practice premetering as well. The same goes for zone focus too: the larger sensor is very unforgiving, but it can be improved by developing that finger-feel and practicing.

But anyway, also considering price, weight, WR, AF capabilities on top of the things, Fujifilm has things well in the bag. What am I personally going to do, it remains to be seen.

edit: added two more premises that hold true for me
edit 2: added and rewrote some premises
 
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bartjeej

Hall of Famer
Nov 12, 2010
124
Mike, I'm not sure that you fully thought this thing through... :daz:



Just kidding... Yowza, that's some tjought out stuff!

Can't comment on everything, but a few points:
- I personally like more abstract, graphic street photography, think Saul Leiter. So shallow dof does play a role in my personal considerations.
- Cameras that are easy on the subject's eye are a huge plus. My X100 gets much more positive responses than a phone or non-film-looking compact.
- Lens character: the X100's lens truly has it. The combination of great resolution but not an overwhelming amount of contrast, especially in the highlights, and lots of softness up close, just ends up taking my breath away in some situations.
- Weather sealing or even waterproofing would be nice in any camera
- For some reason I never held a camera that felt as good in the hand as the original Samsung NX10 wirh its 30mm pancake. The Hasselblad X1D looks like it has an awesome grip, but that's way out of reach for me.
 

rayvonn

All-Pro
Jan 19, 2015
124
The brand or camera doesn't really matter. That may sound a bit glib after your comprehensive write up but the thing is, there are no rules to street photography. You just need a tool that you feel comfortable with getting that moment/ composition. Nothing else to it and imo we shouldn't let this street photography industry make us think otherwise.
 

mike3996

Veteran
Apr 2, 2018
104
Can't comment on everything, but a few points:
Precisely, you have your own premises where to begin with. Someone who enjoys the shallow DOF probably doesn't get the Pentax Q.

X100T's 23 is a mixed bag for me, to be sure. I don't particularly enjoy the spherical aberration, which was one of the main reasons why I was not entirely satisfied with it. And the body had some software limitations that lead me to the Q.
 

mike3996

Veteran
Apr 2, 2018
104
The brand or camera doesn't really matter.
The camera has to work for you, that is, your own premises have to be met as best as they can.

This is kinda the problem with (some of) the reviews: people don't always disclose what they actually expect from a camera. Unlike audio hifi, photog communities are exciting because we have a good mixture of actual professionals and hobbyists alike. The problem tends to be that when a pro says a camera X sucks "because of reasons" it can do with the money-making aspects why the camera sucks, it could very well be a good camera for someone whose livelihood is not on the stake.
 

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Jul 13, 2011
124
Lexington, Virginia
I go back and forth on this. The Pentax Q/Q7 with the 45ish prime certainly has its charms. My current choice is similar to yours, Mike, in that I'm using the Fuji XE3 and the 27. It's a slightly longer focal length which I like. OTOH, while reading reviews of the XH1, I read a very compelling case for using that beastie as a street cam. The key thing in this thread, however, is how you thought out this problem for YOU. It's not your conclusion as much as a template for how to make this kind of decision that I like.
 

mike3996

Veteran
Apr 2, 2018
104
The funny thing is that yeah, I didn't go buy Fuji gear after making this realization.* I promised myself to keep clean for 6 months. Then the good deal on the Leica MP happened and I relapsed big time. :dash2:

*) I've had time to wonder why I'm not in the seventh heaven with the Leica Q even if it happens to replicate all the features I used on the Fuji X100T. Feeling like garbage because if there's a perfect street camera, it's the Q. And I'm not satisfied! It was probably the X-T3 announcement when I started to consider what factors are actually in play.
 

agentlossing

Regular
Mar 23, 2015
44
I have and love the Ricoh GR II, however I wouldn't call it the perfect street camera. It's a small, stealthy, snapshot camera, easy to have and bring anywhere. But it has no viewfinder, flip screen, has slowish AF, poor high ISO (if you want to snap focus instead of AF, you end up using higher ISO to counteract the smaller aperture needed) and, for me anyway, it's just a little small to be able to shoot from the hip accurately. Combined with the wider FoV, the tiny body just feels harder to point and shoot without looking at the screen. I've seen awesome results from street photographers using this camera, though. These are just my feelings.

I personally value a flip screen a lot, and a decent EVF along with super fast AF. Panasonic M4/3 cameras are the easiest for my technique. I'm including a Medium article I wrote about the GX85, which is my current main camera, and has been since 2016. Everything that applies to the GX85 applies also to the newer GX9, albeit at a higher price. I would say the GX85/GX9 will have faster autofocus than the Olympus Pen-F, per many user experiences I've seen. I use a custom AF pattern on my camera combined with setting the shutter to fire on half-press as soon as focus is obtained, and it's lightning fast. Especially when compared with the legendary Panasonic 20mm f1.7, this camera is just a joy to use.

Ultimate Cheap Street Photography Camera: The Panasonic GX85
 

Drdul

New Member
Mar 23, 2018
4
Vancouver, BC
Interesting question, for which the best answer is “it depends.” The best camera for street photography depends on what’s important to the photographer.

In my case, one of the most important factors is depth of field, and I generally want a lot, especially when using zone focus, which I do much of the time. I owned the original X100 for a while, but eventually sold it because I missed focus too often as I couldn’t get enough depth of field with the APSC sensor. I’ve settled on a Pen-F with a 12-32mm and 17mm f1.8 because I get enough DoF with the M43 sensor at f5.0 (give or take a half a stop or so), and still get enough light for most conditions. I can also set a minimum shutter speed with auto-ISO (a feature none of my other cameras has had) and I have IBIS when I need it. If my Pen-F died tomorrow I would look at a Pany GX9, too, as it has similar features (but apparently not as good an EVF).
 

agentlossing

Regular
Mar 23, 2015
44
If my Pen-F died tomorrow I would look at a Pany GX9, too, as it has similar features (but apparently not as good an EVF).
Not quite as good, but plenty serviceable, and the flip-style LCD is a lot easier for me to use than the fully articulated one on the Pen-F. Not that the Oly hasn't tempted me more than once for its sheer beauty and attention to detail.
 

mike3996

Veteran
Apr 2, 2018
104
By the way, any particular aspect or category of contest I missed?

I know many swear by face detection, for example, and that's fine. I didn't consider it because I simply haven't used the feature much at all in those cameras that have it.
 

Briar

All-Pro
Oct 27, 2010
124
Scotland
A pause and reverse time button would be a useful feature otherwise the less features the camera offers me the more likely I will catch that once in a life time, beautiful, brief moment that catches your breath if you see it. That said - on camera controls rather than in camera controls, but then you knock these off the settings accidentally thinking you are gonna get a great shot and find your ISO is off the chart and you have nothing, NOTHING! In camera menus just remind me I need glasses!
 

mike3996

Veteran
Apr 2, 2018
104
A pause and reverse time button would be a useful feature otherwise the less features the camera offers me the more likely I will catch that once in a life time, beautiful, brief moment that catches your breath if you see it. That said - on camera controls rather than in camera controls, but then you knock these off the settings accidentally thinking you are gonna get a great shot and find your ISO is off the chart and you have nothing, NOTHING! In camera menus just remind me I need glasses!
Indeed -- is the once-in-a-lifetime photo you take, more or less value TO YOU if you take it casually in Panasonic's 4K photo mode or with a film SLR with careful timing. The end result surely should matter the most, but these things can be more about the journey than the destination...
 

Drdul

New Member
Mar 23, 2018
4
Vancouver, BC
I know many swear by face detection, for example, and that's fine. I didn't consider it because I simply haven't used the feature much at all in those cameras that have it.
I ignored face detection for many years, but recently tried it and decided that (for me) it’s a benefit for street photography when I’m using autofocus. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl and you might find you like it!
 

Petach

Hall of Famer
Oct 22, 2011
123
UK, Essex
I ignored face detection for many years, but recently tried it and decided that (for me) it’s a benefit for street photography when I’m using autofocus. If you haven’t tried it, give it a whirl and you might find you like it!
You are right Richard. I tried it recently with a Panny FZ2000 bridge and got a high hit rate. I think I had more in better focus than I had with snap focus on the Ricoh GR2
 

Drdul

New Member
Mar 23, 2018
4
Vancouver, BC
You are right Richard. I tried it recently with a Panny FZ2000 bridge and got a high hit rate. I think I had more in better focus than I had with snap focus on the Ricoh GR2
Good to hear! I like snap/zone focus, but because the zone of focus is fixed it means that in some situations too many people end up at the edges of the zone, not quite in focus. If people are coming towards me with most or all of their faces visible, then I will often use autofocus with face detection rather than snap/zone focus.

Edit: Typo
 
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rayvonn

All-Pro
Jan 19, 2015
124
Zone/ snap focus is always explained away as being more simple than it is. It’s very often tricky and reliant on the subject going where you want him/ her to go which doesn’t always occur.
 

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