When you make your living from photography, you are always asked gear related questions. And now, I want to answer one particular gear related question with this article. “What is the perfect gear for street photography?”
For me, there really isn’t any perfect street photography gear (yet), but there is lots of gear that works wonderfully for street shooting.
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Before we start talking about gear, I'd like to be clear about a particular prerequisite of mine for getting comfortable with working on the streets, and it is to be as inconspicuous as possible. In my early years, when I first started working on the streets, I used only my big DSLR. Then, I got to own a film camera from 1979 – a Pentax ME Super. I fell in love with it because of its small size and the way it felt.
Sometime after that, I got to know a great social documentary photographer in my country, Francisco Campos. I was amazed with how intimate his documentary photography was and so I asked him this question, “what camera do you use?” He laughed and told me, “I only use this – always” and he showed me a very compact, yet powerful Point and Shoot camera. At that moment, my whole standard of using huge gear changed dramatically.
I went and bought my own small and powerful Point and Shoot camera. This little fella allowed me to shoot in Manual mode, and of course, it also shoots RAW, which is just great for developing your digital negative files.
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The great benefit of working with inconspicuous gear, is that you don't attract attention, and you seem to be a regular tourist, amateur or new photography enthusiast. When you don't look like a great figure in the photography field, people tend to get really comfortable when they see you around their environment taking pictures.
Now, before we start on addressing the question of the best photography gear for street shooting, let's divide these suggestions into 3 specific branches: cameras, lenses and accessories.
Let's talk about cameras. There is nothing wrong with working with DSLRs, but it's good to match them with lenses that help you achieve the prime goal of being inconspicuous (small lenses include the 35mm, 50mm etc). Nowadays we have a great range of very good mirrorless cameras and Point and Shoots. I had the opportunity to once work with a rangefinder camera, and there is a priceless feeling you get, when shooting, as you're still able to look at what is going on. DSLRs have a great disadvantage here because the mirror flaps upwards once you press the shutter and makes quite a sound (not great for remaining inconspicuous). My premise for recommending these is because they help you remain inconspicuous:
- Canon: EOS-M3
- Fujifilm: X100T
- Nikon: Nikon 1
- Olympus: E-M5
- Sony: A6000
One big thing to keep in mind when thinking about gear for street photography, is that any thing you buy, should have a flipable screen. This is great for shooting in stealth mode from the hip. Just look down, compose your shot, then shoot. The people around you probably won't even realise you're taking a photo.
Regarding lenses, I can state that the best gear for working on the street are prime and fast, wide and small lenses. Anything from 24mm to 50mm will work wonderfully. The thing here is to get a lens that is small enough to carry around and not intimidate people especially when you aim it at them. I have recently bought two new lenses that are wonderful for working on the streets, a 24mm pancake lens and a 40mm pancake lens. I still work a lot with my chunky DLSR, especially when traveling, and my favourite lens for this is a 28mm f/1.8.
There are two great accessories for working on the streets. The first one, is a strap. Get rid of that brand strap the camera comes with, since it somehow makes you noticeable. Also, another great tip that goes hand in hand with the straps, is to not hang the camera like a medal, it should be wrapped around your wrist while you walk with your camera in your hand. Another great accessory are leather cases that come in two pieces.
Blend with the crowd by wearing clothes that doesn't get you noticed. Again, this goes back to remaining inconspicuous, the benefit of which is much more interesting street shots.