HandMade Photographic Images

On The Street - Equipment

George L Smyth

EquipmentWe have all heard "the best camera is the one you have with you," and I have said that on many occasions because it is true. Despite the fact that equipment for street photography normally has specific requirements, I have used my cell phone, a Holga, large format and pinhole cameras. Certainly my expectations were not typical when using these cameras, nor were the results, but that is just part of the fun. There are, however, cameras that will work best for most people (as is the case with other types of photography).

With a broad stroke I will address equipment issues as they relate to myself. I use myself as the example because my style is much like most other street photographers. I am unlike Bruce Gilden, who jumps in front of people and uses flash to photograph his subjects, and am unlike Eric Kim who engages with his subjects in an obvious manner. I tend more toward being as inconspicuous as possible so that I can document things as they happen without my influence.

Let's first look at the situation, then consider the requirements.

I wander the streets looking for something to capture my attention. My camera is held with one hand at the middle of my chest so that I can either quickly raise it to eye level, or just take a picture where the camera happens to be. There are times when I may take more than one shot, but normally I only take one of a particular situation. This is because either the scene in front of me at that instant is what I want to capture, or I have been able to anticipate how elements will come together and grab the moment when it arrives. My subjects are normally between one and two dozen feet in front of me.

Now the requirements.

As I carry the camera at chest level, I need a camera that is not heavy. If I were only photographing for fifteen minutes then weight would not be an issue, but wandering the streets is normally an all afternoon affair, so lightweight gear is a must. I have no need for burst mode so that capability in a DSLR is of no interest to me. Actually, as I want to photograph as invisibly as possible, the banging of a mirror within the camera only brings attention my way. A DSLR with a large lens is an attraction-getter that some consider to be "professional," so a DSLR is out of the picture.

Also out is the camera phone and small point and shoot. A camera phone is much too slow to be consistently useful, and point and shoot cameras have a lag between when when shutter is pressed and when the picture is taken.

Since my subjects are normally the same distance from me, a zoom lens is just another unnecessary item, so a prime lens becomes more important. A prime lens is not only faster, but offers higher quality, as well as making the camera lighter.

The camera should shoot RAW to offer the greatest ability to make corrections. The camera should be able to work in a fully manual mode - I will talk about the aspect of shooting manually in a later article, but it addresses the aspects of both speed and properly capturing your idea of the event.

So to sum up, for me, a rangefinder with a prime lens is going to be the best option available. I use a Fujifilm X100S (http://amzn.to/VgCO20), which I find to be as good as it gets, but there are other camera options available, both more and less expensive. If you are going to purchase a camera for use on the street then consider your own personal requirements and select the camera that best meets them. If you wish to use your existing equipment then choose from those which offer light weight, speed of use, and unobtrusiveness.