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Top 18 cameras for street photography

Ten modern cameras and eight vintage models make up an impressive list of gems to suit any street photographer

1903
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It‘s fascinating to decide on the ideal camera for a particular use, especially when it comes to so-called street photography where the criteria are light weight, discrete appearance and easy focus. Shutterbug‘s Jason Schneider has published his own special list and it makes interesting reading for Macfilistas.

Smartphone option

I can‘t find much wrong with any of his choices, except perhaps the inclusion of a smartphone in the current choices. Once you open that can of worms there could be several sensible choices, and who is to say that the Google Pixel 3 is better than the iPhone X, for instance. Still, the lists make a lot of sense.

The Leica M-A is both a current and a vintage option in that it is based on the earliest M models yet is up to date and is one of only two film cameras currently in the Leica catalogue. This street shot is taken by Adam Lee when we did our joint review of the M-A and M-D

In the vintage eight the choices are all excellent. From our point of view there is one Leica (the M4, but it could just as easily be any M model since 1954) and another half-Leica, the Minolta CLE. But Canon, Nikon, Contax and Olympus all have their place. The little Rollei 35 is an unusual beast and I‘ve never regarded it as a popular street camera; but I have one and could be prompted to try it out.

Spot on

Moving to the top ten among modern cameras, Jason’s choice is again spot on. Who knows, he could be prescient in choosing a smartphone in the sixth spot. In future all ten top street cameras could turn out to be smartphones, but not just yet.

The Ricoh GR is rightly acclaimed as a great street-photography camera. It’s small, very discreet and yet produces excellent results (Image: Jean Perenet)

It’s significant that the Ricoh GR heads the list. It isn’t the obvious choice. Yet here on Macfilos, we have extolled the GR on many occasions. Our regular contributor Jean Perenet has taken the Ricoh to new highs with his excellent photographs from Myanmar. In one respect the GR ticks all the boxes. it is certainly discreet — to the point of looking just like a harmless tourist camera. And with its APS-C sensor it is capable of results that belie its size and appearance. A good choice, really.

The Leica CL is also a great choice. It combines the unthreatening and retro looks of a film M with up-to-the-minute capabilities. It’s one of my favourite carry around cameras (Image Leica Camera)

CL or G9?

The Fuji, the Olympus PEN and the two Sonys are, again, obvious choices, but it is encouraging to see the inclusion of the CL and the Leica M-A in the list. I’m especially keen on the CL, with either the 18mm or 23mm primes (or, even, a 28mm or 35mm M lens) because I think the small size, great handling and relatively discreet image make it a natural for street photography.

The Panasonic Lumix G9 with a compact lens (in this case the 35mm Zeiss Distagon) makes a competent street photography tool. But is it too big and, perhaps, too threatening? (Image Mike Evans)

The oddball here is the Lumix G9. Undoubtedly, it is an excellent camera and, with a small prime, it will do the streets justice. It is, however, bigger than anything else on these two lists and I suspect it wouldn’t be a natural choice for street photography. Technically and from a handling perspective it is spot on, but discrete it isn’t, even with a 20mm pancake lens.

The Vintage Top Eight

  • Leica M4
  • Canon V1-T, VI-L
  • Nikon SP
  • Zeiss Contax IIa/IIIa
  • Canonet G-III QL17
  • Olympus 35 SP
  • Minolta CLE
  • Rollei 35

The Current Top Ten

  • Ricoh GR II
  • Fujifilm X100F
  • Canon EOS Rebel SL2
  • Leica M-A
  • Sony RX1R II
  • Google Pixel 3
  • Leica CL
  • Olympus PEN-F
  • Sony RX100 III
  • Pansonic Lumix G9

See the full review of the top 10 current cameras

See the full review of the top 8 vintage cameras

Related Article

14 COMMENTS

  1. Blimey, I must be a street tog, I have got four of the cameras in those two lists, and I have had three of those that remain.

    Oh… and a smartphone.

    And there was me, hankering after the fine art moniker.

  2. I am sure that smartphones have been the top image uploads to flickr for the last few years.

    I see my Df didnt make it to the list, most people think it is a vintage camera when you use it on the street.

    It is a decent list though.

  3. Very few of these cameras take – or have built-in – a zoom lens. But would you know, before setting out, whether what you wanted to shoot would be on this side or on that side of the street? Would a fixed 35mm or 40mm (equivalent) lens – or a pocketful of various swap-them-over-in-the-street fixed focal length lenses – be what you needed?

    It seems weird to me to restrict yourself to just one fixed (..or non-zoomable..) lens, and really daft, nowadays, to have to swap single-focal-length lenses if the one that’s already on the camera isn’t the one you want for the shot you want. (I disregard that silly “zooming with your feet” talk ..in busy traffic? ..at the edge of a hill? ..when ‘backing up’ leaves you jammed against a wall?)

    Of all of these cameras, the film Leicas, and Minolta CLE, can take a “Tri-Elmar” lens (very short, less than 2x zoom), and only the (modern) Leica CL, Canon Rebel, Olympus PEN-F and Panasonic G9 can have a proper zoom attached ..with the Sony RX100 III having a rather short 3x zoom built in.

    Without a zoom, it’s like taking pictures only of things beginning with ‘B’, or only things which are exactly 4 feet high. Why restrict yourself? Back in the fifties and sixties you had to constrain yourself to fixed focal length lenses, but it’s now ..let me see.. twenty-nineteen, I think. Do we restrict ourselves to only black cars, to wearing only Homburg, Trilby and Bowler (Derby) hats? ..To only sausage and mash?

    Using a fixed focal length camera is – to me – like going everywhere by hopping on just one foot. Think of the broad vistas you miss, think of the telephoto shots you can’t take ..it’s like taking pictures at only f16 all of the time!

    • Hello David
      I’ve used the various Ricoh GR for more than ten years now and I’ve never felt the need for anything else (except my leica X2) I feel neither restricted nor daft at all with the short focal length. The last generation of GR works just like a tri-elmar (28/35/47) and it’s perfect for me. I only shoot street, people and sometimes landscapes or macro (the grd 4 is perfect for macro with it’s focusing ditance of 1cm) and I don’t see myself shooting someone without his or her knowing and agreeing being taken. I sometimes “steal” a portrait. I know my wife hates it and I don’t feel really comfortable with it either. You can easily shoot a portrait with a 45 mm and even with a 28mm without getting monstrous noses or chins. I’ve tried longer focal length (90mm & 180) and really wide angle lenses (15-24 mm range) and I ended up selling them as they did not suit me. Fortunately the camera industry offers a wonderful choice nowadays of excellent pocketable single focal length or zoomlens cameras. The only good cameras are the ones you always carry with you whenever you go out (with or without zoom) and with which you bond.
      Jean

      • Of course, Jean; each to their own.

        I was just lamenting that – even though many of my favourite photos turn out to be wide-angle pictures! – I’d miss the facility to shoot pictures like these: http://edituk.com/Tele_photos.html

        My point was, why stick with a single focal length – e.g; 28mm – when a zoom can provide everything that you ..I mean I.. might want? ..That’s all!

  4. David B’s comment is very apt. Why not include the Leica Vario-X with the EVF? Right size, right feel. Surprised he did not make any recommendations to go with his comment.

  5. I am a little surprised the Q isn’t up there..For me, it’s fabulous for Street, especially for fast moving Street scenes

    • Totally agree. I did try one a few months back and it’s indeed a wonderful camera (with the X series X1 & X2). We could also add the zeiss zm or the voigtlander bessa or the ricoh gxr and the old contax T2, T3, G1 & G2 and the leica minilux and the old leica mini and the olympus mju as well.
      Jean

  6. Interesting list. I love my Leica M3 and also use
    Olympus 35RC. Very happy with both for street
    and travel film photography.

  7. I am stunned that the Leica Q is not on the list! I always had it on my short list the past 3 years. I finally resorted out my camera system this past year and recently purchased the amazing Leica Q-P in gorgeous STEALTH matte black paint and no red dot. Assuming cost is not an issue, it is way better than the Sony in haptics and the Ricoh in image quality and it has my absolute must ELV which is still at the top of heap in general. I love it for street photography and carry everywhere-nobody even gives it a second glance.

    Until I got the Leica Q-P recently I was using the Panasonic G9 with the amazing pana Leica 12/ 1.4 and Leica 15/1.7 or the Pana Leica 12-60 for street and was happy but sold the glass to help fund the Leica Q-P for street and carry all the time companion. The Panasonic G9 deserves to be on list especially for the Leica 12-60.

    For classic film, my favourite was the Leica M4P. I always wanted the Nikon S and the Minolta CLE but never purchased – my wife made me make choices!

    I owned the Ricoh GR for a year but took few pictures with it as it did not have an EVF and I discovered I must have a built in viewfinder to be happy. Hence the Sony RX1 series is a no go for me. I kept looking at the Fuji X1ooF but I am not convinced on the Xtrans sensor for processing.

    I realize people take great daylight street photos on smartphones but for me I must have a viewfinder. i have never personally taken a satisfying image with a smartphone and currently own the iphone X but now use my ever present real camerA-the Q-P. The lists are generally good but I feel the Leica Q was a major oversight!

  8. I wonder whether if that list was made this time next year; would the upcoming Zeiss ZX1 be there?

    The specs sort of suggest something special for the street, certainly in digital anyway.

    As for film, I don’t think that anything will ever beat a Leica M4.

    • This selection was one man’s choice (not mine, of course) and I could also highlight some favourites that are not there. It makes a good discussion article, though!

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