As the saying goes, “the camera is just a tool.” But just like a jackhammer isn’t the right type of hammer to hang a picture on the wall, you need to the right camera for the genre of photography you’re shooting. In street photography, a large bulky system isn’t going to serve you well. A compact, lightweight camera is not only easier to walk around with, it also draws less attention to yourself.
We picked the Fujifilm X-Pro3 for its combination of great image quality, relatively compact size, and excellent selection of lenses tailor-made for street photography. But if you want something even stealthier — or just less expensive — you’ll find other great options here, as well.
Dealing with the elephant in the room, let’s talk about the X-Pro3’s controversial LCD screen. Paying homage to analog cameras — a common theme in Fujifilm’s designs — the company has opted to hide the screen. While some may gasp at the thought of being unable to easily “chimp” (the act of instantly reviewing one’s photos via the playback option), for street photography this will do wonders for your workflow by forcing you to focus on the scene in front of you.
Chimping takes your attention away from what’s happening. The consequence of this is that you miss moments, meaning you miss photos. The LCD screen isn’t gone, however; it’s simply hidden by default. When you do need to review a photo, you can flip the screen down to see it.
Don’t worry; we’re not basing the ranking of the X-Pro3 solely on its cool new feature. The metal body is refined and smooth, with a solid grip and satisfying mechanical controls. It won’t break your arm either, weighting just 17.4 ounces (without a lens attached), making it ideal for a long day of shooting.
Behind the undeniably old-school body is a very modern camera. Inside is a 26-megapixel X-Trans APS-C sensor and powerful X Processor 4 image processor that offer stellar image quality and performance. 425 phase-detection focus points ensure fast, accurate autofocus. The hybrid viewfinder lets you frame your shots either optically or electronically. Put all of this together and you have a solid, durable, high-performing camera for street photography.
Perhaps most important, however, is that Fujifilm has put a strong emphasis on building quality prime lenses that are both high-quality and compact. While other manufacturers have focused on zooms or producing ever larger lenses in the chase for ultra-high-resolution optics, Fujifilm has largely kept the X series down to earth. For street photography, it offers just about anything you could ask for, and you can expect to get quality photographs every time.
It wouldn’t be a list of street photography cameras without a Leica, the company that practically invented the genre. However, some may be surprised to see the Leica CL on this list, especially given the success of fixed-lens Lecia Q2. But honestly, if you’re a street photographer, the CL is going to be your best bet.
Unlike the Q2, the CL allows you to use interchangeable lenses which will give you more options and fit more shooting styles. Sure, you could get a Leica M series camera, but the CL’s smaller APS-C sensor means it maintains a slimmer profile and costs thousands less. Like Fujifilm, Leica is also known for its prime lenses, and there are plenty available for the CL.
Promising tack-sharp photographs, the CL boasts a 49-point contrast-detection AF system, but it’s probably not as fast as what you’ll see in other modern mirrorless cameras. For the more methodical photographer, however, this won’t be a problem.
The CL’s minimalist design makes it easy on the eye and simple to use. The electronic viewfinder is crisp and clear, giving you clear eye-level viewing. If you prefer to shoot through the LCD screen, then you can enjoy a highly responsive touchscreen experience. For image quality, the Leica CL’s 24-megapixel APS-C sensor and Maestro II image processor certainly don’t disappoint.
Ricoh GR III
The Ricoh GR III is definitely a niche camera, and somewhat of a controversial one. It lacks a lot of the traditional features we would expect from the best street photography cameras. There’s no viewfinder, it comes with a 28mm f/2.8 fixed lens, and the battery life isn’t suited to a long day of shooting. And yet it remains a popular choice with street photographers — and with good reason.
First and foremost, the GR III has exceptional image quality thanks to an incredibly sharp lens. The 28mm focal length doesn’t work for all types of photography, but it is a great choice for street shooting. Paired with a 24-megapixel APS-C sensor, it produces detailed, rich images. It also yields sharp results in low light thanks to the sensor-shift stabilization system, and if you ever want to shoot long exposures, there’s even a built-in neutral density filter.
You just don’t expect a camera this small to have so much packed into it. Measuring just 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches, it’s remarkable how well this camera performs considering you can easily stash it in a jacket pocket. It’s because of this compact, almost stealth-like design that the Ricoh GR III firmly belongs on this list. But if you like the sound of it, we do highly recommend picking up a spare battery or two.
Read our Ricoh GR III review
Google Pixel 3
That’s right, a smartphone made it on this list of best cameras for street photography. Part of the success of being a good street photographer is always being ready. If you find regularly carrying your DSLR or mirrorless camera is too tasking, then you need something that fits in your pocket and that you’re liking going to be carrying, anyway. That something is a phone, and the best phone for street photography is the Google Pixel 3.
We won’t pretend the image quality stands up to other cameras on this list, but it’s certainly no chump and can produce quality shots that, quite simply, are astounding that they come from a phone. The Pixel 3 comes into its own when used in low-light situations thanks to a technology Google calls Night Sight. The camera is capable of 4-second exposures and can turn the dimmest scenes into well-lit, vibrant frames.
Smartphone street photography has become a popular sub-category within the community. Because of its versatility and low-light performance, you won’t go wrong with the Google Pixel 3. We should also note, that some readers may be tempted to opt for the latest model, the Google Pixel 4. If your motive is to get a good camera for street photography, we advise you to avoid it. Poor battery life lets the device down, and the last thing you want is to find your rhythm, only to have your phone die in the middle of it!
Read our Google Pixel 3 review.
The Sony A6400 is a quality midrange contribution from the company that largely spearheaded the mirrorless revolution. Although compact, it has some of the same qualities as Sony’s larger full-frame cameras. For example, it has a tremendously accurate and fast focusing system that uses artificial intelligence to recognize and track subjects, even locking on to a subject’s eyes. Simply put, it is unrivaled in the camera world. And while seasoned street photographers might argue that manual focus is the only way to go, having the confidence in your camera’s autofocus frees your mind to concentrate on what is happening around you. So while the 24-megapixel sensor is no better than the competition, the focusing system means you’ll have a better chance of getting quality, sharp images more of the time.
Those of you passionate about good glass will have 48 lens offerings to choose from to combine with the A6400. On top of that, there are quality third-party lenses from the likes of Zeiss and Sigma to spice things up, especially if you’re looking for a sharp compact prime, of which Sony doesn’t make too many itself.
Overall, the A6400 is simply a stunning camera for the money. Is it the best camera Sony makes? Definitely not, but for a compact, affordable model flexible enough to handle everything from street photography to sports, it is very hard to beat. The closest rival for this midrange camera is its successor, the A6600. For street photography, the biggest advantage for the newer model is the battery life. The A6600 offers 810 frames per charge, with the A6400 only offering 410. But the A6400 holds its place because of its weight — weighing 100 grams less than the A6600. It may not seem much, but when shooting for long periods, you want to keep as light as possible.
Read our Sony A6400 review.
Yes, another Fujifilm camera, but it’s not just to make up the numbers. For its size and price, the X-T30 is a great alternative to the more expensive X-T3 and X-Pro3. It weighs just 13.5 ounces (without a lens), making it easier to carry with you — and that’s a very important consideration for street photography.
But it isn’t just its size that makes this camera so intriguing. It comes with the same sensor, processor, and autofocus system as the X-T3/X-Pro3. You lose features such as weather sealing and the higher-resolution viewfinder, but these are things many photographers can make do without. It does also lack some of the physical control dials of the larger Fujis, which is a deal-breaker for some, but will hardly be noticed by others.
The best part of the X-T30 is that you’re getting professional-level image quality and performance for under a grand. Even if you can afford a more expensive camera, don’t forget the importance of a good lens — opting for the X-T30 means you can save more of your budget for the glass.
Read our Fujifilm X-T30 review.
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