Photography / Buying Guide

Eight Recommended Digital Cameras for Street Photography

What makes a camera specifically well suited for street photography? Good question. In a genre that appreciates the gritty, the spontaneous, the accidental, the mistake, you can pretty much use whatever works for you. If you are comfortable with a camera and can operate it with acuity, the resolution, ISO sensitivity, dynamic range, and all the relentlessly discussed quantifiable factors are much less important than the way you interact with people, understand the rhythms of the street, and recognize the qualities of light. However, there are a few camera features that do jibe well with street photography and in general, stealth, speed, and dependability are key elements. Features like the LCD screen, viewfinder, AF speed, continuous shooting speed, lens’s focal length and aperture, and even onboard flash should be considered important. This is not to say that sensor type and ISO capability aren’t factors in street photography, but not necessarily more so than in any other type of photography.

Below is a select group of digital cameras that I think make solid street performers; they’re chosen from the DSLR, mirrorless, and point-and-shoot sub-categories. As I mentioned, almost any camera can be good for capturing the energy, oddities, and compositions of the urban scene, so please use the comment section to let us know what camera you find right for this application.

Leica M Digital Rangefinder Camera

Let’s start with the legend. The M (Typ 240) digital rangefinder is slightly bigger than other M models but has very quiet shutter action, which is a benefit in the street. Its 3.0" LCD screen provides live view capability, and shooting the rangefinder through the optical viewfinder with manual focus is an old-school treat. The M is also compatible with an optional electronic viewfinder, which mounts on the hot shoe. ISO sensitivity runs to 6400 and noise is minimal at ISOs up to 3200. With its 24MP full-frame CMOS sensor, image quality, especially jpeg, is phenomenal, but that you already knew. Use it with almost any M-mount lens but, for street photography, try the Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 ASPH lens.

Fujifilm X100T Digital Camera

Would it be fair to call the X100T the poor man’s Leica? If so, call me a poor man. The X100T looks like an older, simple 35mm camera—but don’t be fooled, it is a high-performance digital gem with a 16.3MP APS-C X–Trans CMOS sensor and built-in 23mm f/2 lens for an equivalent focal length of 35mm. The X-Trans sensor is well known for its image quality and color rendition, and its EXR Image Processor II enables effective low-light imaging at high ISOs and fast performance up to 6 fps continuous shooting. An Advanced Hybrid Viewfinder offers an optical and electronic viewfinder in one, with eye sensor, to automatically switch on when needed. A 3.0" LCD monitor is also supported, as well as built-in flash and hot shoe. Shutter action is almost silent and the X100T incorporates an electronic shutter with completely silent action and shutter speeds up to 1/32,000-second. Hybrid AF is fast and accurate and a total boon for street shooting. Built-in Wi-Fi and 1080p video just add to its list of great features.

Canon PowerShot G 1 X Mark II Digital Camera

I have been shooting the Canon G series point-and-shoots since the G3 and find them to be ideal street cameras. The G1 X Mark II has the big 1.5" sensor, carried over from the G1 X, and houses a wider and longer 24-120mm f/2-3.9 lens. Its processor was improved, too, so AF and continuous-shooting performance is faster. The camera has a solid rubber grip and is the right size—more compact but not too small for working in the street. Speed is a plus on the Mark II, but the G1 X had an optical viewfinder, which was replaced on the Mark II by an optional EVF, and my favorite feature, the fully articulating LCD, which made discreet waist-level shooting such a joy, has been replaced by a selfie-friendly tilt-up LCD. However, the LCD is now touchscreen capable and the camera features dual control rings around the lens and an adjustable pop-up flash that extends higher than most, above the body.

Samsung NX500 Mirrorless Digital Camera

A lot of camera is packed into this compact mirrorless body. It has a 28.2MP APS-C sensor in a sturdy frame that is pocket-sized; including its nicely curved grip (one-handed operation can be crucial in a street crunch). High-resolution image quality is its calling card, as is high ISO capability and its continuous shooting speed of 9 fps at full resolution. Hybrid autofocus is fast, especially in daylight. While not the focus of this piece, the NX500 offers 4K video capture and easy Wi-Fi connectivity. Its tiltable LCD has very responsive touch focus but, to remain compact, there is no viewfinder. Try it with the Samsung 30mm f/2.0 NX Pancake Lens or 16mm f/2.4 Ultra Wide Pancake Lens.

Nikon D750 DSLR Camera

It was suggested to me to include the Canon 5D Mark III with a 40mm f/2.8 pancake lens, and while the 5D Mk III is still a mainstay of pros and enthusiasts in all fields of photography, the D750 stands out as the choice for street photography among full-frame DSLRs. Its 24.3MP CMOS sensor and EXPEED 4 image processor are state-of-the-art and ensure high image quality and performance, but its 51-point autofocus system with AF detection and sensitivity down to -3 EV with 15 cross-type points really stands out for its fast and accurate autofocus. The 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor and the Scene Recognition System provide accurate and consistent exposure and help to maintain focus when shooting high-speed bursts of images. Physically, it is a bit smaller than most full-framers and has a deep, very comfortable handgrip. Also, a tilt-out LCD, a first for a full-frame DSLR, can help in moments when discretion would prevent you from bringing the camera to your eye. While there are more affordable options, if you’re in it to win it, try the D750 with the AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G lens.

Olympus PEN E-P5 Mirrorless MFT Camera with 17mm f/1.8 lens and VF-4 Viewfinder

While the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II is Olympus’s camera of the moment, and certainly a great performer, I’m including the PEN E-P5 because my experience shooting this camera was simply wonderful, and its smaller size and weight enable it to be readily available in your everyday bag or even as a pocket carry. Image quality and performance are notable, with a 9 fps continuous shooting speed and a 1/8000-second high-speed mechanical shutter. Five-Axis image stabilization minimizes blur and IS in live view mode is supported when composing on the 3.0" tilting touchscreen LCD. The optional VF-4 electronic viewfinder is part of this kit and the 17mm f/1.8 lens provides a 34mm focal length equivalence with low-light capability and shallow-depth-of-field control. Its retro-styled body is compact and solid.

Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX 100 IV Digital Camera

While several Sony cameras could easily be on this list, including the full-frame RX1 with fixed 35mm lens, or the a7II mirrorless, or even an earlier incarnation of the RX100, I’m going to stick with the RX 100 IV, for its ultra-compact form factor and high-performance specs, which now include a 1/32,000-second electronic shutter and a built-in three-stop neutral density filter. Its new stacked sensor technology and DRAM memory chip work to improve clarity in low light, reduce noise and improve autofocus. Burst shooting is up to 16 fps in maximum resolution, and customizable buttons will help keep you working fast. A 3.0" high-resolution multi-angle LCD allows odd-angle and discreet shooting, and the camera has a pop-up electronic viewfinder that maintains the camera’s compact form while enabling stable eye-level composition. Its Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* f/1.8-2.8 lens provides a 24-70mm focal length equivalence and direct 4K video is also supported on this little dynamo.

Ricoh GR II Digital Camera

Sleek and inconspicuous, the new GR II is a point-and-shoot ready to take on the streets with fast settings adjustments, a narrow profile, and 16.2MP APS-C format sensor that omits its optical low pass filter for ultra-sharp and detailed images. A fixed 28mm equivalent lens, with f/2.8 maximum aperture, is ideal for inclusive street photography and its High-Speed Autofocus system locks on its subject in just 0.2 seconds. Its magnesium-alloy body, with a large, comfortable, handgrip (for such a small body) makes this a very durable, easy-to tote, no nonsense camera.

As always, this list should be seen as the start of a conversation, and I look forward to the comments telling me what worthy cameras were not mentioned. Also, please keep an eye out for our follow-up piece, “5 Recommended Film Cameras for Street Photography.”

Discussion 128

Add new comment

Add comment Cancel

Canon digital ELPH (if they still go by that name) - Primarily because they are pocketable.  I have other cameras for detailed 'still life' / portrait photography, but street photography is spontaneous and so is a camera that fits in your pocket.

Absolutely!  Thanks Ben...and yes they still call them ELPH, there are several models available at B&H. Check out the ELPH 350 HS

No Sony A7II?? That is seriously a perfect street camera! 

Thanks're right, great camera for the street and other applications. I actually did mention it within the paragraph on the RX-100 IV, but only a brief nod. Next time we'll expand the format to 10 recommended cameras, or 12, or...

Ussually STREET CAMERA got to be a compact almost a pocket camera, you can go out there on the street with a bulky camera, you go on a stealth mode when photographing people 

Richard, I have a question for you about street photography.  I love the stealth part but worry about not having model releases for the human captures.  How do you handle that issue?

Alright Richard!  Yes, compact and stealth can be a big advantage. 

The Sony NEX-6 with the 16-55 pancake kit lens is awesome as a 'street' camera.

Yes!  10 fps continuous shooting, fast Hybrid autofocus, articulating screen, compact build. The 16-50mm may not be exactly a "pancake" but its retractable design maintains the camera's small form and then there is an 18-55mm with image stabilization and a versatile zoom range for street shooting. Thanks Robert. 

The Sony Alpha6000 with SEL1670 is perfect for the street.

One of the best mirrorless cameras out there and a great Sony/Zeiss lens. Thanks DeeGee

I believe that Leica Q is amazing too. :D

Thanks Eduardo...yes, the Q looks to be a great compact camera for street photography.

I love my Canon T1i with my very favorite all-around EFS 17-55 mm lens, but it is just too heavy and bulky to carry around all day.  I've been looking at the Canon G 1X II.  What I'd really like is a pocket camera that can give me the same photos as my large DSLR.  I know that's unreasonable, but how close can I come?  

Will the upcoming G 3X be a better choice for me over the G1X II?  How does the Canon G7X rate with the two?  What about the Canon G16? 

I'm not interested in video, I shoot lots of low light subjects (museums) and don't wish to use flash so need low light capabilities, I want the camera to fit in my purse and not weigh me down on vacation, don't want a long lag between shots, and want good quality photos.

I love Canon, but I'd be willing to consider other manufacturers.  Thank you for your consideration. 

Thanks Joanne.  Well, the G3 X, G1 X II and G16 are not quite pocket cameras. They are compact and won't weigh you down but not really for a pocket or purse. The G7 X is a pocket camera and has been very well-received. All four offer top notch image quality but the 1.5" sensor on the G1 X II may get you closer to DSLR quality, but please remember "DSLR quality" has as much to do with lens selection as with sensor size, etc. The new G3 X brings with it a long zoom capability that the others lack. In terms of low light performance, best to check out the compacts with an APS-C sensor, unless you are willing to go for the full frame Sony RX1!

I can only speak for the Canon G-16. The G-16 has been my go to when I can't or don't want to carry the big DSLR. John is correct it's really not a pocket camera but when put in a case and carried on your belt it's better because it is small enough to not be in the way and won't take up space in your pocket. As far as performance, I'm very happy with the quality in the full range of light conditions. The DIGIC 6 processor gives great shots at high ISO. Granted, the G-1X MIII is probably a little better it is bigger price point.

I started out with a Canon G5 (I think) and later upgraded to a G9 (and was sad that it no longer had the flip screen).  I do like the G series, but my G9 couldn't give me the low-light capability I wanted.  I'm sure that has improved now that we're all the way up to G16! 

I like the minimalism of fixed lens cameras, and has been using Sony RX1 since 2013. That is with external EVF, and I use the tilt function all the time. Before RX1 I used NEX-7.

I tried out the Leica Q the other day. And if it wasn't for the focal length I think that would be my first choice today.

Thanks Simon...needless to say that both are great cameras and I agree regarding the fixed lens. But for you, the 28mm leica Q is too wide?

Another wonderful feature of the Fuji X100T are the 2 available conversion lenses. The TCL-X100 converts the fixed lens to a 50mm equivalent, and the WCL-X100 converts it to a wider 28mm. both conversion lenses are very high quality, but reasonably priced, and extend the camera's native capabilities considerably.

Thanks Robert...Good point. If the quality is there, conversion lenses can give you the versatility you may have compromised by sticking with a fixed focus lens. The TCL-X100 and the WCL-X100 are certainly quality conversion lenses.

Yes, the RX100M3 or RX100m4 are really great for street photograhy !

Thanks Ken

Some of the cameras covered in this article are familiar to me. Being an old school film photographer I gravitate toward range finder style gems. I own two Fuji X-E1 bodies and 5 of their lenses. When I travel by mass transit in Portland, OR I carry the silver model with silver 27mm Fujinon pancake lens aboard. It's inobtrusive and not taken seriously by passenger as I play the role of a tourist. The resulting image are top notch as I add to my collection of street photographs.

Hey Bob...Yes, playing "tourist" is a tried and true method for getting a shot without drawing unwanted attention to yourself. Thanks for the comment.

Canon SL1 and the "shorty 40" (Canon EF 40mm f/2.8) lens would be one of my personal choices.

Absolutely!  Great combo...The SL1 is impressively (and surprisingly!) compact.

The Panasonic GX7 didn't get a mention?  None of the Panasonic cameras got mentioned.  Just one lonely Olympus PEN for micro 4/3.

Micro 4/3 system has more lenses and than Sony or Samsung, and for the same angle of view, smaller lenses than Samsung or Sony or Nikon.  I guess I'm glad the Olympus camera made it in. But if the Nikon D750 is a street photography contender, then try the Panasonic K7 and the Olympus EM10 should also be mentioned.

Thanks Joseph, good additions to the list.

I don't know how you could include the Olympus EP5 and yet leave out the two tiny Panasonic models that are perfect street shooters: The GM1 and GM5.  Both are very speedy, have silent shutter mode, if needed, have touch screen to set focus point and shoot, if desired, and wonderful IQ.  In addition, the kit 12-32mm is a pretty darn good starter lens, and if you want a prime instead, there are lots of excellent lenses available in lots of different focal lengths in the M43 lineup.  Plus, as an added bonus...these are TINY cameras, and people don't seem to notice them when you are shooting (or if they do, they are a conversation starter (in a good way).  (I had an orange GM1, and when people would see me taking shots with it, they would ask me to take their picture...and not run in the other direction, which they would have if I had a DSLR in hand).

I second the recommendation of the little Panasonics. Just got back from a month in Malaysia and Singapore using the GM5 and got great street shots (as well as others). In addition to the kit 12-32mm lens, I had the collapsible 35-100mm and a body cap 9mm fisheye.  It's not hard to stuff spare lenses in your pockets and the 9mm really makes the whole camera pocketable.  Having an unobtrusive camera is really helpful for capturing street food scenes and store-front shops, both of which are a fascinating part of that area. All in all it's a great travel camera.

Thanks for the suggestions J. The GM5 is a great addition to the list and you're right, its very important to understand the reaction certain cameras elicit from people. 

You forgot the best one ever, the Sony A7S with something like the 28mm f/2.8 lens.  None better for street and low light, AND with silent mode shutter...

bwana....we did mention the a7II!  I know the a7S has its admirers for its low light performance and dynamic range ...and the silent shutter mode is definitely a plus.

I'm finding that Lytro light field cameras are great for discreet street photography. Not needing to focus, and the different form factor allows for quick shots.

alexz...That's awesome.  I shot a news event recently and met a photographer using the Illum to cover the event. I have played with the Lytros but yetto use them in any serious manner. Are you using the 8GB16GB versions or the Illum?   

Seriously considering the upgrade to the Nikon D750 from the D90. I currently use high end Sigma lenses with my D90. Will these lenses be compatible with the full frame D750?

Probably not exactly.  The D750 has a dx lens mode, but it only uses 1/2 the sensor.  Buy it, use the Sigma lenses, and move up to full FX lenses later when you get rich. 

Good question, but the answer actually depends on whether your lenses are FX or DX.  My camera is DX, but in order to have better lenses I have been buying FX lenses.  This means that an eventual move to an FX camera will not require a huge investment in lenses.

So, if any of your lenses are FX, you will have an advantage.  If you don't own any FX lenses, then you might consider whether you want to go for lenses first, or buy at least one with the new camera body.  

Obviously I was wrong :( Ithe Sigma lenses I have/use on my D90 are "EX". They do a great job mind you for that dslr but definitely sounds like I have to upgrade huh?

Thanks for the input thus far.

When it comes to Sigma lenses, EX simply means that the lens is one of Sigma’s professional-grade lenses: it doesn’t refer to the format of the lens.  They use DC and DG to differentiate between the formats of their lenses.  Sigma DC lenses would be APS-C format lenses, while the DG lenses are full frame lenses.  So, if you have DG lenses, those would be fully compatible with the Nikon D750.  It should state DC or DG on the lens barrel.

I have been shooting with SLRs forever, so I liked a Canon 50D with 18-200 lens until I caught flak online for using a tourist lens - I have made lots of 16x20 (or whatever the new digital print paper sizes are) that are very sharp, but saw some not so crisp so went to a 6D fullframe recently. Shot in Istanbul with an 85 1.8 Canon and then also the full frame kit lens from my film cameras...85 was light and fast but I did cut off feet and decided I wanted a zoom so went for the 24-105 f/4 before a trip to London and like the lens a lot, although I didn't get many really good shots...funny how some trips just don't turn into great photos. But the lens is pretty light and quick. I tend to carry my camera in my hand ready to shoot. So many people are shooting from smartphones to DSLRs that I think most people ignore cameras, especially if you can shoot quickly.  Some images on FB.

I just added the 40mm f/2.8 pancake to my Canon 50D,now the camera is super light and makes a good street photography camera.
My other cameras are the Pentax K-5IIs w/sigma 24mm f/2.8 lens,Fuji X-10 and the Canon G16.

I have been shooting with SLRs forever, so I liked a Canon 50D with 18-200 lens until I caught flak online for using a tourist lens - I have made lots of 16x20 (or whatever the new digital print paper sizes are) that are very sharp, but saw some not so crisp so went to a 6D fullframe recently. Shot in Istanbul with an 85 1.8 Canon and then also the full frame kit lens from my film cameras...85 was light and fast but I did cut off feet and decided I wanted a zoom so went for the 24-105 f/4 before a trip to London and like the lens a lot, although I didn't get many really good shots...funny how some trips just don't turn into great photos. But the lens is pretty light and quick. I tend to carry my camera in my hand ready to shoot. So many people are shooting from smartphones to DSLRs that I think most people ignore cameras, especially if you can shoot quickly.  Some images on FB.

Loving the Olympus OM-D EM-5 II (mentioned) with the 12mm f/2.0 (135mm eq. of 24mm). Perhaps a bit wide, but the silent high speed mode, 5 axis IS, 81 AF points, and fully articulating screen (not to mention the bomber--and highly water resistant--body) make it a great street shooter. Put on a stretchy off-brand strap, sling it over a shoulder, anchor it to your chest or spin it around your back.... Perfect. 

The origninal EM-5 introduced me to electronic viewfinders, a marvel for those of us who can't focus well on screens.  

DMM - You are good to go!  Great feedback. Thanks

It may be too close the Fuji X100T, but I've been using the Fuji X-T1 with the 27mm (effectively 40mm) f/2.8 pancake lens, and it's also great for street photography. AND, it has the advantage of mounting different lenses for other purposes. 

Love the Fujis!  Interchangeable lens or fixed. Thanks Steve.