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The Five Key Features on any Street Photography Camera

dps-key-features-street-photography-camera

Are you struggling to choose the perfect street photography camera?

You’ve come to the right place.

Because while picking the perfect camera for street photography can be tough, it doesn’t have to be.

In fact, there are five basic features you’re going to want with any street photography body. While finding them all in a single camera can be tough, depending on your current lens lineup and preferred system, I’d recommend getting a camera that offers as many as possible.

And if you can find a camera that includes all of these features, you know it’s going to be a great street shooting option.

Let’s dive right in:

street photography camera
50mm | f/1.8 | 1/320s | ISO 200

1. A compact body

When you look for a street photography camera, the very first aspect you’ll want to consider is size.

Because here’s the thing about street photography:

The less that people notice your camera, the better.

expressions captured by a street photography camera
50mm | f/2.8 | 1/320s | ISO 200

As soon as people start to see your camera, they get nervous, you get nervous, and photography becomes uncomfortable.

And while it’s inevitable that your camera will be seen, the smaller it is, the less this will happen.

That’s why I recommend you get the most compact camera you can find. Or, at least, a camera that offers a small form factor.

One option is a higher-end point-and-shoot camera, such as the Fujifilm X100V. That camera is tiny but still manages to offer excellent image quality.

But if you’re a fan of interchangeable lens cameras, you have other options. Some APS-C mirrorless cameras are designed to be near pocket-sized, including models such as Sony’s a6000 series, or the Fujifilm X-T200. Same with quite a few Micro-Four-Thirds cameras, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M10 Mark III.

These bodies are light, they’re compact, and they’re some of the most inconspicuous cameras I’ve ever come across.

(Another advantage of a compact body is that they’re easy to carry around. You can take a Fujifilm X-T100 with you wherever you go, so that you never miss a shot!)

So start your search by looking for a small body, and only then should you consider the rest of the features on this list.

store model street photography camera
If you want to capture close-up candid shots of people, I recommend a compact street photography camera.
50mm | f/3.5 | 1/200s | ISO 200

By the way:

It’s not just the camera that should be small; you’ll want small lenses, as well. One of the best ways to ensure you have plenty of small lenses to choose from is by working with a Micro-Four-Thirds camera (offered by both Panasonic and Olympus).

These systems have unusually compact lenses, thanks to their smaller sensor size.

2. A high continuous shooting speed

If you’re planning on doing lots of street photography, then you’re going to need a camera that shoots fast.

Why?

Because the best street photos tend to involve a convergence of elements. Three people are perfectly aligned with a building, a person makes a sudden strange expression, or a biker passes in front of an interesting facade.

street photography camera continuous shooting
The ability to shoot frame after frame is key when shooting images like this.
50mm | f/2.8 | 1/200s | ISO 250

And you’re going to miss out on these moments…

…unless your camera can fire off a burst of shots in quick succession.

I’d recommend a continuous shooting speed of at least five frames per second, and more is better. For me, the 8-10 range is ideal, which you can find on quite a few cameras these days.

And honestly, anything more than 10 fps is overkill for most street photography purposes. You’ll run through your memory cards ridiculously fast, and end up with a huge amount of unnecessary shots.

You’ll also want to get a camera with a decent buffer. There’s no use in being able to shoot at 10 fps if you can only capture 15 frames. So I recommend you look for a camera with a buffer of at least 25 RAW files (and more is better!).

man hidden by umbrella
50mm | f/3.5 | 1/160s | ISO 320

3. Excellent autofocus with strong eye detection

As I said above, street photography happens fast.

And you’re often reacting to moments that come and go instantly.

man walking through door street photography camera
24mm | f/8 | 1/200s | ISO 320

That’s why the best street photography cameras have lightning-fast autofocus and, ideally, face/eye detection.

I’m talking about systems that can nail focus instantly, as well as track a subject through a complex array of objects without losing focus.

For this latter requirement, a great option is any of the more recent Sony a6000 models (including the a6100, the a6400, and the a6600). These cameras offer fantastic tracking, great AF speeds, and amazing Eye AF.

street photography camera
A camera with fast autofocus will allow you to seize the moment and grab shots like this!
f/3.5 | 1/640s| ISO 320

Now, it is possible to do street photography with a less AF-adept camera. But you’ll frequently struggle, especially when trying to lock focus for spur-of-the-moment shots.

You’ll also want good AF for situations when you’re shooting from your LCD or from the hip. If your camera can grab focus with ease, you’ll end up with quite a few keepers, even if you’re firing the shutter without looking!

4. A silent shooting mode

Getting a camera that can shoot in silence was a real game-changer for my street photography.

Finally, I could shoot without people realizing, and it made me feel so much less anxious.

silent shooting street photography camera
f/2.8 | 1/640s | ISO 200

And the truth is that most street photographers feel anxious at one time or another, and a loud shutter sound just made that anxiety worse.

(If you’re a street photographer that never feels uncomfortable, please share your secret in the comments!)

In fact, I almost quit street photography. It was only once I had a camera that could do true silent shooting that I was able to resume and feel better about what I was doing.

That’s why I recommend you get a street photography camera that has some sort of silent shooting mode. Ideally, it has an electronic shutter, one that allows you to shoot in total silence (though any silent shooting mode is better than nothing at all).

You’ll want to be careful, though:

Some cameras can be restricted when using a silent shutter. For instance, my Sony a6300 can only shoot bursts at about 3 frames per second when silent, and this can be extremely frustrating. So, I’d suggest looking for a camera that can maintain both silence and fast continuous shooting speeds.

That way, you can capture bursts of action without dealing with the chatter of a camera shutter!

5. A tilting screen

This feature is a bit more optional, but it’s still useful in quite a few situations.

You see, there will be times when you want to shoot from the hip (i.e., keep your camera held down low and fire off some shots).

low angle street photography
50mm | f/4 | 1/800s | ISO 200

I do this while walking past people on busy streets because I don’t want to bother them with the sight of my camera. And I also like the low-angle look that it creates!

Of course, you can do this blindly, and you’ll end up with some keepers.

But if you have a tilting screen…

…you can look down at the camera while you walk, in order to ensure perfect focus and composition!

Note that you don’t need a fully articulating screen, as you won’t need to shoot from ultra-strange angles. A screen that tilts up 90 degrees will do just fine.

And since we’re talking about screens, I’ll mention that a touchscreen can be pretty useful in these situations, too. If you can tap to set focus, you can quickly choose a subject while looking down at your LCD, then fire off shots as they come closer.

Make sense?

The five key features on any street photography camera: Conclusion

Choosing a camera for street shooting doesn’t have to be hard.

Just make sure it has as many of these characteristics as possible, and you’ll be capturing stunning shots in no time!

That’s the power of a great street photography camera.

street photography camera
50mm | f/2.8 | 1/160s | ISO 400

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Jaymes Dempsey
Jaymes Dempsey

is a macro photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. To learn how to take stunning nature photos, check out his free eBook, Mastering Nature Photography: 7 Secrets For Incredible Nature Photos! And to see more of Jaymes’s work check out his website and his blog.