What is the best camera and lens system for street photography?
January 13, 2013 1:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the best quality portable camera and lens system for travel and street photography. My budget is between $8 and $10,000 for everything.
posted by Tziv to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are you looking for DLSR? Point and Shoot? Micro 4/3rds? Film camera? Have you tried out any of these different types of cameras and decided what feels the best and what you like the best? Are you looking to do portrait style street photography or more architecture?

With such a large budget I would suggest looking into Leica cameras.

Also remember that even if you go out and buy the highest end Leica camera and start shooting street photography, your photographs will not automatically be the most incredible photographs in existence. Composition, understanding light and shadow: these things take time to learn and lots of practice to perfect. They can also be practiced with any crappy point and shoot camera.

I usually shoot with an Olympus EP2 micro 4/3rds camera, or one of my many film cameras (Bronica SQ-B, Zeiss Ikonta 6x6 folding camera). None of the cameras I shoot with cost more than $1000.
posted by ruhroh at 2:29 PM on January 13, 2013

$8k - 10k buys a whole lot of camera stuff.

Follow-up questions:

What do you intend to photograph during travel? The people you meet? Landscapes? Local art? Buildings? Your friends and family? Do you intend on going underwater?

What kind of street photography do you want to do? Up front and in people's faces? Snagging pictures from across the street? Something in between? Do you intend on asking permission?

What's your current level of photographic skill? Got any examples of stuff you've taken that you'd like to take more of or improve on? Got any examples of other people's work that you like? Have you taken any classes before?

Are you comfortable packing a whole lot of weight, or do you want to go as light as possible? How much could you carry happily on a day-to-day basis? Do you want multiple cameras for different situations (which you can totally afford on that budget) or do you want one camera (or camera body) to rule them all?

If someone mugged you or stole your photo equipment out of your room, what's the dollar amount of camera equipment that you could stand to lose?

Do you want to shoot digital or film? Are you big into editing afterwards, or could you care less about it?

Everybody's best set up is slightly different.
posted by Mercaptan at 2:34 PM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

This kind of question usually means you're just beginning, and you don't even know what you don't know yet. Buying a professional photography setup will not produce professional photographs, and there's no one-size-fits-all solution.

I strongly recommend buying an entry-level camera w/interchangeable lenses and taking some photography classes. And taking lots and lots of photos. After you've gained some experience, and learned what you like and dislike, then you start buying the nicer equipment. At that point you'll know the answer to your own question :)

But without a lot more details it's very hard to suggest anything.
posted by jpeacock at 2:39 PM on January 13, 2013 [6 favorites]

If your street photography style is upfront and in people's faces and without permission then you will benefit from an absolutely silent camera, which rules out just about anything more sophisticated than a point-and-shoot.
posted by londongeezer at 2:42 PM on January 13, 2013

What is "street photography"? Like taking pictures of people? Architecture?

In the first case, you can do with a standard focus to small tele zoom. In the second case, you need something that also has wide-angle possibilities.

But as others say, in terms of specific equipment and costs, you're not providing any helpful info. One would need to know:
Your skills level,
Your system preferences (light-and-unobtrusive/system camera/digital/analogue/fixed focus/zoom/new/used to name but the most obvious),
Your ideas about "quality". Do you mean optical performance, non-breake-offability of bits and switches, (small) size versus (great) pictures, or the Leica-feel for the proud owner of expensive stuff?

I'd always go for a top brand analogue second hand combo, it's amazing what stuff one can get these days for almost nothing. But that's me. I myself do my "street photography" with a Nikon F3 and a standard 1:2.8 50mm lens. Or an iPad mini, for that matter.
posted by Namlit at 2:53 PM on January 13, 2013

Leica M6 TTL chrome, used - $1750
Leitz Made in Canada Summicron 35/2, used - $1500
Leitz Made in Canada Summicron 50/2, used - $1500
Nikon D90 body, new - $750
Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR, new - $1650

Leica M6 for street photography. DSLR body and fast medium telephoto zoom for general travel stuff and street portraiture (90 mm lenses and rangefinders are not a great combo IMO.) Enough left over for bags, filters, tripod, film, maybe even a fast prime lens for the digital body. Don't take my word for it on these numbers. My Summicron 50/2, for example, cost much less.

If you want to go all digital, skip the Leica gear and get a Fuji x100 at considerable savings.
posted by Lorin at 3:40 PM on January 13, 2013

Also keep in mind that you can rent lenses to try them out before buying. I've saved a heap of money by renting a lens and discovering I didn't love it, instead of buying it and figuring that out afterwards.

very little prevents airport security from walking off with your expensive gear in checked luggage

For travel within the United States, I have heard photographers suggest buying a cheap starter pistol (the kind used at track meets) and packing it, unloaded (obviously) with any photo equipment that you must check. You will have to declare that you have an unloaded firearm in your luggage, and the thinking is that your bag will then be flagged and watched much more closely, rendering pilfering less likely. I've never tried it, as I don't check luggage, ever, and limit my photo equipment to one body and two or three lenses when I travel. And I would not suggest trying this outside the US, as most countries are not as blasé about people flying with guns in their luggage.
posted by ambrosia at 4:17 PM on January 13, 2013

For Christ's sake, do not buy a Leica. Just because you can spend the budget for small car doesn't mean you should, or that you need to.

There is not really enough information for people to give you a decent answer to this question. "Best quality" in the camera world is these days practically a term without meaning, and you would be hard-pressed seeing the difference in photos between a wide range of bodies at the moment. The rest comes down to user preference and priority.

What do you need "best quality" for? What are you going to do with these photos? Are they for printing, for commercial etc etc? Yes, you could - with some effort - blow that cash on buying the most ridiculously primo lenses for whatever body you settle on. But I guarantee you will not know the difference between them and a mid-range lens or even a cheaper prime at least 80% of the time.

Can you do justice to a 9k kit? I certainly don't think I could.

Anyway, in an attempt to answer the question, if by street photography you mean grainy black-and-white photos with no composition, oddly high-contrast, and people that don't know you've taken their pictures and probably wouldn't be happy about it if they did - which seems to be what photo forums seem to agree the term means these days - you will want:

a) Something small
b) Something that doesn't make you "look" like a photographer
c) Something with small, decent-quality, wide-to-normal angle primes.
d) Something with a decent autofocus so you can snap off something fast as it happens.

With those qualities, I would be considering mirrorless cameras in general (eg the Sony NEX series), micro-four-third cameras like Olympus and Panasonic, and the Fuji x-series. They will meet all your requirements. I've not played with it, but I know autofocus on the earlier Fuji X's was a bit hit and miss, in darker areas particularly. The micro-four-third cameras have only middling low light performance, so the NEX kits might be a goer for you.
posted by smoke at 6:38 PM on January 13, 2013 [5 favorites]

You are in need of a good camera store. That's way too much money to spend on cameras for travel. That's professional level equipment prices. Pro gear is hard to travel with due to its size and weight. You truly don't need to spend anything like that amount of money. Go to the best camera store in your area or if you can swing it, the best camera store in the U.S., which is B & H camera on 8th Avenue in New York and spend a few hours with a salesperson and get a feel for various camera bodies and viewfinders and lenses.
posted by conrad53 at 10:25 PM on January 13, 2013

The micro-four-third cameras have only middling low light performance, so the NEX kits might be a goer for you.

That has been true in the past, but the latest generation of Micro Four-Thirds cameras are using Sony manufactured sensors, and have low-light performance that is on par with the NEX cameras. And Micro Four-Thirds has a better selection of lenses. The brand new Olympus 17mm f/1.8 lens (equivalent to a 35mm full-frame) with a manual focus ring for zone focusing is pretty much the ideal street shooting lens.
posted by 1970s Antihero at 5:38 AM on January 14, 2013

I would suggest you add more detail to your question and include your definitions of "street photography" and "travel photography", several examples of the types of images you want to capture, and in what conditions. For example: "I'd like to be able to carry this camera with me at all times, capture high quality images of strangers, on the street, at night, without attracting much attention."

Since you've got plenty of money to throw at it, perhaps you should just get a decent used camera system (Ex: the Fuji x series) and use it for awhile. You will then have a better idea of what you really need to accomplish your objectives. (And you'll know more about your own tastes/preferences for features, ergonomics, use, etc.) Then you can sell it and buy what you really want & need.
posted by fueling depth at 9:42 AM on January 14, 2013

A couple thoughts...

The larger the camera and lens, the less likely people will let you take their photograph. I don't do any street photography of people with my dSLR. Buildings yes, crowds yes, people no. A smaller camera is a LOT less intimidating for the subject. Bringing a sDLR is not allowed in some locations when traveling.

If security is a concern, that same sDLR is a theft target...

I use a point a shoot camera with an articulated LCD screen for street photograhy. I can hold it over my head, set it down on a table/ground/etc or even hold it out and put me in the picture (more likely, my wife and I in a self portait) and can rotate the LCD to where I can see it.

Some examples.

Will the photos from the sDLR be better? Yes. Are the others more than good enough? Yes. If I drop the camera, it is stolen, whatever.... it is a whole lot cheaper to replace. Peace is mind is worth something.

When quality is job one, I take the sDLR. When I just want to blend in and not intimidate people and get some peace of mind, I take an articulated/vari-angle LCD point and shoot.
posted by Leenie at 12:43 PM on January 14, 2013

There are recommendations to grab a Lecia (M6 if you like something newer or go retro and grab an M3), but before you drop thousands, spend a few hundred on a Voigtlander Bessa and non-Leica lenses (there's tons of LTM and even some M-mount stuff that's worlds cheaper) and see if you even like rangefinders. Many don't.

(I say this as someone with an M6.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 6:07 PM on January 14, 2013

Save a ton of cash and look into the Fuji X-Pro 1, X-E1 and/or X100. They've definitely got their quirks, but if you can live with them then they're a great alternative to that Leica if you want small, portable, affordable, quiet, performance and razor sharp images. You could buy all 3 bodies and lenses within your budget...
posted by blaneyphoto at 5:04 PM on February 3, 2013

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