Best Camera for Street Photography? (Film)

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by stephen_hipperson, Dec 15, 2011.

  1. I don't do street photography, but I'm thinking of dabbling. I have a canon dslr and some lenses but I want to use something altogether quieter and less intrusive. Budget is almost no existant, but I'm happy to use film for the quantity of images I'm likely to take. Would those experienced in such things like to often some advice, based on practical experience, on what film cameras might be worth considering. I've read that Leicas were the thing, as were TLRs - maybe range finders from other manufacturers, maybe I can bag something off ebay relatively cheap? I guess the focal length to use would be around 35-80mm (I'm not looking to use a zoom).
  2. I could tell you to use what I use, but I'll leave that to others. Intrusion is at least 90% about the vibe you are putting out. The camera is of relatively minor importance. Being anxious triggers into alert status the defense perimeter of others. Relax. You can use your present equipment, and any lens between 24 & 50 (equivalent in FF) to start with (though, yes, anything from a fish-eye to a 1200mm can -- and has -- been used).
    Film cameras? My vote would go to any M2 or later Leica with a 35/2 lens (pre-focus, pre-meter and you will discover the significance of lag in fluid situations). Something like an Olympus XA is far smaller, has AE, but a lesser lens and about 1/20th of the price. Load either with some ISO 800 film and have at it.
  3. Cheap -- consider a nice Soviet Leica copy (FED or less so, Zorkii) or my personal preference for Soviet cameras, a Zeiss Contax made in the Soviet Union, the Kiev.
    Nice lenses (mostly copies of Zeiss with some improvements like better coatings), and they are widely available for very low prices.
    Alternatively, there are a huge number of P&S type cameras, both digital and film, that are really more capable than you'd imagine.
    In between there are cameras like the Canonet series, or similar 70s to 80s RF cameras from many makers. Ricoh, I have found, are undervalued.
  4. Olympus Stylus Epic will work great - less than 50 bucks on ebay (or I'll sell you mine). Or any other film cam...
  5. If you pre-focus a 35mm focal length lens and want an unobstrusive and quiet little camera, try the viewfinder scale focus fixed lens collapsible Minox 35 GT or GTE and Tri-X or equivalent color film. It's auto exposure lessens that need of manipulation for most occasions. It can be had for not much more than a hundred dollars It has a very good f2.8 lens. More expensive would be a screw mount Leica with say a VC 35mm f2.5 classic lens, or a Konica Hexar AF with its 35mm f2 lens, each very quiet in operation.
  6. Whatever camera you're comfortable with, will work just fine.
  7. I wouldn't use film. If you want to be ignored, digital cameras are smaller, quieter and virtually invisible to most people. Older models are as cheap as old film cameras. In fact the ultimate candid street camera is now probably a cell phone.
    If you must shoot film then a Canonet GLIII, or Olympus XA would be interesting choices. P&S AF film cameras are generally too slow and noisy for candid work.
    Of course the best street shooters don't bother about being unobtrusive. Having a Leica shoved in your face (sometimes with flash) isn't exactly covert photography.
  8. A lot of good suggestions above. There is a lot more choice if you don't mind going meterless. Fixed lens rangefinders from Yashica, Olympus, Konica are to name a few. With these just choose something that is fully manual or offers manual exposure.
  9. I use a Leica MP with 35mm lens. It is small, doesn't have the red dot, and is very quiet. A great camera for street work, but it is expensive, make that very expensive. The MP has a built in meter, which is nice, but not critical for street work. The camera also will allow shooting even if the battery runs out--a nice feature if you travel to more exotic locations where batteries are not always available.
    I prefer rangefinder cameras in general and especially for street work. Almost any good rangefinder will work. You should be able to pick up used (non-Leica) rangefinders at reasonable prices. You also might consider a Bessa rangefinder. I think they will take Leica lenses.
    Which ever camera you decide on, I would try it for a bit before purchasing. Shooting a rangefinder is different from a SLR and not everyone adapts to the differences.
    I have used a TLR, MF camera and I never got used to the waist level finder. I found my composition was off when using the WLF. Your milage may vary. If you really want MF, then look at the Mamiya 7II. The lenses aren't as fast as Leica lenses, but it is generally not a problem unless you are in very low light or you want extremely shallow depth of field. The 6x7 negatives from the Mamiya are beautiful.
    As for film, it is hard to go wrong with Kodak Tri-X or Ilford HP5+ in D-76. For low light, I like Ilford Delta 3200.
  10. Yet another recommendation for one of the Olympus XA models; XA (original), 1, 2 and 3 have 35mm lenses while the 4 has a 28. All are very quiet. See this site for XA info. Can't imagine why the recommendations for a Leica when the budget is 'almost non-existant'.
  11. Stephen, I'm a novice street dabbler myself and have tried a wide variety of cameras from film rangefinders, TLR and SLR's to digital P&S and DSLR's. What I discovered was the camera was less important than my own attitude. Weird, I know. All the cameras worked, more or less, just fine. If I was nervous, twitchy and furtive I had less success than if I was bold, confident and smiling. Could just be me, but that's what I found. I've gotten some good street shots with every camera I tried.
    That said, while all the cameras worked OK, my best success-to-shot ratio comes from using a small digital point and shoot. You are less obtrusive overall, less professional/imposing/threatening looking, more casual-looking. The dead silence of exposure has helped me on more than one occasion. My current S95 is so small it can fit in my palm and be manually pre-focused and fired without ever bringing the camera to my eye if discretion or precise timing is desired. Plus, just walking about, I look like a regular tourist taking pics so most folks don't look twice. I also have a high also-ran-to-winner ratio so I end up shooting a lot and digital wins the day here for me, economically speaking.
    I would suggest just to start with what you already have and gradually try out some different cameras and different candid techniques and see what works for you over time. Just know you can start today enjoying this interesting type of photography.
  12. How about a TLR camera, those are waist lever and most people don't know you are taking their picture.
  13. I have a Olympus SP570UZ which works fine since it has a zoom 20X and is very quite
    its 10mgp and shoots raw and JPEG so it covers both files I like and am happy with it
    good luck
  14. Be wary of the little digitals if you go that way. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, you will miss or mess up a great many shots simply because you end up not seeing what's on the screen so often. I tried it with an S90 last year. Fine on cloudy, dark days but very limited on the very days that are most suitable for photography. Conversely, at night, the LCD is like a flashlight on your face. Hardly discreet.
    Film? Don't know. I think any camera will do, all myths aside, but a fast prime lens helps. You don't always need the larger apertures, but it's useful to have them. On the other hand, there are many more potential, grabbable shots if you do have a fast zoom, simply because most of the time, when you spot something happening or developing, you won't be close enough for a 35mm or even a 50mm lens, and you won't always have time to get there. The problem with that is that fast zooms are kind of big for street photography.
    I tried medium format for this years ago. Less depth of field. That's why everyone used 35 mm cameras.

  15. I wouldn't use film. If you want to be ignored, digital cameras are smaller, quieter and virtually invisible to most people. Older models are as cheap as old film cameras. In fact the ultimate candid street camera is now probably a cell phone.​
    I couldn't have said it any better. But if you absolutely want film, I used to like Hexar AF alot
  16. Noisy point and shoots? My Olympus Stylus is so quite, I thought it wasn't working! $5,35 at Goodwill Charity Store. Battery was OK. Very fast! Yes slow compared to the shutter release on a Leica-M or Nikon-F. Still very quick. Faster than any of my digital point and shoot.
    Street snaps are about attitude and making yourself open, not sneaky or subversive! Long lenses are out! Be casual, dress down, don't carry stuff all over your body like some caricature of a photo-journalist. Take your time to "warm-up" and hope for a good image now and then. If confronted admit freely that you are doing it for yourself.If free print offered, follow up! Sometimes better pix occur while you show some of your work! Last, make it fun!
  17. I think Bob Atkins recommendation is close to my own. A small "D" camera which is ubiquitous or a cell phone is best, but I also believe it's about disappearing into the background and becoming almost un-noticed. I on the other hand stood out like a sore thumb and as such gave up the sport more or less.
  18. My choice would be:
    Nikon AF600 (small, black, very good lens, 28mm f3.5 lens, good AF)
    Rollei Prego 30 (very small, very good lens, 30mm f3.5 lens) (now fixed)
    Minolta Hi-Matic E (great little rangefinder with one-hell-of-a-lens, 40mm f1.7, no manual shutter)
    Minolta AL-F (very good lens, 38mm f2.7, shutter priority rangefinder)
    Minox GT (small, black, VERY quiet, excellent lens)
    Yashica GT (excellent lens, 1/30s shutter when switched to flash, very quiet)
    Canonet GIII (very good lens, full manual, black one preferred)
    Konica Hexar AF (original black model, stealth mode, custom shutter speed limit, don't own one...)
    Minolta Hi-Matic E (great little rangefinder with one-hell-of-a-lens, 40mm f1.7, no manual shutter)
    Minolta AL-F (very good lens, 38mm f2.7, shutter priority rangefinder)
    Olympus Infinity Stylus (very good lens, 35mm f3.5, longest shutter is 1/15s:)
    Minox GT (small, black, VERY quiet, excellent lens if You guess the distance right)
    I have Canonet GIII with me everyday, overall excellent tool and Nikon AF600 is good to have in Your pocket. Much faster shooter than Canonet sleeping in a case in my camera bag... That and good AF makes a BIG difference :)
  19. >>> Street snaps are about attitude and making yourself open, not sneaky or subversive!

    Ah... A breath of fresh air!
  20. Leica and Tri-x seem like the first names mentioned when the subject of street equipment is brought up. Though Leica's are superb I wonder if the legends of old would choose different equipment if they were shooting today? Autofocus? Digital? Automation? Remember they shot with what was available back then.
  21. Brilliant stuff, thanks for spending time on this for me. I'll compile a list and check out the various options.
  22. "Street snaps are about attitude and making yourself open, not sneaky or subversive!"

    You may be right Jason but I prefer to be unnoticed at least before I take the picture, then anything may happen; smile, explanation, business cards, e-mails... calling police or broken nose... People are different... But most important: I prefer people to not see that I'm taking pictures because they may start acting or just stop what they are doing and what interest me... Great Henri Cartier-Bresson also preferred to be unnoticed. There is a movie somewhere on the web that show how he is photographing, he clearly paid attention to be unnoticed, often hiding behind the car or other tall elements to not interrupt the scene, to not change it.
    If I would smile and "dance" with camera, people will be aware that "This guy can take a picture so I better stop what I'm doing and stare at him"...
    The good news are that I don't need black, quiet and expensive Leica or Konica Hexar, my old Minolta SRT will do the job just fine :)
  23. I invite you to look at my photos. Just to go my portfolio (no link here). There are between 1,700 and 1,900 photos (PN has two different counts).
    I have used both Leicas (earlier) and mostly Nikon because I'm familiar with Nikon controls.
    Knowledge of the placement of controls and their function is very important on the 'street' where things can happen quickly.
    In second or sometimes a fraction (really true) you must be able to frame, point, focus (auto focus) and record a worthwhile capture. Nikon's been my choice for decades, over 30 or 40 different film through digital cameras because they used intelligence in keeping their controls usable from camera to camera so that in trading one camera for another, the learning curve has not generally been 'steep' at all.
    In digital, their menus are to die for and generally (as they profess to me) the envy of Canon shooters I come across. That may not be universally true, but the menus and the controls of Nikon digital cameras are really well thought out, and if you start shooting with Nikons, it's easy as pie to switch to another Nikon, but hard to learn another brand.
    In shooting 'street', the post above about Henri Cartier-Bresson is correct, he is said to have hidden his camera under his serviette (napkin) in restaurants, and in films I've seen of him, he used a wrist strap and was in credibly at bring his hand, and strapped Leica to his eye.
    He did focus generally in film I've seen of him, although many Leica photographers use f8 or so if the light's strong enough and just use hyperfocal distance and forego focusing, just framing the capture. Enough is in focus at f8 or whatever, that hyperfocal distance defines acceptable sharpness front to back; one third of the distance in front of the subject and two-thirds behind, if the camera is focused on the subject, but for those photographers, they just aim and shoot and rely on great depth of field for acceptable sharpness, which speeds up their captures - just point and shoot.
    I've staked out a likely circumstance for four or five hours for one good shot (and boy was it great -- all the blogs stole it), and also have taken photos not previsualized in less than one second. It's the photo that matters, not the technique. I use a variety of techniques -- whatever works. Same with cameras.
    Rangefinders are easier to hand hold at slower shutter speeds, but recently with a digital SLR (Nikon), I hand held a shot at one-third of a second at f10 and got great sharpness and found later my vibration reduction feature on the lens was off (I had thought it was on)
    Some of us are steadier holders than others.
    Maciek Stanjkiewicz's post next above about being unnoticed 'at least before I take the picture' is well stated, and then 'anything may happen' as he so aptly states.
    And it does.
    It helps to start with a personality assessment to find out if you're the kind of person who can get in with strangers, take photos, and withstand social pressures that many people internalize.
    If you read the 100+ pages (really) of comments under my portfolio, there is a wealth of comments from readers and me about those social pressures and how to withstand or develop a withstanding of them, or at least bring them into toleration.
    If you want to shoot street, you probably have an inkling you have the personality to succeed - there are few shrinking violets in the 'street' shooting business. One must be able to deal with people who may at first dislike being photographed when they learn they are or have been photographed.
    That can be challenging but I've never been punched (we've come close, but never a punch.
    My camera got punched once right on the lens, and I won't say what I did to the lady with my heavy D2Xs with heavy pro lens, but it was red and she oozed, and soon she and her husband were arrested. Generally it's years between such occurrences or they never occur at all, and NEVER from someone being photographed, always from a bystander who is spoiling for a fight - so beware as non-subjects pose the greatest danger - they're often people who saw some celebrity get hounded by a photographer and have a chip on their shoulder, even though you're not photographing them and you're not misbehaving in any way.
    You can make great friends on the street. I do, frequently, it's a great collateral reward of shooting street to make to many friends with normal people.
    I sometimes stop complete strangers, tell them I'm a photo 'portrait artist' and I'd like to make their 'portrait' (I never ask to take their photo, but instead 'make their portrait' right there on the street).
    If I want to make a portrait, there's less prejudice, but what person wants some total stranger taking his photo as he walks down the street.
    A 'portrait?'
    Well, that's another thing, then show them a good photo, and take ten or twenty more and it'll start to be a good day.
    I do that with interesting normal people and life's rejects as well, and sometimes the rejects are very flattered to have that attention.
    You can be doing someone that others would think you're taking advantage of, (infirm, mentally defective, deformed, etc.) and do them a favor by paying that attention to them, and also getting great photos.
    Never assume you're unwelcome until you're expressly told so, and only then if they've seen photos you've taken that are good, as some who start out as detractors will become your biggest fans when they see their own photo done well. Some even may bring you interesting subjects subsequently.
    Street is funny; it's partly a social exercise, and the more you photograph, the better you get with people and the better you get with people the more bold you get and the better your photos get, and it goes around and around.
    Please feel free to communicate with me privately if you wish, through e-mail or through portfolio comment.
    John (Crosley)
  24. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    life's rejects​
    There's an enlightened view.
  25. John, I very much appreciate your input, I will certainly consider the points you've made.
    (Your comments have triggered an idea for a series which I hadn't given a thought about before - nothing to do with street photography - but I'm happy to draw inspiration from anywhere and anyone, so thanks for that!)
  26. >>> life's rejects

    Interesting... I've shot a ton of portraits of total strangers I've engaged on the street. Many times in marginalized, or what others might
    call challenging neighborhoods. And have never felt the need to characterize *anybody* that way. After a portrait it is
    always "my friend."
  27. I second the previous posters' reply to use a TLR. Waist level, relatively un-obtrusive. Find a good deal on a Rollei.
  28. >>> You may be right Jason but I prefer to be unnoticed at least before I take the picture,

    I prefer, and get much better photographs being out in the open. It's only when you're accepted on the street,
    with no one caring about what you're doing, that you can understand and relate to the dynamics and take photos that
    captures the energy out there, up close. Life goes on - nobody cares.

    In San Francisco, I see lots of other shooters trying to hide, shooting with long lenses, sneaking shots, etc. And all it does is raise suspicion and
    make people uncomfortable. It comes off as creepy.

    My feeling (from looking at their photos) is shooters who do that are not really trying to catch scenes
    undisturbed, but rather are afraid of being caught. Probably without good people skills to defuse a situation that
    might escalate.

    Also, shooting hidden, or from a distance, being tricky, etc, is conceding you're DOING SOMETHING WRONG taking pictures in public. That's
    the worst part. People on the street, being far more aware than you think, pick up on that quickly.
  29. Brad, as You know there are some situations that may bring You troubles if someone discover that You are photographing, but the scene is worth it. Most of the time it's OK and only thing You are worry about are people mot staring directly at the camera, but sometimes things may get dangerous...
    I'm not the fan of long lenses for Street photography, 35-40mm are my favourite, but I need quiet camera...
  30. Zone focusing is fast and easy, and leaves only framing the shot. With a 40mm lens (common on 70s compact rangefinder cameras) at f/8, for close subjects set the focus at 12 feet, and everything between 8 feet and 26 feet will appear more or less sharp. For distant subjects, set the focus at 25 feet, and everything between 12 feet and infinity will appear more or less sharp. I am including a link to a depth of field calculator for your own use. I generally use zone focusing with a vintage 120 folder (though not for street photography), with good results. .
  31. >>> Brad, as You know there are some situations that may bring You troubles if someone discover that
    You are photographing, but the scene is worth it. Most of the time it's OK and only thing You are worry
    about are people mot staring directly at the camera, but sometimes things may get dangerous...

    I just take the shot and not worry about being seen after the shutter's released. Though sometimes I like
    being seen (creating strong eye contact) at the moment of exposure when taking spontaneous photos. If
    somebody has an issue (which is rare) I'd rather address it.
  32. One does not dabble at street photography. You cannot dabble when you are sucking up someone's soul with you magic box, sometimes making moments people want to forget immortal. Street photography demands that you look life in the face and that you do not blink. It also demands a necessary measure of agony over what the hell you are doing to people you don't know.
    There is no correct answer as to what equipment you should use. The equipment should complement your world view as an artist. It is simple as that.
    That the question has been asked in the first place suggests that the dabbler does not know what he is doing. There is no sin in that. The only way to find out what you want to do in street photography is to take street photographs and take your lumps--let's hope only metaphorical lumps. Saying that, I suggest that if the artist who initiated this thread wants to try a film camera he should do so by all means. There are lots of them around.
    I've used a lot of film cameras for street photography. I have settled on Leicas and rangefinders because I like the feel. I also have this notion that a Leica gives me a certain authority to take street photos. A priest hears your confession. A Leica photographer takes your picture without asking.
    Currently I am using a Leica M8 and M9 on a day to day basis. But if I want to go totally stealth I think there are advantages to film cameras. Not having the image instantly produced for all the world to see give one (I think) a kind of cloak of invisibility. Naive? Maybe. But it steadies the nerves.
    I've also used waist-level finders.
    One of my all time favorite stealth cameras is the Konica Hexar AF. Quiet and unobtrusive. With autofocus it's great for shooting "blind."
  33. In film cameras I like TLRs and medium format folders. Not because they're discrete, though. A TLR is anything but discrete - peering down into a big black box looks odd in almost any setting. Most TLRs can be used at eye level too, which is a really odd sight to most folks. And a folding camera with an accordion-like bellows tends to attract attention.
    I like 'em because people seem to respond to them with tolerance, curiosity and humor. TLRs and folders seem to be regarded as quaint and non-threatening. They're good conversation starters.
    But in busy situations like street fairs, it doesn't matter much what camera you use. Between the noise and motion, few people really pay much attention to the candid photographer, let alone the type of camera used.
  34. "...sometimes making moments people want to forget immortal".
    "It also demands a necessary measure of agony over what the hell you are doing to people you don't know."
    And then we all admiring photographs by Josef Koudelka or other Masters of photography, right?...
    I'm never photographing i.e. homeless or disabled people without a reason.... To take a photo there must be something special about the scene, gesture, face, environment... Something different and unique... It's different than a snapshot of a homeless man just sleeping on the bench that some people call "street photography"...
    If someone is drinking sparkling wine like a fish in a crowded bus, that may interest me...
    If a little kid is walking with a gun that don't look like a toy, then I will shoot, with my camera... But then I need a quiet camera....
  35. Lex, Medium Format folding camera may be the way to go! More happy people in the photos, that's for sure :) I just bought Agfa Record II 6x9, we'll see :)

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