Best Cameras For Street Photography

My Best Cameras for Street Photography

The Ricoh GR is the best camera for street photography in my opinion, bear in mind I haven't the funds to try one of the classic Leicas yet (although I have just bought an old rangefinder film Canonet QL17 and will blog about it soon). The Ricoh GR has beautiful colors, a large APSC sized sensor, plus it is a pocketable camera. It is like a thicker phone and all black, so people don't notice you taking photos as much.

The fixed focal length of 28mm is nice and wide, plus it has a useful 35mm crop mode when you want tighter framing. The 35mm crop mode uses approximately the same sensor size as a Micro Four Thirds sensor i.e. respectably large still. It is easy to use, with some features aimed at us street photographers like the snap focus.

The Ricoh GR is great for street photography as is truly a one handed camera too, with all functions available for your thumb. I regularly change exposure compensation, focusing mode, color profile (Vivid, Positive Film and High Contrast B&W are my favorites) and other things one handed. this makes it very easy to take those candid shots and i often take ones from the side of my hip or my chest height one handed.

My 2nd favorite street camera is the Panasonic G7 because of the awesome ergonomics and very compact and lightweight body. It is like a mini DSLR. Therefore, I can utilize the many amazing Micro Four Thirds lenses from Panasonic, Sigma, Olympus, plus practically any other lens with a cheap adaptor. When cycling I use the image stabilized 12-32mm lens which is super small and lightweight.

The one thing that the Ricoh GR lacks is a viewfinder. I have been toying with buying one, but then it wouldn't be so pocketable. therefore, I usually get the itch to take my Panasonic G7 out, especially if using a manual lens or a fast lens at night. I just bought an old film camera which has the rangefinder focusing system. This was to slow me down and make me spend more time taking carefully composed photographs, instead of always coming home with hundreds. I will be getting my first rolls of film printed and scanned fairly soon. It won't be a contender for best street photography camera, but it looks awesome and is definitely worth having if you are into the hobby.

There are plenty of other cameras worth considering from Panasonic and Olympus, some much smaller. The Olympus Pen F is beautiful, The Panasonic GX7 has a rangefinder style (without rangefinder focusing), which many street photographers prefer; allowing one eye to clearly see outside of the frame. But I love the DSLR style with the fully articulating screen and full feature set. I just can't get a good grip on my wife's heavier Panasonic GX85, despite it being smaller than the G7. Plus the viewfinder doesn't have the same size or cushioning.

I love both the G7 and GR and will continue to use both. Yesterday for example, I took both out to meet a visiting friend and do a little street photography whilst walking around. The G7 with the amazing Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens was in my hands 90% of the day as I was taking portrait shots of my friend's daughter. This gave me much more control of the depth of field i.e. blurry backgrounds, which can transform a photograph from ordinary to professional and arty looking. Plus this lens has amazingly sharp rendering, which can make images which "shine".

On the other hand I used the G7 in a mall and got rather close to a woman and she wasn't comfortable. If I had been using the Ricoh GR, she may not have even noticed. The GR is suitable for ultra fast action, like plucking it out from my pocket for a quick spur of the moment photo when the little girl did something cute, or a selfie. The GR is so easy to use and convenient that it has to be the best street camera. The G7 (and it's follow up the G85) are better all around photography tools. Plus they do exceptional 4K video which is what got me started in the first place with Uscenes- I was doing that since 2013 and only just got into street photography in late spring 2017.


A deeper look into the pros and cons of the 2 cameras, plus other options and accessories

Until recently I have been using the Panasonic G7, which is a great camera for street photography because of it's weight, size and image quality. Plus I get to change lenses from the massive selection of Micro Four Thirds (M43) lenses by Panasonic, Olympus and Sigma.

Practically all other lenses can be adapted to M43 cameras with a cheap adaptor or focal reducer. I generally stick with a Panasonic kit lens; the 12-32mm f3.5-5.6, which is very light and compact, plus great image quality for the price. It has fast focusing and is stabilized. You can often find grey imports very cheap on eBay, or it shouldn't be too much on Amazon. At night I use a prime lens like the Sigma 30mm F1.4 for the extra light, this is the best bank for your buck M43 lens and an essential purchase.

Note: you need to double the focal length for Micro Four Thirds lenses to get the full frame equivalent. For APSC sensors you usually times it by 1.5. So the 30mm Sigma is a 60mm equivalent, quite tight for the street. The Ricoh below is 28mm, a touch wide for my liking.

Panasonic's G7 makes a great street camera. I painted in the Lumix and G for stealthier shooting. 

The Panasonic G7 is a Good Street Photography Camera

The G7 has a fully articulating screen, which is invaluable for my video work, but for street shooting a tilting screen would be best. I used to have that with the Sony RX100 II, which was a pocket camera with exceptional abilities and a respectably sized 1 inch sensor.

The Sony, like most Sony's it seems, didn't have good ergonomics, with a slippery black metal finish. It wasn't a fun camera to use, but it was so small that I always had it with me. This was great for learning the ropes with the camera and experimenting with photography. Then I upgraded to the Panasonic GH4 which is a bit too big for the street.

Then I upgraded to the G7, which actually saved me money because it had a few video features I didn't need missing. The colors of the G7 are much improved over the previous Panasonic lines, which had poor red and green rendering. As soon as I got hooked on street photography I colored the Lumix branding in on the G7 with a black marker- that is how happy with this camera I am; i.e. it will be hard to sell now that it has been tampered with.

The G7 has an EVF, fully articulating screen and superb ergonomics. It is a camera light enough to walk around with all day, with a pancake lens.

The Panasonic G7 has amazing ergonomics. It just fits in my hand perfectly. It has all the dials and buttons you could want, plus an electronic view finder (EVF). The old school street photographers may tell you that an optical view finder is essential and I must admit it is excellent for helping one frame the perfect shot. The old Leicas and other film cameras for the street have the viewfinder at the top left corner. Take a look at the Panasonic GX7 or a Fuji camera if you prefer this rangefinder style.

The G7 is shaped like a mini Canon or Nikon DSLR. It is certainly nowhere near pocketable. I wear a sling over a shoulder for easy access when cycling, or a belt holster when walking, which again provides super easy access. Compared to my new Ricoh GR street camera, it doesn't feel quite so small:

The mirrorless G7 has all the benefits of a Canon or Nikon DSLR, but it isn't pocketable. Introducing the far slimmer Ricoh GR street camera.

Why the Ricoh GR is the Best Camera for Street Photography

Recently I bought a used Ricoh GR  and it is a completely different kettle of fish. This is a truly pocketable camera and it has a bigger sensor (APSC) compared to the Panasonic G7 (M43/MFT). Besides expensive Leica cameras and Fujifilm rangefinders, the Ricoh GR is probably the best street photography camera in the world. The Ricoh GR is difficult to find in Thailand. I have only ever seen one available in Chiang Mai and I snapped it up and had it in my hands within 45 minutes of seeing the ad on Kaidee (Thai version of Gumtree).

Another photo illustrating just how small the Ricoh GR is. It is actually not as long as my iPhone SE. It is a camera you can have with you at all times.

For most people the updated Ricoh GR II bought new is the only option and it has some slight improvements, such as WiFi for transferring images to your other devices. The Panasonic G7 is a similar price, although Panasonic have great deals on their cameras and lenses at this time of the year. The G7 and it's follow up; the G85 are both on sale at the moment.

The Ricoh GR is a large sensor pocket camera which can be used one handed. It is stealthy and people are less likely to know you are photographing them.

The G85 lacks an Anti aliasing filter, like the Ricoh GR, which results in slightly sharper photos at the expense of some moire (patterns on checked shirts, roofs and various other objects with repeated patterns). The G85 is better for those thinking of buying the G7 if you don't mind shooting in the rain as it is weatherproof. It is also often worth the extra expense for the in-body stabilization. Personally, I am happy with the G7, I use a fast shutter speed when not using a stabilized lens and I don't do rain. The G85 is also bigger and heavier. The GR works much better as a dedicated street photography camera...

The GR has a very useful "snap" focusing mode, which means you can set it and forget it. The Vivid photo profile is great as is the High Contrast Black and White effect. I was starting to doubt the colors from Panasonic cameras, especially after seeing what the top Fuji cameras can do. Thankfully the Ricoh GR has amazing vivid colors. Reds, oranges, yellows and pinks have a real "pop" and brightness, which doesn't look over saturated. You will be seeing a lot of these colors from now on in this blog. I was first entranced by these brighter colors when I saw Gerald Gay's galleries, where he mainly uses Fuji cameras and occasionally Canon.

The Ricoh has a fixed lens which is 28mm full frame equivalent. There is a 35mm crop mode, which is my personal preference, but this may change as it only uses a part of the sensor; a similar size to the M43 sensor. There is also a 47mm crop which noticeably lowers the quality, but might be useful occasionally if you know you will need to crop when editing.

The Ricoh GR is a one-handed pocket camera with lots of customizable options. It is extremely easy to use after a little practice.

A Pocket Camera for Street Photography with a Zoom Lens

If you want a pocket camera with a zoom lens I recommend the Sony RX100 II as it is now great value as there have been a few newer versions since. It is a superb camera, but I highly recommend you get an extra hand grip like the one I put on my phone below. That could make all the difference for the Sony to make it a comfortable street camera. For me it was too slippery, but I never thought to add the hand grip before I sold it.

It has a flip up and down screen which is a big help for when you want to shoot from the hip, or shoot over a crowd. The GR's screen doesn't move. I previously had a Canon 600D (T3i) which has an APSC sized sensor. The Sony RX100 II with it's 1 inch sensor was just as good as the Canon with it's kit lens. The Canon was just a bit more cinematic for video. It is possibly due to the excellent lens on the Sony with the prestigious Carl Zeiss name.

There is one pocket camera which is smaller than the RX100 (the first version is the smallest but it doesn't have a flip screen), which is the Canon G9x. I tried one in a shop and the autofocus was crazily slow. They have brought out a new version which is faster, but the first was so slow compared to my G7 that I expect it will probably still not cut it. Try before you buy if you like the look and size of the Canon G9x II. I would definitely avoid the first one.

Before I found the Ricoh GR I decided to fashion a pocket street camera out of an iPhone...

The iPhone SE is actually great for Street Photography

I have been using my iPhone for street photography when I don't have anything else with me. It has a similar focal length to the Ricoh GR. It also makes a good back up camera if my main one runs out of battery. I think the iPhone SE is the perfect camera phone to use because of the size. It is easy to grip when you add some rubber grip tape, like I have done in the photos below. The tape helps me when holding the phone in portrait mode and landscape mode.

Attached to both sides of the phone is a thin strip of tape a similar color to the phone which give it a very good grip for steady street photos.

My iPhone also has a camera grip which I purchased offline. I use the Flipbac FBG1 Camera Grip
which was very cheap and works perfectly. It is made from hard rubber, making it grip well, but not so much that it catches on the sides of my pocket. It is very slim so I don't notice it in my pocket compared to with no camera grip on the iPhone. Newer iPhones have proper camera grip options with a shutter button on Amazon. I just use the volume button or the screen.

Update: I recently bought the Filmborn app for the iPhone and it offers film emulation looks. It is worth buying for a few dollars if you find the phone's photos a bit too clinical. I think that is why the whole Instagram/filter thing took off- phones have small sensors which means low dynamic range and poor low light. With a film emulator you are embracing the imperfections and not trying to get the sharpest results. The grain at night looks better and the over-sharpening in the stock camera is lessened.

The Flipbac FBG1 Camera Grip makes holding the phone sideways almost a point and shoot camera. They have different styles which will all fit.

Accessories for Street Photography Cameras

There are two items I would like to mention. My favorite is the belt holster pictured below. This is a cheap Chinese knock-off Camera Holster Belt with Quick Release Bolt. There are more expensive options like the Spider Black Widow, but for a lightweight camera like the G7 or GR, the cheaper option is fine. You screw the bolt into the camera's tripod thread hole. Then tighten it up with the included Allen key to prevent any risk of it coming loose. Then the buckle is worn on your belt and the camera just clips in. To get it out you pull on a lever at the side. It is awesome if you don't like to take a bag like me.

These quick draw belt holsters are great value and very convenient for street photographers.

The second accessory is what I use when cycling. Chiang Mai is a flat city so I cycle most places. It allows me to take photos I would otherwise miss. I capture scenes inside open door shops, metal works and much more. People often live above their shop and have an open space downstairs, making more opportunities to get unique snap shots as I cycle past.

Shoulder sling strap for easy access to your camera at all times.
The shoulder sling strap makes the camera rest at my side and it doesn't move much due to gravity. I am linking to a slightly different version as the one in the photo has a plate which is unnecessarily large. This is one of the cheaper versions, you can get premium ones from the likes of Peak Design. As soon as I bought the Ricoh GR I realised the plate was too big as it stuck out at the bottom of the camera, so I ordered one of the small round plates instead, which should also be better for the G7 as it will allow access to the battery and SD card slot.

Disclaimer: I am no authority when it comes to cameras. I can count on two hands the number of cameras I have owned. Therefore this post is just my opinion based on my experiences. For more insight check out the guy who seems to buy more cameras than anyone Mattias Burling on Youtube (you may recognize him as the guy with the little black dog). Others worth looking up on Youtube are Bigheadtaco and Eric Kim. Plus there are loads of documentaries and other videos with famous photographers and enthusiasts showing you good film cameras and types of film to try (next on my list).

Check prices on for items mentioned:

Ricoh GR II 
Panasonic G7 
Sony RX100 II
Flipbac FBG1 Camera Grip
Camera Holster Belt with Quick Release Bolt
Shoulder Sling Strap