I’ve recently been working on a guide called “The 10 Best Cameras for Street Photography — and Why,” trying to reduce quite a long list of excellent cameras to a manageable number. The task has reminded me of the difficulty everyone experiences when trying to decide on the “next purchase.”
Do you choose using gut feel and intuition, or do you opt for scientific investigation and set about researching the subject more fully? A lot of people do the latter, then revert to the former option and go with their initial choice.
Here’s what I do. I use a text editor to create a single page called (unsurprisingly) “Next Purchase.” On it I type (or cut and paste) all the relevant details of each camera and lens I’m considering. When I check prices I make a note of them together the name of the retailer and the date.
Everything goes on to this page: notes about lenses and useful accessories; little quotes from reviewers; weight comparisons; even a list of my criteria, which tend to change over time, depending on the kind of photography I wish to do.
Here’s my three-step strategy for finding the camera that will best suit your needs:
* Make a list of your criteria
* Prioritise the items on the list
* Find the camera that best matches them
You may discover that you have a very long list of criteria, raising the possibility that you’ll need to compromise eventually. Here’s my full list. You may have other items to add to it:
* (Great) image quality
* (Large) sensor size
* (Light) weight of camera
* (Small) size of camera
* (Comfortable) grip
* (Robust) build quality
* (Preferred) focal length of fixed/interchangeable lens
* (Light) weight of interchangeable lenses
* (Wide) aperture of lens
* (Responsive) autofocus capabilities
* (Superior) colour handling
* (Well organised) ergonomics and menu structures
* (Included) image stabilization (in body or lens)
* (High) LCD quality
* (Included) environmental sealing
* (Good) resistance to flare
* (Rapid) start-up time
* (Acceptable) price
Some of the above criteria, like “resistance to flare,” apply to the lens rather than the camera. I’m assuming that you may be considering cameras with interchangeable lenses as well as those with fixed lenses.
Because it’s such a long list you could give numerical values to the criteria: such as using a scale of 1-10. This way you’ll end up with a more accurate result than if you simply assume a similar gap between each criterion.
Say, for example, image quality is by far the most important factor in your choice. If it’s way out in front it needs to be weighted to show that it’s far ahead of the one you’ve listed as being the second most important.
Your next step is to reduce this list to manageable proportions. Think about it carefully then choose the top five criteria you consider to be the most important.
Here are my key criteria for street photography:
1. Great image quality
2. Very light weight
3. Resistance to flare
4. Superior colour handling
5. Responsive autofocus
How did I arrive at this shortlist? I did it mainly by seeing if there were any workarounds or other factors that would allow me to eliminate any of the criteria. For example, the absence of a comfortable grip on the Leica Q would not put me off buying the camera because you can add a grip to it. Likewise, rapid start-up time may be desirable but it’s not essential if, as I do, you always have your camera switched on when working.
Alas, there are no workarounds for the basics: the quality of the sensor and the weight of the camera plus lens: the two criteria which, for me, are the most important.
You now have to read lots of reviews and find out which camera most closely matches your final set of criteria. That can take a while, but it’s well worth the effort because you can learn such a lot from reading informed opinion together with technical specs.
Eventually you can start to make a shortlist of the cameras under serious consideration. Again, I think it’s a good idea to take notes. The human mind keeps only seven or eight facts under simultaneous consideration, but we’re dealing with too many in this instance.
Here’s another suggestion. Write down what you think are the two best qualities of each camera on your shortlist and the two worst. Can you live with the worst?
I wrote down the best/worst qualities a while back (2016), adding a fifth line: a note of any outstanding comment by reviewers. Here’s what I compiled for two of the cameras I had under consideration.
Leica Q — 640g
1. Best thing about it: It’s a photographer’s camera and great fun to use. Lightweight AND full frame.
2. Next best thing about it: Great fixed 28mm lens.
3. Worst thing about it: It’s a bit cumbersome/hard to hold; rocks forward when trying to stand upright.
4. Next worst thing about it: Can I live with a fixed 28mm lens?
5. What they say about it: Image quality doesn’t match the Sony cameras, but ergonomics are way better.
Fuji X-100F — 469 g
1. Best thing about it: Super compact and lightweight.
2. Next best thing about it: Well engineered.
3. Worst thing about it: Has the same lens as the much cheaper X-100T, X-100S and X-100. (But it’s a good lens).
4. Next worst thing about it: The so-called X-Trans “problem” – waxy faces if you boost shadows, etc.
5. What they say about it: Very highly rated; a bit “niche”; for pro’s on their day off.
After all my efforts to find a street camera to replace my Canon 5DIII and pancake lens (a hard-to-beat combination!) I decided to wait a bit longer. It was the right decision.
So if you’re tormenting yourself by trying to evaluate hundreds of scraps of information about the latest cameras, try to bring some order to the task. Think it through along the lines I suggest. I hope you make the right decision.
[Note about the featured image: I was using my Canon 5DIII on this trip to Paris. Disconcertingly, the reflection of the burglar-proof grille from across the road looks like banding in the shadows. It’s not! But I love those rabbits.]