The best camera for street photography will deliver a superior in-the-moment photographic experience. Street shooting is all about being there, pounding the pavement, and finding that split-second capture where the elements align. The best camera for street work is something we could debate all day, but after some wrangling, we've managed to whittle the list down to a top ten, with a bonus eleventh camera for those to whom price is no object. (Yes, it's a Leica.)
First, let's define what we mean by street photography. Put simply, it's the practice of taking candid photos of unsuspecting individuals, usually but not necessarily in urban settings. A street photographer is a keen observer, with an eye for documenting daily life. Anything from eye-catching outfits to ironic coincidences can be the purview of the street photographer. It's less about technical perfection, and more about capturing something raw and true.
Street photography has a rich history, with famous names in the genre including Bruce Gilden, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier or Daido Moriyama. They rose to fame by capturing honest and not necessarily photos of people going about their day. There's a certain fearlessness to street photography, exemplified by these masters of the craft.
Best cameras for street photography
While the best mirrorless cameras (opens in new tab) and best compact cameras (opens in new tab) will have all sorts of great features, being a good street photography camera has some quite specific requirements.
A good street camera should be small and discreet, allowing you to slip through and observe your scenes unnoticed. Big bodies and bigger lenses do tend to draw attention, after all. Furthermore, a good street camera needs to be fast. Snappy autofocus and a good burst mode will allow you to make sure that when the decisive moment occurs, you won't miss it. Or at least, if you do, it won't be the camera's fault.
Controls for a street camera should be intuitive, well laid-out and tactile – hunting through menus is anathema to a good street shoot. Ideally, it also shouldn't weigh too much, as you'll be wearing it around your neck or on your shoulder for a good chunk of time.
We've split our list into two major categories: fixed lens compacts and interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras. If you're purely street shooting, then a simple compact may be the way to go, while mirrorless cameras are more versatile, and a good choice if you might want to try other genres like wildlife, portrait or landscape photography.
One more thing. Street photography has a rich history in the history of photography, and there's a certain style to it. So we've taken into consideration the cameras we think best suit the style of street shooting. It's not just about aesthetics; many of these more retro-styled cameras pack in features that complement the shoot-from-the-hip philosophy of street photography.
So let’s get to the cameras!
Compact cameras for street photography
When picking a compact camera for street photography, it pays to make sure the lens is somewhere around the mid-range, neither too long nor too wide. Whether this is a zoom or a high-quality prime, it also pays for the lens to be fast (i.e. have a large maximum aperture) so that you can use high shutter speeds as much as possible.
Bags of style, backed up with serious imaging tech – the Fujifilm X100V has it all. The fifth in a line of prime-lens compacts, the X100V eschews zoom range in favour of a catch-it-all focal length and supreme image quality. In our review, we found it to be a supremely enjoyable camera to use – in fact, we're say it's one of the most purely enjoyable cameras that’s ever been made. The X100V has evidently been put together with street photographers in mind; its dial-based controls hark back to the old days of street photography, while its hybrid optical/electronic viewfinder is one of the best examples of its type on any mirrorless camera, full stop. All of this does come at a price, but if you can justify the expense, it’s worth it.
Read more: Fujifilm X100V review (opens in new tab)
The Four Thirds sensor of the Panasonic Lumix LX100 II is interesting in a number of ways. For a start, it’s a multi-aspect sensor, allowing you to quickly switch between different aspect ratios of images. The camera’s controls also make this easy to do, which encourages experimentation with different types of composition. As we noted in our review, this is a great way to think about the aspect ratio of your images in the moment, rather than after capture, and being in the moment is really what street photography is all about. The Four Thirds sensor is larger than those you’d find in many comparable compacts, which makes it easier to produce images with a shallow depth of field – a task further aided by the maximum lens aperture of f/1.7. This makes the LX100 II a really great choice for street portraiture, allowing the user to capture dynamic images that really pop.(opens in new tab)
In Cartier-Bresson’s day, it was unthinkable that a powerful camera could be so small it’d slip into a jacket pocket, but so it is with the Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II. An excellent all-around compact, the G5 X Mark II improves on its predecessor with a fast 5x zoom lens that covers an equivalent focal range of 24-120mm – perfectly pitched for street photography. The customisable control ring on the lens can be set to the user’s preferred function, allowing you to fine-tune the handling to your preferences, making shooting with the G5 X II about as intuitive an experience as possible. We rated it highly in our review, only really docking it points for lacking a mic socket, which street photographers won't be bothered about anyway.
Like four-hour board games and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, the Ricoh GR cameras have acquired something of a cult following. Their fans will extol, to anyone who’ll listen, the virtues of their slim build and large sensor, a feature combination that does make the most recent model, the GR III, a great option for street photography, so much so that it even comes in a dedicated "street edition" with a pop-on viewfinder and natty yellow stripe included. And with impressive features like three-axis image stabilization, a high maximum ISO of 102,400, and a lean start-up time of just 0.8sec, the GR III has the imaging cred to back up its looks.
Update: Want a closer perspective? Ricoh has come out with an alternative version of the GR III, the Ricoh GR IIIx (opens in new tab). It's basically the same camera, but with one crucial difference – it swaps the 28mm equivalent lens for a 40mm equivalent. Neither of these are better necessarily for street photography; it's just about personal preference. If you like the sound of the Ricoh GR III but think you might prefer a closer, tighter perspective, consider the Ricoh GR IIIx!
Read more: Ricoh GR III review (opens in new tab)(opens in new tab)
A camera doesn’t get seven iterations unless the idea was good to begin with, and the Sony RX100 VII is the latest in a line of terrific tiny compacts. Pairing a 24-200mm equivalent Zeiss-engineered lens with an extremely sophisticated autofocus system and enviably fast burst shooting is a winner in anyone’s book, and all this makes it right up the alley of any street photographer. All this tech doesn’t come cheap however, and one could argue, as we did in our review, that the RX100 VII is a wee bit aggressively priced for a camera of its size (and sensor size). The good news, though, is that if the asking price is too dear for you, the preceding RX100 models are still largely in production, so by all means have a look and see if one better suits you (our RX100 comparison guide (opens in new tab) will come in handy there).
Read more: Sony RX100 VII review (opens in new tab)
Mirrorless cameras for street photography
If you’re picking an interchangeable-lens camera for street photography, we’d recommend a mirrorless camera over a DSLR – they tend to be smaller and faster, both of which are a plus. You want something with a decent range of fast lenses – we’ve got you covered with our five top picks.
A perfect choice for those tempted by Nikon’s full-frame Z system, but want something that's cheaper and carries a little more style. The Nikon Z fc is a similar prospect to the Z50; it's an APS-C camera that's also stuffed with features. So, while you don’t get full frame, you do get a whole lot else – a generous AF system, wide dynamic range, solid high-ISO performance and more. Nikon tried a retro throwback a few years ago with the Df DSLR, and missed the mark, but we were pleased to discover that the firm knocked it out of the park with the Z fc. While the Z system of lenses is relatively new, it promises to expand greatly in the future, and this makes the Nikon Z fc a smart investment with an eye on the future. By all means, get in on the ground floor.(opens in new tab)
Let’s be honest – shooting with modern, screen-equipped cameras is nothing like the street-photography experience of decades gone by. Fujifilm, in a stunning display of daring, used its X-Pro3 to push back at this a little, designing a modern digital camera designed to be used like a classic rangefinder. Its “hidden” fold-down LCD is designed to discourage “chimping” and keep you in the moment, and while you have a choice between a modern EVF or an optical-style rangefinder, it’s clear which one Fujifilm would prefer you use. All this presents a pretty steep learning curve, but when you master its quirks, shooting on the X-Pro3 is a transcendental experience.
There might not be as many external controls on the X-S10 as there are on the Fujifilm X-T3 or X-T4, but it's so small and lightweight it'll still make a great camera for street photography. It also has in-body stabilization which will help capture sharp images plus a fully-articulated screen make it easy to shoot discretely from the hip. Paired with the Fujifilm XF 35mm f/2 or the Fujifilm XF 23mm f/2 depending on whether you want a 50mm or 35mm equivalent in full-frame, it makes for a perfect street photography setup. The Fujifilm X-S10 might just be the best APS-C camera on the market right now in terms of performance, build quality, and price point. There are also plenty of official Fujifilm lenses and third-party lenses to choose from in case you want to experiment with other styles of photography.(opens in new tab)
If you’ll pardon our French for a moment, the EOS M6 II represented the kick up le derrière that the EOS M series desperately needed, and for its price it’s one of the best Canon cameras and mirrorless cameras around. Pairing a seriously impressive APS-C sensor with super-fast burst shooting and a beast of an autofocus system, this pocketable camera is more than just suited for street shooting, it excels at it. And given that it’s packing more megapixels than the majority of Canon bodies, it’s also a great choice if you’ve one eye on printing your images big.(opens in new tab)
The Micro Four Thirds lens (opens in new tab) system has its sceptics, with many photographers spurning the cameras for their small sensors (compared to APS-C), but the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III is a triumph for the entire line. That mount gives you access to loads of lenses from Olympus, Panasonic and more, and the camera itself is a lightweight but powerful tool with a huge range of features. It’s got weather-sealed construction, super-fast Pro Capture mode, seriously impressive in-body stabilisation, and plenty more. It’s the kind of camera that’s a lot of fun to delve into a get to know – it feels like you’re always discovering something new about it.(opens in new tab)
This is going to be completely out of the question for most people, hence why it appears as a eleventh extra on a top ten list. However, we couldn't finish off a guide to the best street photography cameras without a hat-tip to the Leica M11, which delivers one of the most sublime contemporary shooting experiences out of any camera we've reviewed. Its 60MP full-frame sensor is actually a clever 'triple-resolution' sensor, which allows you to dial down the pixels when you don't need them to save on card space and processing power. The rangefinder focusing experience takes some getting used to, but if you invest some time into it, you'll come to appreciate its immediacy. There's no better way to be completely in the moment.
• See also Best Leica M lenses (opens in new tab)
How we test cameras
We test DSLR and mirrorless cameras in real-world shooting scenarios and in carefully controlled lab conditions. Our lab tests measure resolution, dynamic range and signal to noise ratio. Resolution is measured using ISO resolution charts, dynamic range is measured using DxO Analyzer test equipment and DxO Analyzer is also used for noise analysis across the camera's ISO range. For compact cameras, we use real-world results and handling alone in compiling our guides.