Picking the best camera for street photography is something we could debate all day. There are loads of great camera models out there with features suited to the particular art of street photography, and which one you end up choosing will depend on your individual needs and tastes.
Street photography is the practice of taking candid photos of unsuspecting individuals. Often they are taken in urban environments but that isn't always the case - you could do street photography in a village or small town too.
More than anything, a street photographer is an observer, documenting the daily life of people. They could depict anything from funny outfits to ironic coincidences or even just moments of pure joy. While their images may not always be technically perfect due to the nature of this style of photography, street photos are always raw and real.
Some of the most highly respected street photographers include big names such as Bruce Gilden, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Diane Arbus, Vivian Maier or Daido Moriyama. They rose to fame by capturing honest and sometimes even unattractive photos of people going about their day.
Best cameras for street photography
So what makes a good camera for street photography? Firstly, it's got to be small and unobtrusive so that the photographer can be as discrete as possible. The last thing you want is a big camera with a telephoto lens that will draw attention and maybe even change the scene you're trying to capture.
It also needs to be fast and responsive as you'll be shooting on the fly and will need to be able to compose a shot and focus quickly. A fast burst mode is also super-handy so you can capture multiple images of the same shot and choose the best.
The controls should be intuitive and well laid out which is why any camera with external dials is a yes from us. You don't want to miss any golden moments by having to play around in complicated menu systems. Finally, weight is really important when it comes to cameras for street photography. Chances are you'll be carrying it around all day so you'll want something light that is comfortable to keep around your neck or on your shoulder.
There are a few different types of cameras to consider so we've split our list into two groups - fixed lens compacts and interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras. While the former is great for anyone who only really wants to do street photography and doesn't want to think about what lens to use, the latter is ideal for anyone who might want to expand into wildlife, portrait or landscape photography.
The last factor we’re taking into consideration for our street photography list is style – because, after all, street photography has such a rich tradition in the history of photography. We like cameras that evoke that classic journalistic style, and not just because of the way they look, but because they were designed with that kind of shoot-from-the-hip philosophy in mind.
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. One of the most 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
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. 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.
Read more: Panasonic Lumix LX100 II review
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 as intuitive an experience as possible.
Read more: Canon PowerShot G5 X Mark II review
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.
Read more: Ricoh GR III review
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 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 will come in handy there).
Read more: Sony RX100 VII review
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 a little put off by the price of the cameras, the Nikon Z50 seems to have been priced with forensic precision to undercut its main APS-C rivals. It’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. While the Z system of lenses is relatively new, it promises to expand greatly in the future, and this makes the Nikon Z50 even more of a bargain at its current price. By all means, get in on the ground floor.
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.
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.
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.
The Micro Four Thirds lens 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.
Read more: Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III review
If it weren't for the high price tag, the Leica M10 would appear much higher on our list. Leica has stripped back everything you'd expect to find in a modern camera such as autofocus and a standard viewfinder. Instead, it offers a pure rangefinder experience which can take some getting used to but once mastered, is incredibly satisfying. Leica is very much a Marmite brand, people either love them or hate them but whichever camp you fall under, there's no denying the image quality is exceptional. Despite lacking certain features, Leica has included things like Wi_fi connectivity for easy connectivity and image sharing, so I guess you could argue it isn't completely gone back to basics. If the M10 is in your budget range, we can't help but feel slightly envious but there's no denying you'll love using it and won't look back.
• See also Best Leica M lenses