Street Photography with a Digital Medium Format Camera
“You're doing it wrong.” That's basically the reaction I get when people –without having seen my photos– see that I use a medium format camera for almost every kind of photography including travel and street photography. And I get it that a lot of street photographers prefer a small inconspicuous camera for shooting the streets but what's wrong with using a digital medium format camera?
It's the results that count and I'm comfortable using my Pentax 645z and the results are incredible. Well, at least for my taste. I love the look of the photos and the large files allow me to produce large prints and they look gorgeous.
What is street photography?
Well, I can't speak for everyone but for me street photography as any photo taken in a public space and not just the streets. I'm talking about subways, parks and train stations but also hotels and museums. What would you call a photo shot in a museum? Museum photography? Some people really think there's a set of rules that define street photography. Well, boohoo, BS... For me even a portrait of someone in the streets can be defined as street photography.
The best camera for street photography
As I said before in my post about travel photography: It just depends on your style as a photographer. Do you like a smaller camera? Great! Use it. I love my big and bulky Pentax 645z and don't mind carrying it around when I go out or when I'm traveling. For the moment, I wouldn't trade it for anything else, even when shooting street photography. The best camera for any type of photography is the camera you like that gives you the results you want...
Digital medium format and photographing the streets
We've been traveling for almost four months now so I have been shooting a lot and while it's difficult to define what classifies as street photography and what as travel photography I'm pleased with the results I get shooting the streets with a medium format camera. Never have I thought of wanting another camera at any moment. The Pentax 645z handles like a full frame DSLR and I always love the look and detail of the photos. And sure, I probably have a different style than someone who's shooting with a Leica but in the end it's all street photography.
There are some new kids on the block recently like the mirrorless Hasselblad X1D and Fujifilm GFX 50s. They weigh a lot less than the Pentax 645z but I'm not sure how they'd handle the low light situations that I like, even when shooting street photography. The autofocus on the Pentax isn't as fast as my Canon 5D3 but it's fast enough for me. Even in low light.
Do I recommend a medium format camera for street photography?
No, I don't, unless you love to shoot medium format and you're comfortable to use it for street photography. I guess it's a different way of photographing. Don't buy a medium format camera just because it's medium format. I probably could get similar looking photos with other cameras but I just love the look and detail this camera gives me and large prints look incredible.
A lot of people will say there's no such thing as the medium format look but hey, I'm super happy with the results and I love traveling and roaming the streets with my digital medium format camera.
Joris Hermans is a portrait, documentary and travel photographer based in Belgium. For the last ten years he has been combining personal and freelance work and won several awards among which the Nikon Press Photo Award in 2017. In 2018 he set off on a journey around the world with his girlfriend documenting everything on The World Ahead Of Us...