Street Photography with a Digital Medium Format Camera
People love to talk about what’s the best camera for something but it’s not that simple. I love street photography and people like to say that I’m not using the best street photography camera. The best what? Is there even such a thing as the best camera for any style of photography?
“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 one for taking photos in 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. Right now, it’s the best street photography camera for me.
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...
A medium format camera for street
We've been traveling for 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. In theory they should work better as a street photography camera. They weigh a lot less than the Pentax 645z for starters but I'm not sure how they handle the low light situations that I like, especially when shooting handheld 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 as a street photography camera?
Is this the best camera for street photography? No, not at all, 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 my Pentax 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. For me, at the moment, it’s the best camera for street photography.
Some tips for medium format street photography
1. Act like it’s a small camera
A lot of people will say that the best camera for street photography is small. Yeah,mine isn’t but I act like it’s invisible. If you’ve already set your mind on being noticed and looked at because of your camera then that’s exactly what will happen. Just act naturally and people won’t notice the difference. A big part of good street photography is how you act and react while being out on the streets…
2. Check your shutter speed
A big ass sensor with more pixels means more blurry photos if you’re not aware of the right shutter speed. I try to have my shutter speed at 1/250 or faster. Street photography is about reacting fast and it’s a lot more comfortable with faster shutter speeds. Don’t worry too much about noise and crank up the ISO if you have to. With my Pentax 645z, I’ll go up to ISO 6400… no problem.
Setting the right shutter speed is probably the most important tip for street photography with a medium format camera.
3. Be aware of the shallow depth of field
If you want to maintain fast shutter speeds, the depth of field might get razor thin when shooting with a medium format camera. Good for portraits but difficult in the streets. It just takes a lot of practice to get your subject in focus when you have to react super fast. Shooting with manual focus lenses makes it even more difficult but practice makes perfect!
Which camera do you use for street photography and why?