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Date: 16/07/2014 | By: Heather

The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Street Photography

X100S, 1/90, f/ 56/10, ISO 800

The Best Mirrorless Cameras for Street Photography

For genres like studio work or portraiture, there are still few photographers who feel confident about replacing their DSLR with a mirrorless camera. If they do have one, it usually functions as either a second body or a casual travel/street camera.

Street photography is a different story.

Many street photographers have switched over to mirrorless cameras because they provide a lighter, more discreet and more compact option reminiscent of film and rangefinder cameras. They aren’t so obsessed with high image quality and pixel peeping because street images are less about perfection and more about capturing the essence of the moment. (This is why you’ll see many street photographers using tools as simple as the iPhone for their work.) In fact, I’d say around 80% of the street photographers we’ve spoken to use a digital mirrorless camera of some sort for their work.

In this article, we’ve listed what we believe are the five best mirrorless cameras for street photography. The basic criteria we’ve set for these cameras is as follows:

  • Is it small and light?

Street photographers want to move quickly and lightly. A light body, and if applicable, compact interchangeable lenses are a must.

  • Is it silent?

Nothing says “photographer alert” like the sound of a clacking shutter. Street photographers want a camera that is as silent as the grave, or one that at least provides the option of a silent shutter.

  • Is it discreet in appearance?

Street photographers don’t want to stand out like a sore thumb in a crowd. They want to observe the scene but not become a part of it. A discreet-looking camera can help achieve that goal.

Note: It is true that almost any mirrorless camera, being small and light, can easily fit into the street photography genre. The choices you see here are based on our own experiences and those of other photographers with whom we’ve spoken. If you have a camera that you feel absolutely deserves recognition as a street camera, do let us know in the comments section!

Olympus OM-D E-M10

Photographer: Thomas Leuthard / Facebook / Google+ / Flickr

The Olympus OM-D E-M10 is smallest and cheapest of the OM-D series. Because of that I like and use it for my street photography.

The smaller your camera is, the less people see you as a photographer. They see you as a tourist and don’t care about you taking photos.

Although it is pretty affordable, the speed of the autofocus and the image quality is excellent. It has all the basic features a street photography camera needs to have. I use it in P mode to focus on content and composition. It does a perfect job as the tool that extends my left eye. With the tilted LCD I can take shots from positions where DSLR users have to lay on the floor and with 8 frames a second I never miss the decisive moment. When you have some spare money, you should go for a prime lens to make it even more powerful.

In the end it’s your choice how you capture what you see with your eyes. My choice is the Olympus E-M10.

Images are © Thomas Leuthard

Fujifilm X100/s

Photographer: Mathieu Gasquet

I’ve written extensively on MirrorLessons about how good the Fujifilm X100S is for many applications and not just street photography. However the latter is certainly its main and most natural application.

First, the camera has a wonderful design that is very discreet especially now that the black version is available. The camera has a very good silent mode that isn’t 100% noiseless but will certainly make its shutter leaf sound blend in with the ambient noise around you. The AF is quick though not the quickest. It works best when the shutter button is pressed down entirely from the start (meaning that you aim and shoot without waiting for the AF lock confirmation) and can also work surprisingly well in AF-C because the autofocus is more reactive and you get less back and forth movement of the elements inside the lens. Of course the camera can also be used in manual focus with MF assist such as peaking and digital split image but unfortunately there isn’t a hyper focal scale on the lens itself, something that street photographers know very well and would appreciate.

Image quality is fantastic as with every Fuji X-trans sensor. What I also love about this camera is its fixed lens (35mm equivalent on full frame). While this could seem limiting at the beginning, as with every prime lens it forces you to move to find the perfect composition. In the end, I enjoyed working with a fixed focal length more than with a zoom.

I am not a professional street photographer and there are many cameras that can suit the genre well but if I had to choose one, I’d have no doubt about the X100s. Among all the cameras I have tested, it is on my top 2 list.

X100S, 1/15, f/ 56/10, ISO 200

X100S, 1/500, f/ 56/10, ISO 640

X100S, 1/90, f/ 56/10, ISO 200

Fujifilm X20

Photographer: Heather Broster

The Fujifilm X20 is everything a street camera should be. It is compact enough to slip inside my handbag, and has the look of a film camera despite being completely digital on the inside.

Focussing is completely silent and surprisingly fast for a second-generation Fujifilm camera. Something unique to the X20 and its predecessor the X10 is the presence of an optical viewfinder. Whereas with electronic viewfinders you will always experience a slight lag, the OVF of the X20 allows you capture exactly what you see at the precise moment you see it, just as you would with a film camera.

Since it has a smaller sensor than other mirrorless cameras, the low-light performance isn’t great but the graininess actually doesn’t bother me. In fact, I feel it adds to the film-like appearance of the images it produces.

Speaking of film-like rendering, I am also a big fan of the black and white film simulation modes. Since most of my street photography is in black and white, I use the OOC JPGs produced with these simulation modes all the time.

I also love the zoom on the X20. At 28-112mm, it covers a full range of focal lengths, including the golden 35mm equivalent.

X20, 1/25, f/ 36/10, ISO 100

X20, 1/40, f/ 22/10, ISO 250

X20, 1/20, f/ 25/10, ISO 500

 Panasonic Lumix GM1

Photographer: Satoki Nagata / Facebook

I used a preproduction Lumix GM1 for about three weeks, and I have been using a production model for about 5 months now.

A camera is a tool to make images that express one’s own visual voice. There are different types of cameras; we must choose the appropriate one according to the shooting situation. On the street, a smaller body with multiple lenses is usually preferable, and in that regard, the GM1 is a good choice. The quality of images taken by the GM1 is impressive, considering the size of the camera. It is quiet and can take photos with completely no sound in silent mode. These characteristics are all good for street photography.

I prefer using manual adjustment for shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and focusing. On the GM1, most of the manual adjustments can be done using the touch screen and rotating button. For manual focusing, peaking function and magnification, it works fairly well. However, I wish the kit lens had a manual focus ring like other lenses, instead of a touch screen.

Overall, this is a small, yet highly capable camera. It is certain that the GM1 is not perfect for every situation, as is the case for all cameras. But, it is good to do street photography as well as for backup for some serious documentary work for me.

My “Lights in the city” series was all taken by GM1. Yes, it is different from other cameras and was not the best camera for the project but it was challenging and fun to overcome the limitations of the camera to make satisfying images.

Images are © Satoki Nagata

DMC-GM1, 1/3, f/ 16/1, ISO 200

DMC-GM1, 1/4, f/ 16/1, ISO 200

DMC-GM1, 1/4, f/ 8/1, ISO 400

 Ricoh GR

Photographer: Don Springer / Facebook / Twitter / Google+ / Flickr

There are many shooters that do all different genres of photography and street happens to fall in line with everything else they do. That’s fine for most. Using just about any camera is fine for most shooters because cameras can support any genre and they should. Enter the street shooter. This shooter is a very careful person looking for the camera that will work with him/her and not create any intrusion on vision. This means ergonomics, interface, size and the ability to get the job done without grief.

Ricoh has been making cameras for decades, many decades. The Ricoh GR is the current and finest model in the “G” line. The GR has an amazing user Interface that is purely intuitive and very fast operating. It fits easily in a front jeans pocket and is compact and light in the hand. Using ‘SNAP” focus, you are at Hyperfocal Distance at the press of a button.

For street shooting this is essential because it frees the shooter to just SEE and FRAME. The GR will hold the settings set and can be changed with a press of a button. Being able to configure a camera on the spur of the moment is absolutely necessary and the GR does so painlessly. The screen is very bright and contrasty so it’s easy to see what your shooting.

The lens on the GR is well, amazing coupled with the APS­-C sensor and now we are talking about Image Quality that rivals anything available. The GR is extremely quick to make the photo and I do mean quick. No matter how fast YOU are, if the camera slows you down, you are not as quick as you should be.

There is no lag with the GR. Hold it in your hand, frame with your eye and raise the camera.. breathe and ….CLICK! Due to it’s compact size, you feel almost invisible as you make the photo. The other very important thing with the GR is it’s ability to use High ISO and give a very nice image.

All in all, if you’re looking for a real serious street camera, designed for street… The Ricoh GR fits the bill better than perfectly.

Images are © Don Springer

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Which is your favourite mirrorless camera for street photography and why? :-)

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About the author: Heather Broster

Heather Broster was born in Canada, has lived in Japan and Italy but currently calls Wales home. She is a full-time gear tester at MirrorLessons. You can follow her on Google+, Twitter or Facebook!

  • Heather Broster

    I’m sure they can, but this is a mirrorless website! :)

  • Stephen Chung

    it seems DSLR dont make a good street photography camera…:(

  • Norman Shearer

    Bear in mind the A6000’s shutter is quite loud. It may be a factor that deters some street shooters (me included). If you can live with that it then it’s great.

  • Heather Broster

    The a6000 would also make a great street camera, I agree.

  • Heather Broster

    I agree. In truth, there are many cameras that could be added to this list. Almost all mirrorless cameras are good for street to some extent!

  • C.B.

    I guess this article was written before the Sony A6000 was popular on the market.

  • gastón

    viewfinder + manual focus = street photography -> basic equation

  • norman shearer

    The Panasonic GX7 is a noteworthy street shooter. Get the 14mm and 20mm pancakes and you have a silent and fast combo that can even handle relatively low light.

    Fuji XA1 with 27mm pancake is stellar and the shutter noise is not too loud. Zone focus and shoot from the chest or hip.

  • Jim

    My apologies Heather,
    You had indeed stated it correctly regarding the X20’s viewfinder, I must have mis-read it and I thought you’d said differently. Once again, my humble apologies.

  • Jim

    Hello Heather,
    I think you got a little confused when you were discussing the X20 and I think you really meant to say the X-E2. The X20 has an optical viewfinder but not a EVF, only an electronic overlay for image information. The X-E2 is the one with an EVF only. Great article as always.
    Flickr: therspspaintshop

  • Bill

    It took some time to get to know each other, and now she is about to be sent away by the manufacturer, but I still have a thing for my SONY NEX 7.

  • Roeland

    I am not sure it qualifies as mirrorless, but for me my Leica M6 with Carl Zeiss 2.0/35 is the ultimate street combo. Relatively cheap, unbeatable mechanics and super simple to operate, if you know photography. I have used Nikon D700 and Fuji X100(s) and X-Pro 1 combinations, but autofocus does not work for me for this type of photography and I thoroughly dislike menu’s.
    Film and manualy operated cameras did the trick for decades, look at the magnificent pictures that the great photographers created with it. You don’t need digital.

  • KUM

    My favorite camera is the Nikon V1. It’s cheap, it’s fast and it’s absolutely silent. The battery lasts forever. It’s build like a tank. I use the new PD 10-30 zoom, bought second hand. Good lens. Nearly no distortion any more. Recently I experimented with the 10mm and a Ricoh wide angel converter. Terrific. The rest is walking the streets.

  • Axel

    X100s – I love that thing!

    I came to street photography by accident through travelling, but the hunter-like shooting style suits me very well. My 2013 combination of a Canon 1DIII and S100 proved to be unsuited for the task. The monstrous 1D makes people duck right away, the tiny S100 is limited by its slow lens and somewhat clumsy operation. It got me started with street though!

    Having a weakness for large apertures I’m very interested to try Mathieu’s method of pushing the shutter right through. Even in full sunlight I really don’t like closing down much further than f/4, so I’m pretty dependent on accurate focussing…

    I just added the XF56 to my line-up and can’t wait to work the night with it! (On an X-M1, let’s see how that combination handles.)

  • Heather

    That’s great to know, Gonzalo! If you have some shots you’d like to share, you can do so in our G+ community. We don’t have any GM1 users there yet. :)

  • Gonzalo

    I have been using the Lumix GM1 since it was released last December, and the more I have used it, the more I like it. I bought it as a small companion to the GH3, but it has ended up being my primary camera in most situations. And since I bought the recently released Panasonic-Leica 15mm it has become even better!

  • Heather

    Hi Gord, I’ve reworked the entire article to make the code more responsive. Tables seem to throw everything off balance! Hopefully it now appears as it should. Thanks for letting me know. H

  • Heather

    Thanks for sharing your experience, Roger. I’ve personally never tried the Ricoh GR but I’ve only heard good things about it from street shooters. I’m glad the article is working now. (We adjusted some of the code and it seems to have done the trick.)

  • Heather

    Most photographers I’ve spoken to (and I would tend to agree) say that black is definitely more discreet. People aren’t likely to give you a second glance if your camera is small and nondescript. :)

  • Gord Seifert

    Hi Heather,

    I have tried viewing this article on Windows 7 PC with Firefox and an Android tablet, again with Firefox, and both exhibit the problem mentioned above. The text extends slightly beyond the photos and there is a gray area on the right, under the photos and on top of the text, overlaying a few words at the end of each line. I have tried it with both Internet Explorer and Chrome as well (on the Windows PC). The problem shows up under Internet Explorer, but not under Chrome. Under Chrome the text stops short of the right side of the photos and there is a white space between the photos and the gray area to the right.


  • Roger

    Well I don’t know what happened. I did all the usual checks and restarts before my initial reply. As I read your reply all is well. I was using Chrome and a all SSD MacBook Pro.

    I enjoyed this collection of responses on street photography. I’ve been enjoying my X100 in manual mode. I’ve found that f/8, 1/125s, AutoISO and prefocused at 10ft is a reasonably easy setup on the X100 and effective zone focus for the kind of shooting I do.

    The Ricoh GR Digital is so easy to set up for any kind of street shooting and the “snap” focus and especially the quick shutter press to bypass AF to “snap” are very usable and unique aspects of this camera. Being able to store these settings in a user mode brings back the wonderful street capability of my many-times-worn-out Canon S60.

    I prefer the 35mm equivalent focal length of the X100 from years of using that focal length on many cameras, but I’m growing into the more intimate 28mm equivalent on the Ricoh. Which camera you choose, is certainly a matter of personal preference.

    Both cameras produce very flexible files and I use LR5 for nearly all my processing. For B&W work, the Ricoh files seem a bit more manageable but not in a way that I would choose one camera over the other for that aspect.

    Thanks for the comparative compilation.


  • John Richards

    I have a Ricoh GRD 111 which I’m tempted to update. I like the GR because I won’t be tempted to buy lenses for it. I like the E-M10 because I will be tempted to buy lenses for it… Is there a preference for discression as far as the colour of the camera goes? Is black more discreet than black and silver for example. In the article it mentions having a discrete camera and looking like a tourist to get good street shots. When I am in Auckland, where I live I wear a Las Vegas cap and when I am overseas I wear a New Zealand cap and wherever I am I am a ‘tourist’.

  • Heather

    Hi Roger. What is your browser and operating system? It is working fine on my Macbook Air with Safari. Let me know. H

  • Roger

    Hi Heather, et al.,

    I like your images. I’m having difficulty reading the text in just this article. There seems to be a gray “6-stop ND filter” over the right half of each of the text blocks (not the images).

    I shoot with a X100 and Ricoh GR Digital for street. Hope to read what you had to say about those soon :-).


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