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Five Reasons Why Smaller Cameras are Better for Street Photography

by Chris Gampat on 02/18/2011

There is often a debate back and forth about which cameras are best for Street Photography, and Eric Kim does a very good job of trying to discern through it all for people. Being a gear and tips oriented blog, we try to help readers make better decisions on which cameras are best for certain situations. In truth, it is all up to the photographer, and I agree with Eric that any camera can do the job. However, I personally believe that smaller cameras do it best. Here’s why:

At the time of writing this posting, I am currently reviewing the Olympus EPL-2 that I raved about previously. This small camera has become my proffered choice over my 5D Mk II. Remember though that in the end, it is all up to you. I trained myself to disarm wary people with a kind, warm smile combined with eye contact and saying, “Hi.”

They Are More Discrete

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you should always hide your camera: some situations warrant it while others don’t. However, a Micro Four Thirds camera tends to not stand out and scream for attention the way that larger cameras do. If you want to go ahead and shoot lots of portraits on the streets, then go right ahead and go for the larger cameras if you’d like. But if you want to capture life as it is without disturbing anyone or anything, then these smaller cameras will help you. When you put the viewfinder or LCD screen up to your face, it won’t look like you have a weird appendage with a giant glass front. Said appendage sends to make people cover their faces or move out of your way.

This is also a reason why I like cameras like the Leica M9 and M7 that both received very good reviews on this site.

They are More Nimble

Smaller cameras are lighter; because of this lightness they can also be speedier. Consider moving through crowds of people: if you do this then your large camera is bound to get bumped and bounced around amongst those around you unless you keep it in your hand. Even then, it may get tossed around.

This isn’t so much the case with a smaller camera. Smaller cameras stay flush against your body and when you need to get to them quickly in a crowd of people you won’t have to worry about your lens hood hitting someone in the face (it’s happened before, and made me lose photos.)

Small Cameras are Not Intimidating

There is something about giant DSLRs that make them scare people off—even in an age where everyone and their mother has one. Small cameras once again do not scare people off. Instead, they actually look very sexy and people are often attracted to them.

Due to the small and compact nature of these small cameras, people looking at you taking a photo will usually think you’re either a tourist or a hipster (at least in NYC.) To really suppress all signs that you’re there though, be sure to turn off the AF confirmation beep and even the AF assist bulb. At that point, you’ll never set off any alarms with people.

Small Cameras Won’t Hurt Your Back (or Wrist) After The End of the Day

Almost every day, I bring a laptop and a DSLR to work. Why? I need them for different reasons and the days where I don’t bring one or the other I end up regretting it. The weight actually got to me after a while and I’m only 24. My back kills me at times and so do my shoulders and sometimes arms. In NYC, we do a lot of walking too. When in the subways with a heavy messenger bag, the train taking a turn can feel like a door of an airplane has opened while it is in the air and you need to hold on for your dear life (seriously, take the L train.)

I believe that if I had a small camera with interchangeable lenses available that much of the weight problem would be eliminated. The macbook in my bag would still be a bit heavy, but it isn’t as bad as having a large DSLR with a lens attached.

All Small Cameras Can Take Eye-Fi Cards for Infinite Back Up

The Eye-Fi X2 Pro card was well received here. Larger cameras take CF cards typically (though many now also take SDXC.) With a smaller camera, you can stuff an Eye-Fi card into your camera and have it wirelessly upload to wherever you may choose. Why is this important? Because you’ll sometimes run into situations where you have your rights as a photographer violated and people (and cops) will ask you to delete images. If you have to delete the images, chances are that if you can delay the aggressor a bit that the Eye-Fi servers will upload the images and store them for you in time.

And that is why cloud computing is beautiful :)

Do you use small cameras for street photography? If you do, let us know about your experiences in the comments below.

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