5 Reasons Why You Should Use a Point and Shoot for Street Photography

(All photographs copyrighted by Alex Majoli / Magnum Photos)

Recently on the web I came upon a quite article about Alex Majoli, a Magnum photographer who shot award-winning images in the the Congo for two weeks and Iraq for two months using a point and shoot camera. Typically point and shoot cameras get a bad reputation for only being for “amateurs” and people who don’t know how to use a “real camera.”

Currently on the market, there are many wonderful point and shoot cameras for street photography. A few notable ones are the Ricoh GRIII, the Canon S95, and the Lumix LX-5. Many street photographers I know actually prefer using point and shoot cameras for their work, rather than using clunky DSLR’s or expensive digital rangefinders. Although I primarily shoot my street photography with a DSLR, I have done a considerable amount of street photography with my point and shoot as well. Therefore in this article, I will try to outline some of the strengths of using a point and shoot camera for street photography.

1. They are inconspicuous

(2003) Street kids begging in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo. (Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos)

One of the most important aspects of street photography is to be invisible and not stick out like a sore thumb. Shooting with a point and shoot camera for street photography is perfect in that regard, as they are much smaller and less threatening than other cameras which are much larger and “scary” looking.

Therefore when you are out on the streets, people aren’t intimidated when you take photos of them in public. They will either mistake you for a tourist or somebody who is taking a photo of something else. Also don’t forget–when you are shooting with a point and shoot the shutter is nearly silent. This means when you are taking photos in quiet places (at a cafe, in a subway train, or in a store) they are much less likely to notice you.

2. They are always with you

(March 2003) A protest in Damascus, Syria against the war in Iraq. (Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos)

One of the best things about point and shoot cameras is that they are small enough to always be on you no matter what. The average point and shoot camera can fit in anybody’s front jean pocket (unless you wear extremely tight skinny jeans). Half the battle of becoming a better street photographer is simply to take as many photos as you can.

Shooting with a DSLR, there are many times when I am tempted to leave my camera at home. It is heavy and weighs me down, especially when I am walking around for long periods of time. Point and shoots are therefore much more ideal when weight is an issue as well. For example when I was backpacking through Europe with my Canon 5D– I vowed to myself the next time I went traveling I would bring a much smaller camera. Because my camera was so heavy, I would often lose motivation to either take it out or take photos with it because I was always tired.

If you leave your camera at home, your chance of capturing inspiring images drops to 0%. Remember that.

3. They are versatile

(April 2003) U.S. troops survey burning oil fields in southwest Iraq. (Photo by Alex Majoli/Magnum Photos)

Point and shoots have come a long way in terms of image quality. Even a few years ago, the image quality coming out of a point and shoot was noticeably inferior to those of DSLR’s. Nowadays, I find a difficult time differentiating between a pro-sumer camera and a point and shoot in terms of image quality (especially when they are resized for the web).

Not only that, but many new high-end point and shoots are packaged with lenses that have fast f/1.8 lenses and even image-stabilization(which make them ideal for shooting at night). Furthermore, I have found that shooting with an LCD allows you to get certain shots that you often can’t get with a DSLR. For example, it is much easier to frame when shooting with your camera really high or low with an LCD screen (compared to a viewfinder).

4. They are cheap

Photo by Alex Majoli

Out of all the cameras out there for street photography, point and shoot cameras are the most price-effective. DSLR’s can get expensive when you buy a ton of lenses, and Micro 4/3rds cameras are still up there in terms of price. And don’t even get me started on Leicas (a Leica M9 is 17x more expensive than a Canon S95–without the lens).

Although spending $400 is still a considerable amount of money, it still is definitely “cheap” when compared to all of the other competitors out there in the market.

5. They prevent you from making excuses

There are times in which gear-obsession actually paralyzes us from going out and taking photos. For example, photographers will often blame inferior images due to fact that they don’t have the most expensive camera or top-of-the-line lenses.

Point and shoot cameras are straight-forward and without B.S. They don’t have interchangeable lenses, which causes you not to obsess about the next lens to buy. You just point your camera, and shoot. Nothing else to it. Like the famous Nike slogan says, “Just do it.”

Do you use a point and shoot camera for street photography? If so, how do you like it? What are the strengths and limitations that you notice? Leave a comment below and share your knowledge with us!