Recently I have had the huge pleasure of being invited to the PEN Ready Project, in which Olympus gave away 1000 Olympus EPM-1 cameras for people to shoot and review. I have always been a big fan of the Micro 4/3rds cameras, as they are small, compact, and take great photos. I tested an Olympus EP-2 a while back, and was quite impressed by the performance. I recently shot with the Olympus EP-3 and was quite pleased with the (even faster) autofocus performance as well as the image quality. If you have a micro 4/3rds camera and pick up a Olympus 17mm f/2.8 lens (~35mm equivalent), the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 Lens (40mm equivalent), or the new Olympus 12mm f/2 lens (24mm equivalent) it makes a great combination.
When shooting on the streets with the Olympus EPM-1, I was really shocked how fast the autofocus is. It was lightyears faster than my old Canon 5D, and was incredibly accurate as well. When shooting in bright sunlight, I never missed focus even on moving subjects. I shot with the Olympus 14mm-42mm f/3.5-5.6 lens which the camera came with, and found it a surprisingly well-built lens. It was quite sharp, and zooming was nice and silky smooth. However the problem is with street photography, I found the zoom to make me too lazy when shooting. I highly recommend picking up a prime lens instead. Also at around only $500, the EPM-1 is a great bargain for those who want to get a micro 4/3rds camera at a budget. Got a bit more cash? Get the Olympus EP3 with more manual controls.
I also wanted to talk a bit more about cameras, lenses, and gear. To be absolutely clear, the camera you use when shooting street photography doesn’t matter. It is the photographer, not the camera, that captures decisive moments and great images. I have seen a ton of great street photography with the iPhone by some streettogs like Greg Shmiegel, Dominique Jost, and Misho Baranovic. You can also see more great photographers over at the Mobile Photo Group.
However you still want to be comfortable with the gear you shoot with. Will you tell the difference in image quality between a Leica M9 and a DSLR when viewed online? I can’t. I shot street photography more-or-less exclusively with my Canon 5D for several years before making the jump to my Leica M9. Why did I do it? I loved the rangefinder experience and prefer digital. Of course the kit was expensive (it wiped out my savings and my wonderful mother helped me with the purchase). I am not rich by any regards– I grew up with my single mom and sister and worked my way through college and am still paying off student loans. However to my defense, I never have bought a new car or any other luxuries, so I felt the investment was worth it.
If you are thinking of purchasing a new camera for street photography, first start shooting with the gear you have. Just make sure you are shooting with a 50mm or wider full-frame equivalent (I recommend the 35mm focal length). If you feel that shooting with your camera doesn’t suit you– check out the Fujifilm FinePix X100, Ricoh GRD III (the Ricoh GRD IV is coming out), or the Olympus EP-3. I feel that these are the 3 best cameras for street photography if you are on a budget. The X100 is great because it has an optical viewfinder and the fixed 35mm focal length. The Ricoh is perfect as it is compact and unobtrusive, and has a wonderful 28mm f/1.9 lens. The EP-3 has the fastest autofocus out there, and it has interchangeable lenses.
So what camera are you currently shooting with– and does it fit with your style? Thinking of purchasing any new cameras or lenses in the future? Share your gear-related questions and thoughts in the comments below!