Eric’s Note: I first met Gary Wang when I visited Singapore last year to do an exhibition and a series of street photography workshops. From what I heard about Gary was that he used a rangefinder, shot really close to his subjects (often using a 21mm or 28mm lens), and that his black & white work was stirring. Gary is an all-around cool guy, with a great passion for street photography and the photography community — being one of the founding members for the Rangefinder Singapore (RFSG) group. Oh yeah, and he is a complete black&white film nut as he does all his own developing at home. I also did an interview with him in the past on the Leica blog.
Gary recently was featured in this short documentary during a trip to Brighton pier in which he talks about his philosophy about street photography, traveling, and shooting black and white film. There are also some good video footage of him shooting the streets of Brighton.
Gary told me that they forgot to bring a microphone along, which caused the audio to be quite poor. I have gotten this complaint a ton in the past as well, so I transcribed a rough guideline to what Gary says in this interview. To see more of Gary’s work and read his words, read on.
When I first started shooting street photography, I was always frustrated that my autofocus would always be too slow to capture the decisive moment. After trudging around the internet, I was first introduced to the idea of “zone focusing” by Markus Hartel on his blog.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with zone focusing you essentially use a high f-stop number with a deep depth of field (f/16 or f/11) and have your camera pre-focused to a certain distance to get your photos in-focus. This is beneficial because although modern autofocusing systems are quite good, they are not 100% reliable. Using zone focusing when shooting street photography allows you to get far more keepers.
Regarding the settings, I typically use the following when shooting:
Shutter speed: Above 320ths/second
Prefocus: 1 meter
Why do I use the above settings? Shooting at f/16 allows me to get the deepest depth-of-field with my lens. I keep my ISO high so my shutter speed will be above 320ths/second (this allows you to capture people walking and not blurry). I don’t mind having extra grain or noise in my images. I actually find it to make my images more gritty and raw. Also I keep my lens pre-focused to around 1 meter– because that is how close I generally am to my subjects when shooting.
Eric’s Note: This is article is part of an on-going weekly column by Japancamerahunter (Bellamy Hunt) where he talks about vintage cameras, film, and street photography. You can check out his part articles here.
So, it looks like Eric has got himself a Leica M9, the lucky little so and so. So I thought that this would be as good a time as any to write a post about the perceived benefits of shooting with a rangefinder, or more specifically a Leica.
Now It has to be said that I am a big Leica fan, but that does not mean that they are the only rangefinders. I also have a Contax G2, a Konica Hexar and a Canon 7. They all have their differences, so good, some bad. What I am going to talk about in this is the general benefits that I have found using a rangefinder.
If you thought that the Leica M9 was expensive, check out the limited edition Leica M9 Titanium. The difference? There has only been a limited quantity of 500 Leica M9’s produced, and each are individually numbered and packaged with a Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 titanium lens. Oh yeah, and it costs $26,500 (compared to the $6900 Leica M9). Only the seriously wealthy and eccentric photographers can probably get their paws on this, but for the rest of us commoners, we can still dream. Check out this unboxing video below.
My good friend and fellow street photographer Tom Kaszuba just informed me that Fujifilm has their FinePix x100 Sample Photos live on their site. I have taken the liberty of showing you some photo samples which show how awesome a camera it can be for street photography with its pancake 35mm f/2 lens. Keep reading to see more pictures of the camera, as well as the hot and new sample photos!
Note: Recently I did a blog post on the pros and the cons of rangefinders for street photography. I then came upon an insightful comment from Steve Foon about his experience from switching from using a DSLR to a rangefinder for street photography. Therefore I asked him to do this guest blog post and he graciously accepted! The post you are about to read is incredibly thorough and well-thought out. It is a must-read for anybody considering making the switch from a DSLR to a rangefinder for street photography.
As we roam the Streets to capture images, the tendency to look at the works from people who help create the genre like Bresson, Erwitt, Franks, Weeks, Maier, etc… just seem like the natural thing to do.
One thing kept coming up in terms of camera gear….. Rangefinder cameras.
Allow me to share with you my thoughts on this. Thanks to Eric for letting me share.
Disclaimer – I want to set the record straight that although I am using a rangefinder more and more, I still love what a DSLR can do. Please don’t think that my comments towards rangefinders is a put down on DSLR’s or any other camera format.
This disclaimer comes from a recent posting I made about rangefinders that had some people in the DSLR camp in a rage.
Recently one of my readers named Reacher Rau suggested that I write a blog post on the pros and cons of using rangefinders. He told me how he always heard how awesome rangefinders such as Leicas were good for street photography, but never heard a discussion about the pros and the cons. Although I have to disclaim that I am not a rangefinder master, I still have enough experience using them so I feel that I can give a pretty unbiased opinion on both sides of the issue.
Haha–tricked you. As there is no “best” paintbrush for a painter, there is no “best” camera when it comes to the street photographer. The camera is merely a tool, and there are different tools required for different situations and tasks at hand.
In street photography as well as general photography, photographers can sometimes become more obsessed about camera gear over actually taking photos. Photographers who are obsessed with camera gear often feel that their images are lacking due to their equipment, when their underdevelopment of photographic vision is the culprit.
Therefore many individuals fall into this trap and go on a never-ending chase in the hope that buying more expensive camera bodies and lenses will help them get better images. However most of them are quite dismayed when they realize that when they buy the newest and most expensive equipment, their images don’t get any better. Now don’t get me wrong—nice bodies and lenses can indeed give you images with better sharpness, resolution, and color, but they won’t give one intrinsically better photos.
When it comes to street photography, I like to believe that the best policy is to have the least obtrusive camera and lens as possible. The antithesis of an ideal camera for street photography would be a 1D Mark IV with a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L lens attached to it.
Although my knowledge of cameras may be limited when compared to the 20+years plus photo veteran, I will try my best to outline the pros and cons of different cameras that street photographers use, including rangefinders, DSLRS, or compact “point and shoots”.
Rangefinders are glorified for their ability to take images without a battery, being small and unobtrusive, quick in operation, and virtually silent in terms of a shutter sound. Rangefinders are fully manual, meaning that you have to manually focus and manually control exposure through aperture and shutter speed.
The most popular rangefinder (by far) when it comes to street photography is the Leica. It carries all of the fore mentioned characteristics and has a tradition for being built like a tank with superior optics. Shoot—the granddaddy of all street photography (Henri Cartier-Bresson) used a Leica for his entire career.
Taking photos with a rangefinder is much different than many other cameras because what you see through your viewfinder is not necessarily what your photos show up as. There are superimposed grid lines showing the borders of how much your camera will actually capture which many photographers claim that gives them a sense of freedom and seeing entire scenes.
However there are obviously cons with using a rangefinder camera. First of all, rangefinders are fully manual, meaning that one has to learn how to constantly adjust for the changing lighting in an environment with aperture and shutter speed, while modern digital cameras can do this automatically. Although many advocates of using fully-manual settings do not see this as a disadvantage, the aspiring street photographer may have a difficult time constantly adjusting his or her settings.
Furthermore if one decides to get a digital Leica rangefinder, they are most likely going to drop a huge chunk of change.
It seems that nowadays many street photographers use digital SLRs (DSLRs) to take their photographs. DSLRs are massively popular due to their overall image quality, quick shutter speed, and their ability to interchange lenses, and relative affordability.
However the downside to DSLRs for street photography is that they are relatively large and clunky, and look intimidating to the average person. Furthermore due to the fact that it has a mirror inside, it makes a loud clicking (or clunking) sound when taking photos, which can disturb the serenity of a scene. There is nothing more apparent than the loud mirror-clacking of a DSLR on a quiet subway.
However that doesn’t mean that it is impossible to use a DSLR for street photography. I currently use a Canon 5D for my street photography and in order to make my camera more stealthy, I covered up my “Canon” and “5D” logo with black gaffers tape. I feel the advantage of this is that it converts my “professional-looking camera” into any old generic-looking camera. This makes the camera look less conspicuous in public, and makes people feel less anxious when you are taking photos of them.
Furthermore, DSLRS have great high-ISO capabilities, which make them ideal for shooting at night without having too much noise in the shots. The 5D is infamous for having creating clean images at even high-ISO’s. I never hesitate to shoot my camera at ISO 1600 or even 3200 at night when capturing scenes with faster shutter speeds.
Furthermore, another huge advantage of DSLRs is the ability to interchange one’s lenses. Therefore, one can switch up his or her lenses once in a while if you want to shoot at different focal lengths.
Generally for street photography, I recommend a 35mm “full frame equivalent” lens.
Point and Shoots
There are currently a handful of high-end point-and-shoots on the market that many street photographers use for shooting in the street. These cameras tout larger image sensors, which gives better image quality as well as cleaner images at higher-ISOs.
The advantages of point-and-shoot cameras for street photography is that they are small, have a virtually silent shutter, and that they are unobtrusive. However on the other hand, many point-and-shoot cameras have shutter-lag, which can make it difficult to capture moving people without getting them blurred out.
Micro 4/3rds cameras are also a fantastic option in street photography, because of their near instantaneous autofocus, small form factor and weight, as well as solid image quality. Their image sensors aren’t as good as Aps-c DSLR sized sensors, but they still make beautiful images you can’t complain about.