Street photography means different things to different photographers. For me, it means every compositional element of the cityscape being a potentially photographed subject/object. So it doesn’t matter if my lens is aimed at a funky hat on an older woman or a brilliantly designed heritage building… the key is that it is part of the broader urban canvas. I enjoy photographing people, animals/pets, found objects, buildings, musicians, stickers, trees, neon signage… and everything in between.
With that in mind it’s almost as if the street photographer has to be prepared to shoot anything and everything. When I choose a camera to take to photograph I quickly think about the weather and my state of mind… so that I know which camera or cameras to take with me that day.
I made a choice in 2006 to (for the most part) shoot with Sony. Though I started with a point-and-shoot Sony DSC-P92 back in 2003, the first real camera I bought was the A200 eight years ago. It’s a decision I haven’t regretted, though it’s a ‘complicated relationship’ (like all are!). I’ll arrange the reviews in order of the physical sizes of the respective cameras.
RX100 Mark III (RX100M3)
This is the third generation of the successful-but-slightly-pricey RX100 series. As an owner of the RX100 Mark II it was important for me that the new camera have enough new features/options to warrant slapping down some more $$$ to buy it. The camera still uses the stunning 1″ sensor and a fixed Zeiss-designed zoom lens (though it’s now brighter at f1.8–2.8 and a bit shorter at a DSLR equivalent of 24–70mm). It has a 180 degree tiltable liveview screen, 20.1 MP Bionz X processor, built-in WIFI and NFC connectability, built-in ND filters, inclusion of the superb XAVC-S video codec and the sublimely brilliant pop-up 1.4 million dot OLED EVF.
This may be the perfect street photography camera… literally. It was the fabulous image quality from the RAW files on the previous RX100 that convinced me to fork out the cash and buy it. It did have a multi-pin hotshoe that allowed for an (expensive) 2.4 million dot EVF (that I already owned for my RX1R). The external EVF on that previous RX100 looks clunky at best.
With that in mind, I have to say that once I set-up the included diopter on this pop-up EVF that I was ‘won over’ in about two minutes! Though it’s ‘only’ 1.4 million dots it works wonderfully. One of the things I’ve loved about the Sony cameras is the auto face detect feature. A small box appears around the face or faces in the viewfinder frame when this is enabled and it tells the cameras to prioritize focus on the face in that box. It also tells the camera to prioritize the expose for the face in the boxed area. Though I have a Fuji and Nikon camera with optical viewfinders I would never want to go back to them. The advantages of an EVF outweigh the trade-offs from my perspective. Thankfully, there are EVF and OVF options available from other manufacturers for those who disagree with me!
I normally do at least one walk daily through the Downtown Eastside (DTES) in Vancouver as part of a documentary project that I’m working on. This geographic area has the highest concentration of heroin and intravenous drug users in North America. Having a camera as discreet as the RX100M3 is ideal in that kind of context. There are many drug users who scope out gear to steal-n-sell. I ensure that my photos are appropriate and respectful. The low profile of this camera doesn’t attract unwanted attention. If I do stumble into a situation where putting the camera away is important, then I simply pop the EVF back down with one hand and the camera automatically shuts off (and I discreetly put it in my pocket).
To date most of the people I’ve shot with this are very relaxed looking into the camera. They likely don’t know what a RAW file is or a Zeiss lens… they simply see a tiny camera and don’t get stressed like they would if a huge 82mm piece of glass was staring them in the eye. This camera is as capable as it is discreet.
The image quality from the RAW files never ceases to blow me away when great quality light is readily available. I own full-frame cameras and I’m still in amazement at what Sony has done with a 1″ sensor and a Zeiss lens. Add to this the built-in WIFI and you really have a great lil’ powerhouse that is easy to hold all day, has a killer EVF, shoots RAW, produces great images, and draws little attention to me while I’m immersed in the experience! Time motion apps and such can be purchased for it separately. I highly recommend this camera for your consideration. Keep in mind that you will need an SDXC card if you plan to record video in the XAVC format. Lastly, I did buy the padded leatherette case that fits it great and gives it extra protection. It also makes it a tad easier to hold on to.
I’ve only been shooting full-frame for about a year now. My previous cameras are APS-C (for the most part) and I have a decent selection of Zeiss and Minolta lenses to use on my Sony Alpha and NEX (NEX–6) cameras. So why did I bother with getting an A6000, especially when I was very happy with my NEX–6?
The camera has the latest generation of BIONZ X processor that produces 24MP images. It’s capable of snapping up to eleven images a second, too, that’s quite impressive! The 1.4 million dot EVF is sharp and bright for rendering the real-time changes in the available light of the scene.
Street photography involves capturing slivers of time that would otherwise quickly dissipate and be lost. Many sci-fi movies from the past decades have played upon this theme of memory/memes. Though some of us may photograph on the streets and ‘stage’ the odd shot here and there, it’s likely that the majority of our shots will be candid/spontaneous. Street photographers are also ‘meme capturers’ because we intentionally choose what memories to save and what to ignore.
Having a camera with fast AF is necessary (that is, if one isn’t using ‘zone focusing’). The AF on the A6000 is currently the fastest focus available on any APS-C camera in July 2014. It works splendidly and that is one of the key reasons I bought the camera. The combined phase-detection (with one hundred seventy-nine points) and contrast-detection (with twenty-five points) work fast and accurately.
For this review, I’ve tested the A6000 with the Sony Zeiss 24mm/f1.8, the Zeiss Tout 32mm f1.8, and the Sony 10–18/f4. Though I’ve really grown to appreciate the simplicity of ‘primes’ I have no aversion to using zoom lenses. This camera does fine with either mounted to it. The dynamic range is excellent for this sensor and I didn’t have to do much editing in ‘post’ to make the images ‘look better’. When I walk the city paths of Vancouver I may find a particular building as visually interesting as I do a group of dancers or a sticker on a light post. It’s all real to me. I simply want the camera that I’m carrying to accurately capture the vision I have of each of them.
This camera is extremely light and that’s also one of its strongest points. It’s so refreshing to have something in my hand that doesn’t feel like a lump of brass and lead. No, the camera doesn’t have weather sealing… but at this price point I wouldn’t expect it to. Nor does it have a mini stereo mic input. It does have a multi-interface hotshoe that can fit either a flash or a set of fine Sony microphones for better audio (*Sony ECM-XYST1M Stereo). The flash and mic I used on the A6000 worked well.
Have you ever used face and eye detect technology? This was one of the features that Sony added in the A55 that really won me over to the strengths of an electronic viewfinder (EVF). When you aim your camera at your subjects it will detect (if you have it enabled in the MENU) if there are faces in the scene and place priority exposure/focus on them! Additionally, if you have a custom button enabled you can also have it ‘eyeball detect’ (I kid you not!) and it’ll prioritize focus on that eyeball in that face detect box… it has to be seen to be believed! This is one of only two Sony camera lines that has the eyeball detect option. Lastly, the MENU also has a FACE PRIORITY TRACKING option so that if you only want a particular face in the scene prioritized it can do that as well, so even if that face exits the scene momentarily, it will detect when it re-enters the frame and prioritize it again. This is perfect technology for street photography and gives us photographers another tool to master.
Overall, the A6000 is a superb little dynamo that can render fabulous results for an extremely reasonable price. In fact, there’s nothing that really competes with it in its current price point in terms of options/features. I’ve used the WIFI and movie modes and they work fine and are simple to set-up. Do I wish a few things were done different? Yes. Like many people I wish that Sony would use touchscreens on all their cameras. It really seems bizarre that only one camera to date has had a touchscreen. I also wish that they had higher capacity batteries that lasted longer in that same form factor, it can be done technologically! Finally, it’s a shame that the camera uses the AVCHD rather than their excellent XAVC video codec (that is on the RX100M3 and A7S, respectively).
This is one of those cameras that in December of 2014 will still be referred to as “one of the best new cameras in years”. Since its release announcement at NAB this year the Sony A7S is the latest in the ‘A7’ generation of cameras. But in an ocean of cameras, what sets this one apart?
Well, it has a full-frame sensor in a small mirrorless camera body, which is still somewhat of a big deal, but this sensor is only twelve megapixels! In an age of ‘even larger sensors than the week before’ (*I do own the A7R with the 36 megapixel sensor), this almost seems like a step backwards. What this means though, is that the photosites themselves are huge, which means that they can gather a lot more light individually. When you combine this with the ‘gapless’ sensor design you have a camera that is super-sensitive (thus, the ‘S’ in the A7S). The camera also sports a whopping ISO range of 50 to over 400,000 and the useable range really is around 80,000 ISO!
The camera sports the E-mount and it’s literally possible (via third-party adapters) to put almost any lens made for rangefinder or SLR/DSLR’s on it. That is possible because of the flange distance in the original design. For this review I have used everything from Sony FE glass to Leica to Contax to Voigtlander glass and even some Canon L glass via a Metabones adapter that I have. Let me say that I was literally blown away at the dynamic range potential of this sensor. The exemplary micro-contrast capability of the Leica/Contax/Voigtlander lenses capture rich exposure detail with the A7S.
Street photographers will be tickled to know that the shutter has a completely silent mode, and I do mean silent. When you enable it, it does mean that the lowest ISO you can go to is ‘only’ 100 instead of the normal 50 ISO when this feature is disabled, but that is a small price to pay for a completely silent photo taking experience. I think that everyone does the same thing the first time that they use this option: they take a photo, they wonder if the camera actually took a shot, press PLAY, see it’s there, giggle, and try it again!
This camera is heavier than the A6000 or the RX100M3, but you do get the power and dynamic range of a full-frame sensor that has a gapless sensor. To be frank, 12 MP is usually just fine for the majority of my purposes. Let’s be direct here: if you are planning on MASSIVE prints at some point in the future you’re likely going to have to shoot medium format film to nail the required resolution. Having said that, you could still print large prints with 12MP of image data (*assuming that you aren’t doing any cropping) and the prints would look stunning.
The camera isn’t as stealthy as the other two reviewed ones, but it’s also not like carrying around a Canon 5DM3 or a Nikon 4S. I’m of the opinion that the less distracting that the camera is, the less intimidated/self-conscious my subjects are of the camera if they glimpse it. I enjoy photographing literally everything during my walks on the streets of Vancouver. That includes requested and spontaneous/discreet portraits. Though most people comment on the fabulous look of the Sony RX1R (to be reviewed for next issue) many people admire the form factor of the RX100 series. The A7S just kind of blends in and doesn’t stand out. This is also important when I’m in the heroin region of the Hastings Corridor of Vancouver.
This camera also sports their professional XAVC video codec and can record at 50MB/second. I also do street videography and that codec is simply stunning for doing editing and production work in Final Cut Pro. The multi-interface hotshoe sits perched on top of the camera and facilitates a number of microphone or flash options. This camera does sport a stereo mini microphone input and a headphone input for monitoring audio levels during video recording.
The only three things I wish this camera was better at was ‘rolling shutter’ (which only affects video), and that it had a touchscreen on it, and that the AA filter on it was removed.
I thought that I would primarily use this camera as a video camera for my documentary project on the DTES but the image quality is so spectacular that I love using it for daily street photography work. Recently, I picked up a large Manfrotto Backpack 30 and I usually carry the A7s, RX100M3, A7R, and the RX1R if I’m willing to endure the extra weight that particular day. 🙂
It’s true that the best camera to use “is the one that you have with you”. That doesn’t mean that we street photographers only have to carry one camera though. I know a few photographers who are ‘gear nazis’, and by that I mean that they militantly swear by the model and camera maker that they use, and $hit talk all other brands/models. At the end of every day, I check my PadGram app so that I can view the photographs of others on my Instagram feed and I check my Facebook feed to see what images others are sharing and at some point I check my Google+ to see what has been shared there. When I see great images I never ask “what camera did they use for this fab image”. It’s the image subjects/details/composition/tone that impact me the most.
Having said that I think it’s important for me to use gear that gives me the results that I want from it. I love using all three of the cameras that I reviewed but I also like using my iPhone 5S. Hopefully these reviews have been helpful to you. I love capturing and sharing images. Though I’m personally passionate about Sony gear it’s more important to me that you find gear that fits your budget and your particular situation/needs, regardless of who makes the camera, the sensor, or the lens.