Choice of High ISO Digital Street-shooting Cameras

Recently, I have been pondering, what will the choice be if I want a digital camera for street photography which has high ISO capability. Now, imagine… F8, zone focused, ISO6400 or higher, at night.

My preference has always been film cameras but undeniably, film cameras suck at high ISO. The only high speed films available today are Ilford Delta 3200, Fuji Neopan 1600 (recently discontinued),  Fuji Superia 1600/800 (color negs). Kodak TMax 3200 has been discontinued a long time ago. The only other way to shoot at high ISO for films will be pushing standard ISO400 black and white films to 3200 (or higher if you know how).

Since the development of digital photography, we experience both the benefits from the technology as well as the downgrade of image quality in general. Tons of low resolution pixelated images from phone cameras, point and shoots and low end DSLRs started flooding the internet.

Now, back to the current choice of digital cameras suited for night street photography, I have also fine-tuned my search to just one focal length, something close to human’s natural eye’s perspective. Many have argued that 42mm is the closest but I shall give myself¬† a bigger allowance, from about 35-45mm.

So, my criteria shall be:

1. No Shutter Lag

2. Prime Lens between 35mm to 45mm (fixed focal length: easier to pre-visualize images before shooting and to build a good discipline of “zooming” with your feet instead)

3. Compact, Small and Portable

My list is as follows:

1. Olympus E-PL2 with Panasonic 20mm F1.7

Effective focal length: 40mm

Highest useable ISO: 3200

Depth of Field Scale: None

2. Sony NEX with Voigtlander 28 Ultron (F2)

Effective focal length: 42mm

Highest useable ISO: 6400 (at 12800, some banding starts to show)

Depth of Field Scale: Yes

3. Leica M8 with Voigtlander 28 Ultron (F2)

Effective focal length: 37.24mm

Highest useable ISO: 1250

Depth of Field Scale: Yes

4. Leica M9 with Voigtlander 40mm F1.4 Nokton

Effective focal length: 40mm

Highest useable ISO: 3200

Depth of Field Scale: Yes

5. Canon 550D with Olympus OM 24mm F2.8 Lens via adapter (smallest 24mm SLR lens I can find)

Effective focal length: 38.4mm

Highest useable ISO: 6400 (at 12800, some banding starts to show)

Depth of Field Scale: Yes

6. Fuji X100

Effective focal length: 35mm

Highest useable ISO: 6400 (not sure about results at 12800 yet)

Depth of Field Scale: None

So, what do you think? (Tell me your preference either in my FB page or down in the comments column). The Fuji does look tempting… :p

15 thoughts

  1. i just got my olympus xz-1, and i’m gonna strap that around my neck, set up my preferred “custom” settings for street photography, and call it a day. It’s got mimimal shutter lag, and a super fast lens(f/1.8 at 28mm to only f/2.5 at 118mm)!!! I haven’t had it long enough to do any tests, but I would think it’s decent out to ISO 1600. in any event, i’m having fun with it….and that’s all that matters!! :o)

  2. …………..and in regard to my olympus xz-1 for high iso street photography………did i mention that the shutter is extremely quiet??……….well, the shutter is extremely quiet!! :o)

  3. Hmmm difficult one, David. Yes, the Fuji looks tempting, and maybe these rangefinders have the brightest picture in the dark. Interesting – I would like to try them all, and then decide.

  4. hi dave,
    i think there are a much too big differences in $$ on your list, so i would prefer the m9/nokton if i had the cash. my personal cam for day & night is the E-P2 with a Nokton 35/1.4 (i’m very fine with the effective 70mm) and i am waiting for my ordered Nokton 25/0.95 (mft) for dark night ;).

  5. Stefan

    March 9, 2011

    I’m currently looking for the same thing. I like your nex-5 option. personally I’m thinking about a olympus xz-1 or a Fuji X100 (image quality vs pocket ability) another interesting option is de panasonic GH2. what do you think of the leica x1?

  6. Stefan,

    Forget about X1. It has obvious shutter lag.

    1. the NEX has a good sensor and lens is interchangeable (forget about current sony NEX lenses, they suck! I’ll only mount m-mount lenses or SLR lenses on it to manual focus).

    2. XZ-1 is a compact point and shoot, it still has shutter lag though quite minimal.

    3. X100 is not lens-interchangeable, if you can live with that, X100 is a really good choice!

    4. I would not consider the GH2 unless you are into video. It’s more for 1080 HD Video! (The GF1, I wouldn’t consider it at all when you have all of the above)

    Lastly, if you are a serious street shooter, I think you will prefer a non-electronic film rangefinder anytime to a digital one when it comes to “Auto Power OFF” on the streets in these battery operated cameras… unless you are prepared to switch “Auto Power OFF” OFF and carry extra batteries with you.

  7. What about the Ricoh’s? I know the 28mm focal length is a bit wide…. But the GRDIII and the GXR 28mm A12 have alot going for them.

  8. I’m still new with digital photography and still confuse when it comes to certain technical stuff of it. Nonetheless, I just want to let you know that I’m enjoy reading your blog. Hopefully I can pick some good tips here and be as good as you one day. Thank you.

  9. Brian, I guess the high ISO on the Ricohs aren’t that desirable?

  10. William Wragg

    May 13, 2011

    With the GRDIII, because it has a small sensor and a 28mm-e focal length, you don’t need f8 to get the depth of field required for street shooting. You can actually set it to f2, use snap focus set at 2.5/5m (depending on shooting style), and then you don’t need such a high ISO, you could use 400 to get the same as f8 @ 6400. Snap focusing makes shutter lag practically no existant, as the lens does not have to auto focus.

  11. William,

    Agree on all except that at ISO400 in lowlight situations, the shutter speed could be too slow to capture any movement or avoid camera shake.

  12. mazrimu

    May 15, 2011

    Correction for X-100

    6. Fuji X100

    Effective focal length: 35mm

    Highest useable ISO: 6400 expend to 12800

    Depth of Field Scale: None@correction)DOF scale:Yes/ovf@hybrid/evf/main monitor


  13. Ricoh GRD3?

    Also in 135 format TMY2 (New tmax) in DDX looks great at 1600. 3200 Delta in 645 format looks awesome too. Put that in a GA645 fuji and you’re set.

  14. Richard, yes, I would anytime prefer film over digital. Haven’t tried the GRD3 yet…

  15. Ronnie Chan

    December 2, 2013

    Canon 5D Mark III with Canon 35mm F/1.4L

    Effective focal length: 35mm

    Highest useable ISO: 12800

    Depth of Field Scale: No idea

    If possible I would throw in 85mm F/1.8 but that would be cumbersome on changing lens for street.

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