A lot of photographers get very excited about the equipment they use. They will discuss the virtues of various kinds of lenses and many can become almost tribal in their devotion to a particular brand. There are the Fuji-film fanatics, the Leica lovers and there is the cult of Canon. I am not one of those kinds of gear heads! Not because I have an issue with that kind of passion - it’s just that I have never had the money or the technical knowledge to have had an opinion worth defending!
For me, photography has always been about the craft of composing and then working with the images I make, rather than the tools I use. That having been said, I acknowledge that it is useful to have some degree of appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of my set up. Recently, I have been asked what I am currently using in my work and so I thought I would write a little about the choices I have made, beyond the purely pragmatic reasons for using a relatively inexpensive rig.
My current camera is the Canon M50 - it is a 24 megapixel cropped sensor unit which is very lightweight and compact, making it ideal for street work. Because I am carrying it around with me most days, I needed my camera set-up to be easily portable. Another bonus of its size and bulk is that it seems far less intimidating to those I am photographing. It is more than a holiday-snap compact, suggesting I know what I am doing, but not a behemoth that can provoke self-consciousness from the outset.
The challenge of the M50 is that the 1.6 crop (as opposed to the full sensor size of a true DSLR) can prove challenging when composing wider-angle images. The camera came with a kit lens which is fine (EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM, providing a 24-72mm equivalent focal length range) but I wanted to attach a lens that would be suited to low-light conditions without the need for an external flash. I also decided that I didn’t want to be forever changing lenses, but instead have committed to work with a single prime lens, for at least my first year of shooting the streets.
Consequently I have used an EF-adapter with the well-respected Canon ‘Nifty Fifty’ (50mm, F1.8) attached. This is a relatively inexpensive way of getting a decent quality lens in play which, at the same time, forces me to get closer to my subjects. In street photography, it is tempting to use a telephoto and shoot everything from a distance, but for me this defeats the object. I am not simply looking to document the activities around me, but become part of them. By committing to use a single fixed prime lens (which is equivalent to 80mm with the cropped sensor) I force myself to get up close and personal to my subject.
That’s it. I don’t carry a flash, a tripod or any additional gear except a spare battery and a small cloth to keep the glass speck-free. I tend to shoot on aperture priority and wide open (1-8-3) for portraits and at F11 for street stories. I do most of my post-processing in Adobe Lightroom but try to make sure that exposure, white balance and composition is managed in-camera.
Because I work primarily in black and white, I do make use of some presets in Lightroom but always make small bespoke adjustments for each image, depending on the look I am going for. As you’ll see in the galleries, I like to work with vignetting to throw the focus on the main subject and am not afraid to play with bold contrast and tonal range. So that summarises my current approach to equipment - I have chosen what is affordable, practical and what encourages me to photograph the streets from an intimate perspective. The less time I am fixated on the tool, the more I can give my attention to the energy and moment unfolding around me; this to me is the essence of street photography.