To me, photographic gear is like gourmet food. I see cameras as the entrées, lenses and other equipment are the side dishes and wines. While compact cameras are the sweet desserts. Sometimes, the desserts are tastier than the main course. And that, my friends, is the reason for me to shift my affection to those featherweight, digital compact cameras.
I feel naked when I leave home without a camera; but lugging around a full size DSLR 24/7 doesn’t seem to appeal much. While my photos would never make it to a museum wall, I’m not worried about printing anything larger than 16×20. If Alex Majoli could survive two wars with his 5 MP point-n-shoots, I too can survive the streets of LA with any 12 MP digital compact camera.
Don’t underestimate those compact cameras by their sizes. Whatever you can do with a DSLR, you can do the same with them. Daīdo Moriyama came to prominence with his point-n-shoots. For the past five decades, art galleries and publishers worldwide have been presenting the photos he created with the Ricoh film and digital compact cameras. Alex Majori of Magnum Photos won many prestigious awards with his Olympus C-5050. Photojournalists Teru Kuwayama and Balazs Gardi reported the Afghan war with the Hipstamatic app on their iPhones. A while ago, the New York Times also featured Benjamin Lowy with his iPhone reportage.
Camera owners can spend their time debating on pixel, sensor size, shutter lag and AF speed of the digital compact cameras; we—the photographers—rather spend our time on learning the shutter timing rhythm and explore the compact camera’s unique strength. Neither the high ISO noise nor the short focal length would limit us from creating great photographs. Unlike the camera owners, we know how to utilize the exposure lock, manual exposure to minimize the shutter lag issue. We know how to preset the focus zone instead of relying on the camera’s autofocus system. We know our digital compact cameras open a new way for us to approach our subjects with their silent operations. The possibility is endless.
Although I have many big and small cameras, my favorite digital compact camera for street photography is the Leica X1. The reason that I’ve not gone for the new 16mp X2 is that the ISO 6400 on the X2 doesn’t look more significant than its predecessor. Both also share the same 11 focus points, 6 groups 8 elements Elmarit 24mm1:2,8 lens. Also, I prefer the noisy, high contrast BW jpeg files from the Leica X1. Since the Leica X1 is smaller than the Fujifilm FinePix X100, it’s more comfortable to carry it in my cargo pant’s pocket.
In short, if Michio Yamauchi could publish 10 photography books along with many exhibitions with a Nikkor 35mm f/2.8 AI on his Nikon FM3a, we too can enjoy taking street photos with our digital compact cameras, right?