My favorite type of photography that I do for myself (rather than for my professional photography work) is street photography. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager, back in the ‘80’s, and have continued on and off with it, over the decades. It’s always a difficult pursuit for me. I find it’s a lot like poetry – on the surface, it seems quite easy, yet it’s wickedly difficult if you ever try to attempt it yourself.
Creating a street photograph that is an ideal blend of form and content is a challenging endeavor, that doesn’t seem to get easier over the years. That elusive blend is definitely the hardest aspect of shooting street photography.
The easy part is knowing one’s equipment and how to use it. That’s relatively easy to learn, and I’m happy to share some of the techniques that I’ve acquired over the years. I’ve already discussed how I use and set up the Fuji X-Pro1 for street shooting. For this post, I’d like to discuss how to carry a single Fuji X camera (or any other compact camera), so that it’s always with you at all times.
Always have your camera with you
The start of being ready and able to shoot, is always having your camera with you. Even if you don’t intend to being shooting that day, ALWAYS bring it with you.
The great street photographer, Joel Meyerowitz, over his half-century of street shooting, always had his camera with him. And he continues to do so, today. It didn’t matter whether it was a small Leica M2 with a 35mm lens, or a massive 8×10 Deardorff view camera. He had a camera at all times. Even asleep at night, he had a camera at his bedside table.
I’ve found that if I’m carrying a camera, there’s the obvious benefit that I have the equipment in order to create a street photograph. A more important benefit that I’ve discovered whenever I have a camera, is that I tend to look at the world around me as an opportunity make a street photograph. It’s a good discipline that keeps my visual awareness, top of mind.
In order not to easily fall out of the habit of always packing a camera, it’s important to choose a camera that’s small, light and very easy to carry. While there are great, professional photographers who make stunning street images with big, pro DSLR’s (Steve McCurry and James Nachtwey come to mind), and the aforementioned Mr. Meyerowitz with his huge 8×10 Deardorff, it’s probably wiser to use a considerably smaller camera.
Also, keep it down to ONE camera and its lens. I find I won’t even hesitate to grab a single camera/single lens setup, when I go out the door. As soon as I decide to add even one additional lens, or more elaborately, decide to carry two bodies with two lenses, my logistics get much more complicated, and I start to hesitate about carrying the gear.
The Fuji X cameras are small, light and discrete. They’re not dissimilar in their size from a Leica M camera, which used to be the supreme, street-shooting tool of photographers for decades. While Fuji X cameras are similar in size and shape to a Leica, they’re noticeably lighter than an equivalent Leica M setup. And if you choose to use one of the Fuji X100 series cameras, with its fixed lens, it’s yet another step down in size and weight.
The nice thing about a Fuji X camera body, even the slightly “heavier” bodies like the X-Pro1 and X-T1, is that they’re still pretty light and easy to carry.
For an even lighter and smaller package, choose a model like the XT10, the X-E2 or the truly petite, fixed lens X100T.
Choose a lens
Once you’ve chosen a compact and handy camera body, unless it comes with a fixed lens like the X100 series (which has a 23mm f2 permanently on it), the next step is picking an ideal lens.
For all around street use, you’ll want something in the moderate focal lengths and nothing extreme. The more extreme, the more limited its application is. And once you get to extreme telephotos, lenses become unacceptably large for a daily carry.
XF 18-55 Zoom: handy all-rounder
In my humble opinion, I feel it’s better to get to know one or two prime (fixed focal length) lenses really, really well, in order to be ready to shoot for street photography, rather than using a zoom. If you have a fixed lens that you use often, you look for opportunities that suit that focal length, rather than depending upon a zoom to crop on the spot.
With that said: I have absolutely nothing against zooms. In fact, for my paid work, I’m currently making most of my money with the XF 10-24mm, rather than any of the XF prime lenses. Some of Fuji’s zooms are as good, and sometimes superior optically, to their prime lens counterparts.
I haven’t used it myself, but I’ve read many positive accounts about its outstanding optical quality and usefulness of the XF 18-55mm. For an everyday carry, if you’re much more comfortable with a zoom, that sounds like the best choice from Fuji. In a recent interview, Takashi Ueno, product planner for Fujifilm, recommends this lens as a good starter if you’re new to the X system and photography.
Prime Lenses: fast & light
Back to Primes when choosing a daily carry set-up: For X bodies which have interchangeable lenses, most of the primes in the normal to moderate wide angles can be smaller and lighter than zooms.
As mentioned, “Normal” or “Standard” lenses (50mm FF or 35mm for the Fuji X) to moderately wide (35mm-e to 28mm-e) are proven focal lengths for all around use, especially on the street. I’ve stuck with one of these three focal lengths for several decades.
There are some very high level photographers who shoot on the street, who use telephotos. Martin Parr of Magnum, for example, regularly shoots with a 200mm these days. A more versatile choice is likely in the moderate telephoto or portrait range, of 75mm-e to 95mm-e.
Personally, I use the XF 60mm when I do corporate portraiture and to capture architectural details. Optically, it’s a stunning lens, and the recent Fuji firmware update, 4.0, for the X-T1 and X-T10 finally gets its AF to a decent speed.
But I won’t be speaking further of telephotos for all-round, street shooting use, though, as I’ve never used anything longer than a 50mm-e for this purpose. But it was important to mention moderate telephotos as a viable choice, if that works for you.
XF 23mm f1.4
Fuji makes the XF 23mm f1.4, which is their 35mm equivalent. The 35mm-e or 23mm for Fuji X is a great focal length choice for all around use. It was my favourite focal length during the days of slow slide film. It has more apparent depth of field than a standard 50mm-e, but not as wide as a 28mm-e, so one doesn’t have to be incredibly close all the time to fill the frame, as often happens with a 28mm-e or wider lens. It’s a good compromise, and that’s why I listed it first in my recommended choices of primes.
If I had to have a single prime lens for the rest of my life, I would choose the 35mm-e or XF 23mm. I must say, however, that if I can carry two lenses, I much prefer a 50mm-e and 28mm-e combination. While the 35mm is versatile, I sometimes find it’s neither fish nor fowl. Not quite wide enough, yet not quite long enough. Still, it’s a safe choice as a single, all-rounder lens.
In addition, Fuji’s XF 23mm’s optical quality is stunning, and it has one of the most solidly built barrels within the XF group of lenses. At a very fast f1.4, it’s also great for shooting with available light indoors, and keeping the ISO lower and cleaner, as opposed to the 18-55mm which is a slower, variable aperture zoom (f2.8 to f4).
The XF 23mm is large for a mirrorless prime, though. Those of you who are old-time Leica M users like me, might remember the massive and heavy, Canadian-made Leitz/Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0. That was the biggest production 50mm lens Leica made at the time, and was considered enormous for an M lens. Well, I measured my XF 23mm, and it’s about 1mm longer in length and wider in width! Luckily, it’s about half the weight of the 600+ grams Noctilux monster.
Again, even though the XF 23mm is a big prime by Fuji X standards, it’s still not that heavy and I don’t really find its size “massive”, especially when compared to a pro DSLR prime. And it’s hard to say no to an XF 23mm as a street and all-round lens. As a 35mm-e, it’s a great, versatile lens when you’re not going out with any specific purpose in mind.
XF 35mm f1.4 and Touit 32mm f1.8
For more compact choices, the prime lenses on either side of the XF 23mm in classic focal lengths are quite small and light.
For the Fuji X in the 50mm equivalent range, which is also a great, all-round focal length for street use, there are currently two fine choices. First of all, there is Fuji’s wonderful XF 35mm f1.4.
As a 50mm-e, it gives the photographer a bit more distance from the subject than a moderate wide angle, which might be more ideal, depending upon the shooting circumstances. When shot wide open, it’s better for isolating a subject from the background or foreground than a wide angle. Yet if a photographer wants deep, depth of field, she or he can use a small aperture such as f11, and raise the Fuji X’s ISO quite high, which can produce relatively clean files.
The same can be said for the Zeiss Touit 32mm f1.8 in native, Fuji X mount. This is an equally nice lens, and prices have dropped on the Zeiss so that it’s nearly the same as the Fuji XF 35mm at normal market prices (not including sales or rebates).
The lens barrel is really well built, although not everyone likes the rubber covered focusing and aperture rings. The lens itself isn’t that different in size from the XF 35mm, but the Zeiss has a much longer, albeit very light, plastic hood. It provides excellent protection for the front element, from potential scratches and scrapes when one carries a camera on a daily basis. In fact, the hood is so deep, barely any dust even lands on the front element.
But the Zeiss hood adds quite a bit of overall length when compared to the XF 35mm with its small, square, metal hood. Again, this is all relative – even with its hood on and mounted on the X-Pro1, one of the “heavier” X bodies, it’s still a small, overall package that’s discrete on the street.
For me, the one disadvantage with the XF 35mm/Touit 32mm or 50mm-e, is I find the field of view sometimes too restrictive and selective, as my only lens for everything. When I glance at a scene, I find the XF 23mm (35mm-e) or XF 18mm (28mm-e) seems to “see” closer to what I saw. Also, when using a 50mm-e indoors, I often can’t back enough to get what I wanted.
XF 27mm f2.8
In between the nicely sized XF 35mm (50mm-e) and big XF 23mm (35mm-e), there’s the cute, “pancake” 27mm (around a 41mm-e). This is Fuji’s smallest XF lens. At f2.8, it’s slower than the other X mount primes mentioned in this article.
40mm-e is an often, overlooked focal length, but some would argue that it’s an ideal focal length for those who are looking for a “normal” lens. It’s a good bridge between a 50mm-e and 35mm-e. Leica made a 40mm Summicron for their old, compact CL camera, back in the ‘70’s, which was popular and utilized by no less than Henri Cartier-Bresson himself, towards the end of his career as a photojournalist.
I don’t have any direct experience with the XF 27mm (41mm-e) lens myself, and I know why I’ve personally decided to skip this specific lens: Fuji didn’t make it with an aperture ring. Aperture control has to be done in-camera.
While I much prefer an aperture ring on the lens itself, there’s an advantage to this. The lack of the aperture ring keeps the lens very tiny. If small size is the biggest priority, then strongly consider the XF 27mm.
XF 18mm f2.0
That brings us to the XF 18mm (28mm-e – it’s actually a 27mm-e, but let’s call it a 28mm) f2, which is the second smallest XF lens in Fuji’s line-up and it has a traditional aperture ring, which I like. Even with its hood in place, this is a tiny and light lens, and makes for a very, under-the-radar package on the street.
With an aperture of f2, that’s still plenty fast for low light situations. And because it’s quite a bit wider than the XF 35mm f1.4 or Touit 32mm f1.8, the wider focal length of the 18mm makes it easier to hand-hold at slower shutter speeds, without visible camera shake.
This is my favourite lens for street photography in dense crowds or lively events. I also find a 28mm-e/XF 18mm actually matches my field of vision better than any other lens. But sometimes, I want to be more selective, with a tighter focal length, than what my field of vision sees.
I would say that my main challenge with a 28mm-e lens, is that I find it’s less versatile than a 50mm-e (XF 35mm or Touit 32mm) or 35mm-e (XF 23mm). When I’m photographing people I don’t know on the street and crowds are a bit thinner, it’s a bit nerve wracking (for me) to get very close with the XF 18mm, which is often required in order to get a compelling street photograph. Great masters like the fearless Gary Winogrand can go right up to people with a 28mm-e without any hesitation (look for footage of him shooting in LA with crowds much thinner than NYC), but I don’t have his skill or guts!
XF 35mm and XF 23mm are also a stop faster, so combined with their longer focal length, can throw the background more out of focus than the XF 18mm.
Recommended Single Focal Length
My first choice would be the XF 23mm f1.4 (35mm-e). Although I prefer the combination of having two lenses (the Touit 32mm and XF 18mm), when I need to boil it down to a single focal length, I can’t deny the XF 23mm is the most versatile choice.
A close second choice would be Fuji’s XF 35mm f1.4 or the Zeiss Touit 32mm f1.8, if you can live with the narrower, field of view. The 50mm-e is a classic, historical focal length for street photography and all-round use (think of HCB) and wide open, you can throw the background more out of focus than a wide angle, when you’re near your subject.
Sometimes a 50mm-e or XF 35mm won’t allow me to back up sufficiently indoors or in close quarters, so that’s why the XF 23mm is still my first choice over the otherwise fine choice of the XF 35mm/Touit 32mm.
Fuji’s XF 27mm f2.8 at 41mm-e is very close in field of view to the XF 23mm, and some would argue it’s even more versatile. Certainly, there’s no denying this pancake lens is very tiny, and is indeed quite handy as an everyday carry.
I can’t, in good conscious, recommend it personally though. The main reason is, I only write about gear that I’ve actually used, and as I stated earlier, I have no experience with the XF 27mm.
Also, the XF 27mm doesn’t have an aperture ring, which is something I prefer. And finally, it’s no faster than a pro level zoom at f2.8. I think a versatile prime that is ideal for many situations means also being able to shoot in dim light conditions, and having that extra stop or two like the other recommended choices can sometimes make a big difference.
If some of the readers of this blog have used the XF 27mm extensively and have positive comments, I would very much like to include your comments in this article, as I don’t want to give the impression I’m being overly negative on a lens I haven’t used.
The Single Camera is easy to carry discretely
Unless you’re expecting to encounter really bad weather (more on that in the final section), you can forego the camera bag and simply carry the camera on your shoulder or around your neck. Because the entire package is so small, if you feel is required, it’s very easy to carry your small camera/single lens setup discretely.
On downtown city streets, it’s very rare that I need to hide the camera from view. While I don’t call attention to myself, most of the time, I don’t hide the fact that I have a camera and am shooting with it, either.
For those times that you need to carry your camera discretely, it’s very easy to do. Get a jacket that you can wear open (no pullovers and no double breasted jackets). The highly experienced Magnum photographer, Ian Berry, recommends getting a jacket one size up.
Hang the camera on your shoulder.
And then slip your jacket on over the camera, keeping the jacket open so you can access the camera easily, and stays hidden when you’re not using it. The photo below is the jacket over an Fuji X-Pro1 and an XF 18mm lens.
Adjust the camera strap so that it’s long enough that you can pull the camera out from under your jacket. Once you have your shot and your done for now, the camera can go back to hanging on your shoulder, under your jacket.
Skip the camera bag, unless…
As mentioned, with a single camera as your daily carry, you can forego carrying a camera bag. A Fuji X body with a single prime lens isn’t a lot of gear and doesn’t need to be placed in a bag.
The one exception to this piece of advice is if you expect bad weather. In that case, it would be wise to have a small but weatherproof camera bag handy. Good choices include the Artisan & Artist ACAM 7100, the Billingham Hadley Small or Courierware Incognito Small.
If part of your daily carry in life is a purse or laptop bag, consider getting one of those with a dedicated compartment for your camera. The Filson + Magnum Harvey Messenger has a padded sleeve to carry a laptop, plus a separate padded insert for a camera.
If you already have a purse or laptop bag that you like and don’t want to give it up, consider getting a Domke, Tenba or Tamrac wrap to protect your camera before you drop it into your existing bag.
• Always carry a Fuji X camera
• Keep it to one body and one lens (or an X100 series camera). It’s basically so small and light that you never fall out of the habit of carrying one at all times
• For an interchangeable X body, choose a single, prime lens in a moderate focal length
• Focal lengths that are versatile and a good choice as an all-rounder, are the 35mm, 27mm and 23mm. They translate in Full Frame terms, into 50mm-e, 41mm-e and 35mm-e
• If you’re very comfortable shooting extremely close or are shooting in close-quarters, the 18mm (28mm-e) can also be considered
• Use a camera strap, to free up your hands and to safely carry the camera at all times, without having to use a camera bag
If you like my work, I would greatly appreciate any support to help this site going. It takes many hours to write each article and I spend my own funds acquiring the equipment discussed or reviewed, to give my readers an unbiased opinion.
By clicking on any of the Amazon links below or at the very top of this article, you can help. If you buy anything at all (it doesn’t have to be the actual product that the link first leads you to) when clicking to Amazon through my links, a small percentage of the purchase price goes to this website, at no cost to you. Thank you!