When you woke up this morning, you probably thought about how much better your life would be if you had a Leica M9. You probably thought about how having the Fujifilm X100 would make you a better street photographer.
You should have then asked yourself a couple of questions.
1. Do you display your images in galleries with huge prints?
2. Do you shoot with a really shallow depth of field?
3. Do you have kids or a mortgage?
Depending on how you answered any of these questions, I’m here to tell you you’re probably fooling yourself into thinking you should chuck 10 grand on an M9/lens combination. 99% of street photographers will never need anything more than the Ricoh GRDIII I chose to take on my walk to work today. Let me explain as I walk.
The first frame above is my house. I shot it at ISO 800 with the tiny sensor Ricoh. Surely, it isn’t anywhere near the quality I’d get from the M9 or even the X100. That being said, it has a very distinct look that most people covet in street photography.
Truth be told, I don’t find the GRDIII the sexiest of cameras. In fact, it’s far from being as nice as the Leica X1 that sits in my closet. That being said, it’s small, sleek, and most importantly discreet. Even with the GV-2 viewfinder mounted it’s a nearly pocket-able camera. It’s matte black finish and point and shoot looks make it far from noticeable. Comparing this to the X1 or X100, I’ve never been asked about the Ricoh by anyone but another photographer. Whereas I often hear things like “cool camera” or “wow, is that a Leica” about the others. Discreet? Not so much.
As I left my house it hard started to rain. This is generally a problem when I’m shooting the M9. I need two hands! So, either I get great pictures and end up soaked or I get horrible pictures if any whilst trying to focus and hang on to my umbrella. Not a problem today. Umbrella in one hand and tiny GRDIII in the other I set out.
As I continued to walk the rain lessened. I wasn’t a fan of this as I often find the rain to be very photogenic. There is something about an umbrella that just looks great. The Ricoh’s fixed 28mm lens is great for street photography. If you click the above large you’ll see the amount of detail that can be captured.
I was late for work by this point. I’m often late, lol. Another thing I love about using the Ricoh is how quick it is in practice. I save three different types of settings to the “My1, 2, and 3” dial positions and never use anything else. I quickly switched between M1 and 2 for the above as I wanted a slightly shallower depth of field while maintaining a shutter speed that would allow for my continued stride.
People always rave about huge sensors. I never understood this for street photography. Sure, if you’re going to print a billboard sized print for the side of your mom’s mobile home I get it. Otherwise, the deep depth of field allows one to not worry about keeping subjects in focus. It can also make for a great sky 😉
Even though I rarely shoot from the hip, doing so with a small sensor camera like the Ricoh is much easier. It’s great for someone who is a little shier than I! It can also make shooting an the run easier for cool compositions. It would have been very difficult to get either of the above with the M9.
By this point the rain had stopped. It’s the rainy season in Korea so it rarely stops these days.
The first, is a good example of one of the other useful things about using such a camera. The silent shutter makes it far easier to compose and fire even if you’re very close to someone. People will argue that the X100 / X1 both have a similar sounding shutter. I agree, but both of those cameras (less so in the case of the X1) attract attention on their own. At least far more than the GRD does.
The second is an example of one of the things I like less about the GRD. I composed this in the viewfinder where it looked as though the mans head was visible. Imagine my dismay when I saw this, lol. Chalk that one up to user error.
This was the very next frame. I followed them in the viewfinder and got the focus right this time. It’s a little harder than composing on either the X100 or M9. That being said the same problem is present on the X1 which also employs and optical viewfinder.
I do find the viewfinder necessary though. I’m pretty happy with the the GV-2 as far as external optical viewfinders go. It helps me when composing and this one is great once you get used to it. I don’t find myself missing the M9 for that reason. Although, it should be said the viewfinder on the X100 is spectacular!
This is one of the many coffee shops around the corner from where I work. I usually stop for a coffee but I was way too late to go in, lol.
A lot of people cite one of the reasons for wanting a larger sensor camera is because of the lack of depth of field one can get from a smaller sensor camera. For traditional documentary style street photography you rarely need a shallow depth of field. I shoot my M9 at f5.6 to f8 most of the time in similar situations. This is especially true when I have a 28mm mounted. Even on the M9 a 28mm lens has a deep depth of field. In the above frame the deep depth of field really helped as I focused on the sign and kept the couple relatively sharp.
That being said, the GRD with it’s f1.9 lens and a decent macro mode you can get a little bit of depth of field. It isn’t the milky bokeh of some of the ‘lux lenses, but you can stretch it to the limit if you use your head! I shot the above at f1.9 +1 exposure compensation.
The deep depth of field works in my favor 99 percent of the time for most street photography. I missed the focus a little here but both men remained reasonably sharp.
This is right next to my school. A lot of middle school students take their lunch around the time I get to work.
As that happens often with me one of the best frames came last. I composed this in the LCD which is something I rarely do. The GRD just takes a single button press to turn on the LCD. The man didn’t even flinch as I composed.
Anyway, 20 or so photos later I got to work about a half an hour late. Something I hadn’t mentioned yet was the fact that the GRD is such a small camera that I hardly noticed it in my hand as I walked. The M9 gets heavy after just ten or so minutes.
As a bit of a disclaimer: I’m not saying you should get a camera like the Ricoh GRDIII in the stead of the M9 or X100 and expect similar results. Of course, either of the aforementioned will give you a better image technically. That being said, unless you plan on displaying your work by way of huge prints you’ll very rarely need the capability of either. Sure, both will be better at night as well, but the GRD forces you to be artistic with the grain!
If you have an extra kidney you don’t need, by all means get the M9. I have one! Honestly, I wouldn’t trade my M9 for anything. It’s a beautiful, beautiful camera and it’s easily the best camera I’ve ever used. However, for 90% of the photography I do the GRDIII would be enough. If you’re a street photographer who doesn’t want to break the bank I highly recommend this little Ricoh. Needless to say I’m a big fan.