On Gear / Equipment

If you are interested in the equipment I use for street photography, here is the list of the tools I usually take along when I head to the street.

Camera : Leica M9 rangefinder camera  (18mpx, 24 x 36 CCD sensor)

I find that rangefinders are the best tool for street photography, though any camera will perfectly suit if you master it. Therefore I use mainly the Leica M9, which is the only digital rangefinder currently in production. To me, the manual focus, the framelines system, the unobstrusiveness and the small size of the Leica M’s make it the best choice for street photography. Unluckily, the M9 is also a very expensive camera. Cheaper options do exist in the form of the Leica M8 (1.3 crop factor), the Epson R-D1 (1.5 crop factor) or, why not, the large range of film rangefinders (Leica M2 to 7, Bessa, Zeiss Ikon, etc…). If you wish an even more compact system, the Leica X1 or Sigma DP2 are good options that can host external viewfinders with framelines and mimick some of the rangefinders characteristics.

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Lens 1 : 35mm F1.4 Leica Summilux Asph (Version I)
A contrasty lens with a gorgeous look wide open. It weights only 320 grams for a length of 46mm and forms a well balanced combo with the Leica M9. It boasts a state of the art performance at all F stops together with a great balance of clarity and contrast. The one lens to own for a lifetime.

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Lens 2 : 60mm F1.2 Konica Hexanon
A two in one type of lens. Indeed, its softer wide open look makes it perfect for portraits and poetic atmospheres. By F1.4, it becomes the sharpest M lens on center with soft corners for spectacular transitions to unsharp planes. By F2.8, it shows all the qualities of a modern lens with high contrast and great sharpness from center to corners. Its extraordinary build quality and handling, all in a smaller weight and size (400 grams) than other super fast lenses, make it a great complement to the 35mm lens. Unluckily, this amazing lens was produced in only 800 samples and is very difficult to find on the used market.

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I do like to experiment with lenses and own a few other ones, yet this 2 lens system is very portable and covers 99% of my needs in terms of framing. As I like to say, keep it simple and concentrate on what is happening in the street, rather then what’s in your bag. Finally, I do not use hoods for my lenses to keep the overall size of my system as small as possible. I do get very occasional flare but do not mind as it often results in an interesting effect to my pictures.

3 original Leica M8/9 batteries – stay out of third party suppliers, I only had bad experiences with their products.

1 x 46mm and 1 x 58mm UV filter for lens protection – since I don’t use hoods, I still like to have a protection of the front element of my lenses.
1 x 46mm and 1 x 58mm ND 0.6 filter (ND for Neutral Density) for shooting in bright light wide open (reduces light by two stops).
Note that I only use B+W or Heliopan filters. Avoid cheap filters, they can degrade the quality of your pictures.

Gossen Digisix light meter. Since I use my camera in manual mode only, this external light meter comes in handy for those situations where you need to get a quick reading of the light conditions. This device obviously can meter reflective and incident light but, of course, the later one is the only way to go in street photography.

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Domke F5XB Camera Bag. When in Paris, I usually carry my camera on a strap around my shoulder (or hand) and have my second lens with accessories in a jacket or a very small leather bag. Yet when travelling, the Domke F5XB bag is absolutely great as it easily can carry your camera plus 2 lenses, all above accessories, a cellphone and your documents. I especially like the fact that it has both a zip and a velcro band. Indeed, it makes it especially difficult for these erring hands to get in your bag and remove discreetly your favorite gear. I also own a Leicatime Luigi half case to protect my camera but hardly ever use it since the Leica M9 handles much better without a case. As for my camera strap, I asked Luigi for a special customized version with both sides of the strap in finished leather. This way it slides easily over any clothing, including winter jackets.

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Post processing. I use exclusively Adobe Lightroom 3.0 which provides a great balance between functionalities and time invested to come up with satisfactory results. I use an Imac 24’’ to view my pictures and print them on a HP9180 (A3+), mainly on Canson Satin paper.

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