Leica, Nikon, and Sony Walk Into a Bar: Notes for Street Photography

I bought my first DSLR camera in 2009. It was the Nikon D60, a subpar D40 improvement with a kit zoom lens. Predictably, I was bad.

Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to explore a few kits while figuring out what works best for Fashion Mews: a fast, lightweight full-frame camera for street photography.

This will not be a gear porn post. When you know what you want to shoot, you’ll find the set of gear that’ll help you accomplish your vision. Hopefully this guide will help you with that.

My notes won’t be too technical (I highly recommend Ken Rockwell for that), and in the end I’ll add some recommendations that can keep up with these systems.

minimal in Amsterdammost photogenic coffee shops of ParisNikon D750 with 35mm 1.4G (~$3,900) 

Nikon basically tried to take their crazy-sharp D810 and give it an even faster autofocus, which is what we have with the D750.

We love the way the D750 handles and its tankiness. You can feel the quality of the build and its responsiveness when you’re shooting.

Pros
– Can shoot in rain or adverse weather conditions (weather-sealed)
– Super fast autofocus system
– Surprisingly compact 35mm lens, so it hangs from the body quite well
– Great custom/fast ISO buttons, better grip
– Battery life is insane
– Impressive video

Cons
– Still one of the heavier gear layouts
– The viewfinder is manual, so your shot won’t always end up with what you’re seeing
– Focus area management is not intuitive

fashion mews marble greyfashion mews mellowness hong kong travel journal
Sony A7 II with Zeiss 35mm 1.4 (~$3,300) 

I’m impressed with how committed Sony has been with their alpha series and how they’ve pushed the envelope to get full-frame solutions lighter and lighter.

But with RX1R II and the latest A7R release, everything else before it was a mixed bag, including the A7 II. I started shooting Fashion Mews seriously with the A7 II, and the buggy interface and battery woes are my top complaints from Sony. Worse, because Sony aggressively pushed iterations (A7R II launched less than a year after my A7 II), the body value dropped.

Pros
– Great build, crazy built-in, sensor-based image stabilizer
– Best electronic view-finder I’ve used to-date
– Mirrorless, the future?

Cons
– Buggy software
– iPhone battery life
– The 35mm lens is so big compared to the A7II body, carrying it feels “off-balance” as a result
– ISO inconsistent performance

fashion mews alcatrazVegas travel journal
Leica Q ($4,250) 

Let me preface this with a few things: a) I’ve never shot with Leica, b) this thing is shamelessly expensive, and c) maybe worth.

I didn’t even know I wanted to shoot at 28mm until I came across the Q. Is it Leica’s home-grown, OLPF-free 24-megapixel sensor or the f/1.7 lens? Regardless, we were stunned by how much each photo looked like a painting.

Everything seems to just float in the picture, with all the weird discoloring going on the peripheral edges of the frame and moire-effects. But we loved it all, strangely!

Pros
– You can feel the German engineering, great look & grip
– Insanely light
– Very simple, intuitive controls, shoots right out of the box
– Super quiet

Cons
– Prohibitively expensive
– Moire and weird artifacting comes and goes, especially around the edges of the frame
– Video was an afterthought

Conclusion

So what did we settle on? We believe the Nikon D750 is the principle shooter/back-up when we want a serious shoot, otherwise the Leica Q is a joy to carry around and lightweight enough to do the trick. It’s not meant to fully replace a DSLR (I don’t think it’s there, especially if you care about video), but it’s on a completely different island of its own.

If you’re currently shooting with a 50mm full-frame, I think you’ll love the 35mm/28mm prime lenses and what they each have to offer. Let us know in the comments what your experiences have been, especially if you’ve had any experiences with the Fujifilm X-T1 ($1,400), which I heard is amazing for the price point.

As always, thanks for reading!

28 thoughts on “Leica, Nikon, and Sony Walk Into a Bar: Notes for Street Photography

  1. I never tried the Nikon (I’ve been a lifelong Canon user) but I recently switched over to the Sony A7RII with a lens adapter for all the Canon lenses and I love it! Some of the lenses don’t autofocus quickly enough (mostly zoom), so I have to rely on manual focusing at times, but the manual focusing guides and completely accurate preview is amazing. Plus, it performs so well in low light!

    I would love to have a Leica handy too. Ultimately, a lot of the photo comes down to the quality of the lens, and the biggest improvements have come from switching up lenses based on photo situation.
    xo
    N
    Style Tomes || Instagram

    • Yuka,

      The tax for full-frame. There are a ton of DX/half-crop bodies that you can use, pop on a 35mm (which then acts like a psuedo-50mm), and then you’re good to go! But I’d rent the X-T1 and see if full-frame’s worth the scrilla. Best of luck!

  2. I loved seeing the Sony a7s on this list; I’ve been desperately looking for any signs of blogger opinions on these guys. I’m caught between that awkward place where I want do devote quality photos to my blog but it’s not a source of income at all so as a person who loves to travel light, lugging around a huge full frame DSLR greatly dampens my enjoyment while traveling / shooting. Ever since Sony came out with their mirrorless line it was like my prayers answered, and I’ve been waiting for the a7 to become well accepted into the photography community before buying into the ecosystem.

    So happy to read your thoughts on it, thank you for sharing this!!

    xo, alice / T Y P E N U

  3. I always like to see how other bloggers are shooting their photos so thank you for this post! I recently got the Leica Q too. I wanted to dislike it or at least not think it was worth the price, but I am sadly loving it so far. I do feel like it’s good enough to replace my Nikon D600 in many instances and is just so sharp!! But yeah I’ve definitely noticed that “moire” (didn’t know what to call it) in some pictures sometimes. The Nikkor 35mm f/1.4 you posted seems amazing though! I so need that lens!

    freshfizzle

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