Unobtrusive cameras

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by Jock Elliott, Sep 10, 2014.

  1. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    There appears to be a widely held belief on the Internet that range-finder style cameras are less noticeable -- less likely to cause people who are being photographed to notice the photographer -- that, say, DSLR-type cameras. And, frankly, I tend to believe it. (I once saw a film of Cartier-Bresson working with his Leica and in it, he cupped the Leica in his hand and hid it behind his forearm when not actually shooting with it. Another video showed a street photographer working with a medium-format film rangefinder and a flash at close range; he couldn't have been more obtrusive if he had neon lights and clown makeup.)

    But not all DSLR-style cameras are created equal. Some of the Olympus OMD cameras are pretty darn small while a Nikon D800 looks swollen to me.

    So here's the question: has anyone ever done any tests to determine the "noticeability" of various camera sizes/configurations?

    Alternatively, if any of the shooters here have experience in switching from one camera to another and seeing a difference in the reaction of the "photographees," please chime in.

    Cheers, Jock
  2. demiro

    demiro Serious Compacts For Life

    Dec 15, 2011
    I've alternately used DSLRs and mirrorless cameras and I think the difference in reaction is significant. People are aware of the DSLR and will often act differently because of it. A smaller camera does not generally cause that to happen.
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  3. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    Not scientifically, no. But I shoot a lot, and I would say the least noticed camera I use is the X100 by a landslide, followed but the 79 Minolta SLR, then the X-T1, and finally the old Yashica A TLR. Cannot count how many times people would view images from the X100 on Facebook of Flickr and say "I had no idea you even took that." The size, the "look" of it, and also the near-complete lack of any operating noise just keeps it below most peoples' radar. I got better candids and "real" facial expressions on that camera... I notice it now using the X-T1 all the time, that it's nearly impossible to get the real expressions. The T has forced me to face the fact that sometimes you have to actually engage your subject. Like, smile at them and try to convey "I'm about to take your picture everything's ok hope you're ok with this -click-" instead of just quietly snapping something and then stowing the camera ASAP.
  4. ReD

    ReD Hall of Famer

    Mar 27, 2013
    I noticed that people discounted / ignored my F660 but are far more aware of the X10 - which itself is not huge in size but I suppose looks a bit more serious & more camera like
    Not done a huge amount of casual portraits with the X10 so more practice is needed. Using the viewfinder is a signal.
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  5. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    This is true. When the camera comes up to your eye, subjects 1) notice you have a camera, and 2) realize it might be a good camera. I use the back screen a lot in stealth mode.
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  6. If looking for ultimate stealth, using your smart phone is great.

    I personally love the smaller package of the compacts. You can take great images, without looking like that "annoying photographer" at parties.
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  7. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Stealth's as much a state of mind as function of camera. The more you move about, the more you faff, the more attention that you will attract, regardless of whether or not you actually have a camera in your hand. In the real world, a chrome Leica M, with or without red dot is no more or less obtrusive than a black one. If you blend in to your surroundings, you will have more freedom to photograph. Thus, wear a suit in the City, tweed and gore-tex in the country and if you really want to be invisible in an urban environment, put on a day-glo waistcoat - you immediately become "street furniture" like street sweepers and utility workers and will attract hardly any attention at all.

    There are a couple of other factors at play. The smaller or less obtrusive your camera, the more you feel stealthy and the more you will be stealthy - this is positive reinforcement. Secondly, there is an argument that says that once you have been noticed, a rangefinder form factor is less threatening than an SLR, because it covers less of the face.
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  8. Richard

    Richard Top Veteran

    Feb 1, 2013
    Marlow, UK
    Also, when you appear in photographs yourself - which is generally unavoidable at parties and on trips - it's better to be carrying a small camera which you can discreetly slip into a pocket rather than to be recorded for posterity with a honking great DSLR and zoom lens around your neck.

    Unless. that is, you like the Clark Griswold on vacation look.

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  9. usayit

    usayit Veteran

    Sep 4, 2010
    I found that its your bodily behavior that matters a lot regardless of the camera of choice. If the first thing you notice on a person is a camera and they are consciously "managing" it because of its heft and size, then its going to matter.
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  10. Gubrz

    Gubrz O.* Gonzo's & Bentley's Dad

    Jun 5, 2012
    Austin, TX
    i think it really comes down to your comfort with a camera in public
    if you THINK a huge large format camera makes you less noticeable than an pentax q7, then it will be, for you, at that time.
    because youll feel confident, and you wont be as worried about being noticed
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  11. wojconner

    wojconner Regular

    Aug 20, 2014
    Now that the X-T1 will get the firmware silent shutter upgrade, do you think that will change or is it strictly more noticeable, than the x100, because of it's size and shape?
  12. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    the WHAT?
  13. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    As for your question, it would help a little, yeah. It kinda SHHLACKs now. It's not a big derned camera, honestly, and it's all black and fairly "70's film" looking. With a small lens on it, it requires none of that "handling" that was so aptly mentioned a few posts ago. I often just have it hung diagonally around behind my back, with my arms and hands doing normal people things, not photographer things. When I want to shoot, I swing one hand back, bring it up, and get it over with quickly.
  14. serhan

    serhan All-Pro

    May 7, 2011
    When everybody uses cell phones these days, anything bigger then normal P&S gets attention, even an A7R with a small lens esp with its slr look. When people uses dslrs around me, then it's less likely. Also older looking camera like silver OMD was getting attention, eg old camera with shiny screen, what is that? :) I think small factor of GM1 with a small prime and silent shutter works for me compared to bigger cameras like OMD, A7R, XT1, etc.
  15. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
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  16. wojconner

    wojconner Regular

    Aug 20, 2014
    Since I ask an inordinate amount of less than intelligent questions I thought I would open with a good one ;)
    There seemed to be some confusion between Fuji's press releases since Fuji USA forgot to mention the silent shutter firmware upgrade for existing X-T1 owners, but Fuji headquarters included it so I'm going with that one. I suppose the rumored Olympus firmware update providing electronic shutter will also make that body silent but we'll see.

    On the unobtrusive front, I recently noticed that even with my small Ricoh people quickly noticed as I brought it up to my chest to take a shot, but they rarely gave it more attention than that. When street shooting with a D7100 their facial expressions looked a little more annoyed. I was shooting with a wide angle lens, so it was nothing creepy looking.

    However, as one would expect, you can basically stick a cell phone anywhere in front of your face and in street shooting nobody pays any attention to it - go figure. This is why the new iphone 6 may become my edc camera with a compact mirrorless as a backup. I'll be looking at the not yet announced GM5 or LX100 as possibilities.
  17. KillRamsey

    KillRamsey Super Moderator

    Jun 20, 2012
    Cambridge, MA
    Any reason I shouldn't use the electronic shutter all the time when it becomes available to me?
  18. wojconner

    wojconner Regular

    Aug 20, 2014
    You and me both will have to wait to see how it works once it comes out. According to amazon the x100t with electronic shutter will be out before the new X-T1, but I don't know when they'll roll out the firmware updates. Until then, it's hard to say. I don't know if it'll have the same issues as Panasonic's electronic shutter in certain lighting, which I hear is rare and not a major issue.

    For me, the lack of a silent shutter held me back from jumping on the Fuji X-T1 wagon since the d7100 wasn't that much bigger and it came with dslr benefits; but now I'll be looking for the next sale. I returned my d7100 when the lens AF motor stopped working (thank you costco) along with my Ricoh GR which had massive lens coma after two weeks of testing.I also sold off the aging d300 so I'm fresh out of contemporary street photography equipment; trying to get by with a canon s95 and the shutter lag is atrocious.
  19. john m flores

    john m flores All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    How you carry yourself is way more important than how you carry your camera. I have had the most success when I photographed deliberately and acted like I had a purpose. I think that people pick up that vibe and leave me to be, no matter what camera I am holding.
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  20. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    The electronic shutter on the GX7 was a bit of an issue for street shooting if you had moving subjects near the edge of the frame. I don't fully understand the issue, but something to do with the sensor writing sequentially across it or up or down at only about 1/10 of a second. The shutter speed is very fast so any part of the frame may be as fast as 1/8000, but there may be a difference up to 1/10 of a second between when one part of the sensor and another are actually recorded. Which can sort of stretch people out. This shot is probably the most visible example of the effect I have - the 12mm Olympus lens does not distort like this on it's own:

    [​IMG]GX7 West Chester-6-Edit by ramboorider1, on Flickr

    As for obtrusive, I find that any camera I raise to my face is noticed, regardless of size. Any camera I shoot from the hip is unobrusive, regardless of size. In a really quiet environment a silent shutter can matter, but in most street shooting situations, it's really a non-issue...

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