Three cameras, three hours – M8 vs DP2 vs N8

Are all cameras equal as toosl to shoot street photography ? Or in other words, and as often read on the web, is it the photographer and not the camera? Well, with these thoughts in my mind, I headed downtown Brisbane this morning with the three cameras I currently carry along : the Nokia N8 (camera phone), the Sigma DP2 (compact camera with a large sensor) and the Leica M8 (pro camera). The idea : shoot for an hour with each of them, consecutively, and compare the output both in terms of quality and experience handling the camera.

Here are the best pictures I took with each of them during these three hours :

Sigma DP2

Nokia N8

Leica M8

The verdict (not only based on this outing obviously…)

The Leica M’s are king when out in the street. Above all because everything is faster with them (when they are fully mastered), be it focus, exposure control or composition. Add to that an amazing viewfinder and stunning image quality (in low ISO’s only though), and my only wish is that they were even smaller.
Talking about size, the DP2’s is just about perfect, allowing it to carry it around its neck for hours without noticing. Image quality is excellent at low ISO’s, meaning you’ll have to stick to outdoors. The manual focus dial is a feature that all manufacturers should look at, it is just perfect for street photography. In that line of thought, too bad Sigma did not elect to add dedicated rings or dials for exposure setting. Also too bad they made a camera that lacks reactiveness overall, be it at power on or autofocus.
As for the Nokia N8, it is the best camera phone out there today. The 12 mpx sensor with Carl Zeiss lens delivers a performance close to mid range P&S. There is also a dedicated shutter button and it does not suffer too much shutter lag. Yet it is still a phone, meaning that manual focus, exposure settings are pretty limited or buried deep down into menus. Forget also about thin depth of fields and low light photography since the noise increases significantly above ISO100. Finally, I always feel uncomfortable shooting with a camera phone, too sneaky for me.

All in all, the Nokia N8 will work ok for these shots opportunities where you don’t carry a camera along. It will also work if you show your pictures mainly on the internet and print small. The DP2 is a much cheaper alternative to pro cameras. Image quality is excellent (up to ISO400) and feels just about right in terms of size and weight. Yet, like most compact cameras, its controls are a bit quirky and you’ll miss a shot now and then because you could not get it ready on time. Finally, the Leica M8 is the complete deal. It will take time to master it but once you do, your creativity will be the only limitation left.

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