As we all know, phones these days take great, high-quality pictures and have all but replaced the casual photographer's need for any other devices—but they can only take you so far. If you're truly looking to pursue photography more seriously, you're going to need to buy an actual camera.
Those can often be prohibitively expensive—but tech companies have recently begun to change the paradigm by offering mirrorless cameras, making it easier, lighter, and much, much cheaper to shoot than ever before. "You don't have to walk around with a crazy setup," says Steve Irby (follow him @stevesweatpants), photographer and cofounder of Street Dreams, a print magazine that sources each issue's photos from the Instagram community. "Mirrorless is the best way to go."
Irby began Street Dreams as a publishing project with two other friends in November 2013, and it's now grown into a multitasking outfit with a 15-person staff and upward of 250,000 followers on Instagram. In addition to the publication, the company is currently producing a campaign with Honda and frequently organizes educational talks, photo shows, and meetups where both veteran and amateur photographers gather to walk around a given city and shoot photos together.
In short: Irby's magazine is hard at work creating its own cool, unpretentious photography scene, so those picking up a camera for the first time can instantly have a community to learn with and to become a part of.
The term "mirrorless" refers to a camera that is made, as you might imagine, without a mirror; big-body, professional cameras (DSLRs) use an internal mirror that reflects light onto a sensor—that's what creates an image. Mirrorless ones perform that process digitally. Users still have full command over the image: you can control the focus, the amount of light in a photo, and even use different lenses depending on your subject.
"Mirrorless cameras have the same image quality as DSLRs," says Irby. As a self-taught photographer himself, Irby empathizes with budding lensmen trying to start from scratch. "Everything I learned about photography was through trial and error," he says of his beginnings. His keys to getting started? "You just need to talk to your friends, use YouTube tutorials for what you don't know, and have the will to figure it out," he says.
And, of course, you'll need a good camera. So if you're ready to take the first step, here's Irby's list of the top mirrorless cameras to pick up right now.
The Preferred Starter
"This camera will not only fit in your pocket, but it's just as fast as a DSLR," says Irby. "That's an important factor when you're trying to sneak a photo on the street without looking too suspicious." He calls it "the perfect entry point" for the price.
The Stable Choice
After seeing a friend shoot with Sony's flagship mirrorless option, Irby decided to try it out for himself. "Having built-in stabilization makes it perfect for shooting in party environments," he says.
The First Love
The Fujifilm XT-1 was Irby's first mirrorless camera. "Sometimes people don't really realize how powerful this machinery is," he says. "It comes equipped with a solid set of lenses—it's almost a steal for the price." The best part? "It's weatherproof," says Irby. "That's something to consider in these streets."
The Dream Camera
The price of the fittingly named "Dream Camera" is by no means pocket-friendly, but if you're willing to shell out the cash, Irby says Leica's most recent mirrorless offering is "the difference between having a hobby and taking photography seriously." The high-end camera is made in Germany from two solid blocks of aluminum, designed to offer crisp photos in low-light situations; it offers photographers the unique ability to change the focal point by touching the screen—kind of like an iPhone, but better.
Save this shopping list, and once you're all set up with your camera, head to the Street Dreams website for some photographic inspiration: streetdreamsmag.co