best digital cameras for photojournalism

With 2021 finally here, hopefully we can begin to put 2020 well behind us and move on from such a disastrous year. Not everything about 2020 was terrible though, and we saw some great new cameras come to market last year. With that being said, we wanted to look at what cameras are available to photographers for street photography and photojournalism, and give our picks of the 5 best available today.

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Here are our Top 5 Cameras in 2021 for Photojournalists and Street Photography

#5 – Nikon Z 6II / Z 7II

The Nikon Z 6/7 II cameras are a 2020 refresh of their 2018 original Z bodies. Back when we reviewed the original Z 6, it was the lack of dual card slots and a somewhat lacking autofocus system that kept us from completely loving the Z cameras. The new version II Z cameras are almost identical to the originals in every way, but offer dual card slots for built-in redundancy and dual processors, resulting in vastly improved autofocus speed and reliability. This was all that was needed to elevate these cameras into top-level tools for almost any type of photography, including photojournalism. 

The new Z cameras have great ergonomics, a complete feature set that isn’t lacking in any real way, and of course great Nikon image quality. If the 24 megapixels in the Z 6II aren’t enough for you, then the 45.7 megapixel Z 7II will surely suffice. When it comes to low-light and dynamic range, these current Nikon Z cameras keep-up with the best out there.

While we truly love the jack-of-all-trades aspect of the Nikon Z 6II and Z 7II, they also come as the masters-of-none. While they are strong contenders in all areas, they don’t pull ahead in any specific aspect either. This may make other cameras more appealing to some, depending on their specific needs. 

Although the Nikon Z lens lineup got-off to a slow start, it is beginning to develop into a complete system. Still though, it must be said that it lags behind most other camera systems in terms of lenses currently available. This is especially true as the lack of Z mount lenses from many third-party lens makers, such as Sigma, Tamron, Samyang, etc are a point against the Nikon Z mount for now. 

#4 – Fuji X-T4

The Fuji X-T4 sits as the lone APS-C camera on our list. It offers a great photographic experience with plenty of mechanical controls fused with modern-day tech. The camera is solidly built and brings just enough nostalgia to the user to remind them of what classic street photography was about, but without taking away any modern technological opportunities. It’s a camera with personality.

A part of that personality is Fuji’s amazing colours and rendering, complete with their classic film emulation. Where all other cameras have some form of picture styles or image processing profiles, Fuji uses 12 of their original film stocks as an emulation for their looks. This brings a bit more of that classic film feel into the images. 

The X-T4 has a solid feature-set, including 26mp resolution, 20 frames per second, 4k/60 video, dual UHS-II card slots, and a fully articulating flip-screen. It’s in-body image stabilization is rated at over 6-stops for shake-free video and sharp handheld stills. 

Fuji also has quite a desirable lens lineup for their X-system. With plenty of primes and zooms, Fujinon lenses are some of the best made. However, one should note that the cropped format means that focal length equivalence must be factored-in, and currently the widest available Fujinon X lens sits at 14mm, or about 21mm full frame equivalent. 

Being a cropped sensor body will also have some distinct disadvantages when it comes to image quality compared to the other cameras in this list. For low-light photography, the X-T4 will really struggle to compete with the full-frame sensors. For this reason, if low-light photography is a top priority, consider a full frame camera. Otherwise, the X-T4 is a true artist’s tool and a great option for street photography.

#2 (Photojournalism) – Canon EOS – R5 / R6

There is no third-place, as we have two second-place cameras for this year, but for different reasons and applications. In fact, within an inch of taking the top spot on our list are the powerhouse cameras that are the Canon EOS-R5 and R6. 

Let me start by saying that the R5 and R6 are not just good cameras; they are exceptional cameras. Where the Nikon Z II’s have no real weaknesses, Canon’s new R cameras have almost all strengths. The ‘pros’ column is so stacked, there’s not much to put in the ‘cons’ column with these new Canon mirrorless cameras. This wasn’t the case when we reviewed the original EOS-R in 2018. 

Back when we reviewed the original EOS-R, we felt like it was very hit & miss, especially when compared to the Sony A7III. We really loved the original R’s ergonomics, Dual Pixel AF speed and accuracy, as well as the amazing lcd screen and viewfinder quality. However, we felt like there were a lot of missed opportunities, mainly in the single card slot, lack of any IBIS, and a weird, useless touchbar.

The new EOS-R5 and R6 not only remedy those shortcomings from the original EOS-R, they blow past the bar set by any camera in most aspects. The new R5 & R6 have almost every feature that one could want in a camera. Just look at the stacked feature highlights for the R5 from

  • 45MP full-frame Dual Pixel CMOS sensor:
  • 8K video, with option for Raw
  • Up to 4K/120p, or oversampled 4K up to 30p
  • 100% coverage Dual Pixel II AF system with human and animal detection trained by machine learning
  • 12 fps / 20 fps bursts (mech. / elec. shutter)
  • 5.76M-dot OLED EVF with 120 fps max refresh rate
  • fully articulating touchscreen
  • 10-bit HDR photos in HEIF format
  • 1x CFexpress slot, 1x UHS-II SD slot
  • Claimed weather-sealing to EOS 5D Mark IV levels

All of this is great on paper, but it gets even better in real-world when you factor-in Canon’s renowned colour science, reliability, and professional reputation. Not to mention Canon’s RF lens lineup is packed with top-level zooms, super fast primes, and OIS lenses that work in tandem with their already class-leading IBIS. Whether you choose the 45 megapixel R5 or the 20 megapixel R6, you’re getting one of the most powerful mirrorless systems available in almost every way.

One significant downside of the RF mount is that -just like Nikon’s Z mount- there are almost no third-party lens offerings. At the Eastcore, we love our Sigma Art prime lenses as they offer an unbeatable combination of quality, performance, and value.

All of this begs the question; why not the top spot award for the R5 & R6? If we were creating a list of the best cameras for general photography in 2021, the R5 would surely be at the top. However this list is specifically for photojournalism and street photography, and there’s one big reason which you’ll read about in our top pick…

#2 (Street Photography) – Leica M10 Monochrom

Tied for #2 is a camera that is very different from the EOS-R5 & R6; the Leica M10 Monochrom. This camera is a very niche tool, designed specifically for the black & white street photographer, and let’s face it; black & white street photography is nothing short of magic when done right.

There are many who would never understand the benefit of a monochrome camera, and would ask why not just shoot colour and desaturate? The short answer is that your colour camera has something called a colour filter array, which creates colour by blocking certain spectrums from certain photosites on the sensor, then using a Bayer pattern to fill-in the gaps it creates by approximating the colours at the pixels in-between…Wow, even that sounds too technical! Let me simplify it even more; a colour sensor is always subtracting to create colour. It blocks colours and light in order to discern colours. The Leica M10 Mono has no colour filter array, so it is not masking any of the colour or light from hitting the sensor. This produces more detail and a true monochrome image with no luminance shifts, something that simply desaturating an image in post cannot do. It’s a purist thing.

The M10 Mono is certainly not a cheap camera, easily being the most expensive on our list. Many street photographers will go to great lengths and expense to experience classic street photography as their idols did, and so many of these famous great street photographers used the Leica M system and shot exclusively black & white. The M10 Mono is a tool that calls for the spirit of our idols as we create. Its goal is to use the best available technologies only if they do not adjust that time-honoured feel and formula.

If you’ve ever used a Leica M camera, be it film or digital, then you instantly understand the feelings it evokes. Unmatched physical precision and build. Purposely simple, and simply purposeful. Never lost in the times, only ever found. 

The images produced by the Leica M10 Mono are the result of not just the sensor, or lens, but the spirit of the craft. No other camera will inspire a street photographer like this one.

#1 – Sony α9 II

Taking our #1 spot for the best camera for photojournalism and street photography in 2021 is the Sony α9 II. There’s a reason that the Associated Press chose to outfit it’s entire global roster of photojournalists with the A9II in 2020, and it’s the same reason the camera takes our top spot; Silent Electronic Shutter.

The camera is a complete powerhouse in most aspects; speed, autofocus, subject recognition and tracking, image quality, high speed burst rate, etc. but it’s the blackout-free, completely silent electronic shutter that puts this camera in a league of its own. This is particularly useful for both street photographers and photojournalists. Imagine the advantages of shooting completely silent for a moment; Not alerting the subject. No clicking during a conference. Not causing any disturbance by your acquiring of the decisive moment. Complete stealth. 

Canon’s R5 & R6 do have silent electronic shutter modes as well, however they are considerably slower than that of the α9 II. The result is a skewed, rolling shutter effect in any fast moving images and horizontal banding with indoor lighting conditions on the Canons. The α9 II overcomes this by using a Stacked CMOS sensor, where the image is read off the sensor so fast that it functionally matches a traditional mechanical shutter. One other benefit of this super fast sensor is that the camera is not limited to the traditional 1/8000 sec shutter speed either, and can be pushed two full stops faster, right up to 1/32,000 sec. This means that bokeh-loving, fast prime lens users can shoot wide-open even in the sunniest of conditions.

The benefits extend far beyond just photojournalism and street photography as well. As a wedding photojournalist, I’ve been able to covertly cover surprise proposals with my α9 where a shutter clicking away would have given away my presence and ruined the moment. Zero-shutter blackout at 20 frames per second also lets you keep your eye on the action while shooting, perfect for sports photography. Wildlife photography where the silent shutter won’t spook the subject. There are so many practical benefits to the silent shooting experience, but street photography and photojournalism are prime scenarios.

The autofocus system on the α9 II is absolutely class-leading as well. Canon has just about closed the gap on Sony with their R5 & R6, but the α9 II still sets the bar when it comes to subject recognition and tracking. It just works so well that it’s almost impossible to miss the shot. In fact, it’s AF system is so good, it’s difficult to imagine any meaningful ways improve it. 

When it comes to third-party lens options, Sony’s E-mount is by far the best choice. Not only are Sigma, Tamron, Viltrox, Samyang, and other third party lenses available for the E-mount, but many of them are offering seriously compelling options. This alone is enough to warrant serious consideration of the Sony E mount over Canon’s RF or Nikon’s Z cameras. Sigma alone has some lenses that I would switch systems for. This third party lens availability is a huge factor, and something that has to be heavily considered.

The α9 II is not a perfect camera by any means, and it does have a fairly high price tag. It has been criticized for having a somewhat dated user interface and poor touch screen implementation. It could also really benefit from a fully articulating screen. At 24 megapixels, it’s not a resolution leader by any stretch, and the lack of raw video or even log profiles means it’s decidedly not meant to be a landscape photographer or video professional’s first choice.

That all being said, getting the shot without disruption is a big part of  what photojournalism and street photography are about, and this is the most competent camera in that regard. Doing it completely silently just adds a whole new world of possibilities, and can potentially even give you some second chances for shots that would have otherwise ended with a click.

That wraps-up our top 5 cameras for photojournalism and street photography going into 2021.

I’m really fascinated about photojournalism and because of that, I wanted to find out which digital cameras are most common among professional photojournalists.

Neither the Fuji X-T3 or the Sony A7 III is on the list – two of my favorite cameras.

But I think they’ll be on the list next year after the big boom in mirrorless cameras.

Start from the top, it’s really no surprise that among the winning photographers, most of them used the amazing Nikon D5. This camera is up there on my camera-wishlist – some day… Some day. I mean, just read the crazy positive reviews of the Nikon D5.

Top 8 DSLRs used photographers who won World Press Photo

 1. Nikon D5

Nikon D6: The most popular camera for award-winning press photographers.

2. Nikon D810

Nikon D810: This camera shared the first place too.

3. Canon EOS 5D Mark III

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III shared the 1st place too.

4. Nikon D800E

The Nikon 800E is the 4th most popular among the press photographers.

Notable mentions:

5th place Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

6th Place Nikon D4s

7th Place Nikon D700

8th Place Canon EOS 5D Mark II

It’s interesting to see how many photojournalists swear to Nikon DSLR and Canon DSLRs. I mean, it’s not that shocking they are represented a lot – but 50% of the World Press Photo Winners shoots with a Nikon. Well done Nikon.

If you see the complete list, you will also find a couple of Fujifilm and Sony cameras. Personally, I use the Fujifilm x100f for documentary photography, street photography, and portraits. But I want to go more into photojournalism and that’s why I have my eyes on the sexy this sexy camera.

So what camera is the best for photojournalism?

To get the data, I look at the most popular cameras used by the winning photographers of the World Press Photo Award 2020 and this is the list of cameras of the most popular cameras.

It’s a tough one. And course, it depends on what your needs are, but for me, I’d pick a camera that

  • Has amazing image quality and IQ – of course.
  • Is lightweight.
  • Can record Video in HD.
  • Has fast autofocus and shutter.

But most importantly I’d go for a camera I feel comfortable with, and so should you. I tried my friend’s Nikon D6 and feel in love with it – but that doesn’t mean it’s the right camera for you. And what you will use it for matters a lot. If you are into war photography or photographing a place that is very dangerous, you might want to go with a small camera, compared to a heavy DSLR. If you plan to use your camera for a lot of travel, these cameras might be better for you.

That’s my take. I, myself want to dig a lot further into press photography, documentary photography, and photojournalism and while I think books are what makes you a better photographer, I also really love to daydream about my future cameras. When I began doing photography, I got myself the small Ricoh GR II and to this day, that keeps being the camera I carry around mostly because it’s pocketable. It takes great black and white portraits and the JPGs look awesome. If you want you can see some of my black and white photography and my candid street photography.

Alright, I hope you get a bit closer to finding the camera of your dreams. And if you are a photojournalist or you study photojournalism, I wish you all the best and stay safe.

In terms of lenses, these are my favorite from Fuji, if that’s what you are shooting on.

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