How To Make Your Camera Invisible

Street photographers often speak of the importance of a camera that’s invisible.

In other words, one that is not conspicuous and draws attention, so candid shots can be made without anyone noticing.

Which is why phone cameras have become so popular for this kind of work.

But for me, of far more importance is making the camera invisible to yourself. 

What I mean is not some magical act where the camera literally evaporates into thin air, but doing all you can to help the camera get out of the way of you, consistently excellent photographs, and the greatest possible enjoyment of your photography experience.

In this pursuit, factors like the physical size and specifications of the camera are largely irrelevant. 

Most important is finding a camera that fits you and your particular approach best.

From how it physically feels and handles when you use it, to how easy you find it to set up each time you use it, to how predictably and consistently it delivers images you love, with the minimum of frustration.

How basic the camera is, is also only part of the story.

You might have a very capable DSLR that you’ve set up to use on full Program mode, Auto Focus, Auto ISO, producing 6MP JPEG images not dissimilar to what you could achieve with a decade old digital compact.

But the luxurious handling of the DLSR, the fact that it has a viewfinder, and allows you to change lenses (even if you only have two), make it far more invisible (and enjoyable) to use than that old digital compact would be.

With my photography, I’m realising that while there are similar features and settings I use across a handful of cameras, the individual set up that makes them each near invisible is unique to each one. 

There are basic requirements that need to be filled right from the outset for me, such as handling and ergonomics. Even if sometimes the camera’s out of the box shape needs a little help with some foam tape and grip tape.

Ahem, Lumix LX3.

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But if a camera has poor, awkward, frustrating handling, that’s beyond modification, it’s the end of the affair for me.

Once that’s out of the way, the next decision is usually what kind of images I want to make with it.

Colour or b/w? Crisp and sharp or edgy and grainy? Straight out of camera, or happy to process with Snapseed?

This is greatly influenced by both the len(es) the camera has, and its sensor, in the case of digital.

For example my Pentax K100D delivers lovely colours at native ISO (200) straight out of camera. So that’s how I use it.

My Lumix LX3 has an excellent dynamic mono mode that gives me moody, inky b/w photos, roughened up further still by using ISO400. So that’s how I use that camera.

I think with each camera, once it’s passed the ergonomics entrance exam, we need to use it for a while to find how we like it best. To try to let its own personality and capabilities come to the fore.

Then we can start deciding how to set up so it’s as invisible as possible, and gives us that near seamless, flowing experience.

The opposite of an invisible camera is simply one that puts so many obstacles in between you using it in a rewarding and enjoyable way, that it’s not worth the effort and frustration to persist with it. 

I’ve had more than a few, and I’m sure you have too.

Sometimes it’s good to have the challenge of getting decent images out of a camera that seems to be doing everything it can to sabotage that happening.

But that challenge soon wears thin.

Like a toxic relationship where you’re constantly bickering and bringing each other down, you’re better off without it, and instead putting your time and energy into a camera (or people) you love being with.

Whilst all cameras need a chance to let their unique talents reveal themselves, you generally know pretty soon if there are any aspects that are deal breakers, and mean you’ll never make this one an invisible camera.

Over the last couple of years I’ve gathered perhaps six cameras I know and love well enough to class them as invisible.

They meet the criteria we’ve talked about above – great handling, easy to set up how you want and to let their personality and capability come to the fore, and regularly delivering pleasing images.

(If you’re interested, they’re the Ricoh GX100, Ricoh GRD III, Pentax Q, Panasonic Lumix LX3, Pentax K100D, and Pentax K-m.)

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Invisible cameras is a subject we’ve talked about before, and one I’m sure we will again, because I believe invisible cameras are so fundamental to enjoying the photography experience.

How about you? How important has it been for you to find cameras you can make invisible?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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6 thoughts on “How To Make Your Camera Invisible”

  1. To me more important factor that has been overlooked is batteries in cams. After having to deal with proprietary batteries with short use in Olympus C-770, not only that model but with most all cams that require proprietary battery with its own chargers are ridiculous and $$ driven by companites. I have given up with cams that is not AA battery compatible!!

    1. I think sticking to cameras that use AA batteries is a very good plan.

      When I was into film I ended up doing this, as there are perhaps six different other types of lithium battery and all were usually more expensive than the cameras I was putting them in!

      Most of the early to mid 80s point and shoots used AAs, and a surprising number of electronic SLRs.

      On the digital front I’ve taken two approaches.

      1. AA batteries! My Pentax K100d and K-m uses AAs, and though my K30 has a lithium battery, you can get an adapter so it takes AAs in the same cavity, which I’ll probably invest in as I have two good sets of AA rechargeables.

      My great little Fuji S7000 also takes AAs.

      2. Cameras that use the same battery. My three favourite digital compacts are the Ricoh GX100, GRD III and Lumix LX3. All three use the same battery type, so I have I think five or six batteries I can use in any of them.

      1. I’m sure the LX3 is coming down all the time. I paid about £75 for mine a couple of years ago. Fantastic camera and excellent value, though like me you might have to tape it up a bit to make the handling work!

  2. I think the answer to making my camera invisible to others and making it invisible to yourself may be the same: familiarity. Only by being intimately familiar with how a camera feels and operates can I look like I am supposed to be doing what I am doing. And that’s the key to being invisible in plain sight.

    1. Familiarity yes, I agree. But, I have to like a camera enough to invest the time needed to get familiar. If it puts up too many obstacles I lose patience.

      Are there cameras you’ve tried but given up on before you’ve become as familiar with them as you’d like Doug?

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