A lot of aspiring street photographers often get confused in figuring out what lens is the best for street photography?
It is because street photography is so varied that the choice of lenses becomes vast. If you are a street photographer, you by default become a portrait photographer, a photo-journalist, a documentary photographer and sometimes a fine art photographer as well.
So you would need a lens that can click all of the above types of images really well. Now, which is the best lens for that?
The short and straight answer is None!
The choice of lens in street photography is very personal and varies from photographer to photographer. The lens choice also depends on your style of street photography, your comfort zone, your creative concepts, etc.
Here, in this article, I have given a basic idea of which type of lens is good for what purpose and what are its advantages and disadvantages.
PRIME VS ZOOM
So before going into the details lets first decide on the category of lenses.
Prime lenses are basically the ones which do not zoom and have a fixed focal length. Majority of street photographers prefer a prime lens over a zoom lens. Even I prefer a prime as well.
It’s because of a lot of reasons!
Primarily, as prime lenses have a fixed focal length, they act as, what we call, a creative constraint! Meaning, it doesn’t give you much flexibility in terms of creative comfort and has its limitations.
But the bright side to this is, it lets you explore your creativity. By using a prime lens, you have to hustle and work harder to make an interesting frame. This usually results in better photos. Also, Prime lenses are really lightweight, portable and won’t put much strain on your hands.
Prime lenses are usually called fast lenses because they let you click images at faster shutter speeds by providing really wide apertures. This helps to create depth in your photos and also makes shooting in low light conditions way easier. They also focus much faster than zoom lenses because of a simple elemental construction.
Zoom lenses, on the other hand, are heavy, huge to carry around in the streets, put a lot of strain on your hands and do not provide as wide apertures as the prime lenses do. Thus, it doesn’t help in low light situations. Also, because of its complex elemental construction, the focus is comparatively slow.
Another major factor with zoom lenses is, it doesn’t let you hustle and makes you lazy since you can click at any focal length without changing your position. In short, it helps you to stay in your comfort zone.
That doesn’t mean they are not suitable for street photography. A lot of photographers have got really amazing pictures by using zoom lenses on the streets!
But the majority use prime lenses and I would advise you to do that.
Now, that you have picked your category, let’s discuss focal length!
Wide lenses that are below 35mm in street photography can be seen as very difficult to use. You’re shooting people and you really want them to be the main focal point in your photo. In order for this to happen with anything under 35mm you’ll need to be really close, kind of “in their face”. Some still argue that a 24mm is great for street work. I don’t but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth exploring.
Arguably, 35mm is the most used focal length by street photographers. I personally still find it too wide and also not as flattering as a 50mm. If used in portraits it still doesn’t, in my opinion, show the person as they are. With a 35mm you still have to be a bit aggressive in your street photography, a bit too much in people’s faces. It’s not a lens that gives me the most pleasure as I just enjoy keeping a certain distance to my subject.
The 50mm is, for me, the ideal street photography lens. Actually, it’s an ideal lens full stop. End of the story!
It has the most applications of any focal length, which makes it really versatile and thus they are often referred to as the “nifty fifty”, the versatile lens. If you have to buy one lens only, go for the 50mm. There is barely any distortion as opposed to the 35mm. It feels just right!
Beyond 50mm you’ll be struggling a bit as often it’ll be too tight a crop and you’ll find yourself moving really back until you end up hitting a wall. Of course, for anyone intimidated by shooting strangers, it’s helpful but maybe too helpful and you’ll probably be far too detached from the scene you are shooting and the whole point is to sometimes get out of your comfort zone, be a little more immersed.
Having written all this, I have to say I keep going back and forth between 35 and 50mm. They both are interesting to use and any street photographer should probably own them both.
Have any doubts? Please comment below to let us know!
Also, check out Full-frame Or Crop Sensor? Here’s The Answer!