What is the best lens for street photography? There are many articles and discussions on this topic, and every photographer has their own suggestion and a personal favorite. In the new Kai Wong’s video (a.k.a.
Digital rev Kai) , you can see all three of these lenses compared in the streets of Hong Kong. So, what’s the judgement?
Most street photographers swear by a 50mm lens. This lens has a ton of advantages, and it really is a must-have for street photography. For most people, it is the first prime lens they buy after a kit lens. It was also my first prime after a cheap 18-55mm, and I am very much in love with it to this day. It’s also a great entry lens for street photography.
One of the advantages of 50mm lenses is not related with the quality of the images they can produce. It’s the price. There are expensive models, of course, but you can find a decent “fifty” at a $100 price. It’s a very good deal for a lens like this.
By using a 50mm with a full-frame body, what you see is what you shoot. It allows you to snap a photo the moment you see something interesting, without having to come closer to the subject or move further away. This lens doesn’t require you to get too close, which is good for the shy street photographers. Shyness is not really a desirable trait of street photographers though, but we can forgive that to the beginners.
Another great thing about a 50mm lens is that it’s very flattering for people shots. The proportions of the human body look just right. If you are a fan of shallow depth of field, again, 50mm is the way to go.
While there certainly are many advantages, there are some limitations of a 50mm. First of all, you may often find yourself against the wall, with no place to move further. If you want to create a bit wider frame, the 50mm can make it impossible. It’s especially the case if you use a crop body, since the focal length here equals 75mm on a full-frame camera.
What’s also negative about this lens is that it can make everything too tight in a frame. It doesn’t leave room for more context. And this is precisely where a 35mm steps onto the scene.
A 35mm is sort of a golden mean between a 50mm and a 28mm. It is only a bit wider than the 50mm, which means that you can capture the same scenes you would with the 50mm, but you only need to get a bit closer. This can be a good practice for breaking the barrier and interacting with people when taking the shot. At the same time, if you need a slightly wider angle and want to capture more details, a 35mm is ideal for this purpose. It allows you to include more details and put your subject in a broader context. All this together makes 35mm a great travel lens. If you use a crop body, 35mm is what a 50mm is for a full-frame camera.
Although the angle of a 35mm is wider, it still doesn’t have too strong distortion, and it is on the very edge of making people look a bit strange. Keep in mind, though, that you won’t get a shallow depth of field as you would with a 50mm.
A 28mm is definitely not a usual choice of street photographers. Most people think it’s too wide for street photography and they rarely use it. But don’t discard it yet, because it can give surprisingly interesting results.
If you want to photograph people with a 28mm, you will have to get close. Really close. If you don’t have a problem with such interaction – good. You’ll get very interesting portraits of strangers. The 28mm creates a bit of wide-angle distortion, but just enough to make the photos a bit quirky.
With this lens, you will be able to capture a whole lot of details and place your subject in a very broad context. As Kai says, “this lens is on the very edge of what is usable and versatile for street photography.”
The wide frame has its disadvantages, though. Although you can include a lot of details and context into the photos, you will sometimes struggle to keep the background tidy. Another thing that adds to this is the fact that a 28mm doesn’t provide you with shallow depth of field. Still, this lens can give you a unique perspective and help you create some interesting street shots.
What’s your choice of lens (or lenses) for street photography? Did you change your preferences over the years? Any tips or tricks you would suggest? We’d like to hear your thoughts.