Last Updated on January 23, 2022
Useful Lenses for Street Photography
Street Lenses Guide
Photography wouldn’t be what it is without the existence of it’s most notorious tools; lenses. The biggest problem with lenses is that there are just too many available for us out there, and picking up on one without prior knowledge could be a very confusing task.
Before digging deeper into lenses, we need to discuss something. Street photography is a genre that tickles people after 6 to 12 months on average after they’ve bought their first entry-level interchangeable lens camera system. This supposes that people have a slight understanding about exposure, composition, and how focal lengths work (especially in terms of aperture).
All the cameras that we stated here (Best Cameras for Street Photography) aren’t capable of interchanging their lenses but have focal lengths that are very much appreciated by street photographers. Therefore they are usually the type of cameras passionate street photographers tend to pick.
Said that any camera is good for experimenting on the streets, and some lenses work better than others. After the craft gets polished, some cameras start working better than others on the streets, but that’s something based on personal style and experiences.
1. On the Kit-Lens
This one goes for the people that are still finding their voice and have just recently bought their first Camera, which could be a DSLR or a Mirrorless-Camera System. Camera manufacturers won’t like this, and many “pros” have made a great effort on giving a hard beating on this poor thing. The kit lens is a great lens, and not because of its limitations, but for its wide focal range.
Kit-lenses usually span from 18mm to 55mm, offering extremely wide lens options and a slight telephoto experience. They also impose a huge limitation on aperture, running from f/3.5 to f/5.6 as soon as you start zooming in. This teaches a valuable lesson for those having a hard time understanding aperture.
The trick with the kit-lens is to keep track of the most regular position you use when shooting with it. If you tend to keep it near the widest values, perhaps you’ll want a 24mm lens for the streets, if you like the feeling a mid-barrel extension gives to you, a 35mm will be your best friend, and if you like to zoom-in to the maximum, perhaps you’ll need a 50, an 85 or even a longer lens for the streets.
From here on, we’ll talk about fixed focal lengths that all camera manufacturers develop, the only variable in them is aperture, coatings, construction materials, sealings, focusing motors, image stabilizers, and other things.
2. 28mm Lenses
This might feel too wide for some street photographers, but there are some that love the feeling that it delivers. Use your kit-lens near this position before deciding whether you love it or hate it. Street photographers tend to capture both people and context in single frames that synthesize the whole experience into one single composition.
Therefore, bokeh is not a regular technique on street photography because it isolates the subject too much by placing the background in a secondary role.
These focal lengths are great for shrunken places like markets or tiny interiors, like the ones you can find in a car or a plane. Street photography is not only about shooting on the streets but also where people usually gather together in some sort of public sphere. 28mm lenses are perfect for capturing wide contexts on the streets while keeping you close to it.
3. 35mm Lenses
This has been the major classic among street photographers since the early beginnings of the craft. It offers a mildly wide view that fits perfectly between the normal vision a 50mm gives and the great feeling 28mm wide angles deliver. 35mm lenses certainly have some legacy, and camera manufacturers have been enhancing them with the years.
Some of these lenses have really fast apertures, which makes them perfect for general usage purposes. You don’t have to be dedicated to street photography only; you could still dwell between other genres while being competent thanks to this lens. They don’t distort the reality that much, and they are just fun to use.
If you are into street photography, you’ll eventually get the feeling that you’ll need to be closer to the people, and this lens is perfect for this. And they are usually small in size so forget about grabbing people’s attention too much. Now it seems more logical that some of the cameras we stated above come with fixed 35mm focal lengths, huh?
4. 50mm Lenses
This is just too tight for my taste, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work well on the streets. The only thing that you’ll have to take into account is the crop factor because a regular 50mm mounted on an APS-C sensor camera will deliver a 75mm or 80mm feeling due to the cropping factor. If you are using a film camera, a full-frame, or a 50mm equivalent lens, then you shouldn’t have to worry about this.
Some people love taking portraits of strangers on the streets; in fact, it’s a very popular theme or project among street photographers.
If you are willing to do something like this, we highly recommend you getting a 50mm lens thanks to the beautiful bokeh they generally produce. Some brands even have friendly 50mm versions that are around $130.00, a complete bargain when compared to pretty much all the other decent lenses out there.
5. Variable Zoom Lenses
If you like using these sorts of lenses, get something that covers both wide and telephoto ranges, like the popular 24-70mm from various manufacturers. Keep in mind that these lenses are highly noticeable, and might interfere with the candid feeling that street photography is usually known for.
After you’ve decided upon one lens, we highly recommend you to use it for a long period of time, perhaps a year or so. By doing this, you’ll become more familiar with its optical range and maneuverability.
Having several lenses for you to pick usually makes creativity sloppy and lazy, having just one lens, on the other hand, pushes photographers to seek better compositions, positively impacting in their style.