What’s the best lens for street photography?

The Creative Camera > Candid Photography > What’s the best lens for street photography?

Right off the bat I just want to say that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. In truth, the lens you choose is probably going to reflect your confidence levels as a photographer. If you like mixing it up on the street then a 28mm is probably perfect as it gets personal at that focal distance. If you are a little shy or worried about photographing strangers then a longer prime or even a short zoom is probably going to favour your style of photography. The essence of this article then is that, there is no perfect lens for the job, it’s all about you as a photographer!

All this being said, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing street with a long zoom. Candid / street photography requires you as much as possible to blend into a crowd and nothing shouts photographer like a DSLR armed with a long zoom. Equally, a 7mm fisheye is pretty much useless unless you like standing toe to toe with your subject. With that lens you are going to see more that the whites of their eyes and that means getting very personal. While some photographers also spout long and hard about the benefits of vintage glass, which is often manual focus of course, forget it. It’s not 1961 when you had no choice, it’s 2021 when you certainly do. Rely on a manual focus lens / camera combo and I guarantee you that you’ll miss that pulitzer price winning shot when the opportunity arises. In fact I’ll go as far as to say that you’ll miss a lot of really good shots. In street, great images don’t come along everyday so when they do, you need to be nimble and nimble means more often than not, nailing it on auto.

For me, the sweet spot for street and candid photography is going to fall somewhere between 28mm – 55mm in full frame terms although my favourite squeez for candid photography today is the pocket sized Canon G7X, purely because that’s what I own. I use it a lot for street because it’s small and unobrusive and easily fits in a trouser pocket. The 8.8 to 32mm lens combined with the 1″ sensor seem to capture great shots even in low light. In truth though I’d be equally happy with any good quality 1″ sensor compact nowadays, such as Sony, Lumix or Ricoh. Another good option of course is the Fujifilm x100V (or an earlier variant) and the x-Pro series ie 1 through 3. All great cameras for street and candid photography.

Another favourite of mine is my Lumix GX80 which has an M43 sensor. Again it’s small, descrete and very capable. Armed with the Lumix 12-60mm f2.8 (or even just the f3.5 if cash is tight) this is a great street combo because again, it’s small and compact. In fact it might equally be as good with the kit lens, the diminutive 12-32mm. What I certainly wouldn’t take out with me is my Nikon D600, even with a a tiny pancake lens. Way too big. And although I have used my Fuji x-T1 for street photography, especially with the 18-55 and Viltrox 23mm, I still think that this size is too big for serious street. This is because with street photography you really just want to blend into the background, not make a statement along the lines of “hey, look at me, I’m a photographer and I am photographing you!”.

Now I am a member of a couple of Fuji facebook groups and the buzz on these groups is about SOOC photography ie straight out of camera shooting. Like many, I do like the jpegs that Fuji cameras can create, especially with a filmic emulation applied in camera but I maintain that for good street photography it pays to blend in and you’ll do that best with a small, innocuose camera like the Canon G7X or something similar. Because I am as happy playing with RAW as I am with JPEG’s, I don’t worry too much about SOOC although as I mentioned, with the right light Fuji camreas can produce stunning film quality results. As mentioned above, for the serious Fuji street photographer I would suggest that they look at the X100V (or an earlier variant such as the X100F) or perhaps the X-Pro3 (or an earlier variant) if they want lens interchangeability. These two cameras for me, along with many modern compacts are about as perfect as it gets for street and both sit alongside my Lumix GX80 for this very reason.

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