The Best Canon Lens for Street Photography

Updated on October 5, 2018
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I have been interested in street photography as a hobby for the last few years and I still remember my struggle as a beginner.

Canon 35mm vs 50mm for street photography.
Canon 35mm vs 50mm for street photography. | Source

When it comes to street photography, you will find that there are so many options depending on your style and the type of things you shoot. Most people, however, want to have flexibility and a lens that can work in different situations, and that is why having a Canon DSLR camera can be a blessing as you just have a lot of versatile lens options. My aim is to try and help you make that choice easier.

The choice will obviously depend on focal length, prime vs zoom lenses, price, etc but in reality, there are a few top lenses that really stand out in terms of image and build quality and aperture. First, let me tell you how I narrowed this down to only very few lenses as an easy guide for you to decide on the best canon lens for street photography and most importantly, for you.

About the lenses in this page

Prime is the way to go:

When it comes to street photography, you want to be quick, and you want to minimize distractions and the amount of work you need to do. It obviously depends on personal preference but most street photographers find it much easier to use a prime lens and some of them mostly just use the same lens all the time.

This also helps you get into the action, using your feet to zoom and probably interact with your subjects rather than shoot from a distance. So, all lenses included are prime lenses (no zoom).

Within prime, I have focused on 35mm and 50mm lenses because they are the most used and simply the most suitable for street photography. Anything wider than 35mm, you will have to get uncomfortably close to your subjects/people and at higher focal lengths, you will have to keep a fair distance from them.


For beginners:

You have probably already done some research and you might be a bit lost by now. This post is aimed at beginner photographers who are probably new to using a DSLR. I have therefore focused on practical information and most helpful features. If you need to know the specific technical specification you can find it on each lens;s page on amazon or elsewhere online.

Also, I have not really gone in depth when discussing more “professional” level lenses which are pretty expensive for most people.

Also, I have not included lenses for mirrorless cameras as I believe they need a separate post.


Price:

You get what you pay for, however, you can still get a very good deal and value for your money if you choose wisely and do your research. There are many cheap lenses that are suitable for Canon, mostly made in China. I personally try not to use them as I,m not confident regarding the build quality or customer support/repairs, so I have only included Canon or other known, well established brands that can fit on a Canon DSLR, please make sure you check whether the lens is suitable for your camera on the product page.

So let’s get to the main lenses you should be aware of:

Canon 50mm lens
Canon 50mm lens | Source

My favourite prime canon lens for street photography: best value for money

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

At a very attractive price, this is one of the cheapest canon lenses you could get. Mind you, this lens is still capable of producing fantastic sharp and high quality images, specially for web and digital purposes. From multiple tests personally and reviewing the major photography websites, this image quality is not best at f 1.8 but you can produce significantly better and amazing quality photos from f/4, even at f/2.8 it is in my opinion pretty decent.

The 50mm focal length is amazing for street photography, whether it is street portraits or other types of street photography. It is commonly known as the natural focal length, which means it is similar to what the human eye sees. Please note that with a crop sensor camera, this is almost equal to 85mm but still great for street portraits. It is small and light, weighting only 160 grams!

Now, you can go as wide as f/1.8 which is wide enough for night and low light situations. The bokeh is also beautiful. Focusing is also impressive with this lens as the motor is almost silent.

The other 50mm lenses of higher quality are more expensive, namely the 50mm f1.4 and f1.2L USM. On the amazon webpage, you can scroll down to find a comparison including both 50mm lenses.

So in summary:

If you are looking for a cheap option as a beginner I would recommend this lens, whether you have a full frame or a crop body DSLR. If you are willing to spend a bit more than a £100 or $130 (or less if you buy a used one) then you could perhaps check the next one on this list.


Pros:

√ Cheap, best value for money.

√ Lightweight.

√ Suitable for many different situations including low light.


Cons:

× Image quality is not great at the widest aperture.

× If you want to shoot a lot of architecture, try a wider angle.

Canon 35mm EF lens
Canon 35mm EF lens | Source

Canon EF 35mm f/2 Wide Angle AF lens


Another lightweight and versatile lens from canon. This time, a wider angle that will suit most of your shots and will also make you get closer to your subjects producing cool portraits. Image quality is amazing and aperture is quite suitable for most night time city photography.

50mm vs 35mm

Now, with the 50mm you have the amazing isolating effect of focusing or the subject;s face (if shooting a portrait) and blurring the background. With the 35mm, your portraits are even more fun as you get to capture more of the subject, the background, you can give the viewer a sense of a story behind your portrait, where the person is and how they are interacting with their surroundings.

Colours: one of the impressive features with the Canon 35mm f2 lens is the way it manages colors and skin tone without much editing needed afterwards.

Build quality: While this lens does not have weather sealing, you should not have any issues unless in extreme weather. It feels and looks great even if it does not belong to the L class, Canon's more expensive lens class.

With a fast aperture of f2, you will have lots of flexibility. It also comes with Image Stabilization (IS). The more expensive version is the f1.4L.

With a 35mm lens, you will also get the benefit of being able to use the lens for other things and not just street photography.

Canon also has the 35mmf 1.4 which is much more expensive and I would personally recommend for professional use or large print. The other alternative to that lens would be the Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Lens for Canon. There is also a newer version with an ultrasonic motor for focusing (USM) which is better but double the price. The USM is a good investment but it is around $500 and this post is aimed at beginners so I have not included all the details about this one.


Pros:

√ Natural focal length, versatile and suitable for many types of photography.

√ Quick focus.

√ Impressive image quality and sharpness.


Cons:

× With an aperture of f/2, you might be restricted in low light situations.

× More expensive than the 50mm.


Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM vs Canon EF 35mm f/2 Wide Angle AF lens (summary)

Canon 50mm f1.8
Canon EF 35mm f/2
Cheap
More expensive
Perfect for portraits (headshots)
Flexible, can be used for portraits and other types of shots
Nice Bokeh
Not as good
Focus is slower
Quick reliable focus
Image sharpness reduced at widest aperture
Sharpness slightly better

What about you?

I hope this helps. Tell me in the comments what lens are you using a the moment for street photos and how are you finding it? Which one do you prefer out of the lenses on this page?

Photo credits for the last photo:

Martin Pot (Martybugs at en.wikipedia).

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