I have been interested in street photography as a hobby for the last few years and I still remember my struggle as a beginner.
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. In this post, I will show you my favorite lenses for street photography and I will explain how and why I chose them.
Most people 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
I will just explain how ended up choosing those lenses out of many others. If you just want to know my lens suggestions, you can skip this part.
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.
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.
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.
In my opinion, all the lenses on this page are sensible choices for beginners so it is just about knowing what your needs are. So let’s get to the main lenses you should be aware of:
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. Some famous photographers stick to a 50mm lens for most of their time because it is just perfect for street life and portraits. Checks this nice example of a 50 strangers with a 50mm lens project.
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.
√ Cheap, best value for money.
√ Light but bulkier than the 24mm.
√ Suitable for low light.
× Image quality is not great at the widest aperture.
× If you want to include more in your photos or shoot street photography or architecture, try a wider angle, check the next lens on this list (Canon 24mm).
During my search, the more expensive the lens, the more I felt I wanted to get a "perfect" one for the money I was paying. There is no such thing as a perfect lens! The best thing is to get on with it, buy a good cheap and start shooting! Having an average lens as a beginner means you start practicing and learning faster, rather than waiting to save up for a lens or waiting to find a perfect one.
Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
I recently bought this lens and have been experimenting with it for the last few weeks. After some really nice shots I decided to take only this lens when I recently traveled to Turkey and I am happy with the results.
In terms of image quality, it is very similar to the 50mm, the main obvious difference is the focal length. A 24mm lens on a crop body is equivalent to 38mm which is closer to tat "natural" 50mm and it is a versatile and useful length. Remember that 50mm on the crop sensor is equivalent to 80mm making it narrower and can limit what you shoot.
The second major difference between the 24mm vs 50mm is that the 24mm is a "pancake" lens, i.e. smaller and even lighter. I find this extremely useful in street photography as it reduces the bulk of the camera and people don't see as intrusive as someone with a large lens and a large "professional" camera.
So let's summarize the comparison points as above:
√ Very thin and lightweight..
√ Cheap, similar in price to the 50mm. I was actually surprised that such a great lens is that cheap on amazon.com!
√ Good image quality, specially at the center of the photo and best at f/4.
√ Versatile and can be used to shoot architecture, portraits, street photography and also low light.
× There is some chromatic aberration in harsh light situations.
× I've noticed some mild distortion but I don't think it affects overall quality.
Below is a couple of samples from my 24mm f/2.8 lens:
Canon EF 35mm f/2
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.
√ Nice focal length on a full frame.
√ Quick focus.
√ Impressive image quality and sharpness.
× 35mm can be narrow on a crop sensor.
× With an aperture of f/2, you might be restricted in very 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|
Perfect for portraits (headshots)
Flexible, can be used for portraits and other types of shots
Not as good
Focus is slower
Quick reliable focus
Image sharpness reduced at widest aperture
Sharpness slightly better
Possible uses for prime lenses in street photography on a crop sensor
|Lens type||Useful for|
Wider than 35mm
Portraits, street photography, Architecture, buildings and landscape
35 or 40mm
General lens, portraits
Street portraits, general street photography
Longer than 50mm
Candid portraits, can be used for landscape if used creatively.
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).