On many photography forums, the question what is the best lens for street photography (or any other type of photography for that matter) will pop up quite often. While the traditional answer for any gear related question is that the gear with you is always best, this doesn't really help. Well this great video addresses the actual question and tests 3 good contenders.
If you're not familiar with Kai Wong, formerly of Digital Rev, then you're in for a treat. His funny photography videos are legendary in the online world of photography and for this one he's looking at three of the classic lenses that are widely considered to be the best for street photography – the classic 50mm, 35mm and the 28mm.
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A Quick Summary of Street Photography Lenses Tested
Here's a basic rundown of the video if you don't have time to watch it.
A 50mm Lens is good place to start for street photographers. It produces good contrast in your images. There is also little to no distortion on a 50mm as it is roughly the same field of view as the human eye. A 50mm is also very light weight.
As far as it's effects, it is flattering for people shots and the body proportions it produces are about right. You will often have to move back a bit because of longer focal length compared to the 35mm and 28mm. If you can't do that, which is often the case in street photography, then your image compositions might appear a bit too tight.
If you like Bokeh then you will want to go with the 50mm at it's easier to get a bokeh effect on this lens compared to the others. Better for subject-centric photos as this focal length in tight street situations will often mean you have to have the subject of your image as a major part of the composition (more so than a wider angle lens).
A 35mm Lens is a bit wider than the 50mm without too much distortion which is useful for getting people in context without distorting bodies and faces. Shooting at this focal length forces a photographer to get closer to the subject and scene which is often regarded as a desirable thing. It's good to move feet and into the scene as it usually results in more intimacy in a street scene.
Again, it comes down to personal preference. With the 35mm you cannot get the shallow depth of field of the 50mm (but it's not too far off). The 35mm is better for photographers who want to show their human subjects in the context of their environment.
A 28mm Lens is often regarded as too wide for street photography. You need to get very close to your subject and it's often considered bad for portraits (both conventional and full length). This focal length produces lots of distortion on people and is on the edge of what is usable for street photography. With such a wide lens, it can be hard to keep the background tidy which means it can be a little distracting. The big advantage though is that your human subjects will almost always be seen in the context of their surrounds.
What They Didn't Mention
A big oversight of the video was price. A 50mm f/1.8 lens is arguably the best value lens ever made (for both Nikon and Canon as well as many other manufacturers). It's price, compared to the others would be a big factor for many people.
Kai seems to like the 50mm best, and still enjoys using the 35mm. The 28 comes dead last. This more or less coincides with conventional wisdom about what is the best lens for street photography, but as always, use what suits your tastes and style.