Hanoi, 2017. Shoot on Ricoh GR and 28mm lens.
Hanoi, 2017. Shoot on Ricoh GR and 28mm lens.

What are the best lenses or focal lengths for street photography?

Is there a perfect lens for street photography?

Hands of a 92 year old woman. Hanoi, 2017
Hands of a 92 year old woman. Hanoi, 2017. Shoot on RICOH GR II with 28mm lens.

Primo, there are no rules. You can use whatever lens you prefer in street photography.

I generally find that (for me) I prefer a 28mm lens on a point and shoot camera (or when using the LCD SCREEN) or a 35mm lens on a camera with a viewfinder.

Hà Nội, 2017. Shoot on RICOH GR II 28mm.
Hà Nội, 2017. Shoot on RICOH GR II 28mm.

For example, the RICOH GR has a 28mm integrated lens. I like it because I can get very close to my subjects (by extending my arm).

Hanoi, 2017. 28mm and Ricoh GR II.  Old woman
Hanoi, 2017. 28mm and Ricoh GR II.

Phone Street Photography?

Shot on phone. Mexico City, 2016. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset. Zoomed in.
Shot on phone. Mexico City, 2016. Processed with VSCO with a6 preset. Zoomed in.

If you shoot on an iPhone or a phone, the default lens is roughly a 28mm “full frame equivalent”.

In and out, 2016 (shot on phone)
In and out, 2016 (shot on phone with zoom)

Street Photography with viewfinder cameras

Marseille, 2013. Kodak Portra 400, Leica MP, 35mm Summicron ASPH eric kim street photography - color - chroma-2 marseille eric kim
Marseille, 2013. Kodak Portra 400, Leica MP, 35mm Summicron ASPH

For shooting on my Leica, I prefer a 35mm Lens (I use the Leica 35mm Summicron ASPH lens) because it is wide enough, but not too close. Also, because I wear glasses, I cannot see the edges of the viewfinder on a 28mm lens.

Learn more: LEICA MANUAL >

DSLR STREET PHOTOGRAPHY LENSES

Seoul, 2009. Shoot on Canon 5D and 35mm f2 lens.

I started serious street photography in 2009, with my Canon 5D (version I) and a Canon 35mm f2 lens. I shot everything black and white, RAW, and P (program mode), and center point autofocus. Like Henri Cartier-Bresson, I would wait for an interesting background, and wait for my subjects to enter.

For me on a DLSR, 35mm lens was ideal for “full frame.”

Santa Monica, 2011. Shot after work, on Canon 5D and 35mm.

I like to shoot in P PROGRAM mode for street photography settings. Why? I like to “Set it and forget it” and focus on composition:

Santa Monica, 2011. Shot on Canon 5D and 35mm lens, in program mode, center point autofocus.
Santa Monica, 2011. Shot on Canon 5D and 35mm lens, in program mode, center point autofocus.

Telephoto / Zoom Lenses for street photography?

1960 BRAZIL. Sao Paulo. 1960. BRAZIL. Sao Paulo. 1960. © Rene Burri / Magnum Photos
1960 BRAZIL. Sao Paulo. 1960.
BRAZIL. Sao Paulo. 1960. © Rene Burri / Magnum Photos

Rene Burri shot his famous rooftop photo in Brazil with a telephoto lens.

Saul Leiter shot a lot of his phenomenal color street photo shoot with a telephoto lens.

Saul Leiter photo.
Saul Leiter photo.

For myself, I prefer shooting with a wide angle (prime, non zoom lens) because I like to get physically closer to my subjects.

To me, with physical proximity comes emotional proximity.

But it depends what your personality is, and what your aims for street photography are.

If you want to be more creative with your street photography, I think having “creative constraints” help more with creativity. Most street photographers I know excel using 28mm or 35mm Lenses.

Of course, just experiment with zoom and telephoto lenses, and see if you like them for street photography.

There are no “rules” in street photography, only tips and suggestions.

50mm in Street Photography?

leica m10 eric kim noctilux .95 50mm
Why not a 50mm f.95 Noctilux lens?

Henri Cartier-Bresson popularized the 50mm for street photography. Why? It doesn’t distort the frame.

Leica 50mm f/2 APO Lens
Leica 50mm f2 APO LENS.

But to me 50mm is boring. Not dynamic in street photography.

Try it out though. Most people tend to prefer 35mm lens.

But doesn’t the human eye see as a 50mm? Not quite.

The human eye sees roughly a 40mm perspective.

But once again, experiment and see if you like it.

I also recommend NOT to get a f1.4 lens in 50mm. Get the smallest, lightest, most compact 50mm possible. 50mm f2 is ideal.


Conclusion

ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP
ERIC KIM x HENRI NECK STRAP x film LEICA MP and 35mm Summicron ASPH

Experiment with different lenses and focal lengths in street photogrpahy until you find something that suits you. Then my recommendation,

Stick with one camera, one lens in street photography for at least 1 year. Then you will truly grow, develop, and master your camera and the “decisive moment” in Street Photography.

BE STRONG,
ERIC

PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT >


STREET PHOTOGRAPHY 101 by ERIC KIM