The best lens for street photography should allow you to react to your environment, anticipating events as they unfold and capturing the definitive moment.
One of the first rules of street photography is to work discreetly, and to do that you don't want to be walking around with a large zoom lens dangling from your neck. A prime lens is the order of the day, but which focal length is best for stomping the streets waiting to capture that decisive moment?
The answer is a 35mm prime lens, and its a focal length that's become widely regarded as the best lens for street photography and photojournalism. This classic focal length on a full-frame camera provides a comfortably wide viewing angle that allows you to get what you want in the frame, as well as delivering a natural perspective on the scene.
While manual focus lenses have traditionally been very popular as the focus distance can be preset, the latest DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer rapid autofocusing speeds, even in poor light, allowing you to rely on the camera's AF performance to insure you get pin-sharp street shots.
A 35mm prime lens might be considered the best lens for street photography on a full-frame camera, but put one of these on a cropped-sensor APS-C body and you'll have a much tighter focal length due to the crop factor of the sensor. With that in mind, you'll need something closer to a 24mm prime lens on one of these cameras, as these will produce a focal length equivalent to 36mm.
With that in mind, here are the best lenses for street photography on full-frame and APS-C Canon and Nikon cameras, as well as Sony Alpha A7 and A9 full-frame mirrorless bodies. And of course, for the ultimate in discreet shooting, you won't find optics less conspicuous than the best pancake lenses for Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic et al.
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The best lens for street photography in 2020
This 35mm prime for EOS R and RP cameras is conveniently compact. Its stepping motor autofocus system means there’s no focus distance scale or depth of field markings, which are often preferred for ‘zone focusing’ in street photography. However, a distance scale, focus peaking and focus guide options are all available in the shooting displays of Canon’s R and RP bodies. Both autofocus and manual focusing work wonderfully well when using these cameras’ electronic viewfinders or vari-angle rear screens.
Further highlights include a very short minimum focus distance that enables 0.5x macro magnification and a class-leading 5-stop hybrid image stabilizer that’s great for both regular and close-up shooting. Typical of RF lenses, an extra bonus is the customisable ‘control ring’ for adjustment of parameters like aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure compensation.
Image quality is simply stellar. The lens is super-sharp across the whole image frame and the vignetting that’s slightly noticeable at f/1.8 mostly disappears when narrowing the aperture to f/2. The small amounts of lateral chromatic aberration and barrel distortion can be fully corrected in-camera, and the hybrid image stabilizer lives up to its 5-stop billing. The macro facility is mostly superfluous for street photography but can nevertheless come in handy.
For full-frame Canon DSLRs, this 35mm f/2 IS USM is an ideal size at just 78x63mm, and it's light at 335g. Inside is one aspherical element, Super Spectra coatings, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, a distance scale with f/11 and f/22 depth of field markings, plus a 4-stop image stabilizer. You also get a well-rounded diaphragm with eight blades for smooth bokeh.
The manual focus ring is relatively wide, although the rudimentary depth of field markers are inadequate for zone focusing. Even so, the focus ring operates with smooth precision and enables fine adjustments.
There’s very little to choose between the fabulous centre-sharpness of this lens and Canon’s new RF 35mm, although the latter wins out for sharpness away from the central region of the frame. There’s marginally more barrel distortion than from the competing Sigma and Tamron 35mm lenses, but not enough to cause any concern. Lateral chromatic aberrations are very well controlled, even in the extreme corners of the frame.
Overall, it’s a terrific lens for street photography with full-frame Canon DSLRs.
At 77x94mm and tipping the scales at 665g, this Sigma is smaller and lighter than the competing Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC AE manual-focus lens, although it’s still about twice that weight of Canon's EF and EF 35mm lenses.
Typical of Sigma’s Art prime lenses, it features a fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, with the usual availability of manual override. For manual focusing, the reasonably generous rotational travel of the focus ring enables fine and precise adjustments. While the focus distance scale can be a bonus for manual focusing or setting the hyperfocal distance, depth of field markers are only applied for f/16, which makes zone focusing impractical.
The relatively complex and high-tech optical path includes two aspherical elements, one FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) element, and four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Build quality is excellent throughout but the lens isn’t weather-sealed. In-camera corrections for lateral chromatic aberrations, peripheral illumination and distortion are available in most current and recent Canon DSLRs.
Image quality is pretty epic and the Sigma retains fabulous sharpness for an f/1.4 lens when shooting wide-open, right across the image frame. As you’d expect, things get even better when stopping down a little, and the lens is also a star performer in terms of minimizing color fringing and barrel distortion. It’s also very good value for such a high-tech, high-performance f/1.4 autofocus lens.
This Tamron prime lens for full-frame Canon DSLRs matches the f/1.8 aperture rating of Canon’s RF 35mm for mirrorless cameras, though it's more than 50 per cent heavier than Canon's RF-mount 35mm lens, at 480g compared with the latter’s 305g.
Unlike the Canon RF lens, the Tamron doesn’t claim any macro credentials but it nevertheless focuses closer than most 35mm lenses, down to 0.2m instead of the more usual 0.3m. This enables a more generous 0.4x maximum magnification factor, which isn’t far behind the 0.5x of the Canon 35mm ‘macro’ lens.
Another similarity with the Canon RF lens is that the Tamron features an optical image stabilizer or VC (Vibration Compensation) system. However, it's only worth about 3-stops and it’s a more straightforward version that’s only able to correct for angular vibration, whereas Canon’s hybrid stabilizer can also counteract X-Y shift.
Build quality feels very good and, unusually for this type of lens, you get weather-seals - an obvious advantage for rainy-day street photography.
Autofocus and manual focus both work very well, although the focus distance scale lacks any depth of field markings. Image quality is very good overall, but it’s not quite as sharp as the lenses further up this list.
Although full-frame compatible, this lens's 24mm focal length makes it ideal for street photography on an APS-C Canon DSLR, where it'll give a focal length equivalent to 38.4mm.
Compared to Canon's EF-S 24mm pancake lens just for APS-C format DSLRs, this full-frame compatible lens has the same diameter but is just over twice as long and more than twice as heavy. Even so, it’s still reasonably small and lightweight at 68x56mm and 280g. It has a more conventional build, based on 11 optical elements rather than just six used in the pancake package. Again, one aspherical element is included and Super Spectra coatings are applied. Another similarity is that the aperture is based on a 7-blade diaphragm which is fairly well rounded, and the aperture rating of f/2.8 is identical.
One major difference is that this lens uses a ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, rather than a stepping motor. It has a focus distance scale, which is lacking in STM lenses, along with depth of field markings for f/11 and f/22. With a mechanically rather than electronically linked focus ring, manual focusing is available at all times, without first needing to activate the camera’s focus/metering system. However, also typical of ultrasonic autofocus lenses, the rotational travel of the focus ring is quite small and less than ideal for manual focusing.
On a full-frame Canon, this lens delivers good sharpness, even in the extreme corners, although color fringing can be slightly noticeable if uncorrected. Used as a street lens on an APS-C format body, you get a more suitable viewing angle and the crop factor cuts off the corners of the frame, reducing color fringing, distortion and the drop in edge-sharpness.
This Canon lens for APS-C format DSLRs has a pancake design that enables a super-slim profile just 23mm deep. It's also a real lightweight at 125g - less than half the weight of Canon’s more conventional EF 24mm lens f/2.8 lens for full-frame DSLRs.
The six-element optical stack includes one aspherical element, Super Spectra coatings, and there's a fairly well-rounded seven-blade diaphragm. Autofocus is courtesy of a quick and quiet stepping motor, with an electronically coupled manual focus ring, though this is rather small and fiddly.
This 24mm optic has an ‘effective’ focal length of 38.4mm, which can feel a little narrow for street photography compared to a 35mm focal length. There’s also no image stabilizer, which can be more of a problem given the relatively slow f/2.8 max aperture.
Image quality is impressive with excellent sharpness across the frame and amazingly little color fringing, even without using in-camera corrections.
Thanks to the 1.6x crop factor of APS-C format EOS M bodies, the 22mm focal length of this lens equates to 35.2mm in full-frame terms. It gives the same 63-degree viewing angle as using a 35mm lens on a full-frame camera, which is perfect for street photography. Despite having a fairly fast f/2 aperture rating, the ‘pancake’ design enables it to be incredibly small and light, at just 61x24mm and 105g.
Given the downsized build of EOS M bodies, the overall camera and lens combination is particularly stealthy. The STM (Stepping Motor) autofocus system is quick and very quiet, and manual focusing benefits from an optional focus peaking display, featured in all current EOS M cameras.
An aspherical element in the optical path helps to reduce the physical size while also boosting image quality, minimizing spherical aberrations. Super Spectra coatings are also applied to reduce ghosting and flare. Overall build quality is good and, despite being such a lightweight lens, the mounting plate is metal rather than plastic.
This lens lacks image stabilization, so you’ll need a steady hand, but assuming you do, sharpness is pretty respectable and there's virtually no distortion. Vignetting is quite apparent at f/2, but mostly disappears when stopping down to f/2.8.
There’s a diverse range of manual-focus lenses from South Korean manufacturer Samyang, also badged as Rokinon lenses in the USA. The vast majority of them have no built-in electronics whatsoever, but this lens does have built-in electronics in the Canon-mount ‘AE’ version, enabling both camera-driven aperture control and operation of the focus confirmation lamp.
Typical of manual-focus lenses, the focus ring has a long rotational travel and operates with smooth precision. Zone focusing is enabled by the focus distance scale and depth of field markings for apertures of f/2.8, f/5.6, f/11, f/16 and f/22. This is a real bonus for traditional street photography, where you set the focus distance ahead of shooting.
Build quality feels very solid and robust, but at 83x110mm and 700g, it's a relatively big, heavy lens, mostly due to its fast f/1.4 aperture rating.
Image quality is a mixed bag, as centre-sharpness and contrast are disappointing when shooting wide-open. We actually recorded better lab results for sharpness at the corners of the frame. Sharpness and contrast become excellent at f/2.8 and remain so through to f/16.
All in all, this Samyang has a lot going for it as a traditional, manual-focus street lens, and it’s good value at the price, if on the bulky side.
This Nikon Z-series lens is expensive for a 35mm street prime, despite it having a fairly modest f/1.8 aperture rating. However, it’s much more high-tech than Nikon’s F-mount AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED, thanks to three aspherical elements and additional ED elements. It features both Super Integrated Coating and Nano Crystal Coat, for effectively minimising ghosting and flare.
The stepping motor-based autofocus system is fast and virtually silent, while enabling very smooth and precise manual focusing via its electronically coupled control ring. When in autofocus mode, you can customise the function of the control ring. Typical of most stepping motor lenses, there’s no focus distance scale. However, directional focus assist lamps and a focus peaking option are available in Nikon Z 6 and Z 7 cameras.
Image quality is fabulous, with particularly stunning centre-sharpness. As with other Z-series lenses that we’ve tested, the relatively large-diameter mounting plate helps to enable superb image quality across the whole frame, while sharpness in handheld shooting is boosted by in-camera stabilization.
With a 24mm rather than 35mm focal length, this lens gives a wider viewing angle that can be useful for tight city streets. This lens packs a high-performance ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system, along with depth of field markers for f/8 and f/16. There are two aspherical and four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements, along with a trio of top-spec FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) elements from one to three. The only thing missing is weather sealing.
Performance is excellent, with superb sharpness, even when shooting wide-open. The negligible levels of distortion and color fringing are even further reduced when using this 24mm as a street lens on a DX-format Nikon DSLR, where it gives a more traditional street photography focal length of 36mm.
While slightly slower than an f/1.4 street prime, the upside is that this f/1.8 Tamron is reasonably small and lightweight, although at 480g, it’s still rather weightier than a Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED.
This Tamron is rare among F-mount street primes in that it features optical stabilization, with an effectiveness equivalent to about three f/stops, which can be a big bonus under dull lighting. Rain needn’t stop play either, as the lens has extensive weather-seals and a fluorine coating on its front element. It focuses closer than average, right down to 0.2m, where it delivers a generous 0.4x maximum magnification factor.
Autofocus and manual focus both work very well, although the focus distance scale lacks any depth of field markings, putting zone focusing off-limits. Image quality is very good overall but, for outright sharpness, the Tamron isn't quite class-leading. Fringing is also a bit more noticeable than from most competing lenses.
This Sigma is about twice the weight of Nikon's AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED lens, but you do get excellent build quality throughout, although it's a pity the lens isn’t weather-sealed. Typical of Sigma’s Art primes, it features a fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system. For manual focusing, the reasonably generous rotational travel of the focus ring enables fine and precise adjustments, although depth of field markers are only available for f/16, which makes zone focusing impractical.
The high-tech optical path includes two aspherical elements, one FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) element, and four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. They help produce epic Image quality, as the Sigma retains fabulous sharpness for an f/1.4 lens when shooting wide-open, right across the image frame. As you’d expect, things get even better when stopping down a little, and the lens is also a star performer in terms of minimizing color fringing and barrel distortion. It’s also very good value for such a high-performance f/1.4 autofocus lens.
Marketed under the Rokinon brand in the USA, this manual-focus Samyang lens is available in a wide variety of mount options in addition to this Nikon FX version. Most have no built-in electronics, so you can’t control the aperture from the camera body. Instead, you need to use lens’s own aperture ring, and the viewfinder image gets progressively darker with narrower aperture settings. However, the ‘AE’ version available in Nikon F-mount enables camera-driven aperture control, and thereby a full range of PASM shooting modes. The electronics also drive illumination of focus-assist/confirmation lamps in the viewfinder.
The focus ring has a long rotational travel and operates precisely and smoothly. Zone focusing is enabled by the focus distance scale and depth of field markers for apertures of f/2.8, f/5.6, f/11, f/16 and f/22 - a real bonus for traditional street photography.
As an f/1.4 lens, the Samyang is comparatively big and heavy. Sharpness and contrast are disappointing at apertures wider than f/2 but if you stop down to f/2.8, image quality becomes excellent in all respects. There’s very little lateral fringing but spherical aberration can be noticeable at the widest aperture.
Although it’s full-frame compatible, this 24mm has an ‘effective’ focal length of 36mm when used on a DX format body, ideal for street photography. Though manual focus only, this Nikon F-mount edition has electronics to enable PASM shooting with camera-driven aperture control, plus illumination of focus-assist/confirmation lamps in the viewfinder.
A little smaller and lighter than Samyang's 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC AE lens, the 24mm nevertheless has an additional optical element, taking the total count to 13. Whereas the 35mm has a glass aspherical element and two HR (High Refractive index) elements, the 24mm doubles up on aspherical elements and features four ED (Extra-low Dispersion) elements. Both have Samyang’s Ultra Multi Coating to reduce ghosting and flare.
The long-travel focus ring enables smooth and precise adjustments, with depth of field markers for f/4, f/8, f/16 and f/22 on the focus distance scale. Centre-sharpness is disappointing wide-open but excellent when stopping down a little, however fringing is worse than average at the corners of the frame. But this is conveniently cropped out when the lens is used on a DX Nikon body.
Compared with Nikon’s new Z series 35mm for its mirrorless cameras, this F-mount lens is smaller, lighter and much less expensive. Both lenses have the same f/1.8 aperture rating.
The ring-type ultrasonic system is typically quick and quiet, as well as enabling full-time manual override. There’s a focus distance scale but it’s of limited benefit for manual focusing, as there are no markings between 0.7m an infinity, and only rudimentary depth of field markers for f/16. Optical highlights include one aspherical element, one ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element and Super Integrated Coating.
Bearing in mind that this lens is less than half the weight of the competing Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A, it packs plenty of punch. Sharpness is mostly very good, contrast is excellent even when shooting wide-open, and there’s pretty good resistance to ghosting and flare. However, the seven-blade diaphragm isn’t particularly well-rounded and vignetting is very noticeable when shooting wide-open.
This Nikon is full-frame compatible but gives a virtually identical viewing angle to a 35mm lens, when mounted on a DX format body. Its f/1.8 max aperture makes the lens noticeably smaller and more lightweight than an f/1.4, which is a bonus for street photography. Build quality doesn’t feel particularly solid, but at least the lens features a weather-seal on its mounting plate.
Compared with the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED, this 24mm has a similar optical layout with one aspherical element and one ED element. Again, there’s a seven-blade diaphragm but the 24mm lens gains Nano Crystal Coat for better reduction of ghosting and flare.
Performance and image quality are very good, but edge/corner sharpness isn’t as impressive as from the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM | A. The Nikon also lacks the competing Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD's stabilization. All things considered, it’s not great value for money.
With diminutive dimensions of 62x37mm, this Sony doesn’t quite qualify as a pancake lens but it’s just as ultra-portable and convenient, plus it weighs a mere 120g. It therefore forms part of a very discreet package when mounted on an A7 or A9 series body. Downsizing is enabled by the inclusion of three aspherical elements in the Zeiss Sonnar design, along with a modest f/2.8 aperture rating. The lens also features legendary T* coatings.
Autofocus is based on a fast and quiet linear motor, with an electronically coupled focus ring that gives the option of manual override, via in-camera menus. Typical of this arrangement, there’s no focus distance scale nor depth of field markers, but focus assist and peaking facilities are available in-camera.
The tiny Sony punches above its weight in terms of image quality, although vignetting is quite severe at f/2.8. Sharpness is very impressive in the central region of the frame, less so towards the edges. Distortion is of a fairly low order, but it’s not entirely uniform and is tricky to correct.
Compared to Sony's featherweight 35mm f/2.8 ZA prime, this Sigma is over five times the weight and almost three times as long. Typical of Sigma’s Art primes, it features a fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system. For manual focusing, the reasonably generous rotational travel of the focus ring enables fine and precise adjustments, although depth of field markers are only available for f/16 - not much good for zone focusing.
The high-tech optical path includes two aspherical elements, one FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion) element, and four SLD (Special Low Dispersion) elements. Build quality is excellent throughout, although the lens isn’t weather-sealed.
Image quality is superb, as the Sigma retains fabulous sharpness for an f/1.4 lens when shooting wide-open, right across the image frame. As you’d expect, things get even better when stopping down a little, and the lens is also a star performer in terms of minimizing color fringing and barrel distortion. It’s also very good value for such a high-performance f/1.4 autofocus lens.
Sold under the Rokinon brand in the States, this Samyang prime lenses comes in a variety of lens mount options. The Canon and Nikon-fit versions get electronics to communicate with the camera body, however the Sony E-mount edition is much more basic, meaning you can only adjust aperture using the lens's own aperture ring.
The focus ring has plenty of rotational travel and it's precise in operation. Zone focusing is enabled by the focus distance scale and depth of field markers for apertures of f/2.8, f/5.6, f/11, f/16 and f/22. This is a real bonus for traditional street photography, where you set the focus distance ahead of shooting.
As an f/1.4 lens, the Samyang is comparatively big and heavy, but sharpness and contrast are disappointing at apertures wider than f/2. Stop down to f/2.8 and image quality becomes excellent in all respects.
If you want to get back to basics and shoot fully manual out on the street, this is the lens for the job.
Until recently, Sony users had to choose between the Zeiss Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA – an expensive, premium lens – and the older Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 (see above) if they wanted a 35mm perspective on an E-mount camera. The arrival of the FE 35mm f/1.8 sees it fit nicely between the two and offers a great blend of performance, value and handling.
Weighing only 280g, the lens balances nicely on Alpha A7 series cameras, while the build quality is overall very good. It's a shame that there's no weather-sealing, but that does help keep the price down and that's soon forgotten when you start shooting with it. Focusing is very fast, while the lens is very sharp wide open. Bokeh is nicely rendered as well, producing smooth defocused areas in the image.
This is a great lens for Alpha A7 and A9 users looking for a compact and sharp prime but don't want to break the bank with one of Sony's G Master optics.
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