28 vs 35 Lens for Street Photography: Comparing Focal Lengths

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 
funny old lady walking through market.

When it comes to street photography, the choice of lens is a critical part of the creative process, impacting both the technical and aesthetic outcome of the images.

Two focal lengths stand out as popular choices among photographers for their distinct perspectives: the 28mm and the 35mm. The debate between these two focal lengths is a longstanding one, with each offering its own set of advantages that cater to different styles and preferences within the realm of street photography.

The 28mm lens is lauded for its wider field of view, allowing photographers to capture more of the scene and convey a sense of place with greater context. This can be particularly advantageous in busy urban environments where space is limited, or when the motivation is to include as much of the surroundings as possible to tell a more comprehensive story. On the other hand, the 35mm lens, slightly closer to the standard human field of view, is often favored for its natural perspective, providing a balance between environmental context and subject focus. It can encourage closer interaction with subjects, potentially leading to more intimate and engaging shots.

Key Takeaways

  • 28mm lenses offer a wide field of view suitable for expansive street scenes.
  • 35mm lenses provide a more natural perspective for balanced compositions.
  • The choice between 28mm and 35mm depends on personal style and the intended narrative of the photograph.

Understanding Focal Lengths in Street Photography

In my experience as a photographer, the choice between a 35mm and a 28mm lens can significantly influence the style and composition of street photography. Understanding the nuances of each focal length and how they translate in a full-frame or APS-C sensor camera setup is critical.

35mm: The Standard in Street Photography

People sometimes ask, what is the best focal length for street photography. The 35mm focal length is often revered as the standard lens in street photography. On a full-frame camera, a 35mm lens closely resembles the field of view of human vision, which allows for a natural perspective without the distortion commonly found in wider lenses. This focal length enables me to capture scenes with sufficient context while maintaining focus on the subject. Furthermore, should I use an APS-C sensor camera, the crop factor must be taken into account, effectively transforming the field of view to that of a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera—still very versatile for the demands of street scenes.

  • Lens Type: Standard
  • Frame: Full-Frame / APS-C (equivalent to ~50mm)
  • Perspective: Natural human-like
  • Field of View: Moderately Wide
  • Street Suitability: High

28mm: For a Wider Perspective

When I need to capture more of the environment in my street photography, a 28mm lens is my go-to option. This wide-angle lens expands the field of view beyond that of the 35mm, permitting a larger slice of the scene to be included in the frame, which makes it especially useful in dense urban environments or when I want to emphasize the context around my subject. On a full-frame camera, the 28mm lens still manages to maintain a balance, minimizing distortion. Although, on a crop sensor, the wider perspective is somewhat lessened, the inherent properties of a 28mm provide a distinctive outlook that enriches street photography with a more enveloping experience.

  • Lens Type: Wide Angle
  • Frame: Full-Frame / APS-C
  • Perspective: Wider than Standard
  • Field of View: Broad
  • Street Suitability: High with additional context

Both 35mm and 28mm lenses are mainstays in my street photography arsenal, each offering a distinct perspective and contributing to the visual narrative I wish to craft.

Lens Characteristics and Their Impact on Photography

In choosing between a 28mm and a 35mm lens for street photography, I consider how lens characteristics like prime versus zoom options, aperture, and the likelihood of distortion affect the images.

Prime vs Zoom: Quality and Convenience

Prime Lenses:

  • Quality: Prime lenses typically offer superior sharpness and image quality compared to zoom lenses at equivalent focal lengths.
  • Aperture: Wider maximum apertures (e.g., f/2, f/1.8) are common, aiding in low-light situations and allowing for a shallow depth of field to achieve that sought-after bokeh effect.

Zoom Lenses:

  • Convenience: Zoom lenses offer versatility in composition without the need to change lenses.
  • Variability: Image stabilizer and autofocus features may be more advanced in zoom lenses to compensate for the variable focal lengths and to assist in shooting stability.

Aperture and Depth of Field Considerations

  • Aperture Range: Fast apertures like f/1.8 or f/2 permit more light, facilitating low light shooting and faster shutter speeds which are crucial in dynamic street scenes.
  • Depth of Field: A wider aperture also creates a more shallow depth of field, isolating subjects from backgrounds and highlighting them with a smooth bokeh, essential for making a subject stand out amidst urban clutter.

Dealing with Distortion

  • Wide-Angle Lenses: At 28mm, the wider angle increases the risk of distortion, which can be noticeable with straight lines near the edges of the frame.
  • Focal Length: A 35mm lens, on the other hand, often has less distortion, making it a sweet spot for street photographers looking for a natural look akin to the human eye’s perspective.

For street photography, I meticulously evaluate these characteristics to ensure my tool of choice—the lens—enhances my vision rather than imposes limits.

Practical Advantages and Disadvantages of 28mm and 35mm Lenses

When I consider street photography, selecting between a 28mm lens and a 35mm lens hinges on personal preference and intended shooting style. Both offer distinct advantages and downsides in creating compelling images on the street.

28mm Lens:

  • Advantages:
    • Wider field of view, making it easier to capture expansive street scenes.
    • Offers a sense of inclusion, drawing the viewer into the scene.
    • Can be more forgiving in framing, allowing me to easily incorporate unexpected elements.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Can cause distortion if the subject is too close, which might be unflattering for candid portraits.
    • Sometimes too wide, making it challenging to isolate the subject without stepping closer.

35mm Lens:

  • Advantages:
    • Provides a natural look closely resembling the human eye’s perspective, making it versatile.
    • It’s arguably better for candid shots that require a bit more focus on the subject.
    • Light and compact, it’s excellent for photographers like me who prefer a minimal setup.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Slightly narrower field of view may miss some contextual elements of the street.
    • Less forgiving in terms of composition, requiring more precision in framing the shot.

In the realm of street photography, I choose my lens based on the environmental context and the type of images I aim to capture. While a 28mm lends itself to dynamic, environmental portraits, a 35mm is ideal for a more focused, story-telling approach. Ultimately, the decision between the two often boils down to the street photographer’s vision and comfort with either focal length.

Choosing the Right Lens for Your Street Photography

In street photography, the choice of lens is critical for capturing the essence of the environment and the stories within it. I find that a 35mm lens offers a field of view closely resembling that of the human eye, providing a natural perspective often preferred in photojournalism and candid portraits. Its versatile nature makes it ideal for a variety of situations, whether I’m shooting a bustling city scene or an intimate party.

On the other hand, a 28mm lens, with its wider angle, allows me to include more of the scene in the frame. This can be particularly useful in tight urban spaces where I need to capture a more expansive view. When shooting in well-lit conditions, both 28mm and 35mm lenses perform admirably, but the wider 28mm can sometimes deliver a more dynamic sense of space and context.

Here’s a quick reference to keep in mind about both lenses:

  • 35mm Lens:
    • Closer to natural human perspective.
    • Ideal for portraits and photojournalism.
    • Balances subject and environment neatly.
  • 28mm Lens:
    • Captures wider scenes, more environmental context.
    • Suitable for crowded or narrow spaces.
    • Can emphasize the scale and dynamics of the street.

My personal preference leans towards the lens that best fits the story I’m aiming to tell. While the 35mm is great for a focused narrative, the 28mm allows me to include more elements and layers into my compositions. Choosing the right lens for street photography ultimately comes down to the visual tale you’re looking to weave and the environment you’re navigating.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, I address common inquiries about using 28mm and 35mm lenses for street and travel photography, along with their suitability for video and specific situations.

What are the advantages of a 35mm lens over a 28mm for travel photography?

A 35mm lens tends to be more versatile for travel photography, striking a balance between wide scenes and the ability to capture detail without significant distortion. Its field of view closely matches human vision, which allows for natural-looking compositions.

How does field of view differ between 28mm and 35mm lenses when used for street photography?

The field of view of a 28mm lens is wider than that of a 35mm lens, capturing more of the scene on either side of the frame. This can be useful in street photography for including more context and scenes with dynamic elements at the edges of the composition.

For video projects, which is the more versatile focal length, 28mm or 35mm?

For video projects, a 35mm lens is often more versatile. It provides a natural perspective without the exaggerated depth that can come from the wider 28mm lens, making it suitable for a variety of shots, from landscapes to interviews.

Between the 35mm and 50mm lenses, which is more suitable for travel photography and why?

For travel photography, 35mm lenses are typically more suitable than 50mm lenses due to their wider field of view, which is adept at capturing landscapes and architecture, while still being effective for portraits and detailed shots.

What specific situations are 28mm lenses especially well-suited for?

28mm lenses are particularly well-suited for capturing expansive interiors, tight urban spaces, and scenes requiring pronounced foreground elements. Their wider angle excels in emphasizing the sense of space and depth.

In terms of composition and perspective, how does the choice between 28mm and 35mm affect street photography?

Selecting between a 28mm and 35mm lens affects the composition and perspective by either including more of the environment (28mm) or focusing more on the subject (35mm). A 28mm lens can introduce a more dynamic or dramatic feel, while a 35mm provides a more classic, less distorted view.

Further Reading