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35mm vs 50mm Street Photography Showdown: Find Your Perfect Lens Fit

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 
woman walking in the rain with her jacket covering her head

In the realm of street photography, lens choice is crucial, and the debate between 35mm and 50mm lenses is at the heart of many photographers’ kit decisions. Do you aim for the broad, inclusive street scenes provided by a 35mm or the focused, detailed compositions from a 50mm? This guide will walk you through the advantages and uses of 35mm vs 50mm street photography, equipping you with practical insights to help you make the best choice for your creative approach.

Key Takeaways

  • 35mm lenses offer a wider field of view for street photography, suited for capturing more of a scene and are ideal for use in tight spaces, whereas 50mm lenses provide a narrower field of view with a natural perspective similar to human vision, perfect for intimate portraits and focused details.
  • Prime lenses, like the 35mm and 50mm, are generally favored by street photographers for their superior image quality, fast speed, and wider aperture compared to zoom lenses, encouraging greater photographer-subject interaction and engagement with the scene.
  • Choosing between a 35mm and 50mm lens heavily depends on personal style, the environment, and the content being photographed. It is valuable to test both lens types to determine which one better aligns with your creative vision in street photography.

Understanding Focal Length in Street Photography

Focal length, expressed in millimeters (mm), determines the gap between the lens and the image sensor while the subject is focused. This crucial factor decides the level of subject magnification and the field of view attainable. The choice between a 35mm or a 50mm lens can enhance or limit your creative vision, especially in street photography where the action is spontaneous and dynamic.

Shorter focal lengths, such as 35mm, give a broader view, excellent for capturing an extensive part of the scene. In contrast, longer focal lengths, like 50mm, provide a narrower view, ideal for subject isolation. Moreover, focal length affects the perspective in your photos, with shorter focal lengths creating a sense of expansiveness and longer focal lengths compressing the space and perspective.

The Role of Focal Length in Street Photography

Focal length not only impacts your photos’ composition but also plays a significant role in shaping their narrative quality. For instance, 50mm lenses produce a far-away perspective, which contrasts with the eye-level perspective offered by 35mm lenses. This perspective difference can significantly impact the story you’re trying to tell through your images.

A 35mm lens, with its wider field of view, enables photographers to capture layered compositions and interactions among multiple subjects, thus facilitating richer storytelling. Meanwhile, the shallower depth of field of a 50mm lens contrasts with the deeper depth of field provided by a 35mm lens, affecting the focus and isolation of subjects in your street photography.

Prime Lenses vs Zoom Lenses

Within the realm of street photography, photographers frequently prefer prime lenses over zoom lenses. Prime lenses, such as the 35mm and 50mm, offer faster speed, superior image quality, and a wider depth of field compared to a zoom lens. Their minimal size and weight also make them easier to carry and less obtrusive when shooting on the streets.

Additionally, utilizing a prime lens for street photography can establish a profound connection with your gear. Understanding your lens and its capabilities can foster instinctive shooting and fluid composition, elements critical for capturing those fleeting moments on the streets.

Characteristics of 35mm Lenses in Street Photography

35mm lenses, renowned for their wide-angle view, enable photographers to seize more of the scene and establish closeness with their subjects. Their compact and lightweight nature makes it easy to move quickly and capture shots with ease, an essential quality in the fast-paced world of street photography. While a telephoto lens may offer a different perspective, the versatility of 35mm lenses remains unmatched for street photographers.

Furthermore, in bustling areas such as cities, a 35mm lens’s wide-angle view is crucial for encapsulating rapid-moving scenes and various subjects. Whether you’re shooting in a crowded outdoor space or a tight indoor setting, a 35mm lens can capture multiple subjects or a subject with a significant portion of the background with ease.

Wide Angle View and Immersive Perspective

The 35mm lens, being a wide-angle lens, offers a spacious viewing angle. With a wider lens, photographers can:

  • Capture a larger portion of the environment, creating a more immersive viewer experience
  • Add complexity to compositions by allowing more context and background within an image
  • Capture intricate layers and perspectives

While providing a generous field of view, 35mm lenses maintain a balance that avoids significant distortion found in wider lenses. This ensures that people and objects close to the lens do not appear grotesque. To effectively use a 35mm lens for an immersive photographic experience, photographers should get closer to the subject and be mindful of the frame’s edges.

Suitability for Close-up Shots and Confined Spaces

35mm lenses are highly suitable for creating personal and intimate photographs. Their wider field of view pushes distanced backgrounds and emphasizes the subject, allowing for natural conversations with reduced face distortion.

Moreover, the wider field of view of a 35mm lens aids in capturing more scene content when operating in tight spaces, necessitating the photographer’s closer proximity to the subject for an intimate perspective. The practice of ‘zooming with your feet’ coupled with the often compact size of 35mm lenses encourages photographers to explore various compositions and perspectives, making them less obtrusive in street scenarios.

Challenges with Distortion and Edge Sharpness

However, 35mm lenses are not without their challenges. Some potential drawbacks include:

  • Distortion, particularly at the edges of the frame
  • Edge-to-edge sharpness may not be as good as in wider angle lenses
  • Larger glass elements, which can impact edge sharpness

But worry not, there are ways to overcome these challenges. Techniques such as software correction or composing techniques can minimize edge distortions. With practice and patience, you can learn to use a 35mm lens to its full potential, capturing stunning street photographs.

Characteristics of 50mm Lenses in Street Photography

Conversely, we have the 50mm lens, often dubbed the ‘nifty fifty’ by numerous photographers. A 50mm lens offers a natural perspective that mirrors human vision, aiding in taking images that resonate with personal and intimate vibes, particularly in portrait shots.

The moderate focal length of a 50mm lens offers the following benefits for street photography:

  • Balances detail and field of view
  • Versatile for a wide variety of shots, including urban landscapes
  • Challenges photographers to compose shots with multiple elements without cropping, encouraging them to engage more with their surroundings.

Natural Perspective and Detail Capture

The 50mm lens is beloved by many for its ability to capture a natural perspective, similar to our human vision. This allows photographers to create images that feel personal and intimate, making 50mm lenses perfect for capturing street portraits.

A 50mm lens can produce:

  • Sharp images with beautiful bokeh
  • More focused view on the main subject, their features, and expressions
  • Reduced number of distracting elements in the frame
  • Enhanced textures and patterns of the urban environment

Its light weight camera system makes it perfect for capturing street portraits, excelling in both street portrait and portrait photography.

Versatility in Various Shooting Scenarios

The adaptability of a 50mm lens is unquestionable. It’s a strong performer in various photographic requirements, from capturing candid moments to documenting diverse street and everyday scenes. The moderate focal length of the 50mm lens encourages photographers to physically move in the street scenario, fostering more interaction and creativity in their compositions.

Despite its narrower field of view compared to a 35mm lens, a 50mm lens can deliver high quality, detailed images in a variety of shooting scenarios. It’s a well-rounded choice for street photographers looking for flexibility and quality.

Limitations in Tight Spaces and Wider Scenes

While a 50mm lens has its perks, it also has limitations. Its narrower field of view can make it feel claustrophobic when used indoors or in confined spaces. Capturing the full scope of a scene can be challenging in confined areas, often necessitating stepping back further than the space allows.

Furthermore, the narrower field of view can make it difficult to convey a larger scene’s environmental context, making it less optimal for scenarios that demand very wide scene capture. However, these limitations can also push photographers to explore new compositions and perspectives, further developing their photographic skills.

Making the Choice: 35mm vs 50mm for Street Photography

Choosing between a 35mm and 50mm lens for street photography primarily hinges on your personal preferences and shooting styles. Factors such as the shooting environment, the subject matter you’ll be photographing, and your composition preferences should inform your choice of lens.

However, bear in mind that each lens, whether 35mm or 50mm, comes with its own set of advantages and drawbacks. It’s essential to understand the pros and cons of both lenses to make an informed choice suitable for your street photography needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Lens

When choosing between a 35mm and 50mm lens, consider your individual style, worldview, and how you intend to execute your vision. Are you more drawn to wider scenes or tighter shots? Do you prefer creating different levels of intimacy with the subjects? Your answers to these questions will guide your lens choice.

Other factors include the shooting environment and the subject matter you’ll be photographing. For instance, if you often shoot in tight spaces or like to include a lot of background context, a 35mm lens might be more suitable. On the other hand, if you focus more on individual subjects and prefer a narrower field of view, a 50mm lens could be your best bet.

Trying Both Lenses Before Committing

Before finalizing your choice, it’s advantageous to try out both 35mm and 50mm lenses. This will help you discern which one compliments your photography approach and the vision you wish to achieve in your street photography.

Switching between a 35mm and a 50mm lens can also inspire fresh creative perspectives and keep your work dynamic and refreshing. If possible, consider renting or borrowing both types of lenses, which offers an opportunity for hands-on experience without the immediate commitment of a purchase.

Popular 35mm and 50mm Lenses for Street Photography

If you’re wondering which specific 35mm or 50mm lens to choose, there are several popular options available from major lens manufacturers like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Sigma, Samyang, and Tamron. Among the 35mm lenses, notable options include:

  • Sony FE 35mm f/1.8 with its compact design and quick autofocus
  • Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM with image stabilization and macro capability
  • Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R that provides excellent image quality with a rapid aperture.

The 50mm focal length has its standouts as well. Here are some notable lenses:

  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM: Affordable and impressive performance
  • Sony FE 50mm f/1.8: Good quality at a lower price point
  • Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G: Swift aperture
  • Leica Summilux-M 50mm f/1.4 ASPH: Exceptional performance and distinct Leica aesthetic

Tips for Mastering Street Photography with Your Chosen Lens

Once you’ve selected your lens, the real journey to master street photography commences. Utilize the wide maximum aperture of your lens for low-light shooting and to achieve a shallow depth of field for subject isolation. Embrace the fast shutter speed capabilities of your lens to handle different lighting situations effectively, from bright daylight to the glow of streetlights at night.

Remember to incorporate creativity in your shots while shooting street photography. Here are some tips to help you:

  • Look for patterns, reflections, and interesting light to add visual interest and create memorable images.
  • Use leading lines and thoughtful foreground placement to compose shots with minimized background distractions and accentuated subjects.
  • Remember, patience is key in street photography. Wait for the opportune moment to capture that perfect, compelling shot.

Summary

In the world of street photography, the choice between a 35mm and a 50mm lens is one of personal preference and shooting style. Each lens offers unique characteristics that can add a distinctive flavor to your images. The 35mm lens, with its wider field of view, is perfect for capturing expansive scenes and multiple subjects. On the other hand, the 50mm lens provides a more natural perspective similar to human vision, ideal for capturing intimate portraits and focusing on individual subjects. Whichever lens you choose, remember to experiment, learn, and most importantly, enjoy the process of capturing life’s fleeting moments on the streets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I use 35 or 50 mm lens for street photography?

For street photography, you should use a 35mm lens if you want to capture full-length street portraits, or a 50mm lens for focusing the scene on your subject and important background details. Choose based on the specific effect you want to achieve.

What is the difference between a 35mm and a 50mm lens in terms of perspective?

The 50mm lens produces a distant perspective, while the 35mm lens provides a perspective closer to human eye level, influencing the narrative quality of an image.

Why are prime lenses preferred over zoom lenses for street photography?

Prime lenses are preferred over zoom lenses for street photography because they offer faster speed, superior image quality, and a wider depth of field, and they are also more compact and lightweight. This makes them less obtrusive when shooting on the streets.

How can I master street photography with my chosen lens?

To master street photography with your chosen lens, make the most of its wide maximum aperture for low-light shooting and subject isolation, and embrace its fast shutter speed for varied lighting conditions. Look for patterns, reflections, and interesting light to enhance the visual appeal of your images.

Further Reading