Is a 35mm Lens Good for Street Photography: The Ideal Focal Length for Candid Photos

written by: CLARKE SCOTT 
Old man walking through market

In the world of photography, the 35mm lens holds a special place, especially within the street photography community.

Its focal length is widely appreciated for its versatility and ability to produce images. This characteristic makes the 35mm lens particularly effective for street photography story telling.

As someone who has experimented with various lenses, I find that using a 35mm lens allows me to engage with my surroundings without the disconnect that might come from a longer lens or the distortion from a wider lens.

The 35mm lens is not just convenient due to its compact size, but it also offers a balance between capturing a scene’s context and the subjects within it.

It gives me the flexibility to include enough environmental detail to set the scene while still maintaining focus on the main subjects. When it comes to street photography, there’s often little time to adjust settings or change lenses; thus, the fast aperture that many 35mm lenses offer is invaluable, helping to adapt quickly to varying lighting conditions and to isolate subjects with a shallow depth of field when needed.

Key Takeaways

  • The 35mm lens is versatile making it ideal for street photography.
  • It allows for capturing environmental context while maintaining focus on the main subjects.
  • The 35mm lens is compact and often has a fast aperture, aiding in quick and adaptable shooting.

Advantages of Using a 35mm Lens for Street Photography

When I use a 35mm lens for street photography, I appreciate its balance between a natural perspective and ease of handling. These lenses are known for their versatility, providing a unique blend of technical and practical benefits.

Field of View and Composition

I find that a 35mm lens offers a field of view closely resembling the human eye, making it excellent for capturing candid street scenes with accurate perspectives. With a 35mm prime lens, I can craft compositions that feel intuitive and include enough of the scene without overwhelming the viewer. This focal length allows me not only to depict the subject but also to convey the ambiance and context of the environment.

Portability and Unobtrusiveness

The compactness of 35mm lenses is a significant advantage during long photography sessions as they are both lightweight and compact. A prime lens, due to its fixed focal length, tends to be smaller and lighter than zoom lenses, making my camera setup less noticeable. This allows me to shoot in public areas with minimal intrusion, preserving the natural dynamics of the street and lessening the impact of the fear factor on the subjects.

Depth of Field Control

Working with apertures like f/2.8 or even an f/1.4 lens allows me to have extensive depth of field control.

With wider apertures, I can create a shallow depth of field that helps isolate subjects from the background, rendering a pleasing bokeh that emphasizes the subject. This capability is crucial in busy street environments where separating the subject matter from the chaos is often necessary.

An f/1.8 aperture available on many 35mm prime lenses is a good balance for achieving sharpness in the subject while providing a gradual focus fall-off.

Technical Considerations for 35mm Street Photography

In the realm of street photography, the 35mm lens is lauded for its versatility and the natural perspective it offers. My focus in this section is to delve into the technical aspects that make the 35mm lens an excellent choice for capturing life on the streets.

Understanding Focal Length

The 35mm lens on a full-frame camera closely matches the human eye’s perspective, providing a wide field of view without distorting subjects. For cameras with an APS-C sensor, a lens around 23mm typically gives a 35mm equivalent focal length due to the crop factor. “Zooming with your feet” is often necessary since prime lenses don’t offer the flexibility of a zoom.

I appreciate this approach as it encourages more thoughtful framing and composition.

Lens Choices and Options

Choosing the right lens can be daunting, but for street photography, prime lenses with a 35mm focal length are typically lighter and more compact, such as pancake lenses. These lenses often come with wider apertures, like f/2, which allows for faster shutter speeds — useful in dynamic, unpredictable street settings. For those using DSLRs, there are many 35mm prime lens options. Meanwhile, mirrorless camera users can also enjoy a vast selection, benefiting from modern design and technology.

Autofocus Versus Manual Focus

Autofocus (AF) systems in modern lenses are swift and reliable, making it convenient to capture fleeting moments on the streets.

AF in my experience is almost indispensable in fast-paced environments. However, manual focus and techniques such as zone focusing can be beneficial for pre-setting the focus zone and waiting for the action to enter the frame, granting me a quieter operation that sometimes autofocus cannot match.

This approach requires a good understanding of the depth of field and its relation to focal length and aperture.

Ethics and Aesthetics in Street Photography

When capturing street photography, it’s essential to balance the genuine portrayal of emotion with mindful composition, all the while upholding ethical standards.

Capturing Genuine Emotion

In my experience as a street photographer, capturing genuine emotion requires a blend of intuition and technical skill. When composing a street portrait, the background plays a crucial role; it sets the stage and adds context to the subject’s emotions.

Layering within the composition can create depth and lead the viewer’s eye to the intimate moments I aim to freeze in time. My approach adheres to the ethics of photojournalism—respecting the privacy and dignity of my subjects is paramount. Even in the spontaneous world of street photography, I ensure that the portrayal of emotion is authentic and never manipulated to mislead the viewer.

Dealing with Distortion and Aberrations

While a 35mm lens is widely recognized for reducing distortion inherent in wider lenses, I still scrutinize my images for any distortion or chromatic aberrations that might detract from the aesthetic quality.

An undistorted layer of reality is vital for creating compelling street portraits that resonate with viewers. My careful attention to aberrations—such as fringing or color shifts—ensures the integrity of the image complements my ethical commitment to truth in representation.

Subtle adjustments in camera placement or angle can make a significant difference, preserving the scene’s fidelity while crafting a photograph that stands as a piece of visual journalism.

Camera and Lens Recommendations

When selecting gear for street photography, I prioritize a balance between the camera’s form factor, image quality, and the lens’s field of view. I believe that a suitable camera and lens combination is crucial for capturing the essence of street life.

Selecting the Right Camera Body

My experience suggests that both full-frame and APS-C cameras are suitable for street photography, with full-frame sensors offering superior low-light performance and a shallower depth of field. APS-C, or DX-format in the case of Nikon, provides a more compact system with cost-effective value while still delivering excellent image quality. For brands, I would recommend looking at Canon EF, Nikon F, Fujifilm, and Sony A mounts, depending on your existing gear and brand preference.

Among mirrorless cameras, rangefinders are particularly appealing for their discretion and quiet operation, making them an ideal personal choice for street photographers who wish to remain unobtrusive.

  • Full Frame Cameras:
    • Canon EOS R
    • Sony A7 Series
    • Nikon Z6/Z7
  • APS-C Cameras:
    • Fujifilm X-T Series
    • Sony A6000 Series
    • Nikon D500/D7500

Lens Quality and Practicality

In choosing a lens for street photography, I consider a 35mm prime lens to be the most versatile choice, offering a natural field of view that closely matches human vision. Prime lenses are favored by many, including myself, for their image quality and faster maximum aperture, which is helpful in low light conditions and for creating blurred backgrounds. The 50mm prime, often referred to as the “nifty fifty,” is another excellent choice for street work, providing slightly tighter framing while still retaining much of the versatility of the 35mm. For those seeking wider perspectives, a 28mm lens can be an outstanding wide-angle option. I also value weather-sealing for durability in various conditions.

Here’s a shortlist of lenses offering these qualities across popular lens mounts:

BrandLens ModelTypeNotable Features
CanonEF 35mm f/2 IS USMPrimeImage Stabilization, Weather-Sealing
NikonNikkor 35mm f/1.8GPrimeLightweight, Cost-effective
Sigma35mm f/1.4 DG HSM ArtPrimeArt Series Quality, F1.4 Aperture
SonyFE 35mm f/1.8PrimeCompact, Versatile
TamronSP 35mm f/1.4 Di USDPrimeHigh Resolution, Excellent Value

Zoom lenses can provide more framing flexibility, but I frequently find the simplicity and quality of a prime lens to be more compelling for the fast pace of street photography.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, I cover some of the most common inquiries regarding the use of a 35mm lens for street photography, focusing on its benefits, comparisons to other lenses, and practical performance insights.

What are the advantages of using a 35mm lens in street photography?

A 35mm lens is highly valued for its versatility, providing a natural field of view that closely mirrors human vision. This focal length allows for capturing scenes with a good balance between subject and environment without the distortion common in wider lenses.

Why do many street photographers prefer prime lenses like the 35mm?

Many street photographers opt for prime lenses, such as the 35mm, due to their compactness, light weight, and typically wider apertures. These features enable quicker focus, better low-light performance, and the ability to create depth with a shallow focus effect.

Can you achieve professional street photography results with a 35mm lens on a crop sensor camera?

Yes, you can achieve professional results with a 35mm lens on a crop sensor camera. Although the effective focal length will be longer, the image quality and the lens’s inherent characteristics, like the wide aperture, remain advantageous for street photography.

How does the field of view on a 35mm lens compare to other focal lengths for street scenes?

The 35mm lens offers a field of view that’s neither too wide nor too narrow. It strikes an ideal balance, avoiding the severe perspective distortion of wider lenses while still encompassing enough of the scene for dynamic street shots.

Which prominent street photographers are known for their work with 35mm lenses?

Henri Cartier-Bresson, a pioneering street photographer, is often associated with the use of a 35mm lens. His work exemplifies the effective use of this focal length in capturing the ‘decisive moment’ within the lively context of the street.

How does a 35mm lens perform in various lighting conditions for street photography?

A 35mm lens generally performs well in a range of lighting conditions, especially models with wide maximum apertures. These lenses can gather more light, allowing for faster shutter speeds and lower ISO settings, which is beneficial in both bright and low-light scenarios.

Further Reading