50mm Lens for Street Photography – Best Focal Length?

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Is a 50mm lens the best focal length for street photography? A lot of people ask me this question, and you too might want to discover the answer to this question.

Street photography is more than just shooting images in public places. The beauty of street photography is that it allows you to capture everyday life and it opens up more room for you to explore your creativity and play with different elements of photography.

You have to decide what to capture, what to share, or discard in order to come up with visually compelling photos that tell a story and evoke emotions.

Choosing the right gear when it comes to street photography is crucial and even a subtle difference in focal length can make or break a shot. You need to invest in the right type of lens since your aim is to shoot photos that are clear, detailed and in most cases to not distort the final image. Lately, I’ve been taking more and more street photos and in this article, I want to talk about what it is, in my opinion, to shoot street photography with a 50mm lens.

A 50mm Lens gives you these advantages:

  • No Distortion
  • You Don’t Have to be too Close to the Subject
  • Wide enough aperture to get some of the environment
  • Fast (since it’s a prime lens)
  • Affordable, check these lenses

Using a 50mm Lens: Zoom Lens vs Prime Lens

First, you have two primary options when it comes to buying a lens.

You can choose between zoom lenses and prime lenses. 

Read my article at this link if you want to know a bit more about the difference between zoom and prime lenses.

A zoom lens covers a wide range of different focal lengths, with the most common ones ranging anywhere from 18mm to 300mm. On the other hand, a prime lens has a fixed focal length, such as 35mm or 50mm camera lenses for example.

While the versatility and flexibility of zoom camera lenses can be helpful sometimes, this type of lens has downsides compared to prime lenses.

Firstly, zoom lenses are heavier and difficult to carry around the whole day, and they don’t perform as well as a prime lens in low-light photography.

These are some of the reasons, most photographers prefer using prime lenses for street photography

Let’s get into the details.

Wider Aperture

Prime lenses usually have a wider and faster aperture, allowing you to shoot quality images even in low light.

With a bigger aperture on a 50mm prime lens, you can afford using slower shutter speed, making it possible to shoot in low light, without raising the ISO and maintaining the quality of your images.

I spent several hours writing about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO because I wanted to make sure I covered the basics of these three pillars of photography. You can find my articles here:

Better, Sharper Images

  • From a lens engineering perspective, prime lenses are more efficient, considering that they do not have an array of different focal lengths to accommodate. This translates to better, sharper images.
  • Further, there is less distortion and chromatic aberration when using a prime lens given that the manufacturer only has to focus on controlling one focal length during the design stage.

Using a 50mm Lens Spurs Creativity

Using a fixed focal length forces the photographer to work with the constraints of the lens.

This, in turn, encourages creativity. Essentially, you have to create possible images in your mind out of nothing by simply looking at a scene.

This will make you more active as you try to figure out what shots to take. Also, a prime lens will force you to get closer to the subject and this can result in a more engaging experience that can result in a much different image.

Using a prime lens only can be fun if you want to take a photographic challenge and decide to use only a certain lens for a certain period of time.

Bokeh Effect

Bokeh is the art of making photos visually appealing by incorporating blur in the images.

A prime lens can help you achieve beautiful, blurred backgrounds thanks to its wide aperture.

So What is the Best Focal Length for Street Photography?

The perfect focal length for a street photographer depends on a number of factors, including the type of camera you have, the crop factor of your sensor and your preferred style of shooting

Notably, full-frame users may opt for the 35mm lens to capture a standard view without having to step back too far and include some of the environment in the composition.

If you need to compress the scene and remain less noticeable, then you can go for a telephoto lens and create a more cinematic, but disengaged photo.

Nevertheless, these focal lengths have their shortcomings in terms of the difference in reach and image distortion.

Considering this, what are the real advantages os using the 50mm lens option for street photography?

Pros and Cons of a 50mm Lens for Street Photography

Pros of Using a 50mm Lens for Street Photography

No Distortion

50mm lenses offer a normal view similar to what we usually see when looking straight ahead. This makes visualizing framing easier, and you can shoot images with zero distortions.

You Don’t Have to be too Close to the Subject

Another benefit of using a 50mm lens is that you do not have to be too close to your subject. The medium focal length allows you to capture images while remaining less noticeable.

The 50mm lens is obviously not a telephoto, but this focal length is crucial in street photography. You can be a couple of meters or more away from your subject and given that most photo opportunities happen randomly, you would want to shoot rapidly without coming close.

Wide Aperture

50mm prime lenses come with a wide aperture. As I said, this has several benefits. Firstly, a wide aperture allows more light into your camera, meaning that you can shoot in low light situations. In addition, the exposure allows the camera to produce better quality images without having to increase the ISO.

Fast

The 50mm prime lens is incredibly fast thanks to its wide aperture. This makes it possible to shoot in the lower range of ISO indoors and outdoors while providing a significantly higher shutter speed, hence not requiring a tripod.

Affordable

The 50mm prime lens is one of the least expensive lenses money can buy given that it does not require complex glass, and it is very easy to engineer. The overall price of manufacturing passes on to the consumer, making it extremely affordable.

Check out this list of amazing and very well-priced lenses for street photography.

Cons of Using a 50mm Lens for Street Photography

Small Field of View

One of the disadvantages of a 50mm lens is that it can be too tight. In essence, the lens offers a small field of view, meaning that it would be difficult to capture more of a scene even if you step backward.

Difficult to get the Right Hyperfocal Distance

The 50mm lens offers a shallow depth of field, but it becomes very difficult to establish the right hyperfocal distance. This can be somehow frustrating, especially for street photography.

Affordable 50mm Lenses for Street Photography

According to my research, these 50mm lenses are at the moment a great value for your money on Amazon.

50mm Micro Four Thirds Sensor Lenses

Shooting 50mm – Sean Tucker Video

I love this YouTube channel. Even though the video is more travel photography oriented, I think it could be helpful for you to watch it.

Sean Tucker talks about why the 50mm lens is a great focal length and explains how bringing only one lens with you sparks your creativity.

Video key points:

  • 1:50 As a photographer you should not rely on a lot of gear and you should be able to go around with just your camera and a 50mm lens
  • 2:15 How having only one lens helps creativity
  • 3:25 It’s better to spend money traveling than buying a new expensive camera
  • 4:10 Invest in good glass (lenses), not in the latest and fanciest camera body

Quote from the video:

I think the 50mm lens is an extremely good discipline lens; it requires you to see in amore refined way.

William albert Allard

Conclusion

Street photography is fun and gratifying. For you to make the most out of this experience, it is imperative to invest in the right camera lens with the best focal length for street photography. 

There are a number of factors that will affect your final image, and I think that the 50mm lens offers a viable option for those who are looking for a lens that has a wide aperture and can produce sharp images even in low light.

What lens do you use for street photography?

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