Best camera / focal length for street photography - your help needed.

Discussion in 'The Watering Hole' started by Ghosthunter, Nov 22, 2014.

  1. Hi All

    I have been asked at work to do a blog for our website about street photography. It's a beginners guide with mainly tips on equipment rather than technique. So the question is...

    For normal street photography which camera and/or focal length do you find the best to use.

    I will compile this data with whats generally found on the net. Many thanks for your help.

  2. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs Legend

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    There is no single best Andy. It's down to how you shoot and how you see. I personally prefer something in the wide 24-28mm range and the Nikon Coolpix A is the best street camera I've ever used for how I shoot. Some prefer a more "neutral" focal length like 50-55mm. Others swear by 35mm as the perfect compromise between wide and neutral. Among really well known street photographers, Henri Cartier Bresson used 50mm mostly (although I think sometimes 35 as well). Garry Winongrand used 28mm almost exclusively, so there's not a lot of consistency among the greats or we modern amateurs. In terms of the camera itself, do you shoot from the hip? Do you need a viewfinder? Are you zone focussing (in which case you need MORE depth of field) or are you using AF and going for some subject isolation (in which case you want narrower DOF)? I personally use zone focus and rarely shoot from eye level, so I like a camera with lots of DOF and a good way of managing the tradeoffs between a fast shutter speed and small-ish aperture and I find a really good auto-ISO system an absolute must-have, but I'm not typical in this sense. For me, Fuji, Nikon, and Samsung are the only manufacturers that currently do auto-ISO in a way that works for me, with Ricoh and Canon and Olympus coming sort of close.

    I think for a beginners guide, I wouldn't recommend a particular camera - I'd say use whatever they have and if it has a zoom lens (as most beginners will have on their cameras), use it to try different focal lengths and see what they like and what they end up using the most. I'd would recommend that rather than zooming around for each shot, though, that they pick one focal length and stay with it for a while. Then pick a different one and stay with THAT for a while, etc, etc. That way, they'll probably start to get a feel for what they're most comfortable with and can maybe choose a different camera with a prime lens farther down the road and they'll know which prime lens. I don't think very many street shooters end up shooting with zooms and changing focal lengths on each shot, but I'm sure there are some and probably some who do it pretty well.

    Good luck. There's almost no right way to write a beginners guide to street photography - it' such a massive trial and error process to see what works for each shooter and each shooter will end up liking something totally different. You just have to start doing it and those who enjoy it, early frustrations and all, will stick with it and figure out what works for them. And many will realize they really don't enjoy the process at all and will just find themselves drifting quickly away from it. I started with an Olympus EP2 and the Olympus 17mm lens using auto focus and when I think back on how I was using it and my amazingly low rate of keepers, it gives me the horrors. And yet I still have some stuff I shot with that setup that I like. Today I get a much much much higher rate of technical keepers and I think that's important because street shooting is a game of relative failure - only a small percentage of your shots will end up being decent photographs (infinitesimally small at first) so the more technically adequate keepers you have to choose from, the better your odds.

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  3. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    Ray's right. To suit ME I use 40-50mm 80% of the time and 35mm the remaining 19%. Oh wait... That leaves 1%... That'll be when I use 28mm, or 60-90mm...
    • Like Like x 1
  4. This is meant to be a general question for individuals and what they like/think, not a general question but thanks for the input, It's always welcome. :smile:
  5. Lightmancer

    Lightmancer Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Aug 13, 2011
    Sunny Frimley
    Bill Palmer
    In that case, this is my favourite and most used "street" camera; battery-independent, I can focus and adjust shutter speed by feel before raising it to my eye. It is relatively quiet, relatively small and a pleasure to use. If it attracts any attention at all, it is a smile and curiosity.
    IID 5cm Nickel Elmar par Lightmancer, on ipernity
  6. bartjeej

    bartjeej Hall of Famer Subscribing Member

    Nov 12, 2010
    I'm one of the people who haven't really clicked with street photography yet; although i do like the general concept, I'm probably too shy. Which is why a really small inconspicuous camera works best for me, I'm actually considering a camera phone to stand out as little as possible. Focal lenths... If the person is aware that I'm shooting, I prefer something wide for the drama. My shyness has me shooting from a distance using longer focal lenths. I do really, really like Saul Leiters work, and I think he was usually somewhere between 90 and 150mm...
    • Like Like x 1
  7. biglouis

    biglouis Veteran

    Aug 4, 2013
    I would have thought that one constant for street photography is a wide angle lens.

    Often you have to tell the story of the photograph with some context around it and it is hard to see how anything less wide than a 35mm will allow that.

    I have always said that if someone produced a camera with a single 35mm lens and a fixed aperture of f8 that would probably work 99% of the time for me when I am stalking the streets. But unlike other people I actually shoot streets and not people unless I can't avoid it.

    At present the best camera I own for street photography has to be my Ricoh GR. I don't normally like 28mm lenses (neither standard WA or UWA) but for some reason I find it works really well on the GR. I set it to Tav so it has a constant 1/160 speed and I actually set the lens for f5.6 (as it is wider than a 35mm that I normally like so depth of field is greater) and let the camera choose the iso to meet the settings. Works great in most situations.

    Just my two cents. Good luck writing the article and maybe post some of it here when you are done?

    • Like Like x 1
  8. john m flores

    john m flores All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    I prefer normal focal lengths due to their versatility. Step back for context. Step forward for content.
    • Like Like x 7
  9. MoonMind

    MoonMind All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Dec 29, 2013
    In my film days, my go-to focal length for street and candid shooting was 35mm, without exception. When I went to digital, choices became more divers, mostly because there are so many affordable good lenses. So far, I've tried 24mm, 28mm, 35mm again, 40mm, 50mm, 75mm and 90mm - all equivalents as of yet since I don't own FF.

    24mm was/is too wide for me - I just don't see that way and can't seem to balance street shots. 28mm (the Ricoh GR!) sometimes works very well, but I'm still not able to adapt to the FOV all the time - but from the results I'm getting, I think it's one of the most useful focal lengths for street work. 35mm is a no-brainer from days of old, but I've actually come to like 40mm more - though I think that's mainly because I prefer the rendering of the Panasonic 20mm (I) to the also very nice, but somehow dreamier, less crisp performance the Olympus 17mm.

    Interestingly (mainly in the light of what john m flores has said above), 50mm already puts me in street portrait mode - something I really like doing, but I don't know if it's still proper street photography - truth be told, I'm not into creative restrictions of that kind myself, so I don't really care, but the images I get are visually quite different from those taken with wider lenses.

    With moderate tele lenses, 75mm or 90mm, street portraiture is a given - I admit that Ilove doing that, even though it's somehow less spontaneous and dynamic as an approach (pun intended).

    Finally, I went out today with a fish-eye (15mm equivalent). Crazy stuff - but some of those images have something I need to explore more. Strangely, I like the fact that there are no straight lines - imperfections can be liberating.

    Bottom line? Don't limit yourself, at least not before exploring the possibilities available to you. Find a style (or several) that suits you and/or your equipment. For me, there's something interesting to every setup. There's certainly no single best focal length and/or lens, but that has been established already.

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  10. Duane Pandorf

    Duane Pandorf All-Pro

    Apr 25, 2011
    Western NC
    I have found I prefer the 35mm focal length for my eye and camera.
  11. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Tell us which focal length lenses that your company is trying to push and we'll make up a story for each one :biggrin:
    • Like Like x 4
  12. MoonMind

    MoonMind All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Dec 29, 2013
    :cool: Honestly, that'd actually be very intriguing - we could do it, even without tongue in cheek :tup: And some wouldn't even have to be made up ...

    I'll not highjack the thread, but I could contribute one for the 20mm and one for a true 35mm (the Minox GT-E of yore).

  13. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator Subscribing Member

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    I find the X100 and its' 35mm equivalent lens works best for the working distances I feel comfortable working at and it's retro look makes people feel unthreatened.
    • Like Like x 2
  14. Briar

    Briar Hall of Famer

    Oct 27, 2010
    Up to 35mm suits me. Above that, I miss the shot when I'm not looking through the viewfinder. I don't like to look through the viewfinder.

    It is strange that retro cameras are less intimidating, but like Luke, I've found that too. People are less intimidated and more likely to strike up a conversation with you about your "cool" camera. Not sure it's cool to say cool these days but you get what I mean.

    The best advice to give anyone who is getting into street photography is not to think about it. Just see it and shoot it. If you allow yourself to think about it you persuade yourself either not to take the shot or your subject is gone before your finger clicks the button. That said, I don't always follow that advice. It's why I'm not a great street photographer. The shy introspective me thinks too much!!
    • Like Like x 4
  15. Plaatje

    Plaatje Regular

    Oct 20, 2014
    For me it still is the Olympus E-p2 with the PanaLeica 25mm. Before it was the Sigma 19mm and for portraits the Olympus 45mm. When I want to go light it's the Olympus XZ-2. The best combination for you? Go out and try . . . Used to go out on the streets with a Sony A-550. I think there is no perfect lens/camera combination. Use what you like . . . or what you have . . .
    • Like Like x 1
  16. I still have not found the courage to be open about street shooting, hence I rarely do it. On the few occasions I have, the focal length has varied, as I have been using a zoom in some kind of compact. If I had to choose just one focal length it would probably be 50mm (which is why I am intrigued by the thought of the addon lens for the X100). I don't "see" much wider than 35mm, and its acceptable, but my preference is for 50mm. I think its likely because my photographic life began with 50mm and that is all I shot with, when I was doing film...
    • Like Like x 1
  17. Boid

    Boid All-Pro

    Dec 15, 2011
    Bangalore, India
    Used to be 35mm, then I bought the GR and I started loving the 28mm and now I bought the wide angle adapter so now it's at 21mm. I should really look at taking the adapter off sometime.
  18. MoonMind

    MoonMind All-Pro Subscribing Member

    Dec 29, 2013
    After re-reading some of the posts, I now think that if I was actually asked for a recommendation for a street photography *beginner*, I'd end up recommending a good compact zoom instead of a single focal length in whatever form or package.

    I know that this'd be against the trend and may seem to contradict some of the things I've said earlier in this thread, but truth be told, cameras like the Sony RX100 series (especially the III), the Olympus XZ-2/Pentax MX-1, the Panasonic LX7 and LX100 or the Fuji X*0 series, to name just the more obvious contenders, make very good IQ available at (reasonably) affordable prices. With those cameras, you can already experience almost everything that makes street photography worthwhile while not walling yourself in and restricting your way of seeing and shooting too much before you've had an opportunity to actually develop it. For a beginner, this might turn out to be a real boon.

    Restriction is a powerful creative incentive, though - so a GR would still be my personal choice, even as a first camera. But I used to use 35mm on the go exclusively for literally decades before it went out of favour somehow - or rather, my passion for photography retreated to somewhere I couldn't find it for about ten years (though I still took pictures from time to time). Anyhow, I'm *used* to having only one specific way of capturing something I see.

    However, and that's a major consideration for me, I wouldn't want to miss all the other attempts at street photography I'm lucky enough to have tried out since making the switch to digital. In fact, my approach is still sort of eclectic: Apart from using the GR and, most recently, the LX100 (which is fast becoming a new favourite of mine), I still love shooting on the streets with the Nikon 1 V1 with 18.5mm and the E-PM1 with Panasonic 20mm. And there's always the Canon S95 that still does a decent job as well. So, three (different!) fixed focal lenghts, two zooms - though since I use the S95 at either 28mm or 35mm equivalents more or less exclusively (through step zoom), the only real crocodile in the snake pit is the LX100 ...

    Maybe it should get my recommendation, then ...

  19. Thank you all for your input. It's much appreciated.:thumbup: