Facebook Pixel The Best Lens for Street Photography: Top 11 Picks (in 2021)

The Best Lens for Street Photography: Top 11 Picks (in 2021)

the best lens for street photography

What’s the best lens for street photography on the market today?

In this article, I’ll share my favorite street photography lenses, including options for all budgets and camera brands. I’ll also explain how you can pick the perfect street lens for your needs – by taking into account important factors such as focal length, sharpness, and low-light performance.

So if you like street photography and you’re looking to buy a new lens to improve your photos, then read on.

people walking on the street
Which direction will you go with your street photography?
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 50mm f/1.2L | f/8 | 1/800s | ISO 320

1. Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

best street photography lens Canon 50mm f/1.2

If you’re prepared to pay the price, then the Canon 50mm f/1.2L is one of the best lenses for street photography available today. The large aperture lets you photograph in low-light conditions without needing to boost the ISO, and the optics and build quality are outstanding. The 50mm f/1.2 works well for both street photography and street portraits (i.e., posed portraits with people on the streets), and the standard focal length offers enough reach for intimate compositions.

  • Low-light performance: Stellar; not many lenses have an aperture as large as f/1.2
  • Quality: Excellent build, just what you’d expect from a flagship Canon lens
  • Price: On the expensive side ($1399 USD)
  • Weight: Pretty heavy, thanks to the solid build quality and wide maximum aperture

2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Canon 50mm f/1.8

Like the 50mm f/1.2, above, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 STM is a great lens to have in your street photography bag – in fact, there are plenty of reasons to buy it over the f/1.2 version. For one, the cheaper price is going to be much more appealing, especially if you’re new to photography and not yet ready to commit to more expensive gear. And the 50mm f/1.8 is also much smaller and lighter than its bulky f/1.2 sibling. While low-light performance isn’t on par with other lenses on this list, you can still count on the 50mm f/1.8 in the shade and at night.

  • Low-light performance: Pretty good, thanks to a relatively large maximum aperture
  • Quality: Good, but not as solid as the f/1.2 version (above)
  • Price: You can pick up this lens for just over $100 USD – it’s just about the cheapest lens you can buy
  • Weight: The size and weight of this lens make it easy to carry around

3. Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM

Canon 135mm f/2

Those looking for a longer street photography lens could do a lot worse than the Canon 135mm f/2L. At 135mm, you’ll be able to photograph your street scenes from a distance, though the size of the 135mm f/2 makes discreet shooting difficult. It’s a great lens for separating your main subject from a busy background – you can use that extra focal length to compress the scene, and the f/2 aperture helps achieve outstanding background bokeh. And while the 135mm f/2 isn’t as forgiving as a 50mm lens, you can use it in low light, especially at f/2.

  • Low-light performance: Good for the longer 135mm focal length
  • Quality: A great build that’s usable in all weather conditions
  • Price: Reasonable ($999 USD) for a high-level lens
  • Weight: Relatively heavy, but much lighter than a 70-200mm f/2.8

4. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G

Nikon 50mm f/1.8

Nikon users looking for an affordable street photography lens should consider the 50mm f/1.8G. It offers good quality with an aperture that’s large enough for most situations, plus the 50mm focal length is a street photography classic. Nice build, weight, and size make it a great option for any Nikon street photographer.

  • Low-light performance: Good for most situations
  • Quality: Well built
  • Price: The most affordable lens for Nikon street photographers (that offers a decent maximum aperture)
  • Weight: The slightly smaller aperture means less lens glass, which means it’s easy to carry

5. Nikon 24-85mm f/2.8-4D

Nikon 24-85mm

Thanks to its zoom range, the Nikon 24-85mm offers a little more flexibility than other options on this list – and it can double as a general-purpose lens, too. It’s a step up from a kit lens and offers you an aperture of f/2.8 on the wide end. This lens covers the 50mm focal distance that many consider optimal for street photography, and you’ll be able to zoom in and out, a major advantage if you want to frame a photo quickly without needing to move. The major downside is the 24-85mm’s low-light capabilities; the f/2.8 to f/4 maximum aperture just won’t be enough for some situations.

  • Low-light performance: Decent, but not what you get with a prime lens
  • Quality: Good overall quality for street photography
  • Price: In the midrange price bracket (around $750 USD). You’re paying for a zoom lens with a large maximum aperture.
  • Weight: The lens is heavier than a prime lens (a compromise for more focal length flexibility)

6. Sony 35mm f/2.8 Sonnar T FE ZA

Sony 35mm

While 35mm is on the wider side for street photography, the Sony 35mm f/2.8 is great for those with an APS-C sensor who want to photograph with a 50mm field of view. Build quality is good, so you can shoot in most conditions. And while the f/2.8 aperture isn’t ideal for nighttime outings, it’s more than enough for daytime and twilight street photography.

  • Low-light performance: It’s going to be more of a challenge to use this lens in dim light, though the wide focal length means you can handhold at a slightly slower shutter speed.
  • Quality: It’s a nice lens, and its compact size is a definite plus for street photography
  • Price: In the midrange price bracket ($799 USD)
  • Weight: Coming in at just 4.2 oz (119g), this lens isn’t heavy

7. Sony E 50mm f/1.8 OSS

Sony 50mm f/1.8 OSS

If you’re just getting into street photography, you’re a Sony APS-C user, and you want an affordable option, then the Sony 50mm f/1.8 could be the lens for you. The sleek, compact design makes it ideal for the street photographer, and its fast focusing is important for nailing the perfect shot. You get a 75mm effective focal length, which is a bit tight for some photographers – but if you like the narrower field of view, then the 50mm f/1.8 is a perfect choice.

  • Low-light performance: The larger maximum aperture is good for most low-light situations
  • Quality: Well built; ideal for both beginners and more experienced photographers
  • Price: Offers great value (around $350 USD)
  • Weight: Standard primes aren’t usually heavy, and this lens weighs just over 7 oz (200 g)

8. Fujinon XF 35mm f/1.4 R

Fujinon 35mm f/1.4

The Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 is a great lens for any Fujifilm camera user, whether you’re interested in street photography, portraits, or simply creating abstract bokeh. The lens is sharp, has decent focus speeds, and offers an f/1.4 for nice blurred-out backgrounds and nighttime photography. The bokeh effect is especially good (and can produce very nice street photography backgrounds).

  • Low-light performance: With a 35mm focal length and a maximum aperture of f/1.4, this lens is ideal for low-light shooting.
  • Quality: A solid, dependable lens; will keep up with the fast pace of street photography
  • Price: Midrange ($599 USD), thanks to the wide maximum aperture
  • Weight: Decent to carry around for a day on the street

9. Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2 R

Fujinon 56mm f/1.2

The Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 offers a wide maximum aperture, one that’s perfect for low-light street photography, plus it can generate beautiful backgrounds. The focal length is on the long side – on Fujifilm APS-C cameras, it’s an effective 84mm – but you can use it for close-ups, tighter scenics, and intimate street portraits. And for an f/1.2 lens, the price is pretty reasonable!

  • Low-light performance: You’re not going to get a better lens than this for low-light scenes
  • Quality: This is a great piece of glass that produces excellent images
  • Price: Quality lenses cost a lot; this lens will set you back around $1000 USD
  • Weight: It’s heavier than most of the primes on this list, but that’s one of the tradeoffs for such a wide maximum aperture

10. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART DG HSM

Sigma 35mm f/1.4

Sigma has been making excellent lenses with its ART series, and the 35mm f/1.4 is no exception. The lens comes in mounts for all the major camera manufacturers, including Nikon, Canon, and Sony, and while it’s a third-party lens, it does well against the other glass on this list. The large aperture and medium-wide focal length make this an ideal lens for any street photographer, whether shooting in the day or at night. It really is one of the best lenses for street photography available today, and it’s cheaper than the high-end lenses offered by other major manufacturers.

  • Low-light performance: Strong. This is a fast lens that allows for great images in tricky lighting
  • Quality: Very nice; Sigma is one of the best third-party manufacturers, and the ART series is top-notch
  • Price: For around $700 USD, you’re picking up excellent glass at a midrange price.
  • Weight: The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 is on the heavier end of the scale

11. Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2

Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8

Looking for a versatile street photography lens? The Tamron 24-70mm offers a similar focal range to a kit lens but with a fast f/2.8 aperture. You get significant flexibility thanks to the wide-to-telephoto zoom capabilities, so you can easily capture street photos that require rapid changes in composition. The downside is this lens’s size and weight (f/2.8 zoom lenses are always on the heavier side). For a zoom lens, the f/2.8 aperture is impressive and will let you blur out backgrounds, though you might prefer a larger-apertured prime lens in low light. Bottom line: The 24-70mm is a good daytime street photography lens, and it’s also perfect for other types of photography, such as travel.

  • Low-light performance: Not the best; you’ll primarily use this lens in the daytime
  • Quality: Good quality, with image stabilization compensating for the smaller aperture
  • Price: On the pricier side ($1200 USD), though it is multifunctional thanks to its range of focal lengths
  • Weight: Pretty heavy, but the zoom range lets you carry one lens rather than several

Factors to consider before buying a street photography lens

All the lenses on this list are great, but the final decision is up to you – and should depend on your shooting style and preferred type of street photography.

So here are the key items to consider when looking for the perfect street photography lens:

Focal length

Many photographers say the best focal length for street photography is 50mm, and 50mm lenses do offer a great perspective (plus, this field of view has been popularized by many famous street photographers). Those who like the 50mm focal length but use crop sensors should go for a 35mm lens.

That said, you don’t need to feel constrained by what has come before, and wider focal lengths are becoming more popular among street photographers.

best street photography lens nighttime
Nighttime street photography needs a larger aperture or a high ISO.
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 50mm f/1.2L | f/2 | 1/400s | ISO 500

Low-light performance

For moody and dramatic street photos, you’ll often need to shoot in low light. You might find yourself doing street photography in a dingy indoor market, at twilight, or at night – and in all of those situations, a lens with a large aperture provides a major advantage. Yes, modern cameras perform well at high ISOs, which negates the need for a high aperture to some extent. However, a large aperture is still required if you want beautiful bokeh lights in the background of your low-light photos.

Size and weight

To get great street photos, you’ll need to be out walking for much of the day. This means a smaller, lighter setup is a big help. Try to pick just one lens and keep it as light as possible.

Autofocus speed

Street photography is often done in fast-paced and dynamic environments, so if your lens is too slow to focus, you’ll miss a lot of shots. You need a lens that focuses almost instantly, especially if you hope to capture action-oriented street images.

Sharpness

Pretty much all forms of photography require sharpness, and street photography is no exception. Look for a lens that gives you crisp, clear, detailed photos. Some street photographers do like a softer, grainier look, but you can add this in post-processing. Generally speaking, the sharper the lens, the better.

street at night
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 50mm f/1.2L | f/2 | 1/60s | ISO 1000

Time to choose the best lens for street photography

Now that you’ve finished this article, you should be ready to choose the right street photography lens for your needs.

Remember: the best street photography lens is the one that matches the aesthetic you want to create. So don’t think too much about the popularity of different lenses; instead, ask yourself how they’ll work with your interests and style.

Now over to you:

Which of these lenses is your favorite? Is there one in particular that appeals to you for street shooting? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

the best street photography lens
The best lens for street photography will allow you to get close to the action!
Canon 5D Mark II | Canon 17-40mm f/4L | 24mm | f/4 | 1/60s | ISO 2500

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Simon Bond
Simon Bond

is a specialist in creative photography techniques and is well known for his work with a crystal ball. His work has featured magazines including National Geographic Traveler. With over 8 years of experience in lensball photography, Simon is an expert in this field. Get some great tips by downloading his free e-book!
Do you want to learn about crystal ball photography? He has a course just for you! Get 20% off: DPS20.

I need help with...