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This YouTuber Raves About It, but Would You Use This Lens for Street Photography?

What do you think is the ideal lens for street photography? For me, there are a number of factors to consider, but for this YouTuber, he's in no doubt he's found the best lens for street photography. Do you agree?

As a genre, street photography is quite unique in that you're often trying to encapsulate the mundane activities people do in their local environment. Shooting normal people doing normal things and presenting with your own, unique twist. The best street photographers can make the simple feel impactful through a mixture of technical understanding and incisive social commentary. However, in my eyes, in order to capture people going about their business as normally as possible, you need to be as inconspicuous as you can while you record different moments from behind a camera and lens.

That's why I was quite surprised in this video when Pierre Lambert, a popular YouTuber with over 500k subscribers, said he's absolutely addicted to the Sony FE 70-200mm f/2.8 GM OSS lens for street photography. To be clear, I'm not questioning the quality of the lens at all. I'm sure it's an absolutely gorgeous lens that can create stunning images, and with a maximum aperture of f/2.8, it's fast as well. But it's big and white. When I think of a subtle lens that won't disturb or intimidate people as they go about their day, especially in a location currently undergoing economic difficulties such as Bali, Indonesia, this hefty Sony lens is the last lens I'd consider for street photography. 

What do you think is the best lens for street photography?

Iain Stanley's picture

Iain Stanley is an Associate Professor teaching photography and composition in Japan. Fstoppers is where he writes about photography, but he's also a 5x Top Writer on Medium, where he writes about his expat (mis)adventures in Japan and other things not related to photography. To view his writing, click the link above.

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I totally agree. My preferred lens for street work is an old 8 inch f2.0 lens. Kind of a pain since it weighs about 10 pounds, and of course slow MF, but the results wide open are absolutely stunning, isolating the subject and with fantastic bokeh. The long focal length lets me capture subjects close up and unobserved. For me the absolute best.

Nothing like being surreptitious, so you can sneak up on people and take indiscrete, candid shots!

close to my neighborhood, this is Bali.

While this zoom lens is not your traditional street photo lens, considering the times we live in, I can fully understand. I use an Olympus 12-100mm (24-200mm FF equivalent) all the time in the city I live because it gives me the ability to put distance between me and the subject while staying true to the Kapa principle of not being close enough. The zoom allows for closeness, specially in times when people are incredibly mistrustful of others taking their picture at close range, specially in cities.

Using a tele for ambushing unaware people from far away? Definitely not my thing. Occasionally a 100mm eq. is pretty nice to make Build a view of the whole street rather than just a few people on it, but that's it. Otherwise, 35 to 58mm eq. are the way to go for me. Sure you need to get close to people, engage with them... but that's how you get actually interesting pictures.
On a side not, that guy must have arms of steel to hold such a heavy combination at arm's length all day.

All right, just to make it clear, I would definitely NOT shove a camera in people's nose. It might get catchy pictures, but I don't want to be the guy having that kind of essentially agressive behavior. If I feel like making a portrait of someone, I actually ask them. People might not notice you when you make a portrait of them with a long lens, but they won't feel any less invaded if they find out, on the contrary.
Besides, there is an awful lot of room between Bruce Guilden's style and the sniper view of your city's street, and that's the space where most street photography takes place. People like Pentti Sammallahti, Sebastiao Salgado, Bruno Barbey, Thomas Hoepker, Steve Mc Curry... don't strike me as shoving wide angle lenses up people noses, yet none of them ever seem to need long lenses on a regular basis. As a matter of fact, I can't think of any photographer of some reknown doing so for street photography. And I can't seem to remember any street photography made with long lenses that made me think "wow, that's really good!".
Anyways, it's just a hobby, so, if these are the pictures you like, whatever floats your boat :)

The last thing I want in street photography is to have my subjects register the camera. At that point all spontaneity is lost.

Ambushing would be using a wider lens and getting right in their face like Bruce Gilden. Except he's extra rude and blasts people directly in the face with a flash from like 3 feet away.

I've used my 70-200 a few times, but it was in New Orleans. Every third person is taking pictures, so even with that big lens and DSLR, I was barely noticed. But, here in Winnipeg, I do almost no street photography other than architectural stuff. Winnipeg isn't a tourist destination and just about every time I'm in the Exchange District, I rarely, if ever, see someone else with a camera let alone pointing it at people.

The real observation here is how many articles have we read that using little range finders or cell phones makes for the best street camera due to there tininess? And now we have an article about street photography with a big ole' lens.

My walk around lens is now a Tamron 35-150. It's big, but not as big as the 70-200. And that 35mm at the short end is a very good street photography size. I also have a 35 f1.8 Tamron that I refuse to sell because it's so good at the street level.

I used to use a 70-200 f/2.8 for street photography in Auckland, New Zealand.

I wasn't hiding either, but a lot of shots were closer to 100 than 200.

What I found is that it was *easier* to get the shot because people just assumed that you must be shooting something/somebody else. They see a big lens and assume you're shooting something at a distance.

When at a wetland, got a confused look shooting a swallow 2m away with a 200-600 because there was nothing in the distance...

use whatever I suppose.

To each their own. Who's the elected official for streetphotophy more over photography in general who says otherwise?

My last few street trips have been shot with a 50mm f2 lens on APS-C, so 75mm FOV... ive found it to be quite a reasonable mix of keeping distance and being close enough.

The best lens for street photography is the lens you have. YouTubers are looking for views and the statement this guy makes will bring them.

He makes it work for his style. I have done urban foto safaris with medium, fast zooms, with fast 50mm and 28-300. Now I prefer a lighter ensemble. I've also found that in the areas where the locals are accustomed to strangers with big black camera, your smile is the best technique to use. If you're in an area where you need a lower profile, take your old camera and a nifty 50. Any time you go around other humans, you have to calculate if the reward may justify the risk of losing your equipment.