The Best Street Photography Lens For Nikon And Canon DSLRs

best lenses for street photography

Today, we’re looking at the best street photography lens for Nikon as well as Canon DSLRs.

If you’re looking for the best mirrorless lenses for shooting street photography, we have a separate discussion for that. Check it out.

Otherwise, let’s get straight to the good stuff. Sticking to our tradition, here’s our shortlist the best street photography lenses.

The Best Street Photography Lens For Canon EF Mount

And…The Best Street Photography Lens for Nikon F-mount

Detailed Comparisons Of The Best Street Photography Lens for Canon

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Agreed, the Canon 17-40mm is an unusual choice for shooting street photography. When most photographers prefer a short fixed focal length for pursuing images out on the street, we are promoting a wide zoom.

Well, not exactly promoting. But more like recommending.

Regardless, the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM has some neat features. So, please bear with me while I sing aloud its praise. 🎤🙌

The 17-40mm gives you a zoom range. Although we promote zooming with our feet, sometimes the zoom ring does come in handy.

For example, when you are prevented from getting too close. Or it is physically dangerous to do so. Shooting with a zoom offers you the option to capture a much larger slice of the scene, as well.

The lens features a ring-type USM auto-focusing motor. In fact, most photographers prefer USM auto-focusing because it’s faster than the movie-oriented STM auto-focusing technology.

Plus, you get full-time manual focusing override. Not to mention this is a weather-sealed lens.

Yes, the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM is larger than something like the 50mm f/1.8 STM or the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM. That said the barrel length does not change during auto-focusing or during zooming.

As a street photographer, the slightly larger bulk isn’t feasible at first glance. But the zoom range is certainly handy. Especially when it comes in a non-extruding body like this. So we don’t want to rule it out.

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM Ultra Wide Angle Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
  • 17-40 millimeter ultra wide angle zoom lens with f/4 maximum aperture for Canon SLR cameras.Diagonal angle of view 104° -...
  • 3 aspherical lens elements and super UD glass element create superior optics in all conditions, Closest focusing distance :...
  • Powerful ring type ultra sonic monitor (USM) produces fast and silent autofocusing, Focuses as close as 11 inches; supports...
  • Suitable for Wedding/Nature Photography, Weather resistant construction; Water and Dust Resistant; measures 3.3 inches in...
  • Purchase this product between May 1, 2016 and July 30, 2016 and get 13 months of free damage protection from Canon. The...

RELATED POST: What’s Passive Focusing?

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Canon)

Sigma Art 35 mm best street photography lens for canon
The Sigma 35mm Art Lens is our top choice. It’s an impressive piece of kit with high optical standards.

Again a weird choice… The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art isn’t a demure piece of optical technology.

Why?

Because it’s longer and definitely bulkier than an average 35mm lens. Heck, for that matter it’s bulkier than a 50mm lens. Thus, it’s neither discreet nor easy to wield for long periods of time.

Regardless, you have one of the best pieces of optical technology that you could hope for.

The 35mm is more practical than the 50mm. Yes, the 50mm is probably more popular. Yes, the 50mm is closer to the human eye in terms of angle of view. But, the 35mm captures a wider slice of the street.

Sigma Art 35mm
The 35mm lens means you might have to go a bit out of your comfort zone in terms of closeness but you’ll get great results!

This lens features a number of positives. It has one FLD unit, 4 SLD elements, 2 aspherical elements, plus super multi-layer coating.

Auto-focusing is powered by Sigma’s Hypersonic AF motor with manual focusing override.

This is our preferred choice as the best street photography lens for Canon.

Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Canon
  • High speed with large aperture
  • HSM (Hypersonic motor) and inner focusing system
  • Accessories include: Lens Hood (LH730-03), carrying case
  • 35 MM Focal length, Lens not zoomable
  • 67mm filters

Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

sigma art 50mm best street photography lens for canon
The longer focal length, 50mm Art lens is a close competitor to the 35mm.

We recently listed the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art on another discussion about the best 50mm for Canon. We listed it as the best option.

Alas, the lens makes it to this list as well as one of the best street photography lenses for Canon full-frame systems.

Sigma 50mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Canon
  • 50mm focal length
  • 75mm equivalent focal length on APS-C cameras, 80mm equivalent focal length on Canon APS-C cameras
  • F1.4 maximum aperture; F16 minimum
  • Ring-type ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing
  • 77mm filters

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM

Canon 40mm on body
The 40mm Canon lens has a pancake design, making it ultra-discreet and lightweight.

The EF 40mm f/2.8 STM gets a position on this list because it has the smallest profile of all the Canon EF mount primes.

If you’re using a full-frame like the 6D Mark II this lens will be dwarfed by the sheer presence of the camera, which is a good thing.

It helps you stay discreet!

One thing to note, on APS-C systems the effective focal length will become 64mm.

Canon 40mm best street photography lens for canon
The smaller size comes with some compromises and one area this lens falls short is that its focus speed is slower than some of the other competitors.

The one thing that is probably not to my liking and what makes the 40mm lose out to the other lenses on this list is the USM motor. It is too slow for my liking.

So, it’s a kind of balance between discreetness and focus speed. But nevertheless, it’s a great choice for beginner street photographers. Especially photographers who are looking for a budget option to start with.

Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens - Fixed
  • 40mm focal length, Lens not zoom able, 64mm equivalent focal length on Canon APS-C cameras
  • Minimum focus distance : 0.30m/11.81 inch, F2.8 maximum aperture; F22 minimum
  • Stepper-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing
  • 52mm filters, Lens Construction: 15 elements in 12 groups
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture: 100mm 1:2.8

Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art for Canon

Sigma Art 30mm best street photography lens for canon
The third Art lens in this list, the 30mm is shorter than the other lenses but offers an impressively fast, wide aperture.

The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM is another interesting choice for street photography. It is shorter than all the other lenses that we have discussed here (except for the 17-40mm f/4L). But the fast wide aperture of f/1.4 is irresistible. Especially, because the lens has a focal length that is still in the ‘zone’ and is good enough for street photography.

The lens is designed for Canon’s smaller crop sensor cameras. The effective aperture will be 48mm. So, if you are using a cropped camera like the 7D Mark II or any of the Rebel series cameras you may want to take a look at this lens. This lens gives you an effective focal length closest to the 50mm standard prime.

Sigma 30mm
The lens is a well-built piece of kit that isn’t quite as heavy as it’s other Art series siblings on this list.

Auto-focusing is powered by Sigma’s HSM (Hypersonic Motor) technology. The lens has full-time manual focusing override as well.

The lens is reasonably well built.

It comes with thermally stable components (TSC). This promises that the lens will remain stable over wide temperature fluctuations. 🔥❄🤷‍♂️

The 30mm’s effective focal length is 48mm so you don’t have to get too close to fill the frame. And the fast f/1.4 aperture promises a lot of light capture.

Sigma 30mm F1.4 Art DC HSM Lens for Canon
  • Offering the bright F1.4 aperture and an angle of view extremely close to that of human vision
  • Macro Focus Range : 0.30 m, Focal Length : 30 mm
  • Placed under the Art category, this large-aperture standard lens with an angle of view equivalent to 45mm on a 35mm camera
  • A rear focus system prevents focus-dependent variation in aberration, making high-level image quality possible throughout the...
  • Filter Size 62mm Maximum Magnifications 1:6.8

RELATED POST: Best Canon Full Frame Camera – Our Top 3 Picks

Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM

Canon 50mm best street photography lens for canon
The Canon 50mm is an expensive option compared to some of the other lenses on the market. However, it might give you a much-needed boost if you’re a less experienced photographer.

Finally, we add the Canon 50mm f/1.2L USM to round out this list.

The f/1.2 is expensive. More expensive than the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art we discussed above, remember?

An accomplished photographer could shoot similar images with either of the lenses. Even though the Canon is a good 1/3 stop faster than the Sigma. The ‘slower’ aperture of the Sigma will not be a handicap. Especially for street photography.

But to be honest, they both have their utilities.

Regardless, the 50mm f/1.2L deserves a special mention because of the sheer optical quality of the lens. The f/1.2 captures more light than even the fast f/1.4 Sigma 35mm.

Canon 50mm
The optical quality of this lens is definitely notable.

The lens features one aspherical element. It also comes with Canon’s Super Spectra Coating technology for suppressing flaring and ghosting. This is something that affects most wide aperture lenses.

Plus, the 50mm is a weather-sealed lens. Perfectly capable of withstanding the whims of mother nature.

Finally, USM AF motor technology ensures fast and accurate auto-focusing performance. Full-time manual focusing override has also been provided. Even if this is not the best street photography lens for Canon, it’s one that deserves a notable mention.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras - Fixed
  • Weather-resistant standard lens
  • Focal Length & Maximum Aperture-50mm F/1.2, Closest Focusing Distance - 1.48 ft. / 0.45m
  • AF with full-time manual focus, 72mm filter size. Magnification - Extension Tube EF12 II - 0.39-0.24. Magnification -...
  • Ultrasonic Motor (USM), Lens not zoomable
  • Purchase this product between May 1, 2016 and July 30, 2016 and get 13 months of free damage protection from Canon. The...

Detailed Comparisons Of The Best Street Photography Lens for Nikon

Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (for Nikon)

Sigma art 35mm best street photography lens for nikon
The Sigma Art series 35mm lens makes it as a solid choice for the Nikon body too.

Surprise, surprise!

We pick the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art for the Nikon mount as well. We are very impressed with this lens. It’s a great pick for Nikon shooters as well.

Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art DG HSM Lens for Nikon
  • 35mm focal length, 52.5mm equivalent focal length on APS-C cameras, 56mm equivalent focal length on Canon APS-C cameras
  • F1.4 maximum aperture; F16 minimum, This model is compatible with all current Nikon cameras (both DX and FX)
  • Ring-type ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing
  • 67mm filters,0.30m/11.81" minimum focus. Maximum Magnifications-1:5.2. Angle of View-63.4º
  • Available in Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Pentax KAF3, Sony Alpha, Sigma SA mounts. Please refer the User Manual which is in the...

Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D

The Nikon 50mm is the least expensive street photography lens on our list today.

This one autofocuses on most Nikon DSLRs, but be sure to check the speciics of your camera first. But, basically, anything in the D7100 series and above and the lens autofocuses fine.

Nikon 50mm best street photography lens for nikon
A lightweight, low-cost option, the Nikon 50mm could be a good option if you’re on a tight budget.

The lens is light, reasonably quick, and produces sharp images in almost any lighting conditions. There’s no manual focusing override though and that’s what makes this lens an acquired taste for some photographers.

It’s surely the best street photography lens for Nikon systems if you’re on a budget–specifically for full-frame systems.

But the 50mm f/1.8D is very useful for street photography.

Although, when used on a crop sensor camera, the focal length to an effective 75mm. Which, needless to say, produces much tighter compositions. Not exactly suitable for shooting street photography.

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • Note : Autofocus system is compatible with select Nikon DSLRs that support D-type lenses, and offers quick and precise...
  • Lens not zoomable. Focal Length : 50 mm, Minimum Focus Distance - 1.5 ft.( 0.45 m)
  • FX in DX Crop Mode 35mm Film
  • NOTE: Refer the User Manual before use. Maximum angle of view (DX-format) 31°30'
  • NOTE: Autofocus is not supported by DSLRs lacking an autofocus motor, such as the D3000-series, D5000-series, D40, D40X, and...

Nikkor 16-35mm AF-S f/4G ED VR

The Nikon 16-35mm is a great street photography lens at a budget price.

Slightly wider at 16-35mm, the lens is primarily designed as a low-cost alternative to the 14-24mm the 14-24mm.

Nikon 16-35mm
The 16-35mm is a zoom lens option at a relatively low cost.

Despite labeled as a ‘cheaper’ alternative to the 14-24mm, there’s nothing cheap in the construction of the lens. It has a total of three aspherical elements and two ED elements.

Additionally, the lens has a nano-crystal coating to prevent flares and ghosting from affecting the performance of the lens.

The lens is well built too.

The only thing that we don’t like is the bulk. This is not a demure lens by any stretch of the imagination.

Plus, despite the fixed aperture range across the focal length, the maximum it can open up to is f/4. It struggles in low lighting conditions.

Thus, it loses out in the race for the title of the best street photography lens for Nikon.

Nevertheless, it is a wonderful choice for someone looking for a versatile wide-angle zoom lens.

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 16-35mm f/4G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus...
  • Ideal for wide-angle and "normal" shots
  • Maximum aperture: f/4 ; Offers two focus modes, M/A (autofocus with manual override) and M (manual)
  • Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups
  • Image stabilization, vibration reduction (VR II) up to 4 stops
  • Nikon F mount for FX and DX DSLRs

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G

If you just need one lens to shoot street photography with your full-frame Nikon DSLR, then the Nikon 35mm is that lens.

This is our pick as the best street photography lens for Nikon.

Sure, it’s not cheap. At nearly $1700 this is insanely more expensive than the other 35mm f/1.4 that Nikon sells. However, Nikon delivers the goods.

The f/1.4 captures a lot more light compared to the ‘slower’ f/1.8. 2/3 stops more precisely.

Nikon 35mm best street photography lens for nikon
For full-frame bodies, this rather costly 35mm lens is a top choice.

There is a caveat though.

In case you are using one of the crop sensor Nikon cameras, this lens does not make sense. Performance on a crop sensor with a wide-open aperture is almost the same as the cheaper f/1.8 lens.

In other words, crop-sensor shooters should opt the less expensive option.

Full frame shooters, however, well, you can’t go wrong with the image quality on this lens.

The lens is well built and well made. It contains one aspherical element. Plus, it also has a nano-crystal coating to prevent flares and ghosting. Auto-focusing on the lens is powered by Nikon’s silent wave technology.

Along with that you also get full-time manual focusing override.

Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G Fixed Focal Length Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR...
  • FX-format, ultra-fast classic wide-angle lens
  • Focal Length : 35 mm, Minimum Focus Distance - 1.0 ft.
  • Nano Crystal Coat, Optimized for edge to edge sharpness on both FX and DX-format D-SLRs
  • Aspherical Lens Element. Rear Focus (RF)
  • Maximum angle of view (DX-format): 44°, Maximum angle of view (FX-format): 63°

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4G

We bring a 50mm G lens into the equation.

The lens has accurate autofocusing performance on cameras which has a built-in AF motor.

Plus, the lens has a manual aperture ring. That is very useful for manual film cameras as well as for shooting videos.

Ths iteration of the Nikon’s Nifty Fifty is improved with the addition of full-time manual focusing. That is exactly why we include this lens on this list.

Nikon 50mm best street photography lens for nikon
A newer take on the previously mentioned Nikon 50mm, this lens offers full-time autofocusing along with a faster aperture and a focus override option.

With about 1/3 stop faster maximum aperture, the lens is able to capture more light than the f/1.8 version we had discussed above.

Plus, this lens has full-time manual focusing override. Something that the D lens lacked. But this one is more than double the price of the D version.

The other improvement includes superior auto-focusing technology. The lens also has Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating.

Plus there are more diaphragm blades than the older version, which leads to a more round bokeh.

RELATED POST: 35mm vs 50mm — Which Is The Best Prime To Buy?

Nikon AF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras
  • F1.4 maximum aperture; F16 minimum
  • Ultrasonic-type AF motor with full-time manual focusing, 58mm filters
  • Minimum focus Distance : 0.45m/17.72 Inches. Lens Hood: HB-47
  • Nikon F mount for FX and DX DSLRs. Unparalleled autofocus performance.Mount Type: Nikon F-Bayonet
  • Lens not zoomable

Street Photography Lens Buying Guide And Tips

A Quick Word About Shooting With Lenses Wider Than 35mm

Every street photographer has a different notion about the best focal length for street photography. The 50mm and the 35mm both have their admirers.

There are photographers who shoot with a longer focal length. There are also photographers who shoot with a shorter focal length than 35mm.

However, anything shorter than a 35mm creates some problem.

Let’s say you’re shooting with a full-frame camera paired with a 35mm prime lens. You have to be within 6-7′ of the subject to fill the frame. Now, that’s still quite close for beginners who may not be comfortable with getting in close to strangers yet.

With a 28mm lens, you have to be within 4-5′ of the subject in order to fill the frame. Now, that will be a bit too close for comfort for most photographers.

That said there are photographers who shoot street photos with the 28mm. For them, it works.

So, ideally, the best choice will depend on what works for you. Try a few lenses. Once you find one works for you stick with it.

The more you use a specific lens the better you get with it. And, the more you’ll be able to visualize your images before they’re shot.

The Challenges of Street Photography

Street Photography woman holding bag
Street photography requires a lot of confidence on the photographers part. You have to be comfortable shooting people you don’t typically know.

For the majority of photographers, street photography is an acquired taste.

The reason is street photography is so difficult to get started in has nothing to do with the intricacy. Nor is it to do with a need for advanced equipment.

RELATED POST: Must Know Street Photography Tips

Approaching Strangers Is Unnerving

Street photography is difficult because you’re expected to make images of absolute strangers. People you have never met before. Well, at least for the most part.

Of course, there are other subjects too. As long as they’re something you could shoot on the street. But for the main part, you make images of people.

Couple walking by street photo
The main element of street photos is humans. Taking pictures of them without permission can be tough.

Some photographers find the whole thing unnerving. At least in the beginning. Nowhere else than in street photography will you have to apply your presence of mind, your people skills, your camera skills, and have nerves of steel.

Up Close and Personal

A wise photographer once very simply stated:

“If your photos aren’t good enough, then you’re not close enough.”

That wise man was the legendary photographer, Robert Capa. And when it comes to street photography, I’m not sure if truer words have ever been spoken.

They perfectly sum up the need to get up close and personal to your subject. One of the basic requirements for shooting street photography.

Yes, you could theoretically shoot with a long lens. But there are two major problems with that approach. First, there will not be any personal connection between you and your subject.

Things like the interesting aspects of the person’s face: hair, tattoos, body jewelry, etc. are much easier to spot and much easier to capture when you are closer to the subject.

Man crossing road
It’s usually important to get close to your subject to capture subtle details.

Don’t Miss Out On Bokeh

When you zoom in you lose the maximum aperture you can shoot in. That means every time you twist and rotate the zoom ring you are letting in less light. The reason is most zoom lenses will not have a fixed aperture. At least not the cheaper ones.

Woman running
If you don’t have a blurred background, the subject can become washed out and blend into the cluttered urban surroundings.

On top of that, you also lose out on the ability to blur your background.

When you lose background blur everything in the shot appears flat and on one focal plane. On top of that, things look ‘two-dimensional’ rather than ‘three-dimensional’.

RELATED POST: Your Ultimate Guide To Capturing Bokeh

The Hunt For The Best Street Photography Lens For Nikon or Canon Cameras Ends Now 🙌

By now, you likely found the best street photography lens for Nikon or Canon systems. As you see, there’s a lot of different variables that make some lenses better options than others.

Let us know which one you ultimately picked in the comments below!


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