The 50mm in street photography Part 2

I’d like to show you a few picture made with the 50mm focal length. Part 1 of this article can be found here.

With a 50mm lens, you can capture people in their everyday life and capture some context too. If you are close enough, you will get noticed and this makes for some nice interaction with the viewer.

Rue des ponts neufs.

This man noticed was looking through the books. As I framed, he looked up and I took the shot.

The bookworm

Sometimes you can get quite close and go unnnoticed. I remember framing the shot and then waiting for someone to appear in the reflection of the door. I took about a dozen shots and chose this one because I find that my eyes move from one person to the other. Groups of three have a tendancy to work well in a photo.


This is a photo I took sponaneously in Paris. You’d think I would have had time to think about the composition. I thought I did too! However after this initial shot, the weary traveller woke up, saw me and started waving his arms around. I think he’d had a bit to drink, I don’t really know and I didn’t hang around. I don’t mind showing this photo as I think he is pretty unrecognisable. I try to be careful and always erase photos if people don’t look too pleased about having their photo taken.


This man was looking at me all the time I approched the café where he was sitting. I framed and took the shot using the rear screen as I am still intimidated by lifting the camera to my eye sometimes in front of a stranger. I’m doing nothing wrong as I keep telling myself…


This picture was taken in Paris in the Jardin du Luxembourg, one of my favourite places in Paris. I got very close and the players took no notice of what I was doing.


This photo shows the limits of the 50mm focal length. I am too close to the subject and there is no way to move back as the man is ambling forwards. His hat is cut off and it is a pity. I still like the photo because I like his attitude but ideally a 35mm focal length would have been better here.






















The 50mm in street photography.

Let’s start at the beginning. It is commonly accepted that a prime lens in preferable over a zoom in street photography. But why? There are several good reason:

  • First of all, a prime lens is smaller than a zoom and being inconspicuous is important. The camera is also smaller and fits into a smaller bag.
  • Prime lenses are lighter. You shoulder/neck/back will thank you.
  • Framing and shooting needs to be done quickly because in street photography a scene can be very fleeting. Sometimes you can find yourself moving your camera to your eye and before you can press on the shutter, the scene has changed, the moment is gone.
  • Prime lenses are reputed to have a better image quality than zooms, although IQ (image quality) is good to have, there a few bad lenses. More importantly, prime lenses are faster : ie. they let in more light. A good (expensive) professional zoom will open to f/2.8 but  a “nifty fifty” (cheap 50mm prime) opens to f/1.8. A better quality prime will open to f/1.4 and it will let in 4 times more light than more expensive f/2.8 lens at a lots more that the kit lenses usually sold with cameras.
  • Some prime lenses are very special in the way they “draw” the photo. Leica lenses have this reputation. I own the fuji x35f/1.4 and in my opinion, it has an extra something…

    Fuji x-e1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/4 + 1/2700s + iso 200

As you see the 50mm lens is a great candidate to be the street photographers friend. It is also the cheapest prime lens.

The first difficulty when starting street photography is getting close enough. When you are close, people will see you. That makes it all the more difficult to raise your camera and take a photo. The 50mm is a “normal” lens, it is wide enough to let you capture a scene and at the same time it is “telephoto” enough to let you stay far enough so you are not noticed.

Marché des Jacobins
Fuji x-e1 + xf35mmF1.4R @ f/1.4 + 1/2000s + iso 200

The longer the focal length, the better bokeh you get when you are close to your subject. Bokeh is a Japanese word that means he visual quality of the out-of-focus areas of a photographic image. It is noticeable especially in the highlights (the bright areas) of a photo. With a lens that has good bokeh, the subject is well separated from the background and stands out well. With a 50mm prime lens open at f/1.8 or f/1.4 it is relatively easy to get a good background separation. This is not the case with the standard kit zoom lens that is bundled with a lot of consumer grade cameras.

Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/1.4 + 1/280s + iso 200

The 50mm focal length is great for portraits as well. Be it a head shot or a head & shoulders shot, this focal length gives great rendition of faces. Beware though, it is not the focal length studio photographers use for portraits usually : a small telephoto (90mm to 135mm) is often preferred because you can stay further away from your subject while keeping a good bokeh and getting much less distortion on the face.

Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/2 + 1/1500s + iso 200

In conclusion, the 50mm prime lens is cheap and lightweight, versatile in the sense that you can capture a scene and grab a portrait, and you get fabulous image quality! If you are starting out in street, travel or documentary photography , you should seriously consider getting one.

Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/1.4 + 1/40s + iso 200

A few words on equivalence…

Photographers speak in focal lengths when talking about lenses. When I talk about the 50mm lens, I am talking about a focal length on a 24×36 film camera or on a “full frame” digital camera. Most of us own a camera with a small sensor called apps-c, micro four thirds, 1 inch or even smaller. There is a “crop factor” to consider in these cases so that the apparent focal length stays the same. (That also goes for the aperture of the lens in the way it blurs the background). A smaller sensor give less blur.

  • On an aps-c sensor (Fuji x series, Nikon D3000, Nikon D5000, Nikon D7000 series, Sony 6000 series etc) the crop factor is 1.5 and 50/1.5 is roughly 35 so a 35mm lens on this sensor will give you the same field of view as a 50mm on a full frame. I own the Fuji 35mm f/1.4 and I say it is my 50mm lens.
  • Canon apps-c sensors have a crop factor of 1.6. Their crop sensors are smaller.
  • On a micro-four thirds sensor, the crop factor is 2 so you need a 25mm lens.
  • On smaller sensors there are no interchangeable lenses to my knowledge now that the Nikon 1 series is discontinued…(just a rumour so far…)
Fuji X-T1 + XF35mmF1.4R @ f/1.8 + 1/1500s + iso 500


Why should I start street photography?

Why should I start Street Photography?
    This should be a fairly straightforward question for each reader to answer. If you have clicked on this link and are reading this then you already know. Either you feel the appeal or you don’t… and I do. I started photography in 2008 and my first street photo dates from 2013. It is a picture of a street musician in Paris in front of Montmartre. I had a D800 and a Zeiss makro planar 2/100, nice equipment indeed! Over the top even. Up to that point, my main focus was on portraits : my family, friends, their dogs… in colour and in black&whire. It felt natural one day to turn to the streets for photographic material…

Please ask for permission before publishing
Nikon D800 + Zeiss Makro Planar T*2/100ZF.2 @ 1/200s + f/4 + ISO 100

So if you like observing people and life around you, if you have a natural empathy for strangers or if you are curious about how other people live their lives, then I think that street photography can be fulfilling to you as a photographer.

Marché des Jacobins
Fuji x-e1 + 35mmf/1.4 @ 1/2000s+f/1.4 + ISO 200

Otherwise there is nothing wrong with enjoying other peoples work and carrying on doing your own think. Don’t think you have to “do” street just because a lot of other people are.

Sony A7R + 35mmf/2.8 @ 1/800s + f/2.8 + ISO 100

What equipment do I need?

If I say that the equipment doesn’t matter, I would be telling the straight hard truth… but then why does this question always crop up? The thing is, we photographers, and me included, put a lot of time and effort in learning and researching about equipment instead of taking and editing photos. My conclusion is that the equipment we choose is really important to us personally. If we don’t like what we have then we cannot be creative as photographers. It is natural to evolve, we all suffer from G.A.S (gear acquisition syndrome) and we all know new equipment won’t make us better photographers. Ah, but I’m certain that is does… not because the equipment is better (even if it is) but because it gives us the extra push to go out and enjoy our photography. So let’s give in to G.A.S !

Olympus OMD-EM5 + 45mm f/1.8 @ 1/250s + F/2 + ISO 200

For those who are curious about what I use, I’m afraid I have to own up to a number of cameras and lenses… Having tried a lot of combinations, I am certain that mirrorless is the way to go. Just look at the different cameras I have used and I dare anyone to say that one camera is better than the others!

However, in street photography, discretion is good. Having a small bag, with just one camera and one lens is ideal. Your back and shoulders will thank you after a day out. I’ll make a post soon to compare the cameras I’ve owned and used and what I recommend.

Fuji X-T1 with 23mmf/1.4 @ 1/1400s + f/2 + ISO 200

That over with, and a brand new camera in hand, just open your front door and get out!