Reasons why a zoom lens is better for Street Photography
When talking to photographers, you get the impression, that zoom lenses were invented by the devil himself to take the fun out of photography for mankind. Many say it’s because only fixed focal lenses are sufficiently sharp and fast. In addition, there’s the so-called creative constraint, i.e. the deliberate abandonment of a large zoom range, which is intended to promote creativity.
But is this true? In the course of this article, I will discuss these and other issues related to zoom lenses and street photography.
1. Image quality
Certainly, fixed focal lengths have a minimally better imaging performance than zoom lenses. But who notices that? If you were to shoot a subject under exactly the same conditions, once with a fixed focal length and once with a zoom, I think 99% of all viewers would not see any difference. But more importantly, does the last percent of sharpness matter at all in street photography? I don’t think so. Good street photos don’t thrive on clinical clarity. The rough and dirty can be quite interesting. Good pictures are brought to life much more by framing, beautiful use of light and an awareness of special situations. Who cares about a slightly better imaging performance?
Apart from that, there are definitely fast and high-quality zoom lenses out there. Not to mention that almost every professional photographer uses a 24-70mm (2.8). So, I ask, where is the problem?
2. Fast lenses and blur
Let’s move on to blur. I understand that for portraits, for example, you want to use the fastest lenses possible in order to create a beautiful bokeh. But in street photography, you don’t usually use open aperture; after all, you want the surroundings to be recognizable, since the urban space is a significant image element. Furthermore, let’s not forget that high ISO in digital cameras has become extremely good. You can comfortably go up to ISO 3200 or higher with almost all camera systems. As a result, it is possible to take pictures at night with small sensors and zoom lenses without having to fear a loss of quality. Who needs a 1.x on the lens?
I can’t write much on this point, except that I don’t get more creative by using fixed focal lenses. I am much more annoyed when I can’t take certain pictures because I don’t have the right lenses with me. Besides, creativity is, after all, a multi-layered process. Personally, I feel I can be wonderfully creative with a zoom (framing and motion blur, for example) and I only use my fixed focal lenses (50 mm, 28 mm and 24mm) in analog photography because I don’t have adequate zooms for my old cameras.
With zoom, you get an all-purpose lens. You can quickly switch from short to long focal length without screwing another lens onto your camera. Because of that, you can quickly create a completely different image effect by switching from 24 mm to 120 mm.
Zoom lenses are also ideal wherever you can’t control the distance to the subject. It is not always possible to change your position. On the street, the use of a zoom lens is therefore advantageous in many cases.
In my opinion, it is primarily a matter of taste whether you shoot with 120 mm or with 28 mm focal length, because the image aesthetics are completely different. Longer focal lengths offer a shallower depth of field, allowing the subject to be better isolated. In addition, the image effect is “tighter” with a telephoto lens, offering more potential for intimacy. You don’t have to like the look of a telephoto lens, but it’s good to see street images that have a different look. So be willing to think outside the box and give creativity an extra boost.
Zoom lenses usually have a very fast autofocus. This may not be absolutely necessary in street photography, but it certainly can’t hurt, especially if you love candid style.
6. With a zoom lens, you can “try out” new focal lengths
Especially for beginners who don’t yet know what their preferred focal length is, a zoom lens can be incredibly helpful. For this, it is sufficient to try out the complete focal length range. At home, you can calmly choose which image look you like best. Afterwards, you can buy a particular lens with the certainty that you really like the focal length.
The concept also works for experienced users. You already have a 24 mm and a 50 mm lens and you’re not sure what to get next? No problem! Screw a zoom lens onto your camera (be amazed at the image quality) and then pick your new favorite focal length.
7. Size and weight
Of course, zoom lenses have certain disadvantages in terms of size and weight compared to fixed focal lengths.
However, it must be noted that the matter is not as simple as it looks at first glance.
For example, if we compare a kit lens with a fast fixed focal length, the size and weight already converge again.
In the end, it’s like in many areas of photography: needs, goals and priorities must first be defined. Then the appropriate gear can be selected. In this respect, this article should only be understood in the sense that often, there is no right or wrong when it comes to your lens choice in street photography.
Go with the flow.
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