Best lenses for street photography

By Kevin Carter - Friday January 10 2014

Lens Recommendations
Introduction | Street Photography with Compacts | Street Photography with Micro Four Thirds | Street Photography with Sony NEX | Street Photography with Canon | Street Photography with Nikon

Based on size, price and performance the Pansonic Lumix G 20mm f1.7 II ASPH and the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8  would be our choice for street photography

The 20mm is the equivalent to a 40mm and the 45mm is comparable to a moderate 90mm telephoto lens on a 35mm camera. Both are discreet and highly portable. We’ve selected the 16-Mpix  Olympus OM-D EM-1 for the presentation of the data – with no AA filter the E-M1 has currently one of the most discriminating sensors in this format.

 
Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 75mm F1.88992712
Panasonic Leica Summilux DG 25mm F1.45792411
Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm f1.8389239
Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 12mm f2.07692210
Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F1.7 ASPH4002211
Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL 17mm f1.8500227
Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN A Micro 4/32392110
Panasonic Lumix G 20mm F1.7 II ASPH4002110

Both models have good center sharpness wide open, the 20mm slightly more so than the 45mm though the latter has better uniformity across the field. Stopping down,  marginally increases sharpness but  the 20mm model’s field curvature means the periphery never really matches the centers – though they get pretty close at f5.6-8.

There’s some lateral chromatic aberration and there’s slightly higher than expected vignetting at maximum aperture but it has mostly disappeared by f2.8. Barrel distortion is a little higher than we would like to see but by all accounts this diminutive ‘pancake’ lens is an excellent performer. This cosmetically revamped version weighs just 3.07 oz (87g) and measures just 1.0” (25mm) in length.

It’s available now at $400.

Sharpness improves centrally on stopping down on both models, as you would expect, but corner sharpness is still some way behind at f2.8. Optimum aperture is f5.6 on both models.

Not much heavier at 4.09 oz (116g) and still compact with a 37mm filter thread and measuring 2.20” (56mm) in length, the 45mm f1.8 is an attractive option.

Although sharpness at the initial aperture is good it has excellent central sharpness by f2.8 though the edges aren’t really a match till f4-5.6 though by then sharpness is already beginning to tail off. Lateral chromatic aberration is well corrected and vignetting is very low at the maximum aperture, it’s just noticeable in the corners but has disappeared completely by f2.8.