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

By the time you read this Nikon will have announced the successor to the AF Nikkor 35mm f2D but for the time being this model on the full-frame D610 performs well optically, and has fast focusing even if it lacks the built-in sonic-type AF motor of the newer models.

There are better performers in our database, the Zeiss Distagon T* 2/35 and the ‘Art’ series Sigma 35mm f1.4 HSM A but these aren’t particularly small and stealthy. While the Samyang is competitively priced it’s also very large, and lacks AF though that’s not necessarily a bad thing for street photography.

 
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G21993921
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A Nikon8993820
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G6903819
Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T 100mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon18403517
Samyang 85mm f/1.4 Aspherique IF Nikon3283517
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 400mm F2.8G ED VR89993422
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 25mm f/2 ZF.2 Nikon17003420
Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon9693318
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24mm f/1.4G ED22003317
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 ZF2 Nikon18433317
Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC Nikon5993315
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G6993220
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/2 ZF2 Nikon10053218
Nikon AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.4D IF12303216
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G17973216
Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM Nikon4993116
Nikon AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D3652516

Although the Nikon AF-D 35mm f/2 D was designed for film it has good sharpness overall with peak sharpness measured at 16P-Mpix. However it has poor corner sharpness at maximum aperture and although the center sharpness is excellent at f2.8, the corners still aren't much better. Corner sharpness is good by f5.6, with peak performance at f8. Vignetting while not high for this type of lens, is still very noticeable at maximum aperture but distortion and chromatic aberration are well within the expected tolerances.

Corner sharpness at wider apertures is disappointing on the AF Nikkor 35mm f2D but there’s no so such problem with the newer AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.8G, it has terrific uniformity at every aperture.

Our moderate telephoto choice is the relatively new Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f1.8G. With a 67mm filter thread and 3.1” diameter it’s quite large lens, though at 0.7 lb (350g) still quite light and portable. At $690 the price is on the high side but it has excellent sharpness at all apertures on the D610, low chromatic aberration and negligible distortion. Vignetting is quite noticeable at full aperture but this has gone by f4. While it would have been good if Nikon had made it smaller and less intimidating-looking, it’s an excellent all round performer.

We’re working hard on expanding the coverage of lenses, but we’re interested to know if there are certain models that you would like to see reviewed first. Please leave your recommendations in the comments section below.