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

Sony may have been a little slow to add E-series primes for the NEX system but both Zeiss and Sigma have filled in somewhat, besides Sony has some very good models in the line-up already.That said there’s no 24mm or 28mm compareable models and only the one 35mm equivalent. At $1000, the Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm f1.8 ZA is a pricey option but likely to be at the top of many a Sony user’s wish list.

At the other end of the focal length range, we’ve chosen the excellent Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN A.

 
Sigma 60mm F2.8 DN A Sony E2392316
Sony E 50mm F1.8 OSS3002313
Sony Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* E 24mm F1.8 ZA10002213
Carl Zeiss Planar Touit 1.8/32 Sony E10002213
Sigma 30mm F2.8 EX DN Sony E1892112
Sony E 35mm f/1.84502111
Sigma 30mm F2.8 DN A Sony E1991910
Sigma 19mm F2.8 EX DN Sony E1401811
Sony E 20mm F2.83501710
Carl Zeiss Distagon Touit 2.8/12 Sony E1250179
Sony E 30mm F3.5 Macro250159

Although the Zeiss is a long and large lens measuring 2.59” (66mm) you might think vignetting would be low but it’s actually quite heavy at the initial aperture and, while image integrity is very good, sharpness isn’t all that impressive wide open. Stopping down to f2.8 improves things no end, with very good sharpness extending across most of the frame.

Optimal performance is achieved at f4 with only the extreme edges and corners slightly behind in sharpness. More of an issue is the higher than expected chromatic aberration, though this is relatively easy to remove in software.

With a similar field of view to a 90mm lens on a 35mm FF camera our moderate telephoto of choice would be the Sigma 60mm f2.8 DN A. At $239 it’s competitively priced given the performance.

This lens may only have a modest maximum aperture but it has a high peak sharpness, low distortion and vignetting and good control of chromatic aberration.

Wide-open, the Sigma is sharp right across the frame, from corner-to-corner. In fact it may be too sharp for a portrait lens though there are workarounds to that, if need be. Stopping down only increases depth of field - it doesn’t improve sharpness, while at f8 the softening effects of diffraction can just be detected. Vignetting and distortion are low, but about the only real negative is the somewhat lower than expected transmission, which is 0.5Ev lower than the f2.8 quoted f-stop.

Peak performance is achieved at f4 on the Sony Zeiss T* E 24mm f1.8 while the performance of the Sigma is practically unchanged from f2.8 through to f5.6.