Should you use a zoom vs prime for Street Photography

If you have a camera with interchangeable lenses, there comes a point where you ask, should you use a zoom vs prime for street photography? Let's look at the pros and cons of both and then give a definite answer…

Zoom vs prime for street photography

So which is better for street photography? Let's first look at the good an bad points for each…

1. Primes forces you to be creative

I'm a big fan of limitation creativity. What is that? It dictates that wen choices are limited, creativity goes up. So when you have a fixed focal length like the 28mm, your brain goes on overdrive trying to figure out how to make things work with that single focal length. I credit being the street photographer I am today because the camera that made me fall in love with photography (the Ricoh GRD IV) had a 28mm and I had to make do with it.

2. You need multiple primes

But let's face it. If you have a prime lens, you will probably want at least 3 for street photography: 28mm, 35mm and 50mm, the 3 focal lengths most street photography is made with. That can get quite pricey because primes tend to be fast, hence the next point…

All the images processed with these presets designed for street photography.

3. Fast zooms are pricey

But zooms can be pricey too. Sure the one that came with your camera (kit zoom lens) might not be but as soon as you start looking at zooms that go up to 2.8 the prices go WAY up.

4. All you need is one zoom

But that being said, all you need is one zoom for street photography. Something that covers the 28-50+ range and you don't need a bag to carry all of those primes. However this is negated by the next point…

5. Zooms are heavy

Yes you can keep the primes at home when you have a zoom attached…but the downside is, the zooms (at least the fast ones) can get heavy quickly. And as you can see in DSLR vs mirrorless for street photography, a zoom can make you a stealthy as a white rabbit in a coal mine.

So what is better? Zoom vs prime for street photography

As we have seen, it's all about tradeoff. You only need one zoom instead of multiple primes, but the primes are usually faster and the fast zoom is heavier. So what is better? The answer is, it depends. The best option for beginners is to use prime lenses. Because (to paraphrase a photography quote) you are better of mastering one focal length than using a zoom.

Since they are also smaller, they make you stealthier in the streets, and that is better for beginners “to get their feet wet”. If however you are a veteran shooter (or you have the self control to simply not use the zoom) you might want to consider a zoom lens for street photography. However, also consider the cost and weight. Fast zooms are usually more expensive than a prime, and are much bigger and weightier.

If you are reading this, you are interested in street photography, right? Check out my street photography book, course and magazine.

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