Ready for anything: the best Canon lenses for street photography

Random incidents, chance encounters… three top professionals reveal their go-to street photography lenses with impact.
A tourist, wearing a coat, a backpack and a hat, pictured from behind facing an old cobbled street at evening with lights twinkling on a dark hill in the background.

Photographer Markus Morawetz says the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is one of the best lenses for street photography. "The low aperture is perfect for any night-time photography. Here, the ISO is still very low at 400 and thanks to f/2 I can keep the background wonderfully blurred, and the focal length gives me the chance to capture a lot of the whole scene." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens at 1/30 sec, f/2 and ISO400. © Markus Morawetz

Which are the best Canon lenses for street photography? It's easy to assume you need a single, discreet all-rounder lens. But a wide range of lenses can capture beautiful street scenes, across genres, as three professional street photographers reveal.

Austrian photographer Markus Morawetz is best known for his wedding photography, but also shoots travel and reportage, including candid portraiture and traditional street shots.

French photojournalist, Canon Ambassador and Magnum Photos member Jérôme Sessini, who has covered some of the most significant news events of the past 20 years, documents the streets in an entirely different way, telling stories of migration and conflict, including his long-term study of Mexican culture and his Syrian streetscapes.

London-based photographer and creative director Ejiro Dafé studied advertising, but finding and photographing stories on the streets is where he really cut his photography teeth. His approach is different to most photographers: he only uses a 50mm lens.

All three street photographers know just how important choosing the right lens is. Here, they share their favourite lenses for street photography, explaining why each is particularly suited to the broad genre.

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Two passengers in a compartment on a train. One is lying down sleeping, the other sits curled up on her seat inspecting a fingernail.

Jérôme Sessini used his 35mm lens to capture the entirety of the small confines of this train passenger compartment, conveying to the viewer the intimacy of the surroundings for these passengers. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/2 and ISO6400. © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos.

A mother and child working at a colourful street market.

"When travelling, I love to get in contact with people," says Markus. "Street portraits can be so expressive and tell so much about a country. I love the opportunity to get a wonderful bokeh at f/2 and still capture a whole scene and tell a story." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens at 1/400 sec, f/2 and ISO1600. © Markus Morawetz

1. Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM

Best wide Canon street lens

"The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens has been one of my favourites for years," says Markus. "The focal length means I can capture everything I need to in a scene. No matter if it's a streetscape, portrait or detail shot, this is an all-rounder that never disappoints. It's relatively wide angle, so you have to think about the image composition and consider what's in the frame.

“Thanks to the low starting aperture, the lens is also perfect for mastering low-light situations and is able to conjure wonderful bokeh. It's small, light, unobtrusive and has a fast focus – everything a street reportage lens should have. I never leave the house without it!"

This is also Jérôme's go-to workhorse lens. "The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens is my standard lens for reportage and street photography," he says. "It's lightweight, it's compact and the focusing speed is second to none."

Mike Burnhill, Professional Imaging Product Specialist at Canon Europe and an expert on lens technology, adds: "This is a compact, fast, lightweight EF lens that perfectly balances size and performance, plus the in-built Image Stabilization enables shooting in different positions without worrying about shake ruining images."

The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM

A wide-angle lens with a natural perspective and Image Stabilizer that's ideal for handheld photography.
A man getting his hair cut by the light of a phone torch.

Jérôme photographs a migrant, who travelled from Central America to Mexico, getting a haircut by the light of a mobile phone. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 35mm, 1/250 sec, f/8 and ISO200. © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos

2. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Best all-round Canon street zoom lens

"If I had to travel with just one lens, it would be this one," says Jérôme. "It gives me very high quality and versatility in just one lens. It allows me to switch from spontaneous snapshots to landscape or cityscapes without changing lenses. In some respects, I find this lens produces a higher quality of image than some primes – its ability to capture strong definition and chromatic accuracy are unique, and I love the mellow colours and the general texture it achieves, which are especially beneficial when you need to print images."

Markus agrees: "The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens delivers an ingenious focal length range for reportage as you can capture complete scenes with 24mm and then get really close to your subject with 70mm," he says. "The sharpness is superb at f/2.8, and it's a good choice when travelling because you can cover a wide range of focal lengths with just one lens and still be sure of high-quality results."

Mike adds: "For versatility with image quality that can rival a prime lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is the one lens most professionals couldn't live without."

The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional everyday L-series zoom that delivers high image quality with a constant f/2.8 aperture.
A couple sitting together on a wall facing each other, with the light of the sun shining between their heads.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens is ideal in low-light situations. "The wide aperture helps to frame the couple in this shot really well by softening the backdrop around them," says Markus. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/8000 sec, f/1.4 and ISO100. © Markus Morawetz

A man under an umbrella pictured from behind leaning on a stone parapet facing a tree-lined park.

"I'm a big fan of 'bad' weather – the mix of this melancholic mood, the calmness of the location and the possibility to catch completely different moments," says Markus. "The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM is so well built that it performs even in the most harsh conditions." Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM lens at 1/8000 sec, f/1.4 and ISO500. © Markus Morawetz

3. Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Best Canon street lens for dreamy bokeh

"This little gem was one of my first investments when I started out," says Markus. "It's simply a workhorse of a lens and is one of the reasons why I love using Canon. It has a lot of fans among professional street photographers, because it produces an indefinable magic, which you can fall in love with very quickly. I look for lenses with character, and this is one of those lenses for me.

"The AF is accurate and fast enough for the street scenarios I shoot, and I also love how it's small and durable," he adds. "Whether I'm using it on the Canon EOS R with a Canon EF-EOS R Mount Adapters, or with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, the lens is very comfortable in the hand.

"The low f-stop means I can use this lens in low-light situations and keep the ISO relatively low, which increases the quality of the final result. But more than that, it gives me the ability to make objects stand out from the background or the surroundings and allows me to highlight things using a wonderful, fluid bokeh. In short, it gives you new possibilities to tell your stories."

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM lens.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

Professional L-series, f/1.2 aperture USM lens for low light and extreme depth of field control.

4. Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

Best Canon RF all-rounder zoom street lens

Using a Canon EOS R System camera? "This is a great lens to travel with," says Jérôme. "It's versatile, especially for switching from landscape to portrait with one lens. It's also very fast and light, and the f/4 aperture is more than enough for me. I always like to work at f/8, because I find it gives a good focus depth and because I often use big flashes, even in daylight, so I don't need a bigger aperture."

It's a versatile option for street shooting, agrees Markus. "If you are looking for more focal length and can do without an f/2.8 aperture, the Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM is a great lens in the RF line-up, and the built-in Image Stabilizer will help if, and when, the light goes. This focal length is very popular for filming, so if you shoot both stills and movies, this lens is a very cost-effective option."

Mike sums up: "The Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM is the multi-purpose lens of the RF lens family. With a focal range that covers all the most common focal lengths but also with stunning fast focus and 5-stop Image Stabilization, this lens is ready for everything."

The Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM lens.

Canon RF 24-105mm F4L IS USM

A lightweight and versatile 24-105mm f/4 L-series zoom with fast, silent autofocus and 5-stops of image stabilisation.
A youth wearing a hoodie leans against a lamppost in front of a tree-filled urban park in the evening.

Jérôme used the discreet Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens for this street portrait of a youth near the Estadio Palillo baseball stadium in Mexico City. The lens delivers a natural-looking perspective appropriate for Jérôme's documentary style, and the Image Stabilization helped him capture the scene in the low-light conditions. Taken on a Canon EOS R with a Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens at 1/60 sec, f/4 and ISO3200. © Jérôme Sessini/Magnum Photos

5. Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM

Best discreet Canon street lens

"Shortly after I integrated the Canon EOS R into my workflow, I got myself the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens, because 35mm is one of my preferred focal lengths for almost everything," says Markus. "No matter if it's weddings, travel or street reportage – with 35mm I can work the whole day without missing another focal length. Its size is a dream – it helps keeps the Canon EOS R lightweight, which for all-day shooting should not be underestimated. I love to work below f/2, and with this lens I can do that without any restrictions. Sharpness and a beautiful bokeh – what more could I want?

"The Image Stabilization allows me to take incredible photos handheld, a must for shooting in busy environments, and the AF is very fast and accurate, so I know I can rely on it 100%," Markus adds. "This lens gives me everything that is immensely important for street photography – it's so discreet and yet offers so much quality."

Mike notes: "The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens is the smallest of the current RF lenses. With a natural-looking focal length and fast aperture, this is an ideal street photography lens for those who don't want to stand out."

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM lens.

Canon RF 35mm F1.8 Macro IS STM

A fast aperture 35mm f/1.8 macro lens for wide-angle perspective, close focusing and Hybrid IS.
A model wearing a mustard jumper and a blue coat raises a hand in the air, creating a shadow across her face.

“One thing I've always loved about the 50mm focal length for street photography, is that feeling of knowing you were literally right there 'in it' on the other side of the lens when you look at an image,” Ejiro says. “It wasn't an image taken at a distance – you really had to work for that shot.” Taken on a Canon EOS RP with a Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/4 and ISO100. © Ejiro Dafé

6. Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM

Best entry-level Canon street lens

"I've been using the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM for a long time, but going back to a maximum aperture of f/1.8 with the Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM reminded me just how easy it is to work with such a compact and inconspicuous lens," says Ejiro, who was one of the first photographers to get hands-on with the RF mount's 'nifty fifty'. "I remember when I was starting out in street photography, people wouldn't really react to the camera when I had a 50mm f/1.8 lens attached.

"The Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM is a great option for street photography. You can really take advantage of how small and light the lens is in order to get shots that would be more difficult with a bigger lens – especially with the added advantage of the control ring on the front of the barrel, which means you never have to take your eye from the viewfinder to adjust a key setting."

"The 50mm focal length produces images with a natural-looking perspective, and you can get a nice artistic look with the wide f/1.8 aperture," adds Tibor Szövetes, Product Marketing Specialist at Canon Europe. "The RF version of this classic lens is not based on the EF version, rather it's a completely new optical design which includes an aspherical lens element. It's also one the most affordable lenses in the whole RF lens lineup."

The Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM lens.

Canon RF 50mm F1.8 STM

A compact, lightweight lens ideal for street photography, candid portraits and video.

كتابة Natalie Denton

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