Street photography lens mistakes

(This is a transcript of my video you can see below)
Maybe this situation sounds familiar to you: you decided to start street photography and therefore bought a system camera from Fuji, Sony, Nikon or another company.

Either you bought a camera kit with a zoom lens that you are not really happy with. Or, second option – you are now looking for the right, suitable first lens because you only bought the camera body. 

I want to help you make the right decision for the right lens that will make street photography enjoyable for you. 

But I won’t recommend the specific lens X from Fuji or the specific lens Y from Canon – I will tell you across camera manufacturers what I think is more or less suitable for street photography. 

But before we start – If this is the first video you see from my channel – I’m Oliver, a street photographer for over 10 years. I’ve set myself the goal of passing on my experience and approach to street photography to you here – so you don’t have to make the same mistakes that cost me a lot of time in the beginning.

If you haven’t subscribed to me yet, you can do so right now. And hit the bell that you don’t miss any video in the future. Thank you! But now let’s get started.

So which lens should you buy for your future street photography adventures? Actually there are some pitfalls on the way to the right lens that can cost you a lot of nerves and money. 

Here we are: The 5 most expensive mistakes when buying lenses for street photography:

Mistake No.1: Zoom is king – right?

It sounds so tempting. A lens that covers a wide range of focal lengths, allowing you to do landscape, street, portrait and maybe even macro photography. A beginner friendly lens that lets you easily focus on the subjects and take photos from a safe distance. 

Sure – there are relatively good and fast zoom lenses. You probably won’t even see a big difference in quality compared to prime lenses. At least during the day. Unless! you prefer to photograph wide open – which, however, does not happen very often in street photography on daytime. 

If the quality of zoom lenses is almost close to the quality of prime lenses, why limit yourself to one focal length, you might ask!!! 

There are two reasons against zoom lenses, which you will only notice when taking photos on the street: ONE – zoom lenses are usually quite large. This means you will simply stand out more than with a small camera setup. People might avoid coming near you because they notice your camera from afar. 

Or Security guards might even mistake you as a professional photographer, who is taking photos for commercial purposes without permission.

But if you show up with a small fixed-lens camera or prime lens, people are less aware of your activity.  

With a zoom lens you are simply more obvious to spot for others.

The second reason against a zoom lens is its weight. Street photography often is, lets be honest, a long walk with camera. Zoom lenses weigh two to three times as much as, for example, a 23mm prime lens. All in all, you easily have one kilo pulling on your neck. 

Carrying around a heavy camera set up for several hours isn’t exactly fun. Ok, now you might say – no problem, this is what camera backpacks are for. 

However, while you get your camera out of the backpack, you will already have missed out on lots of photos that require a quick response. 

So my tip for you is to get a light setup which you can carry around for several hours around your neck or even in your hand. And in most cases this will be a compact 28mm, 35mm or 50mm lens calculated on APS-C. 

My recommendation: choose a fast prime lens to start with. With a focal length of 28 to 50mm, you will also have to overcome your fear of getting close to your subjects instead of shooting from a “safe distance”. So on the one hand you will have a greater learning effect and at the same time better, more interesting photos.

Mistake No.2: Only taking photos wide open

One of my favorite lenses is the Fujinon 50mm 1.0. A true bokeh monster! At the beginning I always took photos with the aperture wide open because I thought: Hey, I paid so much money for a strong lens, lets use is then! 

Well, for nighttime, a larger aperture like 1.4 or 1.8 makes perfect sense – but during the day, shooting wide open in street photography is usually not necessary.  But even worse sometimes it might be an obstacle to make good photos. Why?

Street photography often is inpredictable and fast. Even with good autofocus, you will have many photos with wrong focus at aperture 1.0 or 1.2. 

On the other hand, most lenses are only really sharp at a slightly smaller aperture. 

So it doesn’t apply that the further open, the sharper it is!!! 

To give you an example: The Fujinon 50mm 1.0, becomes slightly sharper from 1.4 on and then only reaches its maximum sharpness at around 2.0. 

In my experience its best to shoot during daytime somewhere between aperture 8 and 16, depending on the lighting conditions of course. 

You see, a prime lens with a maximum aperture of 2.8, for example, is sufficient if you mostly take photos during the day. 

I’d say, better save the money and invest it in 2 or 3 more batteries as a supply for longer photo walks or something similar. 

The next common lens mistake that might cost you also a lot of money:


Mistake No.3: Buying the wrong prime lens

Garry Winogrand, Daido Moriyama and Bruce Gilden – 28mm 

Joel Meyerowitz or Alfred Eisenstadt – 35mm

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt or Robert Frank – 50mm. 

Famous street photographers have taken photos with a wide variety of focal lengths between 28 and 50mm, which simply is the best focal length range for street photography. But which one to choose? 

But just because your favorite photographer shoots with 28mm, it doesn’t mean it’s right for you too. So which one to choose? How to find out whether the wide 28mm or the narrower 50mm suits your style of photography better?

Let me give you some examples: 

Shooting with 28mm like a Ricoh GR3 or The Leica Q3, often is a bit too wide. Especially for street photography beginners, composing is simply more difficult here. 

When taking photos with 28mm, I often had to crop something out, which I found quite unsatisfying.

In contrast: At 35mm I can judge quite good, what is in or outside the frame. 

Back in the days I started my street photography journey with 50mm, rather quickly turned to 28mm and ended with my ever since favorite 35mm. 

If you are uncertain about which focal length to choose, then don’t buy, Once you have bought a lens, it is difficult to sell it without making a loss. 

Instead borrow a camera first. This can either be from a friend or from a camera store. Many camera stores offer this service relatively cheap or even for free.

While shooting with different focal lengths, you will notice quickly which suits you better.

That brings me to the next tip:

Mistake No.4: Buying new lenses

Good, fast lenses have a price. And if you buy them new, they cost a lot.

But often you can get used ones in good condition for 60 to 70 percent of the retail price.

I recently bought on a classifieds site this Fujinon 10-24mm lens, which I use for videos making. 

The retail price is around 800 euros, I paid 420 euros 2nd hand. 

I met the seller in person and ran a short functional test on my XT4. The lens has been used only a few times and is in great condition.

Great bargains can be found on classifieds sites, but when buying online, especially from private sellers, it can be difficult to get your money back if something is wrong with the lens, like a fungus inside. 

So buy your lenses used, meet the seller in person and check the product carefully. And if there is no seller near you, there are websites like, where second hand products get checked from professionals before they are sold again.


Mistake No.5: Expensive lens equipped with a UV filter

A good lens is always a good investment. But it seems that some photographers feel uneasy to actually use their expensive equipment. 

Let me tell you what happened to me a while ago: 

I was shooting in the streets of Berlin with my Fuji 50mm F1.0 on my Fuji XT4. 

A fellow photographer came up and asked me, why don’t I use a UV filter on my expensive lens. 

He suggested a UV filter would actually protect my lens from scratches. 

At first it sounds good, you use an additional layer of glass to protect your lens. But still, I would not do it. 

If you buy a cheaper UV filter, it is almost guaranteed that the quality of the UV glasses is inferior to your lens glass.

And additional Lens flares can happen with cheaper filters.

So -Why lowering the quality of your photos with a cheap filter on your expensive lens? 

This factor is no problem if you invest in a high quality UV filter, but few are willing to pay 200, 300 dollars for a good one.

Correct me if I am wrong, but how often does it happen, that the camera falls and a UV filter would have prevented the damage? I guess Once in photographers lifetime or more likely, never…

I am sometimes a bit scatterbrained and I totally understand if someone worries about dropping their expensive lens. 

But don’t use a UV filter as protection, instead: 

Use a Lens hood!!!

This protects your lens and also minimizes lens flares and does nor reduce the quality of your expensive lens in other ways. 

You don’t like a lens hood?

Use a camera strap or arm wrist, prepared like this it is very unlikely that your camera will accidentally fall.


So, a quick summary: 

For street photography beginners, a fixed focal length between 28 and 50mm is ideal. 

Only shoot wide open where it fits. 

Be sure to try out first which focal length suits you best. Then  – don’t buy this flens new, but rather used from a trustworthy seller. 

Don’t protect your expensive lens with a UV filter but with a lens hood or strap.

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