One of the more fun and interesting discussions among street photographers is the topic of focal length. Specifically, which lens is better for street photography, the 35mm or the 50mm?
Some think the 50mm is the best usually it’s the 35mm, but some like it even wider. But I say, what about a 135mm?
As photographers, we have a tendency to make little rules for everything or get caught up in beliefs that ultimately just limit our creativity. “Cropping is bad, 35mm is the perfect street lens, 50mm is boring, I only shoot wide open, that lens is too big, that lens is too small, that lens is too slow, manual focus is dumb, you shouldn’t chimp, micro-contrast isn’t a thing, there is no such thing as weather sealing.” etc. etc. etc.
You’ve heard all of them I’m sure, but really, why? Why are there rules, who cares?
Cameras are like cars, people collect them, add accessories to them, take them apart for fun and put them back together for fun. A low rider is not a practical car, but people like them, and like cars, you can use whatever gear you want, just because it’s fun. This even means using long lenses for street photography.
Long Lens Street Photography
So what’s it like shooting with the Fujifilm 90mm f2 lens for street photography?
It’s very fun and opens up a ton of opportunities if you know where to look, but it can also be very challenging.
I’ve been shooting a lot of street photography in Fukuoka and it dawned on me that the fashion game here was insane. Probably one of the best in the world.
Everyone is so well dressed and looks great all the time, and Fukuoka is known in Japan to be the best city for good looking people.
Every time I meet someone here in California that is from Japan they always say the same thing. Actually, I just met a Sushi chef this week who asked me where I live in Japan and he said it, “Oh! Fukuoka, beautiful girls!” My buddy goes, “what? what about Tokyo,” the chef goes, “Ehhh.”
Anyway, I saw this amazing opportunity in Fukuoka to shoot some street photography with a lean towards more of a street fashion style and really it’s been a ton of fun.
Is 90mm (135mm equivalent) Too Much?
I ask myself this question a lot. Sometimes 90mm is too much, but sometimes it’s perfect. But usually, it’s too much. You have to really be in the right mood for it and especially the right location. Shooting tight cramped streets is difficult and it probably won’t work in a lot of places. In Fukuoka, you have these cool long streets with neon signs with lots of compressions and the 90mm is perfect.
Just like with any lens, it takes some time to get used to using a long lens and it really helps to know your city so you can choose the best locations appropriately.
The 90mm is probably a little too much and I think if I could only have one long lens I would pick an 85mm over a 135mm or in APS-C terms, 56mm over 90mm. Since if you had to you can always crop.
I think the actual perfect setup would be an 85mm on something like a full-frame Nikon Z7 or A7r III, because you can crop down to a 135mm field of view and still have somewhere around 19 or 20 megapixels.
The Issues With 90mm
I’ve never really shot this long before with street photography and at first, it took some getting to use too.
The biggest issue was nailing the framing when the subject was moving when fairly close to the camera. The X-T3 does not stabilize either so there is some camera movement you have to fight as well.
Street photography is not like nature photography where you’re often stationary. I’m often moving or walking while I take the shot, so there is a lot of motion happening.
I’m usually pretty fast and fairly sloppy when shooting street so shooting with longer lenses forces me to get a little more precise, stop moving and try to stabilize, then everything starts to frame up a little nicer. It’s actually helped me break some bad habits.
In terms of focus, the 90mm f2 is insane. It’s very fast, and very accurate every time. It can struggle sometimes in low light but not quite as much as my Nikon Z 85mm f1.8. While the Z6 is one of the fastest focusing cameras out there in terms of the acquisition, it seems like the X-T3 is still a touch better in low light.
Overall, shooting with the Fujinon 90mm turns out to be a really cool look and I’m seeing a lot of other street shootings doing something similar. This could be the next trend when street shooters get tired of shooting shadow photography.
It’s also nice if you don’t like to get in people’s faces which can creep them out. I mean, you’re still a creeper, you’re just less likely to be noticed.
Fujifilm XF 90mm f2 Street Photo Samples
These are all shot with the Fujifilm X-T3.
A lot of these I cropped for Instagram. With Instagram, things need to be a little more friendly or easily readable with small screens so I often crop like a mad man.
Excellent photos. I find the colour on the spider man suit simply exquisite. And I really like the idea of using longer lens for street photos. I didn’t know that Fukuoka is famous for its sense of style. Last year I visited Seoul, and despite the fact that I live in London, I was mind blown when it comes to Korean fashion.
I was actually almost there to pull the trigger on Nikon Z6 but you reported that it is not that amazing in low light. It seems that this is a recurring theme in most of serious reviews I have read…
Thanks PK. The Z6 is functional in low light, but the AF needs a split second longer. They improved it with the last firmware but it’s still not to the level of the X-T3. Close though.
Lately I’ve only been shooting with the 85mm at night, the 50mm is crazy fast at focusing. So part of that could be because of the narrower field of view you get with the longer lens at f1.8. I would say the 85mm f1.8 still focuses better, more reliably than the Fujifilm X-T3 with the 56mm f1.2 in low light.
Keep in mind most reviews regarding AF speed are going to vary a lot depending on which lens someone is using. The dual focus lenses like the Z 35mm and the 85mm do not focus as fast as that 50mm which is just insane.
I’m trying to post samples from the Z6 with the 85 this weekend if I can find time and I’ll list out my experience.
Awesome pictures once again Alik. I can relate to using such focal lengths for street photography and not having to establish contact.
Regarding the Z system, are you planning an article about the cameras and lenses? Would love to read about your experience with it.
I’ve started writing one a few times, but I struggle to really write about cameras these days since they’re all only subtly different but also they are become more and more like platforms where they’re continuously upgraded with firmware. And I don’t really want to just list specs although there are some that everyone misses like video bitrate and how well the IBIS works compared to other systems.
So a year after a camera is launched it’s often a completely different camera. Like now the Z6 got that firmware which added autofocus features like face and eye detect while also improving low light performance. It’s going to get another update adding external RAW and CFexpress cards. Same thing happened with the X-T3, a few firmware updates fixing bugs, there is suppose to be another AF update and new film simulators. So most early reviews about the Z6 are now obsolete and they’re usually not updated.
I also only had one lens for awhile with the Z6, the 50mm. Now I have the 85mm and I might get the 35mm, so I’ll have a better experience in what focusing like across a few different lenses, since the lens often is what defines a good autofocus experience.
I’m going to try to write an impressions article using the Z6 and 85mm tomorrow. So I think that might be my model going forward, writing about lenses and what each system is like with that lens. So now that I have more experience with the Z6 from when I did my impressions with the 50mm, I can include more info about the camera and how I’m using it.
Yeah, I understand what you mean about reviews becoming obsolete since, especially those that are written during the launch of a product.
That’s why I was wondering if you’d write some thoughts about the Z system as a whole, some of its cons and pros and how enjoyable is the experience.
I always prefer those kinds of articles where someone describes how it feels shooting with specific lens or system and its applications, over listing a spec sheet and that’s why I’m a regular reader of your website since you often nail those articles.
Thanks and keep up the good work
Finally Fuji photos again! I really loved your Fuji photos in my opinion they are better then Jonas Rask’s photos. Keep posting more regularly 🙂
🙂 Thanks. Rask has been mixing up his style lately, I feel like he’s doing some really cool stuff.
I’m trying to post more regular articles like this. I got in a little bit of a blog funk this year with the new kid and all the back end work that comes with running a blog.
‘When street shooters get tired of shooting shadow photography’. Haha, totally this! You always crack me up with your observations as they are so true. I call them the shadow people.
lol thanks, totally forgot I wrote that. Shadow people is a good name for them. 🙂
I think, if you are new to a place, it’s not advisable to have a lens with a focal length this long. But if you’ve been there before, having a 135mm equivalent lens would be great.
Thanks Edwin, that’s kind of one of the big things I learned this year shooting street. I’ve been staying in Hollywood for the last month and it’s taken me awhile to figure out how to take advantage of the long lenses. Wides are usually a bit easier if you’re new to a place.