Zone focus is everything for street photographers, and these are some of our favorite lenses for it.
For years, photographers have taken to the streets with their Leica in hand. With elegance and respect for their subjects, they’ve documented daily life. There’s something romantic about capturing the moment as it happens around you. Being an observer and having a camera with you can facilitate beautiful conversations. And zone focus can help you get the photos you want with ease. The most skilled street photographers are faster than a camera’s autofocus. They combine hypersensitivity with foresight. And most of all, they never let a lost moment get them down. We’ve spent the past decade reviewing tons of lenses. And here are some of the ones we lust over.
Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses are best used by looking at an area, quickly figuring out how far your subject is, setting that distance on the lens, bringing the camera to your eye, touching up the focus, and shooting. In the end, it’s also quite a rewarding experience to know you’ve nailed the shot.
Leica 21mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH (A Certain Character)
The Special Sauce: Fast aperture, wide-angle lenses are oodles of fun. At any given aperture, a whole lot more will be in focus. Of course, that means you have two options: get close, or shoot a street landscape. If you can, check it out on the Leica M10-R. Lots of photographers love it for zone focusing and for the look it delivers. The saturated colors combine well with the hint of bokeh and the vast scenes you can capture.
In the official Leica listing, it states:
“The outstanding quality, large angles, and compact dimensions of this 21mm Summilux lens makes it a versatile performer. It works from full aperture – with an extremely shallow depth of field and a subject separated from the background – to a medium stop which can sharply and effectively reproduce entire scenes.“
Buy Now: $8,595
Leica 24mm f2.8 ASPH Elmarit
The Special Sauce: The secret recipe to the 24mm f2.8 Elmarit needs to be experienced in person. First off, it’s small. Small lenses on a Leica really shine and make you want to bring your camera with you everywhere. 24mm is also fairly wide. Wide-angle lenses are incredibly fun and deliver breathtaking views. Oh yeah, and this lens is really sharp. Of any lens on this list, it’s probably the easiest for zone focusing.
“Most of the pictures were shot with a 24mm lens because I was always very close yet wanted to show the environment the people were in. 24mm forces me to get close, otherwise my perspective becomes too withdrawn. I haven’t seen how close I actually am when I am shooting but it feels physically quite close. 35mm was also a good length when I was not inside the buildings or cars or the boat. It gave me a perfect distance to the subjects.“
Buy Now: $2,200
This image is by x1klima on Flickr and used with Creative Commons Commercial Permissions
Pro Tip: Want to fine-tune your zone focus? Think like a boxer who bobs and weaves. Set the focus and aperture of your lens to a set distance away. Move to that distance. Then, with the camera to your eye, bob and weave a bit back and forth until you nail the focus.
Leica 28mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH (A Delicate Balance)
The Special Sauce: The Leica 28mm f1.4 Summilux is probably my favorite lens on this list. We’ve got pretty strict ethics on not editing the photos much that we post here. But couple this lens with a Leica M10, and you’ll get so much potential. In this case, it’s all about the bokeh. And I know that this isn’t the best thing for zone focusing, but the versatility you’re offered here is second to none. When you want to shoot serious street photographs, just stop the lens down and zone focus. When you want to do more work in low light, this lens can do that.
In our review, we state:
“I absolutely adore the Leica 28mm f1.4 Summilux. I think that for documentary and street photography, this has to be one of the best lenses on the market.”
Buy Now: $7,295
Leica 35mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH (Perfect for Zone Focus Street Photography)
The Special Sauce: This is another one of my personal favorites on this list. Let’s, first off, just talk about how perfect the 35mm field of view is. This is how I see the world. So when I mount this lens to a camera, I just zone focus and begin walking. I pay attention to subjects within the zone, focus distance, and become vulnerable to my surroundings. When I find something I like, I snap it. Personally speaking, I love this lens so much that I’ve requested it for the M10 and M10-D reviews. Plus, if you’re interested in something really unique, check out the photos we’ve got with it in out Leica M review.
In our review, we state:
“…I tend to liken the images from the camera to chrome film in that one needs to nail the exposure perfectly…”
Buy Now: $5,895
Pro Tip: Manual focus lenses make you adjust the way that your brain tells you to shoot. Instead of just putting a viewfinder to your eye, focusing, and shooting, sometimes you pre-focus, put the viewfinder to your eye and either shoot immediately or touch up just a bit. You can do this using the depth of field scale.
Leica 35mm f2 Summicron ASPH (One of Our Favorites for Zone Focus and Street Photography)
The Special Sauce: This has to be one of the most balanced lenses on this list. The aperture is brighter than f2.8. So you’ll get more light in a small, friendly size. Then there are the colors and the bokeh–which are excellent for when you want them. Use it with a higher ISO setting in a bad light. No matter what, you’ll still be thoroughly amused by the photos you get. I really enjoyed using this lens on the Leica M10-P.
In our review, we state:
“I’ll fully admit to this lens being very sharp; and for the type of work that demands critical sharpness you can expect great results from the Leica 35mm f2 ASPH Summicron. Just stop it down, focus and shoot.“
Buy Now: $3,295
Leica 50mm f1.4 Summilux ASPH (A Standard Option)
The Special Sauce: This is the lens that I suspect a ton of photographers might want to reach for. The classic 50mm focal length is very endearing for street photography. And what makes this lens special is the colors. Paired with Leica’s sensors, you’ll get unique blues, oranges, and other gorgeous colors. The images will provide a sense of nostalgia that you’ll cherish. But most importantly, it works well with zone focusing. Set this lens to around eight feet away, stop it down, and just shoot. I personally like longer focal lengths for street photography because they can be surprising.
In our review, we state:
“The 50mm f1.4 Summilux is essentially the perfect 50mm lens for me. The out of focus area is gorgeous, it is sharp from corner to corner, there is an aperture ring, the manual focusing is smooth, and it isn’t too heavy or large.”
Buy Now: $4,395
Leica 50mm f2 APO Summicron ASPH (The King of Sharpness)
The Special Sauce: The Leica 50mm f2 Summicron APO is incredibly popular for great reason. We have to start this off by mentioning the creamy bokeh it has. But it’s also important to remember the fairly short focus throw. You can be both precise and accurate with this lens. Stop it down to f5.6, focus to around six feet away, and you’ll be all set. It should be noted just how incredibly sharp this lens is. Folks say that it’s one of Leica’s sharpest. So it’s best paired with the M10-R or M10 Monochrom. Or, if you’re an SL2 user, do this lens extra justice by printing the photos.
“Instead, this lens is deI travel with three lenses: the Summilux-M 35mm f/1.4 Asph, the Apo-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 Asph and the Apo-Summicron-M 75mm f/2 Asph. But without question, it’s with the 50mm f2 APO that this camera shines. 75% of all the images I took in Tanzania where with the 50mm. It’s a very cool marriage.signed to give a very classic, though manicured, look. In fact, I wish more manufacturers made lenses like this.”
Buy Now: $8,795
The following images are by Sigfrid Lundberg on Flickr and used with Creative Commons Commercial Permissions.
Editor’s Note: This blog post is presented by Leica.