On the street: 21 vs 35 mm

In my street photography, I basically have two lenses to choose from: the DA 21mm Limited and the DA 35mm Limited. A lot of people seems to think that the main difference between a 21mm lens and a 35mm lens is that you get a longer reach with the 35mm, and therefore don´t need to move as close to your subject to get the same image.

Well, looking through my images I have noticed something else: The images I make have a very different character depending on which lens I use.

The 21mm let me, no, force me to get close to the action to get the right working distance. I have been shooting with this lens for several years now and know the preferred distance by heart, so anytime I spot an interesting scene I move in, shot from the hip or whatever is necessary to get the shot. I just love those fast, chaotic images this kind of shooting gives me. I usually set this baby to hyper focal which means I´m ready to shot instantly. Shooting with this lens, I´m prepared for the unexpected.

Shooting quick with the 21 mm

This often gets me into trouble when I have the 35mm on the camera, since I usually find myself to close to the action. It feels like a god damn tele lens and I can´t use that in a crowd, so whats happening is that the 35mm slows me down. It forces me to shoot images that in many cases are the opposite of those of the 21mm. Strict compositions with well controlled subjects. Shooting with this lens, I need a plan.

Shooting slow with the 35 mm

I think it´s interesting to realize that the choice of lens actually have this much impact on how my images comes out. Before this, I would not have taken this in consideration if I was in the mood for a new lens. I would have thought it just was a matter of field of view and reach, but it seems that if also affects how and what I shoot to a greater extent than I imagined.

Now, let´s see if you could pick the lens on the images below (should be pretty easy :). And if you have similar findings – or the opposite – drop me a line!

Note: I´m using a aps-c camera which means a cropfactor of x1.5. The 21mm the equals 31 mm on a full frame sensor.

Sthlm, 2010: Royal wedding in stockholm

Sthlm, 2010: At the Royal wedding

Sthlm, 2006: Autumn movement

Sthlm, 2009: Foundation

Sthlm, 2008: Bad weather

6 thoughts

  1. I always use my 21 the way you use yours, on the street. My alternative choice is my 50. Like you, it changes the way I shoot. I tend to know, when I use the 50, that I am going to be looking more for textures, so I never look for the spontaneous scenes and look instead for static, textured scenes.

  2. Interesting. It seems that you and I works the same way and probably many others to, so it really bums me that people asks questions like “which one is better – the 24 mm or the 50mm?”. Many put a lot of focus on the quality aspect, but seems to forget to add them selves into the equation. At least if their goal is to use their gear for making images. :)

    By the way: my 35mm is in my opinion far better than my DA21, but i still use the 21mm 80 percent of the time. Isn´t that enigmatic or what? ;)

    Thanks for visiting, Nikhil!

  3. I completely agree on the 21 – it’s small enough that with a quiet body like the K-5 / K-7, you can get close to the action almost without being noticed. It’s also sharp enough that as a last resort, cropping to what a 50 would produce is not out of the question.

  4. hey Jimmy, the interwebs has lead me to your site and I’m glad it did. the photos that you show in this post that are shot with the 21mm have a very instinctive sort of feel to them, they’re definitely on track to being very great photographs. my favorite is of the kid, you snapped it at the perfect time :D anyway just wanted to let you know nice work and thanks for all of the interesting links leading to other websites.

    by the way, I also shoot with pentax – a K20D with the FA 35mm 50mm and a F28mm. Great lenses, great camera, great company :)

    keep on shooting!


  5. I don’t shoot from the hip — I prefer to just put the view finder right up to my eye — so the 35mm works well for me out on the street, though I would like something a little wider.

  6. @Mark: Yeah, that lens is lovely and the angle suits me perfectly. i read a review of the DA21 somewhere where the reviewer actually said something about the lens being “so cute you want to tickle it”. Quite disturbing … ;)

    @Johnny: I´m pleased you found my tiny thread of the web, and even more that my images trigger some feelings. Makes me happy.

    @Travis: I checked out your site and it is clear that you handle that 35mm of yours very well. Excellent street portrait on Edgardo! (And shooting from the hip is fun every now and then – I just love those low angles)

    Thanks for visiting, guys!

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