My Go-To Lens

For the photographer using a DSLR camera, the selection of a go-to lens is often more difficult than the selection of the camera body. But we know that choosing the right lens to match the photography goal can make all the difference in the resulting shots.

Starting Out

nikkor 18-55mm lens

I got some good street shots with my kit Nikkor 18-55mm but its distance capability was a problem.
Photo courtery Nikon

Initially, I worked with the kit lenses that came with my camera. Those included a Nikkor 18-55mm and a Nikkor 70-300mm. They worked fine for my starting shots of architecture and landscape.

When I discovered street photography, I continued with the lenses that I had. While I got some reasonable photos with those lenses, I discovered that the ‘uncovered gap’ between 55mm and 70mm between the two lenses could be significant in street photography. While you try to capture street photos at ‘human eye’ views in the 35mm to 50mm range, sometimes you need a little extra reach to capture that shot across the street or down the block. And in street photography, more than any other genre except perhaps for sports photography, changing lenses on the camera to get the shot is not an option. Whatever it was that captured your eye will probably be gone before you can even reach into your bag for the second lens.

Searching for the Go-To Lens

After I spent a little time practicing street photography, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted in a lens:

  • It needed to be a minimum of 35mm for those of ‘normal’ street shots
  • It needed to have a reasonable telephoto capability for those shots up to 100 feet or so away
  • It needed to be relatively ‘fast.’ For most street shots, I like a bit of blurred background and that requires lower f-stops.
  • It had to be relatively small. Nothing is more intimidating to person on the street than pointing a monster lens that them. Beyond that, big lenses are heavy — to not something you want to walk around the streets with.
  • And it had to be reasonably priced. As an amateur photographer, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on equipment.

Enter the Tamron

I learned through research that a company called Tamron makes good lenses available at reasonable prices. The reviews told me that the trade-off might be that my shots with a Tamron lens might not be as ‘tack sharp’ as with a more expensive lens.

That really didn’t matter. It is not unusual in street photography for photos to be slightly out of focus. The entire mechanism of capturing a fleeting shot of someone ‘being themselves’ does not lend itself to studio norms such as ‘focus on the closest eye.’ Of course, every photographer wants photos that are as clear as possible. That is unless they are actually trying for out of focus shots for artistic purposes. But a slight loss of clarity is acceptable for my genre.

Making the Choice

Tamron 18-200mm lens

My go-to lens: the Tamron 18-200mm.
Photo courtesy Tamron

An initial scan of Tamron’s website brought my attention to their 18-200mm Di II VC lens. It seemed to have exactly what I was looking for:

  • The available focal lengths from 18mm to 200mm certainly fit my requirements for close-up shots and those further away.
  • The available apertures ranged from f3.5 at lower focal lengths to f6.3 at full telephoto. That would certainly allow me the type of composition that I look for.
  • It also fits the bill for size. At a collapsed length of 3.7 inches and a diameter of 3 inches, it is small enough to not project a ‘professional photographer’ image. While its length at full extension is almost 8 inches, I rarely use that much telephoto. And if I do, the subjects are too far away to notice the ‘big lens.’
  • It’s light. The lens weighs only 14.1 ounces, or 400 g.
  • And, not least, its list price is only $199.

Additional Features

The Tamron 18-200mm lens has two additional features which were not on my initial list. However, I have learned that both are quite important for successful street photography.

First, the lens has a new autofocus drive module with optimal DC motor-gear train integration. This works well with my Nikon camera and makes auto-focus faster, quieter and more precise. Quick auto-focusing is a key factor in getting that great street shot.

The lens also has a switchable vibration reduction feature. VR helps to stabilize the shot when shooting handheld. And, of course, street photography does not lend itself to shooting from a tripod — it is always handheld shooting. However, the vibration reduction feature can be turned off with a simple switch on the lens for those cases when you are using a tripod for other types of shots. (My 18-55mm Nikkor kit lens also has vibration reduction, but it is not switchable.)

Other Choices

Once I got the Tamron 18-200mm lens, I really never considered anything else. However, this year, Tamron came out with an 18-400mm lens. This was highly touted and so I decided to at least take a look.

While the lens gets great reviews, I found it lacking for my purposes. For starters, I really don’t need 400mm capability for street photography. I very rarely extend to even 200mm, so the additional focal length didn’t mean much. For other uses, such as architecture or close up landscape, I still have my kit Nikkor 70-300mm lens.

Most significantly, the 18-400mm is bigger and heavier. It is nearly an inch longer than the 18-200mm and weighs nearly twice as much. At 24.9 ounces or 705 g, it is less desirable as a ‘walk around’ lens. It’s aperture sizes are identical to the 18-200mm and so it brings really nothing to the table to put it above my current lens, within the scope of street photography.

And also significantly, the 18-400mm lens lists for $649, more than three times the cost of the 18-200mm. While I can see that it is a great lens for many applications, it would not be my choice for street photography.

For now, I’m very happy to stick with the Tamron 18-200mm.

Your Choices

Are you a street photographer? If so, I’d like to hear about your choice for a go-to lens. Leave your remarks in the comments section below.


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