A street photography lens challenge

Discover how Glasgow-based photographer Andres McNeill fared taking just one camera, the Canon EOS R8, and one lens, the Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM, around his city.
Car light trails in early evening light on a city street populated by tall buildings, taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

In street photography anything can happen. Incredible photographic moments can appear as if from nowhere and be gone just as quickly. It's the ultimate challenge for a photographer. You need to be ready for anything and have kit that can deliver results.

Andres McNeill, who is based in Glasgow in the UK, has built an impressive social following for his unique style of street photography which takes the ornate, historic architecture of his city as its starting point. "I've always enjoyed people watching," he says, so when he got seriously into photography in 2020, he naturally gravitated towards the street.

Andres tends to walk the pavements until he finds a great frame and then waits until the right person appears – a final but essential element that completes the composition.

Like many contemporary street photographers, Andres is not wedded to the classic fixed 35mm focal length that was favoured in the early days of the genre, instead experimenting with whatever works for his subject matter. Usually, he'll head out with his Canon EOS R5 or EOS R6, and a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R for his EF lenses.

To see whether it was possible to replicate his signature look with a minimal setup, he paired Canon's full-frame mirrorless EOS R8 with just one wide-angle prime lens – the super-compact Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM. Here, we find out whether the kit was up to the challenge.

Blending into the surroundings

A hand holding a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens above a camera kitbag.

The lightweight Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM prime has a versatile focal length and a fast maximum aperture and Andres found that pairing such a compact lens with the EOS R8 gave him more opportunities to get creative.

Photographer Andres McNeill crouches down to take a shot with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens on a moss-covered cobbled street.

Andres was able to capture images that might otherwise have passed him by because his subjects might have spotted what he was doing and behaved differently.

The best lenses for street photography are those that allow you to be nimble so you can adjust quickly to follow fast-moving action and a key feature of the Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM is its slim pancake design.

At just 120g, the RF 28mm F2.8 STM is light compared to zoom or faster prime lenses, ideal when you're nipping around a city such as Glasgow on foot. "It's incredibly small," Andres says. "Paired with the Canon EOS R8, I just couldn't believe the size of it. It felt like you were almost invisible."

For Andres, who is over 6ft, being able to melt into the surroundings is a huge benefit. "You can be really close to the action, and still get candid moments – and I was less noticeable than I would have been if I was walking around with my usual setup."

A wider perspective

A busy street populated by office workers and tourists on a sunny day. Taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

Shooting with the Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM meant Andres could get close to his subjects and still show the wider environment. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/1250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

A figure caught in the sunlight between two tall buildings casts a long shadow on the pavement. Taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

It can be daunting heading out on the streets with a camera but having a minimal setup makes it easier to blend into your surroundings. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/800 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

Andres stayed in Glasgow city centre for the shoot, "because that's where it's all happening," he says. "You've got such an eclectic mix of people so it's the best place to go for photos."

The wide-angle 28mm focal length was a new experience for Andres, who embraced the opportunity to bring more of the architecture into the frame. "I was able to get really close to people because the footprint of the camera and lens setup is so small but I was also able to capture the width of buildings," he explains.

Andres captured a variety of pictures, showing people crossing between the architectural gems, within pockets of light, casting long shadows. "I also made some longer exposures, with cars passing and creating trails," he adds.

Fast aperture for shooting in low light

A person walking in front of a theatre at night is illuminated by the lights emanating from the building. Taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

The best advice Andres has received is to stop looking for photographs and start looking for stories. "Compose like you're shooting a film," he suggests. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/100 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 400. © Andres McNeill

Scotland is not generally known for its sunshine, so having a lens that can deal well with duller, overcast weather scenarios is vital for Andres.

"My favourite time to shoot is the 'blue hour', just after the sun has set but late enough so it looks like night," he says. "Having that f/2.8 aperture was perfect for those situations. I didn't have to push up the ISO too much to achieve a decently exposed image. You can rely on slightly lower shutter speeds at f/2.8 to get a really crisp photo."

For the visual look he strives for, Andres draws inspiration from cinema, referring to the distinctive blue-purple-turquoise tones present in the cinematography of the 2016 film Moonlight as an example of the kind of colour palette he loves in his own shots.

A person is illuminated by the ground floor lights of a multi-story carpark. Floor-to-ceiling windows show a staircase ascending to the top of the building. Taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

Andres often shoots at night and looks for urban scenes where he can take advantage of available light for interesting compositions. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/100 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 800. © Andres McNeill

A figure in silhouette at the end of a long, graffiti-covered underpass. Taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

According to Andres, there are two camps of street photographer – hunters and fishers. Andres falls into the latter camp. "I tend to wait for different characters to reveal themselves," he says. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/160 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 100. © Andres McNeill

When shooting at night, Andres uses available light from office windows and fast-food signage to enhance his images. After dark, he was especially impressed with the bokeh produced by the Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM.

"The greater the number of aperture blades, the smoother the bokeh and the more perfect and circular it looks," he says. "That was important as I had street lights and car headlights all going on in the background. Having that bokeh, which is so pleasing to the eye, really added to the images."

In addition to shooting stills, Andres is also a videographer. The RF 28mm F2.8 STM is an ideal lens for content creators working with motion and for making movies as its focus breathing correction delivers consistent framing when switching between focal points.

A perfect option for street photography

A man holds a Canon camera with a Canon prime lens attached up to their eye to take a photograph.

"When you first start out you think, 'Oh, I need to change my shutter speed,'" says Andres. "Now it's second nature. I don't even think about my camera dials anymore."

In between two high-rise buildings on a sunny day, a person bathed in shadows sits on the kerb checking his phone. Taken by Andres McNeill with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens.

Andres enjoyed playing around with the Canon EOS R8's 40fps electronic shutter, which meant he was spoilt for choice when it came to the edit. "I just couldn't believe how many frames I could capture," he enthuses. Taken on a Canon EOS R8 with a Canon RF 28mm F2.8 STM lens at 1/400 sec, f/4 and ISO100. © Andres McNeill

This was the first time Andres had used the Canon EOS R8 and he found it was a great camera for street photography. He particularly appreciated the intelligent autofocus, which enabled him to keep his subjects in sharp focus. "It almost felt like cheating a little sometimes. It's almost as if I was just telling it what to do with my mind and it was just happening."

A successful street picture tells a story within a frame. Andres remembers one particularly powerful example of this – a man seated in a pool of light, taking a break (above right). Thanks to his inconspicuous setup, Andres was able to take the shot while the man continued his moment of calm, undisturbed. For his subject, it was probably just another ordinary day but, seen through Andres' lens, it became something magical.

"My one piece of advice to street photographers is just to go out and do more," urges Andres. "I could list techniques, but really it's about training your eye to see the kind of moments that you're looking for. And that will make you a better street photographer."

Rachel Segal Hamilton

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