How To Pick A Lens For Food Photography
First picking up a DSLR for food photography is quite daunting. After picking a DSLR the next major decision is picking a lens? The lens is the single most important part of your camera system. Lenses are forever, and bodies are temporary purchases.
Investing in a good lens system, to start with will make your photographic journey easier. When it comes to food photography there are three main lenses that commercial food photographers use. They are a 50mm lens, a 85mm or 90mm tilt and shift and a 100mm or 105mm macro lens. My recommendation is that every food photographer needs at least a 50mm lens and a 100mm macro lens when they get serious.
The 50mm and the 100mm
The 50mm lens and the 100mm lens have different uses for food photographers. The 50mm lens will generally be used as a lens for overhead images. Also if you are limited on space or budget the 50mm lens can also serve as a lens for diners perspective, worms eye view, or hero images. The 100mm lens will generally be used for diners perspective, worms eye view, and hero images. The lens provides enough compression that it provides a great perspective, and allows you to have a narrow enough depth of field.
Picking your 50mm Lens for Food Photography
Every camera manufacturer produces a variety of 50mm lenses for their camera systems. Nikon produces 5 unique 50mm lenses. Canon produces 4 unique 50mm lenses one of them being a 50mm tilt and shift. 50mm is a great focal length for photographing overhead food images. It does not create too much distortion and allows you to get enough of the scene in frame. It is also a great lens to use when you want to show a bit more of the scene for a diners perspective or hero shot. 50mm lenses are fast and high quality for the price.
All of the current 50mm lenses produced by Nikon and Canon are excellent. The biggest determining factor should be your budget. The 50mm f1.8 lenses are often referred to as Nifty Fifty lenses because they are small, fast, have great quality optics and are affordable. For those just getting started out this should be the first lens you buy.
About the 50mm f1.4 lenses for food photography
If you want to step up your game a little bit you can pick the Cannon or Nikon 50mm f1.4 lenses. These lenses have a faster f stop, which allows more light in, offer shallower depth of field and offer better quality optics. The Canon 50mm f1.4 is a big step up in build quality from the Canon 50mm f1.8. The Nikon 50mm f1.8 and Nikon 50mm f1.4 offer similar build quality.
The Ultimate 50mm Lenses
If you really want to step up your game to the ultimate level you can pick the Canon 50mm f1.2 or the Nikon 58mm f1.4. The canon 50mm lens specializes in creamy bokeh and the Nikon 58mm specializes in ultimate sharpness. These lenses are uncompromised in optical quality and carry hefty price tags. The build quality of the Canon and Nikon lenses in this category are a step above the lower priced offerings.
Other 50mm Lenses for food photography
There are also other makers including Sigma, Tamoron, and Zeiss that make excellent quality lens. The Sigma Art 50mm lens is an exceptional lens. The Zeiss Otus 55 represents the ultimate 50mm lens in terms of optical quality it has almost no color fringing and is excedenligny sharp, this lens has amazing build quality it is also extraordinarily expensive.
50mm Lenses that I have owned
I have personally owned the Nikon 50mm F1.8D, Nikon 50mm AFS F1.4G, and the Canon 50mm F1.4EF. I have borrowed the Canon 50mm F1.2 many times. Each of these lenses are excellent. With in their price ranges I find that the lenses are pretty closely matched in image quality.
The 100mm Macro Lens
The most commonly used lens in food photography is with out a doubt a Canon 100mm Macro or Nikon 105mm Macro. These lenses are both affordable and offer amazing sharpness they also allow you to get close to your subject. It is rare in food photography to take actual 1:1 macro images, but a lot of lenses will not allow you to get close enough while a macro lens will. The 105mm lenses are f2.8 lenses which allows a good amount of light into the camera. I advise not shooting these lenses at f2.8 but instead stopping down to about f4.5 or 5.6 for best sharpness. Nikon and canon both produce stabilized versions of this lens which are great for hand holding, but remember to turn it off if you are going to be on a tripod.
Other 100m Lenses for Food Photography
There are other manufactures that produce Macro lenses for full frame cameras including Tamron, Sigma and Zeiss. The Tamron 90mm is an excellent lens that many food photographers rave about. It is also important to note that with macro lenses the closer you get to the subject the less light that actually enters the lens, be sure to chimp as you get closer to your subject.
I have personally owned the Canon 100mm Macro and the Nikon AFS 105mm f2.8 G ED VR. They are both excellent lenses. I would not rank one being better than the other.
But I can Only Afford One Food Photography Lens
I understand for meany people that they want one lens that can do everything. Food photographers are in luck. If you shoot Nikon you are really in luck. To see why a short macro lens can work really well for food photography check out my article The Single Best Lens For Food Photography.
My personal food photography camera kit is listed below.
Nikon Food Photography Kit
Nikon D600, Nikon 50mm f1.4, Nikon 60mm f2.8, Nikon 105mm f2.8. I use the 50mm almost exclusively for overheads. The 60mm is a great short macro, but is almost never used unless I don't have space to use the 100mm. The 100mm is my go to lens for my Nikon kit.
Pentax Food Photograhy Kit
Pentax 645z, Pentax 55mm f2.8, Pentax 75mm f2.8, Pentax 120mm f4 Macro. With the Pentax kit my overhead lens is the 55mm f2.8 it is a more modern lens and much sharper than the 75mm f2.8. The 75mm f2.8 is used for some overheads, and as a normal length lens. The 120mm is my go to lens for the Pentax kit and the most used.
Conclusion Wrapping it All Up!
If you only want to have two lenses in your food photography kit the two to get are a 50mm and a 100mm. They will provide you with enough versatility to do almost anything in food photography. This will provide you an affordable kit no matter your price point. The 50mm lens is used for over heads and wider images looking into your food an the 100mm lens is the standard food photography lens that is used for pretty much everything except for over head images. I hope you all have enjoyed this post and found it valuable. Let me know if there are any other food photography lenses that you would like me to talk about! Tell me the lenses that you find essential for food photography in the comments!
Nick Bumgardner is a commercial food photographer based out of Nashville, TN.