If the most important aspect of food blogging is taking beautiful food photographs to sell your recipes, and the most important aspect of taking food photographs is having a great camera setup to do so, then you ABSOLUTELY need to read this post all about the two best lenses for food photography. A poor, good or great photograph can make or break the success of your recipe, but if you’re just starting out (and technical expertise and budget are somewhat limited) then putting together your equipment can be totally overwhelming. Luckily, we’re here to help you through it with this guide to the types of camera lenses every food blogger should have, and how they’ll help your cause.
Today’s technical post comes to you from guest writer Nick Bumgardner. Nick is a professional food, beverage and product photographer based out of Nashville, Tennessee and he has kindly put this post together especially for Food Blogging Collective. You can check out Nick’s work at www.nickbumgardnerphoto.com and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/bumgardnerphoto. His food photography is absolutely stunning!
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, an 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.
The 50mm lens
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 diner’s perspective, worm’s-eye view, or hero images. The 100mm lens will generally be used for diner’s perspective, worm’s-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.
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 the frame. It is also a great lens to use when you want to show a bit more of the scene from a diner’s perspective or for a 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.
If you want to step up your game a little bit, you can pick the Canon 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.
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.
There are also other makers including Sigma, Tamoron, and Zeiss that make excellent-quality lenses. 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 exceedingly sharp, this lens has amazing build quality it is also extraordinarily expensive.
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 is excellent. Within their price ranges, I find that the lenses are pretty closely matched in image quality.
The 100mm Lens
The most commonly-used lens in food photography is, without 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.
There are other manufacturers 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, so be sure to chimp (check every photo in turn) 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 above the other.
My personal food photography camera kit is listed below:
Nikon D600, Nikon 50mm f1.4, Nikon 60mm f2.8, Nikon 105mm f2.8.
Pentax 645z, Pentax 55mm f2.8, Pentax 75mm f2.8, Pentax 120mm f4.
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.
Why not get a headstart on your food photography with my free 5-day email course?
What’s your favourite lens for food photography?