What to look for when choosing a food photography lens? Food photography does not require any super equipment, and lenses that are supernatural in terms of capabilities and price are also not needed. There are a few things to keep in mind, and at least roughly imagine what challenges await on the way to crystal-sharp and wonderfully blurry photographs.
Food photography is a kind of subject photography, and it has its own characteristics, which we will discuss later. Let’s first figure out which lenses for food photography are definitely not worth buying.
Lenses Not for Food Photography
1. Wide Angle Lenses
Wide-angle lenses include lenses with a focal length less than normal (from 40 mm or less). These lenses are used primarily for landscape and architecture photography. Thanks to the focal length, the angle of view of wide-angle lenses is increased. Super wide-angle lenses (also called “fisheye”) have a 180º angle of view. If you need to shoot something big, being close to it, you need a “zoom”.
Wide-angle lenses distort the perspective and volume of your subjects. If you shoot portraits of friends on the “zoom” – you will be left without friends. And you can just get beat up.
It is clear that such optics are not suitable for filming food. Exception: sometimes crazy chefs decide to bake the world’s largest pie to enter the Guinness Book of Records. This is where you need a wide-angle lens for shooting.
2. Telephoto Lenses
Long-focus lenses (telephoto lenses) include lenses with a focal length several times larger than the frame diagonal. The value is rather arbitrary. Assume that long lenses are lenses over 75mm depending on the crop factor of the camera used.
A telephoto lens, unlike a wide-angle lens, is designed to visually bring the subject closer. Most often, a telephoto lens is used in practice by reporters, paparazzi, or animal photographers when shooting wildlife. It is unlikely that a food photographer will shoot salads from a distance of a kilometer from the plate. In addition, telephoto lenses “flatten” the picture, so it’s difficult to shoot a high-quality still life with a beautifully rendered space by a telephoto lens.
3. Zoom Lenses
A zoom lens is a variable focal length lens. The idea is good: when needed, it works as a wide-angle lens, but when you turn the wheel, you already have a portrait or telephoto lens. No need to run, and there is plenty of room for creativity. Zoom is a reportage or wedding photographer’s best friend. But the zooms have serious drawbacks. For example, zooms cannot be fast. Cheap zooms are suitable for amateur picnic photography, while expensive ones weigh and cost like an airplane, and are still inferior in quality to fixes.
For a beginner photographer who has not yet decided on priorities, such glass is good. For serious still life photography, zooms are poorly suited, unless you are not going to make special demands on the quality of the photo and the artistry of the picture.
In fact, both “zoom” and “telephoto”, and even more so the zooms can be used for subject shooting. But there is always a fair amount of experiment in this, and you must clearly understand the possibilities and disadvantages of such optics. If you are just starting out, leave experimenting for later.
Best Lenses for Food Photography
1. Prime 50mm Fixed Focal Lens
This is perhaps the perfect lens for photographing food. The main thing to be guided by when choosing: aperture ratio, lack of distortion, optical drawing (this is already a matter of taste).
The main feature of 50mm fixed focal prime lens: It sees the world approximately the way a person sees. That is, a photo taken with a 50mm prime lens looks as natural as possible and is devoid of geometric distortions typical for wide-angle or long-focus lenses. The key to this is in the focal length: the optimal focus, which allows the transmission of geometry without distortion 50-75 mm. If you are using a 50mm prime on a crop-sensor camera, the actual focal length of the lens will be 75mm (depending on the crop factor).
If you are just looking to buy a lens for shooting food photography – start with this “50mm prime lens“.
You may also like to read: 7 Good Reasons to Use A 50mm Fixed Focal Lens
2. Macro Lenses
Macro lenses are lenses that can focus at ultra-short distances to the subject. Even professional photographers believe that macro-optics is like shooting cockroach insects. Yes, insects are only photographed with macro lenses, but macro is not only for entomologists. The main feature of macro lenses is the ability to snatch something out of the familiar reality and show it separately, focusing only on it. And that something could be anything, including food. Want to show a textured texture? Sugar crystals on cookies, a cut of a juicy pie with a filling, perspiration on a glass with a drink – use macro…
Do not start your first photography experiments with a macro lens: this is not an optics for a beginner. You should have a good understanding of how aperture works and how depth of field (DOF) is calculated .
Another advantage of macro lenses: low geometric distortion. Therefore, macro lenses are good even for shooting portraits. It is better not to shoot female portraits with macro optics. They will beat you… 😃😃😃
The main disadvantage of macro-optics: the depth of field of such lenses is small. If you shoot an object close up, to get a clear picture you will have to assemble it from several frames (this is called a stack) in a program editor, with a rather unpredictable result. For the same, in order to shoot something large, you have to move away from the subject.
As mentioned above, the goals of portrait lenses and macro lenses are completely different. This is the difference in evaluating the quality of such lenses. A portrait photographer should be able to open the aperture as much as possible and “smear” beautifully without distortion, and the task of a macro lens is to depict as sharply as possible with the required depth of field without distortion, and this is possible only with a closed aperture. Macro “smears” in any case, at any aperture.
You may also like to read: Sigma 150mm Macro F/2.8 Review: The Best Macro Lens?
Note: You should not take macro lenses for a crop matrix with a focal length of more than 100 mm for food photography, if you are not in search of bacteria in a plate.
What to Look for When Choosing a Food Photography Lens?
1. Aperture Ratio
A working aperture of 2-2.8 is sufficient for the lens. Many lenses with the declared aperture of 1.4-1.8 cannot normally shoot with such an aperture – chromatic aberrations appear (these aberrations look like disgusting colored halos around fine details. They can be removed in the editor if you try).
2. Optical Stabilizer
The stabilizer makes life easier for the photographer, especially when it comes to shooting macro, where the slightest shift of the lens during shooting turns into a spoiled frame. Stabilized lenses cost 1.5 to 2 times more than conventional lenses, but this is a smart investment for a professional. If you shoot stationary objects and exclusively from a tripod, you can refuse the stabilizer.
It happens that you get a lens with out autofocus. This means that the lens cannot focus accurately. Fortunately, this can be easily treated in any service. However, when buying a lens, it is worth checking the focus: a good store will check your lens with you, for an additional fee or for free.
Note: The inability of the camera to focus where it needs to be is called back focus and front focus. The lens is not always to blame for this defect, the reason may be due to the focusing system of the camera or incompatibility with the lens model.
4. Autofocus Speed
Many macro lenses take a long time to focus. Focusing speed is provided by the quality of the motor built into the lens. If you plan to focus entirely by hand, this point can be neglected.
Vignetting is the drop in lighting at the corners of the frame. As a rule, the older and simpler the lens, the more likely this defect appears. Vignetting is not a serious defect: it can be easily eliminated in any graphics editor. Moreover, vignetting is used as an artistic effect to accentuate significant image elements.
You may also like to read: Fashion Photography: Discover the Secrets to Success in Fashion Photography
If you are choosing a lens for food photography, get a light prime – “50mm Lens“.
A “bright” lens means with an aperture of 1.4-2.8. There are also lighter lenses, but their price is much higher than an ordinary photographer can afford, and the aperture 1.4-2.0 remains working.
At prices for 2020, the cost of such lenses ranges from $250 to $400. The 50mm lens is suitable not only for shooting food photography, it is used for portraits, reports, genre scenes, and landscapes. Then, when the time comes, pay attention to macro optics. And in fact, there is no reason not to experiment with lenses designed for other tasks: there are no canons, no rules, no one forbids trying new things.