It’s a good idea to have a few different lenses in your camera bag when shooting food photography.  

This post will give you a good understanding of why to choose a specific lens and which are the best lenses for food photography.

Prime or zoom lens for food photography?

The eternal debate.

Your initial answer to this question may largely depend on when you first took up photography.

Many of the old guard may swear by prime lenses (and may still refer to them by their angle of view, rather than how wide they are in mm). If you’re only just starting out, you probably own a 50mm prime and the rest of your equipment will consist of zoom lenses.

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question though and much of it will come down to a combination of personal preference, cost and speed of use.

Firstly, a little bit on what prime and zoom lenses actually are and how they differ.

A prime lens is a fixed focal length i.e. 35mm f1.4 or 85mm f1.8, whereas a zoom lens does what it says on the tin.

It has a variable focal length which allows you to zoom in or out of a scene, it will be represented by a number such as 70-200mm where the 70mm is the widest this lens go and it will zoom all the way into 200mm.

First, a little on how they differ:

Prime Lenses

  • The quality of a modern prime lens is often superior to a zoom lens as it doesn’t have to deal with moving parts, meaning the glass is fixed.
  • Much wider aperture. The majority of zoom lenses are f2.8 or f4 but prime lenses go as low as f1.4 or even f0.95 if you go back in time a bit for your kit. This allows you to let a lot more light in, which is handy for particularly dark scenes.
  • This also comes with the bonus of producing a much shallower depth of field, which can be used for great effect in food photography.
  • The price of a standard 50mm prime lens from Canon is around £80, which is much cheaper than your average zoom lens and will dramatically improve the image quality over your kit lens.
  • If the size of your kit is an issue to you, then a prime lens may be the way to go. They are, for the most part, a lot smaller than zoom lenses, simply because they don’t have to fit as much stuff inside the lens.

Zoom Lenses

  • A zoom lens comes into its own when you need versatility. Instead of carrying three prime lenses to a job you can grab a single lens which will cover all of the focal lengths, saving you space in your bag and also saving you time messing around in front of a client, constantly changing your lens.
  • Image stabilisation now comes as standard with most zoom lenses, something which is missing from a lot of the higher end prime lenses. A good image stabilisation system, such as Canon’s IS, will easily give you 3-4 stops of stabilisation, allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds.
  • Although the above looks swayed massively towards prime lenses coming out on top, you need to consider how important going into 100% and pixel peeping every single image is. If your final image is only being used for web, you will not notice a difference between a prime and a zoom lens.
  • It may also work out cheaper to buy a couple of zoom lenses to cover the whole focal range that you need, rather than buying 5-6 individual prime lenses.

Again, it all comes down to personal preference, cost and speed of use.

Now let’s take a look at some of the different focal lengths and how you can use them.

50mm prime lens for food photography

First off, we’re starting with the “nifty-fifty”.  

Most photographers will probably have one of these lying around somewhere in their kit bag. If not, all the main manufacturers produce relatively cheap 50mm primes, such as the Canon 50mm.

It’s a great choice for most kinds of photography, not just food, as the fixed focal length offers the perspective most similar to the human eye.  This results in your food looking true to life with very little distortion or effects caused by the lens.

Benefits of a 50mm prime lens for food photography

  1. Usually have a small aperture i.e. f1.8 allowing you to shoot in much lower light and produce gorgeous blurry backgrounds.
  2. Allows you to capture a fairly wide scene, on a full frame camera, which is suitable for flat lay food photography as well as standard table shots.
  3. Produces a field of view very similar to that of the human eye.

A 50mm lens offers a field of view very similar to the human eye.

The 60mm macro lens for food photography

The second of our best lenses for food photography is the 60mm macro.

As you can probably guess by the name, a macro lens is for getting in really close to your food and capturing all that delicious detail.

With a field of view very similar to the 50mm, this is a great lens for getting those wider shots. But if you really want to use it to its full potential, you’ll want to get in really close and use the 1:1 macro function which allows you to focus as close as 20cm from your subject.

Benefits of the 60mm macro lens for food photography

  1. Very similar field of view to the human eye
  2. Ability to get in really close to your food
  3. 1:1 maximum reproduction rate, producing life size images!

Using a 100mm macro lens for food photography

This lens is considered the granddaddy of all food photography lenses.

The Canon 100mm f2.8L.

Where it improves on the 60mm macros is, because of the increased focal length, its ability to really compress a scene and make your subject pop.

Sure, you need a little bit of extra space to wield it, but it’s definitely worth it.

Obviously as it is a macro lens it gives you the ability to get right in there too, having a close focus distance of just under 30cm, producing a reproduction rate of 1:1. Meaning if you have need to squeeze every ounce of detail a scene, the 100mm macro is more than capable.

All of the main manufacturers produce a lens in the 100-105mm range and there are also many third party manufacturers for you to choose from. So no matter what camera you are using you won’t be missing out.

Benefits of the 100mm macro lens for food photography

  1. 100mm focal length helps compress the scene and really make your food pop.
  2. A reproduction rate of 1:1 with a close focusing distance of 30cm.
  3. Lets you get in really close to your food.

Using a 100mm macro lets you get in really nice and close to your food.

24-70mm lens for food photography

The first and only zoom lens on our list of best lenses for food photography is the 24-70mm.

If you’re just starting out in food photography or even just photography in general you can’t really go wrong with a 24-70mm.  

It covers most of the usual focal lengths you will need, going from a nice wide scene to a great portrait lens all at a constant f2.8 aperture.

The reason the 24-70 has made the list is it’s a great way to cover off a variety of shots without having to waste time changing your lens, if time is tight then this is they way to go.

It also allows you to get wider flat lay images, which tell more of a story, going way wider than the 50mm prime.

If you want some more information on flat lays, check out my post on shooting flat lay food photography.

Benefits of the 24-70mm lens for food photography

  1. Avoids having to buy multiple lenses if budgets are tight
  2. Useable in lots of genres of photography
  3. Great for getting a wider shot or flat lay photography.

Something in-between the 24-70mm range offers great flexibility when shooting food.

90mm tilt shift lens for food photography

Although, at first, it may seem weird to be seeing a tilt shift lens in a list of the best lenses for food photography, it puts up a good fight for its spot.

What a tilt shift lens does is give you specific control over the plane of focus in your image.

So instead of having to settle for the focus being parallel to the camera’s shutter, using the shift movement you can adjust where the focus plane is in your image.

This allows for some really creative uses of focus across an image.

Using the tilt movement also allows you to correct the perspective of your shot, making sure everything looks exactly how it should.

Benefits of using a tilt shift lens for food photography

  1. Allows you to shift the focus plane in an image, allowing for more creative freedom.
  2. Perspective correction is made easy using the tilt function
  3. Your wallet will be a little bit lighter, allowing you to step on the scales and feel a little bit better about yourself after eating all the food after a shoot.

That’s my list of the five best lenses for food photography, if you’ve got a favourite lens you think I may have missed out then stick it in the comments below!

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