One of the most common questions I get is: “What camera should I buy if I want to photograph food?”. To which I reply: “That depends!”
Some of the questions you need to ask yourself are: What’s my budget? What size/weight can I live with? What functionalities do I need (the variety of options is endless)? Do I want to be able to change lenses? If yes, what lenses are available for a particular brand? Is there a particular type of shots you’re looking to get (closeups, tablescapes, lifestyle, etc)? How do you intend to use your images (huge prints? Instagram only? etc). Once you’ve answered those questions, you can somewhat narrow down the choice, but you might still be presented with an overwhelming list of options.
On the bright side, the image quality of pretty much any camera made in the last 4-5 years (if not longer!) is truly great and you really can’t go wrong, at least if you’re just starting out. So, shift your focus to what’s really relevant: your lenses and your own skills as a photographer! You can buy the most expensive camera on the market, but if your skills and your lenses do not match the quality of the camera, the results will be poor, at least generally speaking.
In fact, if you take a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 equals extremely poor results and 10 equals perfect results, I bet you can go from 0 to 5-6 with your camera phone alone without even buying a ‘real’ camera. How? Buy learning about lighting and composition first, the true pillars of photography. They have pretty much nothing to do with the gear you’re using.
That being said, sometimes new purchases can spark something inside ourselves and get us really excited about shooting more and that’s great! Just don’t use the lack of gear as an excuse not to create, because that’d be a waste of your potential creativity.
All that being said, here’s what I think you should consider when it comes to lenses for food photography.
50mm - The lens everybody should own
I believe everybody should own a 50mm lens. You can get a 50mm f/1.8 from a variety of popular brands for less than $200. If you’re just starting out, that lens alone will take you extremely far and will allow you to cover a very wide variety of food photography scenarios. It’s wide enough to actually allow for lifestyle shots with people and you can get close enough to the food for beauty shots, for example. It’s truly versatile and it makes a great lens for portraiture as well.
Macro lens - The lens all food photographers should own at some point
A good companion for the 50mm standard lens is a macro lens. The main difference between a standard and a marco lens is the minimum focusing distance, which is a lot shorter for macro lenses. A macro lens could have a focusing distance as short as 7-8” / 17-20cm, while a standard one would have 20-22” / 50-55cm. These numbers are lens-specific and not fixed, check the specs of the lens you’re interested in before buying it.
Getting so close to the food will allow you to show very fine details and, for pretty small subjects (a cookie, for example), it will allow you to actually fill the entire frame with the subject, since you can get very close to it. Also, macro lenses tend to be extremely sharp. For that reason they are often used in product photography as well.
If you already own a 50mm standard lens, I would try and get maybe a macro lens in the range 60mm to 90mm. Macro lenses are definitely more expensive than standard lenses and come also in extremely advanced (and even more expensive) versions, called ’Tilt and Shift lenses’, used for very specific types of shots.
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Thank You and Happy Shooting!