Is a 50 mm Lens Good For Product Photography? (Tips from a Pro)

There are many lens choices that are suitable for product photography. Perhaps you’ve narrowed it down and are wondering if a 50mm lens is a good choice for product photography.

A 50 mm lens for product photography is an ideal choice for cameras with crop sensor cameras (APS-C or Micro Four Thirds). For full-frame sensor cameras, a 50 mm lens is suitable in some circumstances but may be too wide for smaller products.

There’s a little more to it than that though. With more than 15 years of experience working as a product photographer, I’m going to lay out for you some of the key considerations to help you decide if a 50 mm lens is a good choice for product photography. I’ll also give you my preferred choice.

Canon 50mm EF f/2.5 macro lens standing.
Canon 50mm EF f/2.5 macro lens. Sharp prime lens.

I have also included some example photos which I took, so you can compare 50mm lenses with other focal lengths.

What Makes a Great Product Photo?

Before we talk about the considerations when deciding on a 50mm lens, let’s take a closer look at what actually makes a good product photo.

Usually, when we’re talking about product photography, we’re talking about either eCommerce style photos (on a white background) or more creative product photography (styled or sometimes called lifestyle).

Product photography can be anything from stationery to food to a car. The images are usually used on websites, printed marketing materials, and catalogs.

eCommerce and White Background Product Photography

eCom style product photo of perfume.
eCom style product photo of perfume example.

For eCommerce product photography (white background photos), usually, this is a less creative and more informational photo. Here’s what’s needed for a good eCom photo:

  • Sharp with minimal distortion
  • Maximum depth of field
  • Lighting shows the details and textures of the product
  • The angle and composition of the photo accurately represent the product

Creative & Lifestyle Product Photography

Creative product photography - shiny watch shot on glitter.
Creative or lifestyle product photography example.

This style of product photos may be used for an ad or banner and usually, there is room to be more creative. It’s not about representing real life but creating an aspiration for the product.

  • Lighting can be more moody or creative
  • More BOKEH is acceptable
  • Creative angles and perspective distortion is acceptable

What Makes a Great Product Photography Lens?

Whether researching a 50 mm lens or any other type of lens for product photography, the lens selection process is similar. Usually, a lens with the following characteristics is best when it comes to a product photography lens:

  • No lens flare
  • Focuses quickly and accurately (speeds up workflow)
  • Small minimum focusing distance (to get close to small objects)
  • Very sharp at small apertures e.g. f/16

How to Decide if a 50 mm Lens is Good for You

There are several factors you need to take into consideration when deciding if a 50 mm focal length will suit your purpose. These are:

  • Your camera type
  • How do you want the resulting photo to look
  • The space you have to work with
  • What you are shooting

1. Creativity, Effect, and Perspective

The focal length of a lens has an effect on the creative aspect of your product photos. In practical terms, the lens focal length has the power to minimize perspective or exaggerate perspective.

I should point out that when it comes to perspective, it’s actually not correct to say it’s the focal length of the lens that causes perspective distortion. Because it doesn’t. But that’s another article.

The short answer is, to fill the frame using a 50mm lens, you’ll need to stand closer to your subject than with a 100mm lens. It’s because of this, the photo taken with the 50 mm lens will have more perspective distortion.

6 photos of a box at focal lengths 17mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 100mm. Shows perspective distortion.
Different focal lengths can exaggerate the perspective and distort it (if you stand too close).

So the question is, do you want this distortion in your photos? It can be a creative tool but it may not be appropriate for product photos on a white background where the objective is to provide a photo that accurately represents the product’s dimensions.

2. Camera Type: Full-Frame or Crop Sensor

There are two broad sensor sizes available in today’s digital cameras:

  • Full-Frame
  • Crop Sensor (APS-C, Micro Four Thirds)

Popular Full and Crop Frame Camera Models

Canon – 5D, 6D, R5, R6, RCanon – Rebel T8, T7, 90D, 80D, 7D, R7
Nikon – Z9, D850, D780, Z6, Z7Nikon – D3500, D7500, D5300
Sony – a7R, a7, a7SSony – a6600, a6400
Panasonic – Lumix S5Panasonic – Lumix GH5 and GH6

The sensor size of the camera affects the depth of field (how much of the subject will be in focus) and also the magnification effect of the lens.

A 50mm lens used on a camera with a full-frame sensor will give a wider field of view than the same 50 mm lens used on a camera with a crop sensor.

And because of this, the resulting images from a 50mm lens on a crop sensor may be just how you want the photo to look. The resulting photo on a full-frame camera will be different. Ultimately, it’s a creative choice.

Is a 50mm Lens a Good Choice with a Full-Frame Sensor?

A full-frame sensor camera paired with a 50mm lens can make a nice choice for product photography. It will provide a fairly natural view. Meaning that the perspective of the item does not appear exaggerated or unnatural, provided you stand far enough away from the subject.

By standing further away, you avoid perspective distortion. Especially for smaller objects under 3 feet in size. You’ll need to stand closer, increasing the risk of perspective distortion, than if you were to use a 100 mm lens.

In my opinion, a 50 mm lens on a full-frame camera is a better choice for large items. Items over 3 feet (1m). For items smaller than 3 feet (1m), I prefer an 85mm or 100mm lens.

Is a 50mm Lens a Good Choice with a Crop Sensor?

A 50mm lens on a camera with a crop sensor is a great choice for most product photography. It will give you the equivalent focal lengths of 80-100mm (depending on if you have an APS-C or Micro Four Thirds sensor) on a full-frame camera.

Crop sensors come in different formats or sizes such as APS-C and Micro Four Thirds. These sensors are smaller than full-frame sensors. And because of this, the subject will appear to be magnified, when compared to using the same lens on a full-frame sensor camera.

The magnification effect for APS-C sensors is ~1.6. Which means the subject will appear 1.6 times closer. Cameras with four-thirds sensors have a magnification effect of ~2 times.

For smallish items, I would personally choose a 50mm lens when using a crop sensor camera for product photography. For larger items, a 35mm or 24mm lens may be more appropriate.

3. Set Size of Your Set

A practical consideration when deciding on a 50 mm lens is the size of your set or the size of the background you have to work with.

A wide lens, say a 24mm, needs a much wider background than a 50mm or 100mm lens. The issue is, you may not have the space or a wide enough background to fill the frame.

Same tool box also shot at 17mm but standing back. Perspective is not distorted.
If we shoot at 17mm we will not fill the frame if the item is small and we’ll also run out of background.

Couldn’t you just stand closer? Standing closer is one solution. But the issue with that is this will tend to distort the subject in an unflattering way as mentioned above. A longer lens will compress the background further making it easier to fill the frame with the background.

Toolbox shot at 17mm focal length standing close. Perspective is extremely exaggerated.
This is the same toolbox shot at 17mm but standing close to fill the frame. The perspective is exaggerated which may or may not be desirable.

4. Subject Size

When it comes to choosing the right focal length for a product photography lens, the size of the subject comes into play. Ideally, it’s best to fill the frame with your subject. This will then give you maximum resolution, which comes in handy for making large photos or if you need to crop in close.

Let’s look at why you might choose a 50 mm lens over a longer lens, such as 100 mm.

Same tool box also shot at 17mm but standing back. Perspective is not distorted.
Shot at 17mm. As you can see, we run out of background. And if we stand too close we’ll distort the perspective.

Say I was photographing a large product, such as a fridge. If I were to use a 100 mm lens, I would need to stand about 30 feet (9 m) away from the subject. The issue is, I may not physically have the room to stand far enough away to fit it in the frame.

So in a case like this, the 50 mm lens is your friend.

Conversely, when photographing a small product, such as a piece of jewelry, or even a laptop-sized item, you may need to stand too close to fill the frame.

Standing too close to an object can result in:

  1. The camera is not able to focus (you’re closer than the minimum focusing distance).
  2. Perspective distortion.

What Can You Photograph with a 50mm Lens?

Overall the 50mm lens is a versatile lens. It can successfully be used for anything from product photography to portraits and headshots, street photography, and food photography.

I personally have done entire product shoots with a 50 mm lens. And I have shot food and people all with this handy lens. Keep in mind, I use a full-frame camera.

If you shoot on a crop frame (APS-C or Micro Four Thirds), a 50mm won’t quite be as versatile. It will be great for portraits and products. But if you want an all-around mid-focal length lens, try a 35 mm.

What to Spend on a 50 mm Lens for Product Photography

Now that you’ve decided that a 50 mm lens is ideal for your product photos, what’s it going to cost you?

A budget lens is going to cost you $100 to $400 depending on the brand and type. The 50mm f/1.4 from Canon and the 50mm f/1.4G from Nikon are both sharp lenses and will suit many people.

Remember, even a low-cost prime lens like these cheapies above, is going to be sharper than many mid-range zoom lenses.

For those with a higher budget and who want the absolute best quality, you’ll pay between $100 and $2100 for a 50 mm lens. A lens like this will double beautifully as a portrait lens or street photography lens.

Budget 50mm Lenses for Product Photography

The 50mm lenses below are all under $450 with some of them under $150.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens
Pentax SMC DA 50mm f/1.8 Lens
Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens

Pro 50mm Lenses for Product Photography

If you’re looking for the best, these are the 50mm lenses to buy. They start at around $1000 and go up to $2500.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens
Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 GM Lens
Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens
Sigma does a 50mm f/1.4 DG ART Lens

What Aperture Lens Do You Need for Product Photography?

Choosing an aperture or f-stop of around f/16 is usually the preference when it comes to product photography. A fast lens or lens with a large aperture such as f/1.8 or f/1.2 is not necessary for great product photos.

Product photo shot at f2/8 - lots of blur.
Product photo shot at f/2.8. As you can see, the photo doesn’t show the detail of the product with this larger aperture. It would be better to shoot at something smaller like f/11.

After all, the point of product photography is to show the details of the product. And it’s hard to do that if half the subject is blurred out because you chose to shoot at f/1.8.

As a reminder, the higher the f-stop number you use, the more depth of field you have to work with. And vice-versa, an f-stop of say, f/1.8 will have very little depth of field.

If you’re only shooting products, save your money and don’t bother getting that f/1.2 50 mm lens unless you’re using it for other things or just want the best.

Related Reading: How To Photograph Watches: Professional Results Every Time!

Other Focal Lengths that are Ideal for Product Photography

My favorite focal length for product photography is 100 mm when space permits. I much prefer this over 50 mm. The nature of my product photography usually means that I’m shooting small tabletop-size items.

Using a 100mm lens means I can fill the frame and make sure the perspective and proportions of the subject remain true to the product.

My second choice is either a 50mm or 85mm lens. These lenses are best when photographing larger products.

Final Thoughts

A 50 mm lens can successfully be used for product photography with both a full frame and crop frame camera. For table-top-sized items, 50 mm is ideal for a crop sensor camera. If you have a full-frame camera, I would recommend an 85 mm or 100 mm for tabletop-sized items.

For larger items, a 24 mm or 35 mm will be better on a crop sensor. Whereas a 35 mm or 50 mm will be perfect for a full-frame camera. The 50 mm lens is also great for people photography when used on a full-frame camera.

Related Reading: Best Lens For Product Photography Recommended by a Pro Photographer