There are lots of options when it comes to product photography lenses and it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start. So if you’re wondering which is the best lens for product photography, then you’ve come to the right place because I’m going to run through the best lenses available today regardless of the camera you own.
How To Choose Your Product Photography Lens
There is a tonne of amazing camera lenses out there and there are four super important features you should look for when choosing a lens for product photography. It doesn’t matter what camera you own, Canon, Nikon, Panasonic or any other DSLR, the four things to look for are the same.
- Focal length
- Type of lens: prime, zoom, macro, tilt-shift, and
Lens Focal Length
The focal length determines the magnification of the lens or how zoomed in it is.
The greater the focal length, the closer objects will appear. For example, if you photograph a person with a 35mm lens from 100 feet (30m) away, the person is going to look small in the frame. If you then switched to a lens with a 300mm focal length, then that person is going to look large in the frame.
Why is the focal length important in product photography?
There are three reasons:
The first reason – focal length affects the depth of field or how blurry the background will be. The longer then focal length, the blurrier the background will be. In product photography, particularly for products shot on a white background, you’ll often want to have as much of the product in focus as possible.
The second reason is that the focal length affects the perspective.
With wider lenses, objects in the foreground appear larger than those at in the background. Wider angle lenses also tend to distort the shape of an object. And they make objects towards the front of the photo appear bigger in scale compared to those at the back.
Take a look at the images below.
This pot was shot with a focal length 35mm and appears to be more curved than the one shot at 200mm.
Knowing these things makes it more of a creative decision as to the look you want.
And the final reason focal length is important in product photography is that focal length will determine the minimum distance between you and the subject. So if you’ve only got a small shooting space, then a 200mm or even a 100mm lens may be too long. You will need to stand about 12 feet or 3m away from a 2-foot long object to fit it in the frame with a 100mm lens on a full-frame camera.
The sensor size your camera has will also influence which focal length you choose.
When you put a 100mm lens designed for a full-frame sensor on a camera with a crop sensor like an APS-C sensor, the image is going to look more zoomed-in than on a camera with a full-frame sensor.
It’s important to note that the magnification effect is around 1.5 for Nikon and 1.6 for Canon.
For example, a 100mm lens on a crop sensor is going to give you an image that looks similar to that of using a 150mm or 160mm lens on a full-frame camera.
What is the Best Focal Length for Product Photography?
To sum up focal length, there’s no hard and fast rule for choosing which focal length you need.
I like 50 to 100mm on a full-frame camera when shooting products as this looks natural and I don’t need to stand too far away from the subject. If you’re shooting on a camera with a crop sensor, then 35mm to 60mm lens is a great choice.
The Aperture of the Lens
The Aperture is the size of the hole the light passes through to get to the sensor.
It has several affects in product photography including how much of the background is in focus and also the amount of light that is let in.
A large aperture setting will let more light in but the depth of field will be less which means the background looks more out of focus. Large aperture lenses cost a lot more too.
In product photography, normally you want more depth of field unless you’re doing creative shots. For white background product photography, I like to work with f/12- f/16. For creative shots, f/4 to f/8 is normally a good choice.
What is the Best Aperture for Product Photography?
To sum up aperture, you don’t need a large aperture like 1.2 or even 1.8 for shooting products. A lens that is sharp from f/5.6 to f/16 is preferable, which also means you don’t need to spend big bucks to get a good lens.
Type of the Lens: Prime Lens or a Zoom Lens
When it comes to choose a lens for product photography, there are two main types of lenses – prime or zoom lenses. There are other lenses available like tilt-shift lenses but that’s more of an advanced topic. We’ll just stick with prime and zoom lenses for this article.
Prime lens is a fixed focal length lens. For example, 50mm, 100mm and so on.
A prime lens usually has a sharper higher quality image and often a larger aperture.
But a prime lens is not flexible and it’s less convenient since you can’t zoom in or out. So it suits still life and studio work such as product photography and food photography.
Canon, Nikon and Sigma do great 50mm lens starting at around $130.
Within the prime lens family are the Macro lenses too. Macro means close-up so a macro lens for product photography is great choice for small products like jewelry. It’s also great for portraits too.
All lenses have a minimum distance for which they can focus on a subject. Macro lenses allow you to get extremely close to a subject whilst still being able to focus.
Zoom Lenses have a variable focal length which makes them more versatile.
The sharpness of zoom lenses tends to be a little less than a good prime lens however a good quality zoom lens will still give you extremely sharp images with the added bonus of being able to zoom in and out.
For product photography, I like a 24-105mm (this one is a favorite: Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens) or 24-70mm lens. This focal length is extremely versatile and ideal for product photography.
A good quality zoom lens will set you back $900 to $1900.
The fourth and final thing to consider is the cost. How much do you need to spend?
My answer is always to spend as much as you can afford but be smart about it. Lens technology doesn’t evolve quickly unlike a digital camera. For example, a digital camera may be considered old technology in 5 years time, however a good quality lens may last 10 or more years.
There are some nice lenses out there starting below the $150 mark for the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens.
Nikon also has the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D for below the $150 mark but it’s manual focus only. You may want Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens instead which has autofocus option and is low-mid $200’s.
Paying more for a lens normally means you get better features such as sharper image quality, larger aperture, longer zoom or image stabilization.
One feature you may want to consider is image stabilization. Especially if you’re hand-holding your camera and not working off a tripod.
Canon call it Image Stabilization and Nikon calls it Vibration Reduction.
Stabilization allows you to shoot at a lower shutter speed with less chance of camera shake whilst hand holding the camera. And this means you need less light.
Important tip: turn off image stabilization when on tripod. Leaving it on can cause a feedback loop which results in a blurry photo.
Top Lenses for Photographing Products
Best Prime Lenses for Product Photograph
Nikon do a similar lens which is the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Lens for high $900’s.
And for a budget friendly option, Sigma does the 105mm f/2.8 EX DG for about mid-high $400’s.
You can check the price here for Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens for Canon SLR Camera and here for Sigma 258306 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens for Nikon DSLR Camera.
All are great lenses and all produce sharp images. Perhaps the Canon and Nikon lenses are a little nicer to use than the Sigma. They all have stabilization too.
The only downside of a 100mm lens is they are sometimes too long. I have to stand too far away to fit everything in.
If you can afford the Canon or Nikon lenses I’d recommend going with them.
50mm Prime Lenses for Product Photography
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens for below $150
NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D – for below $150 but it’s manual focus only. For autofocus option, you may want Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Lens for low to mid $200.
These lenses are awesome lenses for the money and they are sharp.
At the other end of the spectrum there’s the Canon 50mm f/1.2L – It’s super sharp and has a beautiful bo-keh. It goes all the way down to 1.2 – but this isn’t something you need for products unless you’re getting creative. The downside is at $1400 it’s pricey.
The closest equivalent for Nikon is the NIKKOR 58mm f/1.4G Lens at around $1600
Sigma does a 50mm f/1.4 DG ART Lens for about $950. Their ART series prime lenses are super sharp and great quality.
You’ll find the performance is similar to the Canon f/1.2L and the Nikon 58mm 1.4G.
85mm Prime Lenses for Product Photography
You could also go with a 85mm lens too if 100mm is too long. I’d be looking at the Sigma 85mm F/1.4 Dg Art lens.
Zoom Lenses for Product Photography
The Canon 24-105mm f4L is the workhorse for what I do and if I only had one lens this would be my recommendation because it’s flexible.
I can put one lens on that does it all. I can be shooting wine bottles one minute or shooting the offices of my clients the next minute. It has image stabilization which means I can shoot at lower shutter speeds with less chance of camera shake.
It’s not as sharp as a prime lens but it will be more than adequate for most product photography work. It will set you back about $1100
In the Nikon, the closest is the NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR Lens. This comes in at a whopping $2000. If you want to save a bit of money you can get this lens without image stabilization for $1600.
Both these lenses are what I call workhorses as they are super versatile.
Sigma has a 24-105mm f/4 DG Art for around $900 too which is a nice lens.
A good budget option is the Tamron SP 28-75mm F/2.8 XR Di is around$499. It’s not as sharp as the Sigma, Nikon or Canon lenses but at about half the price it’s great value.
You really can’t go wrong with any of the lenses mentioned here.
Before choosing a lens, be sure to think about how you’re going to use it. Will you be shooting similar size subjects or do they vary a lot. If they vary a lot, a prime lens may be too limiting for you. Sure you’ll get a sharper image but there are plenty of great zoom lenses too.
Consider the type of product photography you’ll be doing and buy the best quality lens you can afford. And as with many photographers, we love our gear, so you’ll no doubt be looking to add another lens once you’ve saved up enough money! Let me know your favorite lens and why.
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