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The best lenses for food photography in 2021: make your supper the star

Best lenses for food photography
(Image credit: Digital Camera World)

If you love photography and you love food, then the best lenses for food photography will be perfect for you. While pretty much any camera should be able to produce great results when shooting pictures of food, you’ll need to add the right type of lens to the recipe. So here's our list of the best lenses for food photography, whatever your camera.

You’ll typically want a natural perspective when shooting food, which rules out ultra-wide-angle lenses. We’d recommend a minimum of 35mm on an APS-C format camera, and 50mm on a full-frame body. As long as you don't want to focus ultra-close, some of the best 50mm lenses are ideal for food photography. You don't have to pay a fortune, either, since some of the best cheap lenses can be pretty handy for food photography.

To zoom in on the tastiest morsels, though, you’ll want to get in close, so a lens’s minimum focus distance becomes important and a macro lens will be ideal. You probably won’t need a full macro magnification factor of 1.0x or 1:1, which reproduces small objects at full life-size on the camera’s image sensor and which you get with the best macro lenses. Even so, buying a macro lens will ensure that you can always get as close as you need to.

Naturally, when you’re shooting food indoors, there’s often not a huge amount of ambient light. It’s tempting to reach for a flashgun but this can ruin the pictorial quality of food shots. Try more subtle lighting techniques, like bouncing sunlight from a window with sheets of white card, or adding light with table lamps or a photographic LED panel. Creating highlights and shadows can give a much more three-dimensional and delicious look to food photos.

To make the most of available light, it’s good to have a lens with a fairly ‘fast’ aperture rating. The option of a wide aperture also enables you to get a tight depth of field, so you can blur the background if you wish, or even isolate a particular part of a dish in close-ups, by blurring its immediate surroundings.

With all of this in mind, a 30mm to 60mm macro prime lens with an aperture rating of around f/2.8 is ideal for food photography with crop-sensor cameras. For full-frame outfits, a 90mm to 105mm macro prime with the same aperture rating is a good choice. However, 50mm and even 35mm prime lenses can also work well on full-frame bodies, providing that they have a fairly short minimum focus distance. 

So let's see which lenses are good enough to go on the menu. We've chosen cheaper options for less expensive cameras, by the way, and gone more up-market for full frame models.

Best lenses for food photography

Canon

(Image credit: Canon)

1. Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM

It's our top recommendation for Canon's APS-C DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF-S
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.13m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 49mm (via hood)
Dimensions: 69x56mm
Weight: 190g
Reasons to buy
+4-stop hybrid image stabilizer+Built-in ‘LED Macro Lite’
Reasons to avoid
-Short working distance-LED Macro Lite has limited range

Although small and lightweight at just 190g, there’s a fair bit packed into this lens for APS-C format Canon SLRs. It has a quick and ultra-quiet autofocus system based on a stepping motor, a nicely wide f/2.8 aperture rating and a 4-stop ‘hybrid’ image stabilizer, which can correct for x-y shift as well as the usual angular vibration. This makes the stabilization particularly effective in close-up shots, which is good news for food photography. Another neat feature is that it has a built-in LED Macro Lite around the front end. Powered from the camera’s battery, this can add illumination from one or both sides of the circular light. It’s useful for video as well as stills, but is only really powerful enough for use at very close range. Speaking of which, the working distance between the front of the lens and what you’re shooting for full 1.0x macro magnification is a mere 3cm, or just over an inch.

(Image credit: Tamron)

2. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro VC USD

The best food photography lens for full frame Canon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring)
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.3m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 62mm
Dimensions: 79x117mm
Weight: 610g
Reasons to buy
+Super-sharp even at very close distances+4-stop hybrid image stabilizer
Reasons to avoid
-AF is quiet but not silent-Lens flare can be an issue

Tamron’s 90mm macro lenses have been highly popular for decades. This latest edition boasts a high-tech optical path including both LD (Low Dispersion) and XLD (eXtra Low Dispersion) elements, along with dual coatings to minimize ghosting and flare. Like in some of Canon’s recent macro lenses, the latest Tamron features a hybrid image stabilizer that corrects for x-y shift as well as angular vibration. If you’re particularly messy in the kitchen, you might appreciate its moisture- and dust-proof construction, as well as the keep-clean fluorine coating on its front element. Ultimately, this lens is every bit as good as Canon’s EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens, but rather less expensive to buy.

(Image credit: Canon)

3. Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM

Best for Canon EOS R/RP cameras and very compact

Specifications
Mount: Canon RF
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.17m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.5x
Filter size: 52mm
Dimensions: 74x63mm
Weight: 305g
Reasons to buy
+0.5x macro magnification+5-stop hybrid image stabilizer
Reasons to avoid
-Focal length is short for close ups-Hood sold separately

Unlike many of Canon’s RF-mount lenses for its EOS R-series cameras, this one is compact, lightweight and attractively priced. It has a maximum magnification of 0.5x at its closest focus distance of 0.17m, which should be more than sufficient for food photography and qualifies it as a ‘macro’ lens. The autofocus system is swift and virtually silent, based on a stepping motor, and the 5-stop hybrid image stabilizer really is a star performer. You might feel that the 35mm focal length is a little short, considering that this lens is for full-frame bodies, but it’s nevertheless a hugely versatile optic that delivers superb image quality.

(Image credit: Canon)

4. Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM

A versatile standard zoom the has a neat macro feature

Specifications
Mount: Canon EF
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring)
Optical stabilizer: 5-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.38m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.7x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 83x93mm
Weight: 600g
Reasons to buy
+Small and light for a standard zoom+Handy macro mode+Versatile Hybrid IS
Reasons to avoid
-Sharpness could be better

If you're looking for something a little more versatile than a prime or macro lens, then this is a great lens to consider for food photography. Canon's EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM sports a lightweight design and L-series build, but also has many other charms for the food photographer. The constant maximum f/4 aperture is handy, but the hybrid image stabilization system is really useful, correcting for vertical and horizontal shifts as well as the more usual angular vibrations. Another trick up the sleeve of this lens is the max magnification factor of 0.7x. This is two to three times greater than most standard zooms and activated by an extra push-action on the zoom luck switch of the lens. Image quality is very pleasing overall, with good contrast and sharpness, although vignetting at wide apertures is a little severe for an f/4 lens.

Nikon

(Image credit: Nikon)

5. Nikon AF-S DX 40mm f/2.8G Micro

This small wonder is the best food lens for DX size Nikon DSLRs

Specifications
Mount: Nikon F DX
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring)
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.16m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 52mm
Dimensions: 69x65mm
Weight: 235g
Reasons to buy
+Compact and lightweight+Full 1.0x magnification
Reasons to avoid
-No image stabilization-Short working distance for macros

With an effective focal length of 60mm in full-frame terms, this little DX lens for Nikon’s APS-C format SLRs gives a very natural viewing perspective. It has a short minimum focus distance that enables full 1.0x magnification, although the distance between the front of the lens and what you’re shooting becomes a mere 3.5cm. You therefore need to be careful not to cast an unwanted shadow over what you’re shooting. Unlike a few similar lenses from some other manufacturers, the Nikon lacks image stabilization but at least it has a fairly fast f/2.8 aperture rating. Autofocus speed is a little pedestrian, although that’s no real problem in food photography. Image quality is great, with superb sharpness and virtually no distortion whatsoever.

(Image credit: Tamron)

6. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro VC USD

A superb macro lens for full-frame FX format Nikon DSLR foodies

Specifications
Mount: Nikon F FX
Autofocus: Ultrasonic (ring)
Optical stabilizer: 4-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.3m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 62mm
Dimensions: 79x117mm
Weight: 610g
Reasons to buy
+Fabulous image quality+4-stop hybrid image stabilizer
Reasons to avoid
-AF is quiet but not silent-Lens flare can be an issue

Popular own-brand ‘Micro’ lenses from Nikon for its full-frame SLRs include 60mm and 105mm options. We prefer this Tamron, which splits the difference in terms of focal length, while adding 4-stop hybrid stabilization. This counteracts x-y shift, or movement in the vertical and horizontal planes, as well as the more usual angular vibration or wobble. The net effect is that it’s rather more effective at combating camera-shake when shooting close-ups. There’s a comfortable working distance at the minimum focus distance of 0.3m, which enables full 1.0x macro magnification. Image quality is fabulous at all focus distances, with outstanding sharpness and absolutely negligible amounts of colour fringing and distortion.

(Image credit: Nikon)

7. Nikon Z 50mm f/1.8 S

A smart nifty fifty for the Nikon Z 6, Z 7 and the Z 50

Specifications
Mount: Nikon Z FX
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.4m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.15x
Filter size: 62mm
Dimensions: 76x87mm
Weight: 415g
Reasons to buy
+Stunning sharpness and clarity+High-quality construction
Reasons to avoid
-Quite pricey for a 50mm f/1.8 lens-Only 0.15x macro magnification

There’s not yet a macro lens in Nikon’s Z-mount line-up, so you’d need to use an F-mount lens via an FTZ mount adapter for shooting extreme close-ups. Even so, the angle of view delivered by this 50mm lens on a full-frame body, along with its 0.4m closest focus distance, enables you to fill the entire image sensor with a regular sized dinner plate. The 0.15x maximum magnification ratio is also sufficient to create sizeable enlargements from small foodie treats, even more so if you shoot with a Z 50 APS-C format body. However, this makes image stabilization unavailable, which is lacking in the Z 50 but featured in full-frame Z 6 and Z 7 cameras. Autofocus is fast and virtually silent, while image quality is absolutely stellar in all respects.

(Image credit: Nikon)

8. Nikon PC-E Micro 85mm f/2.8D

If you're getting serious, this is one to consider

Specifications
Mount: Nikon FX
Autofocus: No
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.39m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.5x
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 84x107mm
Weight: 635g
Reasons to buy
+Popular 85mm focal length+0.5x macro magnification+Refined controls
Reasons to avoid
-Quite old now

It might a specialist lens and it's not for everyone, but a tilt-shift lens is certainly worth considering for food photography. Why? because it gives you very precise control over the plane of focus in your food photography. Not only can you use the tilt movement allow you to correct the perspective of your shot so it doesn't look like its tipping over, but the shift mechanism means you can change the focus plane in your photos. There are a variety of focal length options out there for Nikon (and Canon DSLRs), but this 85mm Micro lends itself to food photography. There's a 0.5x magnification ratio when shooting at its minimum focus distance of 39cm, while the focal length provides a decent working distance. 

Fujifilm

(Image credit: Fujifilm)

9. Fujifilm XF60mm f/2.4 R Macro

A classic viewing angle and the best choice for Fujifilm X cameras

Specifications
Mount: Fujifilm X
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.27m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.5x
Filter size: 39mm
Dimensions: 64x64mm
Weight: 215g
Reasons to buy
+Fast f/2.4 aperture rating+0.5x macro magnification
Reasons to avoid
-No image stabilizer-Quite pricey

Fujifilm’s 60mm macro lens is compact and lightweight but well-engineered and smartly turned out. It has an effective focal length of 90mm, taking into account the 1.5x crop factor of Fujifilm’s X-mount cameras, giving the same angle of view as popular 90mm macro lenses on full-frame cameras. The closest focus distance of 0.27x enables 0.5x macro magnification, which should prove ample for food photography. High-quality glass includes a moulded aspheric element and an ED (Extra-low Dispersion) element. The fast f/2.4 aperture enables a very tight depth of field at short focus distances, along with pleasing bokeh (the pictorial quality of defocused areas). Unlike an increasing number of macro lenses from other manufacturers, however, there’s no optical image stabilizer.

Olympus and Panasonic

(Image credit: Panasonic)

10. Panasonic LUMIX G Macro 30mm f/2.8 Asph Mega OIS

The best lens for food photography for Micro Four Thirds cameras

Specifications
Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: 3-stop
Minimum focusing distance: 0.11m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 46mm
Dimensions: 59x64mm
Weight: 180g
Reasons to buy
+Full 1.0x macro magnification+Optical image stabilization
Reasons to avoid
-Very close working distance-Plastic build

A peach of a lens for food photography, the Panasonic 30mm gives a very natural viewing perspective, equivalent to using a 60mm lens on a full-frame camera. It’s small and particularly lightweight, at just 180g, but very nicely built with a high-quality feel. It’s super-sharp even when shooting wide-open at f/2.8, right down to its closest focus distance of 0.11m which enables full 1.0x magnification. Thanks to the 2.0x crop factor of Micro Four Thirds cameras, you get an effective 2.0x magnification compared with a full-frame camera. The only downside is that the front of the lens comes very close to the subject in full macro shooting.

Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm f/4 Pro

(Image credit: Olympus)

11. Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm f/4 Pro

Light as an apple and can take macro shots

Specifications
Mount: Micro Four Thirds
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.12m
Maximum magnification ratio: 0.5x
Filter size: 58mm
Dimensions: 63x70mm
Weight: 254g
Reasons to buy
+Extremely light and compact+Macro functionality+Fantastic weather sealing
Reasons to avoid
-No focus clutch / guide

The Olympus M.Zuiko 12-45mm f/4 Pro is currently the world’s smallest and most lightweight fixed aperture standard zoom lens. Weighing in at just 254g, it's also incredibly compact at just 70mm length. Its Pro designation means it sports an all-metal construction and is fully weather sealed to withstand water, dirt and freezing temperatures. Able to focus as close as 12cm at the widest end and 23cm at the telephoto, and offering 0.25x maximum magnification (0.5x equivalent, in full-frame terms) across the zoom range, it makes it a great option for food photography.  

Sony

(Image credit: Sony)

12. Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro

Sony’s lightweight macro lens is brilliant for APS-C Sony mirrorless

Specifications
Mount: Sony E
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: None
Minimum focusing distance: 0.1m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 49mm
Dimensions: 62x55mm
Weight: 138g
Reasons to buy
+Small and straightforward+Natural perspective
Reasons to avoid
-Short macro working distance-No optical stabilizer

Sony’s shiny 30mm macro lens features an aspherical element and ED (Extra-low Dispersion) glass, along with a smooth and ultra-quiet stepping motor autofocus system. In other respects, it’s pretty basic, with a relatively slow f/3.5 aperture rating, no Optical SteadyShot, and no external moving parts apart from the electronically coupled manual focus ring. At its shortest focus distance, it delivers 1.0x macro magnification but, as with other full macro lenses of a similar focal length, this means that the front of the lens comes very close to what you’re shooting, so you have to be careful not to block ambient lighting. Even so, the lens is capable of superb results with excellent sharpness in the central region of the frame. It’s also impressively compact and lightweight, as well as being very keenly priced for an own-brand Sony lens.

(Image credit: Sony)

13. Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

A feature-rich, high-tech macro lens perfect for full frame Sonys

Specifications
Mount: Sony FE
Autofocus: Stepping motor
Optical stabilizer: Yes
Minimum focusing distance: 0.28m
Maximum magnification ratio: 1.0x
Filter size: 62mm
Dimensions: 79x131mm
Weight: 602g
Reasons to buy
+Great handling+Optical SteadyShot
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive – though worth the outlay-Not weather-sealed

This premium macro lens for Sony full-frame and APS-C format E-mount cameras has plenty of high-end handling features. There’s Optical SteadyShot and a fast, near-silent autofocus system powered by a ‘Direct Drive Super Sonic wave Motor’. Further focusing attractions include a customisable focus hold button on the barrel and a range limiter switch. A push-pull mechanism in the focus ring enables easy switching between autofocus and manual focus, reminiscent of classic macro lenses from the likes of Tamron and Tokina. Helped by the inclusion of aspherical, ED (Extra-low Dispersion) and Super ED elements, sharpness and clarity are excellent, along with minimal colour fringing and distortion. Meanwhile, defocused areas in images have a pleasingly smooth appearance. All in all, it’s the perfect lens for food photography with A7 and A9 series cameras.

Read more:

• What are the best camera lenses to buy?
• Need to shoot ultra close ups? These are the best macro lenses
• The best 50mm lenses are also great for food photography 
• The best books on food photography
10 food photography tips

Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist, that has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners!