If you love photography and you love food, combining the two can be a double delight. Pretty much any camera should be able to produce great results, but 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.
Back to basics
• What are the best camera lenses to buy?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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• Need to shoot ultra close ups? These are the best macro lenses
• The best 50mm lenses are also great for food photography
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