The best lenses for food photography will ensure you always end up with mouth-watering photos. Chances are if you love food and photography, you'll love combining the two and while pretty much any camera will be able to produce great photos, the right lens will make your photos look extra appetizing. So without any further ado, here are the best lenses for food photography...
Back to basics
• What are the best camera lenses to buy?
Typically, the best lenses for food photography are those that give a natural perspective. You don't want to shoot with an ultra-wide-angle lens that distorts the image as it will make your photos look strange. We'd recommend a minimum focal length of 35mm on an APS-C body or a 50mm on a full-frame camera. We have a guide dedicated to the best 50mm lenses which will help you decide which one is best for you depending on your budget and brand of camera. Even some of the best cheap lenses will be great for food photography and after all, the more you can save on kit the more you'll have to spend on things like props which you will need!
If you want to get really up close to your food so you can photograph every single detail, you may want to think about investing in one of the best macro lenses. Chances are you won't need a full macro magnification factor of 1:1 but you will want a lens that focuses really close to the food you're photographing.
You'll also want to think about lighting. Most food photography is done indoors so there might not be a huge amount of ambient light. The best way to get around this is by investing in lighting - this can be either flash or LED panels but if you're not used to shooting with lights LED panels will be easier to use. This is because once they're set up you'll be able to preview the exposure in-camera without worrying about the light changing. It would also be a good idea to invest in big white sheets of card as these ca be used to bounce sunlight or other light sources for a more subtle look. Creating highlights and shadows will give your photos more depth and make your food look even more delicious.
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
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.
If you want a one-lens-fits-all solution you may want to think about investing in a standard zoom. The Canon EF 24-70 f/4 L IS USM is a great contender due to its lightweight design, a constant aperture of f/4 and optical image stabilization. There is an f/2.8 version of this lens but it's considerably heavier and will cost you a lot more and to be honest, you'll be able to get away with f/4 for pretty much all food photography. Another reason this lens is great is that it has a max magnification factor of 0.7 which is two to three times more than most standard zoom lenses. The image quality is very good, it sharp from corner to corner and the contrast is vibrant. The only downside is that it produced more vignetting at wide apertures than other f/4 lenses but this is easy to correct in post.
For an f/1.4 lens the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4 G is really small - in fact it;s about half the physical length of the Nikon-fit Sigma 50mm lens and about the third of the weight. The wider aperture means that even if you're shooting in low light environments without any additional lights you'll still be able to produce quite a bright image with a beautifully burred background and shallow depth of field. It'd a great lens if you want to capture detailed shots of food or very specific elements on a plate. There is also a more budget f/1.8 version which is arguably more popular due to the price and the fact the aperture is only one step down.
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.
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’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.
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’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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