Food Photography Basics #2 : Which Camera? What Lenses?
Unless you have an unlimited camera expense account, the camera (and lens) you choose would depend on how much can you spend! I have only one piece of advice to offer here, and that is to buy the best camera (in terms of features) you can afford to. Don’t forget that when you budget for your camera, you also need to budget for a starter set of lenses (or lens), a camera bag which keep you gear safe and easy to lug around, and a tripod for your camera.
Given that there are so brands and models out there, which one is the best and what features should you look for?
All DSLRs come with a minimum level of features like auto, pre-set and manual modes, aperture and shutter speed priorities, and ISO ranges. I am assuming you will use your camera and lenses for shooting more than just food so you need to consider this when making your camera/ lens decisions.
There is plenty of information including reviews, on the internet so read up as much as you can before you make a decision. If you don’t understand some of the technical terms, ask someone to explain them to you. There are plenty of photography forums on the net, including Flickr where you can find discussions on just about every aspect of photography including gear.
I repeat what I said before, that buy the best camera body you can afford within your budget. If it means that there’s a model that’s got the features you need (or want, as the case may be) but is a little more expensive that what you can afford right now, I’d say “Wait a little longer to buy what you’ve set your heart on”. Camera manufacturers are in the business to make money and will keep coming up with newer models every year. Unless you want a particular feature that’s not in the DSLR you have, frequently upgrading to a newer model is not practical. It would be more advisable to invest in good quality lenses to suit your needs.
Most vendors offer pretty good deals on DSLR cameras plus kit lens packages. A lot of people will advise you to buy only the camera body and the “kit lens”, which is the lens that usually comes bundled up with your DSLR. Kit lenses are not considered “good” lenses as they offer you a range of some wide angle through zoom capability.
Now this is excellent advice, but based on two assumptions. The first is that you know exactly which lens you want so you don’t want/ need the kit lens. The second assumption is that you have the money to spend on that particular lens that you know you want. Some of the so called “good” lenses cost twice what your camera body does!
So I agree that “a little bit of everything in one” type of kit lens may not be the best, but they certainly don’t qualify as “bad” lenses. Kit lenses don’t cost all that much more than your camera when you buy both as a package deal. The extra money you would spend on the kit lens would be nowhere close to affording you another lens if you were to buy it separately.
(Canon EF-S 18 - 55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens)
Red Lentils using the 18 - 55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (kit lens) -
(Aperture 5.6; Shutter speed 1/80)
Here the aperture (how wide the lens opens) is f/ 5.6 which means the depth of field (DOF) is very narrow. You can see the background (and part of the foreground) is reasonably sharp when you look at the back edge of the bowl and the lentils there.
The photographs of red lentils (masoor dal) used in this post have been taken with the 3 lenses (18-55mm, 50mm and the 100mm Macro) I have under the same light conditions. They have all been shot on manual, at ISO 200 and at the widest aperture possible for that particular lens. This means that the shutter speed is different in each case. I only took these photographs so that one can see that all the lenses do take somewhat similar pictures.
Red Lentils using the 50mm f/ 1.8 II lens -
(Aperture 1.8; Shutter speed 1/1000)
Here the aperture (how wide the lens opens) is f/ 1.8 which means the depth of field (DOF) is very shallow (blurry). You can see the background (and part of the foreground) is blurred/ not sharp when you look at the back edge of the bowl and the lentils there.
Getting back to the main subject of the post, I would recommend that a kit lens and the 50mm lens is a good place to start if you are new to photography. With use and practise, you will eventually see the limitations of the lenses you have with respect to your requirements, and decide which other lens you need.
Red Lentils using the 100mm f/ 2.8 Macro USM lens -
(Aperture 2.8; Shutter speed 1/250)
Here the aperture (how wide the lens opens) is f/ 2.8 which means the depth of field (DOF) is quite shallow (blurry), but not as much as with the 50mm f/1.8 lens. You can see the background (and part of the foreground) is quite blurred when you look at the back edge of the bowl and the lentils there.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a “best” lens for food photography (I know many people will disagree here, but this is my opinion). I am not a professional or an expert on the subject but here is what I know. Your choice of lens for food photography would depend on the type of food photographs you want to take.
Do want to take up close-up shots of the food focussing on it?
Would you prefer to style your food and then take pictures of that?
Perhaps you would like to shoot food on a table set for breakfast/ lunch/ dinner and include some of the background as well.
Would you like the focus to be on one part of your composition with rest of it looking “blurry” or with a shallow depth of field (DOF)? Just how much of DOF do you want in your photographs?
Do you have to shoot in low light conditions?
(Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens)
Opening to the widest aperture of 1.8, this is a moderately fast lens and so good in low light conditions and also produces a shallow DOF. And should you want to use it for something beyond food, 50mm f/1.8 lens is good for portraits and street photography provided you are willing to be the “zoom”
(Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM)
Each of these lenses I have mentioned has its own particular set of features and it is for you to research a particular lens suits your purpose and budget before you buy it. Please note that I have talking about Canon lenses all along and the Nikon has similar or corresponding lenses to these. Also note that Canon has EF-S lenses which can be used only on its cropped frame cameras while the EF lenses which can be used on both cropped frame and full frame cameras.
These are two good articles (and there are many more, if you look for them) which talk about choosing lenses for your DSLR.
In my next post I’ll talk about what it takes to be a good photographer. If there is something you would like me to clarify about this post, or you would like me touch on in this series of posts please leave a comment. I would also love to hear from any other recommendations regarding lenses suitable for food photography.