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Choosing the Right Lens for Food Photography

By Christopher Kimball on December 7th 2013

In the world of commercial photography, there are many genres or niches that you can specialize in. Food photography is one of those many sub sections of commercial photography, but surprisingly, it is the one that seems to intimidate most photographers. The art of food photography is not unlike product or still life photography – with one major exception; the subject has a very short shelf life, so you have to work very fast. Once the plate hits the table, you only have about ten or fifteen minutes to get your shot or the food with start to fade and look lifeless.

[REWIND: Food Photography Styling Tip: How to Float Garnish on a Thin Soup]


One of the most common questions that I hear is “what is the best lens to use for food photography?” This is a tough one to answer, because like so many things in photography, it depends greatly on the photographer. Choosing the right lens for food photography is nearly as personal as choosing a Canon over a Nikon or vice versa.

Prime lenses are the primary choice of the food photographer. The fixed glass produces a nicer image with less distortion than a telephoto or zoom lens. So, is there a preferred lens within this photography style? The answer is yes. There are two lenses that appear most often in the food photography world.

Canon 50mm F/2.5 Macro

By Thegreenj (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The first is the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro Lensprime lens. Now anyone that has been around photography long knows that there are about 20 different 50mm primes on the market, some from camera manufacturers and some from the aftermarket suppliers. The ones most often selected are Macro lenses with apertures in the 2.8 or lower range. In the Canon world, the go-to is the 50mm f/2.5 Macro compact lens. It is fast, sharp, light, and a good value at around $400.00.

Canon 100mm Macro Lens

Canon 100mm Macro Lens via Canon USA

The second range that seems to be popular is a fast 100mm prime. Some like Macro versions and others do not, but just like the 50mm, a prime is the way to go here. No matter what range you decide to use, look for a prime lens, a fast aperture, and a Macro, or at least a lens with a close minimum focal distance. You will be able to work close to the plates and in lower light, and trust me, you will want that if you are shooting food.

So, is there a perfect lens for food photography? Well, for me, it is a 50mm prime on a full frame body or a 35mm prime on a crop body, but you may like a 100mm from more of a distance. Try a couple of different options so that you can see what fits your style. Renting or borrowing a lens is a great option if you do not already own either lens in these focal lengths.

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Christopher is a commercial and stock photographer based in Cocoa Beach, Florida. He specializes in shooting food, commercial real estate, and editorial projects related to food, sports, and products. His work has been featured in magazines, newspapers, and around the internet and his photography experience dates back some 30 years. Connect with Chris on social media or visit his website to see his work.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Sean

    Thanks for the Great article,

    My question is that what would be the main difference then from the 50 f2.5 and 50 f1.4 in this situation ?


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    • Christopher Kimball

      Hi Sean,

      the 50mm f/2.5 is a Macro lens and has a very short minimum focus distance. It allows the photographer to work much closer to the food or item being photographed than the 50 f/1.4. The glass in the f/1.4 is better, as it is in all “L” lenses from Canon, but the lens does not focus as close.

      There is also a significant price difference so if you are on a budget, the 50mm f/1.4 might not be the first choice to put in your camera bag.

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    • Tony

      The canon 50mm 1.4 isn’t an L series lens, only the 1.2 is however the 1.4 does have a faster USM in it compared to the 2.5 macro.

      I would look at the 60mm 2.8 macro though as the 50 2.5 has a much slower motor and doesn’t have true 1:1 magnification like the 60mm. The 50 1.4 is a great lens for the money as it’s smaller and lighter than both macro versions but you also lose the macro ability

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