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Lens for product photography

Monib S , Jun 14, 2008; 07:25 a.m.

I have several questions about the type of equipment I would need for future development and expansion of activity for product photography. I have a Canon 20D with a 17-85mm f/ 4-5.6 USM IS
My general question is what type of lens is suitable for product photography?
What specification should it have? For studio shooting (not large format camera).
My idea of product photography is relatively small items, such as wall clock, watches, food etc.
I need to know, for instance, what lens would suit light tents, should it be a wide lens, macro or..? what kind and...

If anyone could also advise on the lighting set power interms of w/s or joule, I would appreciate that.

Responses

Scott Sanford , Jun 14, 2008; 07:59 a.m.

Monib, I'd focus instead on lighting techniques rather than lens selection (others will disagree) but for me lighting is the more important consideration-- you can use a variety of lens choices. Getting the lighting set up right is a bit more important for product photography. Take a look at this post that might be helpful. Or this discussion for some ideas.

Quico Álvarez , Jun 14, 2008; 10:47 a.m.

Monib, I agree with Scott, but I will take the risk to make you look to the TS-E range of lenses by Canon, suitable to tilt and shift, needed movements for product photography, you should study Scheimpflug laws and another technical basics, and you will get the skills and an almost-large format camera. More interesting are the TS Super Rotator Hartblei lenses, but these ones are not adequate for "normal" use, because they have no apperture coupling and you must work sttoping down, thing that will not be a problem in studio use.

John Bellenis , Jun 14, 2008; 10:51 a.m.

Lighting is indeed the key to great product photography, but for most table top work the tilts and shifts of a large format camera have traditionally been the best answer. Lowering the front panel to keep the sides of a box vertical while seeing the top, altering the plane of focus, expanding depth of field have all been staples of studio product work.

The best answer for your 20D would probably be the 45mm and 90mm T/S lenses along with a 100mm f2.8 for macro work. You can get by with other lenses and correcting distortions, etc. in the post processing stage, but I always prefer to get things as right as possible at the taking stage (all perspective corrections in post processing require a subsequent crop and can often induce further distortions - most notably compressions).

You could dip your toe in the water and rent a 90mm T/S lens and see how it suits you.

As to focal lengths - longer is generally better for product work as it makes controlling background areas much easier, gives better working distances and doesn't introduce any wide angle perspective distortions on the subjects.

Alan Myers , Jun 14, 2008; 11:27 a.m.

Hi,

My most often used lens for small products is the TS-E 45/2.8 (on a 1.6X crop camera... I'd go to the TS-E 90/2.8 if I were using a full frame camera).

There are lots of approaches to lighting that can work. I shot a big job a couple months ago with just window light and soft reflectors. I have a set of five monolights, 3 portable flashes and a macro Twin Lite, but just thought I'd see how it worked out using only window light. It was for web pages so wasn't as critical, and there were a couple hundred items, so this really sped up the shooting. Client was happy, and that's what really counts!

I have been looking at the latest offerings in "cool lights", too. A constant light is easier to work with, to see what you are getting. Also, sometimes I need to photograph animals, that can startle at the pop of a strobe (although I am always amazed how many just ignore it).

Photoflex has a Starlite that looks interesting. The largest unit is equal to 1500ws, with the full array of fluorescent bulbs installed.

Fluorescent used to be a problem, but some newer ones are being made for photography that are daylight balanced and don't flicker, plus can be pretty high powered. The photo specific fluorescent bulbs are quite expensive, but last a long time and don't draw nearly as much power as hot constant lights.

Hot lights were out for me, simply because they really are hot.

With small products you can do an awful lot with just one medium sized soft box on a standard monolight. Might need a reflector in some situations, and eventually a second and possibly a third light source.

Or, use a light tent.

With digital, practically any light source can be used, thanks to custom white balance. Mostly it's just important to not mix differing light sources.

JDM von Weinberg , Jun 14, 2008; 04:05 p.m.

Lighting is very important. For the lens, however, much as I love my 17-85mm as a lens for ordinary use, product photography is possibly the worst application for this lens, with the arguable exception of architectural photography. It has both barrel and pincushion distortion, just for starters. You don't want to spend all your time in Photoshop or DxO correcting that.

The catch with a TS-E lens on a APS-C body like yours (the camera, not you personally), is that the crop factor makes it a longer lens in effect. This is a problem for those of us who do architectural photography; but, as Alan correctly points out, the reason Canon makes longer TS-E lenses is precisely for product photography, where the tilt is often more important than the shift. The TS-E lenses are expensive, but will make doing professional work much easier. The 45mm may be best, and may have higher IQ than the 24mm, anyway, notwithstanding the 'L' title on the latter. It's also f/2.8, which couldn't "hoit".

Bob O'Sullivan , Jun 15, 2008; 11:10 a.m.

A TS-E and I would ad a macro lens like the Canon 100 or Sigma 105.

Also, the lighting thing cannot be stressed enough. Most of the poor catalog work I've seen is not the slight distortions because someone used a p&s but the crappy lighting because someone used a p&s.

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