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Best lens for food?

Josh Berg , Apr 17, 2009; 04:49 p.m.

What's the best lens to shoot food with my 40D, assuming 1) I'll have to deal with low light, flashless, close-quarters restaurant situations. 2) I can't afford the new $1,700 24/1.4! I have the 17-55/2.8, which is a fine lens, but I'm yearning for something primey. Does the 28/1.8, for example, offer better IQ than the 17-55? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer.


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Brian Cincotta , Apr 17, 2009; 05:00 p.m.

I've seen many photographers use macro lenses for food shots. Lenses typically at f/2.8

You might try Canon's 60mm Macro or even Tamron's 90mm macro.

Alex Thorne , Apr 17, 2009; 05:04 p.m.

Will you be able to do the shoot using a tripod?

Josh Berg , Apr 17, 2009; 05:18 p.m.

I have the Canon 60mm, another good lens, but that focal length (at 1.6X) requires standing up and/or back from the table a bit, and in restaurant situations I'm trying to shoot as quickly and unobtrusively as possible. Thus, no tripod either . . . not exactly discreet.

Gerry Morgan , Apr 17, 2009; 05:19 p.m.

Low-light and flashless suggests that you're talking about having fun taking photos of the food you have ordered, rather than getting into professional food photography. And I would guess that your desire for "something primey" is a primal desire for depth of field far shallower than you would see at f/2.8. Otherwise, you would stick with your 17-55 (I have the same lens, and it easily focuses close enough to fill the frame with an average-sized dinner plate at the 28mm setting).
My favourite prime lens in this range is the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. Its out of focus blur is gorgeous and it has no trouble focusing at the kind of distance you will need. No currently available macro lens will suit your purpose because none of them is faster than f/2.8, which you already have. If you need to get any closer, you could consider getting a Canon 500D (the close-up lens, not the soon-to-be-released DSLR). I sometimes use one with my Sigma 30/1.4. It requires a step-up ring because the Sigma uses 62mm filters. Canon says the 500D is intended only for telephoto lenses but I have never had a problem with this combination. However, I doubt you will need the 500D.
Is out of focus blur (i.e., bokeh) quality what you care about? I'll post an example of what I get with the Sigma. If that is important to you, perhaps someone else will post an example of Canon 28/1.8 bokeh. Bokeh is very subjective and it can be hard to find a lens that you really like.

OK, it's not dinner, but I like the blur of my Sigma 30/1.4. It's also a very sharp lens!

Josh Berg , Apr 17, 2009; 05:41 p.m.

Thanks, Gerry. Indeed, this is all at the fun rather than professional level. My wife and I are foodies; she cooks a lot of beautiful food, and we also eat out a lot. I do like bokeh and it's important to me. But when I spoke of getting primey, I was really thinking primal sharpness. I've sometimes read of the Sigma line having quite a yellow color cast--have you found this to be an issue at all?

Michael Liczbanski , Apr 17, 2009; 05:48 p.m.

Best? A 45 or (better) 90 mm T/S (tilt/shift) lens with extension tubes and/or TC: since what's lacking at large f/stops is depth of field at close up distances, a bit of tilt is helpful. But that's going a tad above "fun level." I'd stick with 17-55/2.8 if I were you perhaps with a small (and sturdy!) table-top tripod and a few large pieces of aluminum foil (makeshift reflectors!) for some help with shadows.

Puppy Face , Apr 17, 2009; 05:49 p.m.

The EF 50 2.5 CM is great for food and small products. Sharp as a tack. I use it all the time on my 50D. And it's priced right.

John Crowe , Apr 17, 2009; 07:03 p.m.

Best lens for food? That would have to be a "pancake" one, or perhaps for those with a more exotic palate, the "fisheye".

Marco Hidalgo , Apr 17, 2009; 07:07 p.m.

I shoot food professionally with a 5D + Leica 60 macro. Sometimes, if I have enough space, I can use the 90mm. lens.

Use whatever f stop you like; whatever works best for you is fine. Forget whatever other people are doing or might be doing.

5D + Leica Summicron R 90/2 Apo Asph

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