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Which lens to buy for food photography?

Raymund Macaalay , May 23, 2012; 11:57 p.m.

I need your opinion on this one

I had an Olympus E520 with 18-180mm and later upgraded to Canon 60D with the kit lens 18-135mm, I am doing mostly food photography which I use in my food blog (http://angsarap.net) now that I have a wider audience I want my photos to look better(to please more viewers) hence planning to buy a Canon 50mm lens which I heard that is good for food photography. Now I am looking at the f1.4 and f1.8 MK II, I read alot about both lenses and I have some worries in both of them so I need the professional guidance on people who have used both perhaps in similar application.

Here are my worries

Looks like a very fragile lens according to what I read online, is this true that it is susceptible to AF locking when bumped?
If I buy this do I need to prepare my self to go for repairs often?
while $500 is not that expensive the real expense for this one is $500+ whatever future repair costs will be.
I also read some articles that it is soft at wide open.
Is it worth the extra bucks to jump from 1.8 to 1.4?

*f1.8 mk II*
Flimsier than 1.4 but the price can justify, my big worry is the bokeh quality but if I use subtle backgrounds rather than repetitive lines will the bokeh still be harsh?
I know the AF is slow at low light but I am used to is as the 18-180 is slow in low light as well, is this lens any better in terms of AF?

Any sugestions on what should I buy? If you have some sample food or even product photos using both lens you can also post as that would help a lot.
My max budget buying a lens is in the price range of f1.4 so f1.2 is not an option nor the Sigma 50mm f1.4. Also please take note I want to use that lens for low light handheld and portraits but mainly food.


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Bob Atkins , May 24, 2012; 12:02 a.m.

Depends how big the food is....

Actually I doubt that a 50mm lens would be noticeably better than your current kit lens. The 50mm lenses are faster, but you probably aren't shooting in dim light and you'd probably need to stop down to get good depth of field. Since web images are small, the difference in the images between a prime and a zoom may not be noticeable.

To be honest, I don't see anything wrong with your current images. They look just fine to me.

If you want a fast 50 for other reasons too, then by all means get one. The 50/1.4 is slightly better, but it's quite a bit more expensive and the focus mechanism, which generally reliable, is more prone to failure than most. I find the 50/1.8 just fine for portrait work (though I prefer the 85/1.8).

Raymund Macaalay , May 24, 2012; 12:16 a.m.

Sometimes I shoot in dim locations which is a problem for the kit lens as I dont have proper lighting equipment and use natural light bounced with white cloth.
Usually the food size is from a small saucer to a big plate. The reason why I am looking for 50mm is that I want to produce good bokeh to separate the background if ever there is to the food. Now my question is the bokeh difference between two lens are far apart from each other in terms of quality (pleasant to see), taking into consideration that I would not use very noisy backgrounds or props.

David Smith , May 24, 2012; 12:19 a.m.

I recommend that whatever you buy, don't shop for food lenses when your hungry. You will end up buying way more lens then you need.


Sarah Fox , May 24, 2012; 01:00 a.m.

Raymund, for what you're shooting, you should probably use a tripod. It doesn't have to be a great (expensive) one, as your images only have to be sharp enough for the web. With a tripod, you can shoot in the dimmest of light with no problem.

The bokeh of the 1.8 is OK, not great. It's a very sharp lens, which is why people like it. The 1.4 has a bit smoother bokeh; however, like Bob, I doubt you'll see much difference. You might get the best bokeh out of an old, 70's era, manual focus lens -- e.g. an SMC Takumar 50mm f/1.8 with an M42 thread, which you can adapt to the EOS mount with a cheap Chinese adapter off of eBay. With your camera on a tripod, use liveview on 10x magnification to focus.

Depending on how much effort you want to put into it, you can get your entire subject into sharp focus, while achieving excellent background separation, by using focus stacking software. You'd take multiple images at different focal distances and then combine them. Never having used this method, I can't recommend a lens that would be good for it. However, I would think it would be important to maintain the same image size as the focus is adjusted. I'm pretty sure that would require internal/rear focusing, which would probably eliminate almost any 70's era prime lens.

Yakim Peled , May 24, 2012; 03:33 a.m.

Of the two I'd opt for the 50/1.8 (and either Raynox 250 or Kenko extension tubes) but for food photography I'd opt for the 60/2.8.

Happy shooting,

Paulo Bizarro , May 24, 2012; 04:24 a.m.

Another vote to get a (small) tripod. I would recommend the 50 f/2.5 macro lens, it is superb for your intended use, and it would be the equivalent to a short telephoto in APS-C. The more recent 60 macro is also very good, but might be too long? However, it would give you better separation from the background, and more working distance.
Another very good lens is the Tokina 35mm macro, same lens as the Pentax 35 Macro.

Ed Avis , May 24, 2012; 06:02 a.m.

Others mentioned a tripod, which is sound advice. The food doesn't move, so you can use a tripod, manual focus, and get excellent results from even the cheapest lens like the 50/1.8 or the zoom lens you already have.

However, you did specifically ask about handheld photography. In that case I would suggest putting the food next to a window to get some daylight! If you really need to take handheld photographs under indoor lighting then the 50/1.8 may help, but note that the more you open it up the narrower the depth of field becomes. You probably don't want just one part of the plate to be in focus. I wouldn't spend the money on a more expensive lens without buying a tripod first.

Jack Nordine , May 24, 2012; 07:02 a.m.

For food photography, the first lenses that come to mind would be the 60mm 2.8 and the 50mm 2.5 CM.

Robin Smith , May 24, 2012; 09:28 a.m.

45 or 90mm TSE + extension tubes.

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