I’m often asked what equipment I use for shooting food. Obviously one of the most important tools for shooting is the lens on the camera. My favorite lenses for shooting on my Canon 5D are the 90mm tilt shift lens and also the 100mm macro lens.
Notice I did not mention any zoom lenses. Unless you get a pro level zoom lens they typically are just not that sharp. Canon and Nikon do make pro zoom lenses and like any pro level type of photography equipment they are a lot more money than the consumer level lens.
Shooting food you have to be able to get close to your set – but not too close. Most of the time I am trying to get a real nice shallow depth of field. This means that the items in the background and possibly the foreground are out of focus and only the part of the food I want in focus is in focus. If you are using a telephoto lens in order to get the cropping that is appropriate for your shot you are still going to be several feet away from your set. With a longer focal length macro lens like the 100mm macro ($500 MSRP for the consumer level shown here and very sharp or $1050 MSRP for the pro level) you can be as close to your set as you need to be to frame your shot nicely. When getting a fixed focal length lens (non zoom) you can get away with the consumer grade lenses. They are sharper than the consumer grade zooms.
The 90mm tilt shift lens, though its not a macro lens I can get very close to my subjects if needed. The tilt shift ($1400 MSRP) is special because you have total control of what you can make in focus and what you can make out of focus by literally being able to tilt the focal plane of the lens. Notice it has a very different shape to it and the knob on the right side is how you can tilt the focal plane of the lens, loads of fun!
I understand the sticker shock you may have when talking about lenses. Most food bloggers, chefs and culinary professionals are shooting food images that are going on the web so they can get away with using a consumer grade zoom lens because the file sizes needed for the web are extremely small compared to printing an image for an ad or a magazine. Because of this file size difference even if the shot with the consumer grade zoom lens doesn’t look as sharp you might not be able to tell by the time its on a website.
The rule for lenses is the more you pay the better the quality of the glass, optics and performance.