In my last post I talked about the best fixed lenses for food photography. Fixed lenses don’t move at all. They only have one focal length, ie: 100mm, 60mm.
The next set of lenses we are going to discuss are the opposite of that. I use these all the time – zoom lenses. These are my favorite lenses for overhead shots! I’ll tell you why later.
Zoom lenses enable the photographer to have an option of several different focal lengths in one lens. There are many options for zoom lenses, and it gets very confusing, so I’m going to break down the different types of zooms and what they are used, for in this post. Then, in the next post I’ll tell you which ones are the best for food photography.
With food photography, we are pretty close to our subjects when taking pictures. Because of this, we need lenses that enable us to do that, and with certain zoom lenses, you can’t get close to your set at all. I’ll tell you about those later.
Three Types of Zoom Lenses
Ultra Wide Angle and Wide Angle Zoom Lenses
The first set of zooms are the Wide Angle Zoom lenses. They can be as wide as only 8mm, and then go to about 35-40mm at the longest. So, an example would be an 8mm-15mm – that is an Ultra Wide Angle lens. These are often used with cropped sensor cameras – that’s part of the reason why they are so wide, to accommodate for that cropped sensor.
If you would like a refresher on the difference between the cropped sensor camera and the full frame sensor camera, see this post.
The wide angle feature is very expensive for the lens manufacturers to produce, so these lenses are not cheap.
These are great for extreme wide angle shots. This could be landscapes, architectural shots, and those fun extreme wide angle specialty shots that you see for sports or products, and occasionally a wacky portrait.
The image above is of my photo studio lobby, and this was taken with my 17-40mm zoom lens on a full frame sensor camera. It had a lot of distortion in the image on the edges, so I had to correct that in photoshop. I use this lens a lot for architecture – shooting restaurants for example.
This lobby is not nearly as big as it looks in that photo above. Realtors frequently use this to make houses look bigger than they really are.
I don’t really use these lenses for most of my food shots. That’s not to say that you can’t – it just wouldn’t be a traditional food shot. I have used my 17-40mm lens for overhead shots with a cropped sensor camera on occasion when there was a lot of food on the set.
Wide angle lenses of any type, fixed or zoom, will always have distortion in them. This is a problem for food photography. You will start changing the shape of your food and your props, and that’s not good.
Standard or Normal Zoom Lenses
Standard, or normal zoom lenses (means the same thing) are the most common type of zoom lens that comes with your kit cameras. Sometimes you might get a kit camera that also has an additional telephoto zoom lens with it too.
If you have a cropped sensor camera that you got as a kit, you probably have the 18-55mm lens.
My issue with a lot of these normal zoom lenses is that you can’t get close enough to your food to do any detail shots.
The 18-55mm lens will work for an overhead shot too. However, it’s incredibly cheap and really lacks quality. But for just starting out, you can get away with using this lens for blogging while you save up for a better quality lens.
Standard zooms usually have a range that will contain the focal length 50mm somewhere within it’s zoom range.
Telephoto Zoom Lenses
The third type of zoom is the Telephoto Zoom. When looking at zoom lenses, no matter what camera it’s made for, if the focal length goes beyond 100mm-125mm at their longest focal length, it is a telephoto zoom lens. They also tend to be very heavy, so hand holding it is usually not possible.
Telephoto zoom lenses are generally not for shooting food, unless you are pretty far away from your set. With a telephoto zoom, the minimum focusing distance might be 5 feet or more! This lens above has a minimum focusing distance of 5 feet.
Telephoto zooms are for shooting landscapes, and anything that is off in the distance that you can’t get close to. So shooting with this in a small kitchen would be a problem.
There are times when I use this lens for shooting my videos for the Food Photography Club. I use this because the camera is set up about 5-8 feet away from the set and enables me to do detail shots at the same time that I’m shooting with a second camera, using a wider lens for the overall scene.
I took this shot above from about 8-10 feet away from the set, showing how Alise (food stylist) uses her torch on food in our food styling course for the Food Photography Club
Two draw backs to using zooms
There are two draw backs to using zoom lenses, I’m afraid. So the convenience of the lens comes at a cost.
#1. The first drawback, that actually will be a deal breaker for a high end commercial job, is the fact that zoom lenses just aren’t as sharp as a fixed lens. It sucks, but that’s the reality. When you compare an image from a fixed lens, and a zoom lens zoomed into the same exact focal length of the fixed lens, the zoom lens will always be softer in focus.
#2. The other drawback is an annoyance, and doesn’t affect image quality – it’s called Lens Creep.
Lens creep is when you have your camera set up and the zoom will start moving just because of gravity without you touching it. Total pain, so you can do one of two things. You can use tape to stop the lens from moving (totally ghetto), or you can use a lens band and put it right on the part of the lens that you use to move the lens. It actually works pretty well to just tighten up that band just enough to stop the lens from drifting, or creeping.
If you scroll up, and look at that shot of the 24-105mm lens above, you’ll see I have a Canon lens band on my zoom lens. This stops it from creeping.
If your zoom lens is REALLY loose, you’ll need to get it serviced at Canon. Zoom lenses have lots of moving parts, so they need to be serviced every few years, at least.
So there you have it! You can see why this post needed to be on its own. Next, we will talk about the best zoom lenses for your food photography for both cropped sensor cameras, and full frame sensor cameras.
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