Comparing lenses and lighting for food photography

Thai lime x4 infoHere’s another comparison of direct versus diffused light. This time shot outdoors on a sunny day, and also comparing the effect of four different lenses, all used on a Nikon D60. And it’s a picture of a Thai or Kaffir lime.

When I go on a location shoot for summer food I often find the client or the stylist or someone assumes I want to shoot in sunshine in order for it to look ‘fresh and summery’. In fact, the heavy shadows you get when photographing food in direct sunshine may make the image look dramatic or striking but does nothing to enhance its ‘freshness”.

The pair at top left were shot on a Nikon 105mm F2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens, the pair at top right on the Nikon 18-200MM VRzoom at 150mm, the pair at bottom left on a Nikon 50mm/F1.8 D AF Nikkorstandard lens and at bottom right a Lensbaby Composer. At this size the difference is subtle!

In the pic below the four shots are compared in just the diffused version and the differences are more apparent. The lenses are in the same order, Nikon 105mm F2.8 Micro-Nikkor, Nikon 18-200MM VR, Nikon 50mm/F1.8 D AF Nikkor and Lensbaby Composer.

I moved the camera back and forth to make the framing as similar as possible and the shots have been cropped slightly to improve the similarity, but now that they can be seen closer it is apparent that the Nikon 105mm F2.8 Micro-Nikkor lens has made a good job of making the lime itself very sharp and at the open aperture of f3.3 the edge if the bowl and the dish behind is nicely blurred.

The zoom lens, the Nikon 18-200MM VR, allows less control, I had the camera set to aperture priority and used the maximum aperture but on this very useful zoom lens this is only f5.6 at this extension and the whole image is pretty sharp – which is fine if that is what you want, and it certainly is a very useable image. Also the longer lens setting of 150mm has reduced the apparent width of the rim of the bowl, perhaps making the lime itself look more important, and more deeply nested in the bowl.

The third shot using the 50mm lens is again using a wide aperture, this time f3.2 but in this shorter lens the depth of field is naturally greater and thus the blur effect is slightly less pronounced. The wider lens widens the width of the rim of the bowl and makes the lime look more as if it out in the open!

The last shot on the Lensbaby Composer is probably not as technically sharp as those on the prime lenses, but the flexibility and opportunity to exercise creative choice is some compensation. I used the aperture ring that gives a nominal F5.6 aperture and swung the lens so that it maximised the focus along the length of the fruit but let it slide off to the left hand side.

There is certainly no RIGHT lens to use for a shot like this – it is simply a matter of thinking what purpose the shot is for, what you find most aesthetically pleasing and and using what you have access to. For a commissioned shot I would tend to use the 105mm, but for fun probably the Lensbaby!

Ultimately photography is more about your eye than about equipment.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. agree that the 105mm f2.8 looks the best for a pro shot
    and encouraged that the 50mm lens (that I’m stuck with whilst saving up for 105mm) holds up so well

    fantastic detailed comparison
    thank you

    (wonderful subject too – did it become something delicious?)


  2. It was a wonderful Thai Lime (Kaffir Lime) that I found in the big Chinese supermarket, Wing Yip. I’m afraid it just ended up in a Bacardi and tonic.


  3. Thorsten says:

    Very interesting comparison of lenses, especially on the effect the focal lenght has on the “appearance” of the lime.


  4. Dave says:

    Good to see the 50mm holding up as well. I am using it almost exclusively now, and I find it a joy to work with. I actually got rid of my 18-200 VR, as I just thought it was too soft and juts didn’t like the images I was getting from it.


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