Best Nikon Lenses For Food Photography

Let’s pick up where we left after the first installment of food photography, shall we? This blog post will cover Nikon lenses that you can successfully use for the purpose of photographing food. Please keep in mind that the information I present below is a personal opinion based on my experience so far, which I do not think is subject to change anytime soon, as I like my set-up very much.

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I always reach out for prime lenses while photographing food. Using these fast primes and being able to position myself at close proximity from the food gives me multiple advantages:

  1. Helps me visualize the composition I am going for without the equipment (eye composition), which gives me an idea of what I can potentially capture with the camera at a later stage.
  2. Forces me to move around by getting closer and further away from what I am photographing and try out different angles.
  3. Fast aperture prime lenses allow me to isolate subjects effectively. With a shallow depth of field, I can choose my plane of focus and throw everything else out of it.
  4. Prime lenses let in a lot of light compared to zooms, so I can photograph my food in natural light, even in low-light situations.
  5. The prime lenses I use are sharp wide open and get even better when stopped down a little, so I do not have to worry about dealing with soft images.

For more information on prime and zoom lenses, check out Roman’s Prime vs Zoom lenses article.

That’s not to say that you cannot photograph food with zoom lenses – in fact, the very last image in this article are photographed with the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens. I just prefer primes to zooms because of their better subject isolation capabilities at shorter distances. Although with lenses like the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, I might have to re-evaluate my needs at some point in the future. Speaking of which, Sigma just announced pricing for the 18-35mm f/1.8 and apparently it will be at $799, which is amazing. Bravo Sigma! Now we need a couple of lenses like that for full-frame and life will be peachy!

1) Nikon 50mm f/1.4G

I have to say that I am a big fan of the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G – by far my most favorite lens to photograph food. Although Nasim says that the 50mm f/1.8G is better optically (see below), there is just something magical about the f/1.4 that I cannot quite describe. I had the same feel for the older Nikon 50mm f/1.4D, which I used to own and love a long time ago.

Nikon 50mm f/1.4G AF-S

The Nikon 50mm f/1.4G is not super sharp wide open, so I often stop it down a little to get the best out of it. But it is still beautiful at f/1.4 when I need it, even with all of its optical deficiencies. Perhaps I am just too attached to my nifty fifty!

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2) Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

The Nikon 50mm f/1.8G is an impressive lens, especially given its $220 price tag. Nasim loves that one more than my 50mm f/1.4G and I can’t blame him – it is a great lens! I have photographed people with the 50mm f/1.8G and even some weddings and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised with it. Autofocus is fast and accurate, something I cannot always say about my favorite 50mm f/1.4G!

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G

If I were starting out, I would probably pick the 50mm f/1.8G instead of the twice more expensive 50mm f/1.4G now. Great bang for the buck for sure!

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3) Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

Next up in my list is the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 which is also a great lens to use for food photography when you need a wider angle of view. While it is a DX lens, it is also perfectly usable on FX/full-frame cameras (although you might need to crop the corners out later).

Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G Lens

If you shoot with a Nikon DX camera, get this lens instead of the 50mm above, because it gives you a similar field of view. Distortion is not a big issue with this lens, which is good news! It may also be very handy if you tend to photograph in tighter spots.

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4) Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Macro

What I like about Nikon 105mm f/2.8 is that it gives you a lot of details within the shallow depth of field you choose. And if I want to see all those crazy details up close, the 105mm certainly has the reach – I do not have to shove the lens into the food to get the perfect shot.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR

The Nikon 105mm f/2.8G may not be as versatile and lightweight as the 35mm or 50mm lenses, but it still gives amazing results. Just keep in mind that if you have a big dish to photograph, you will need some space around you, especially on a crop-factor camera!

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5) Nikon 60mm f/2.8G Macro

The Nikon 60mm f/2.8G is another phenomenal macro lens for food photography. In fact, many of my food blogger friends prefer the 60mm macro to the 50mm lens, because it gives them the right focal length and versatility of a macro lens.

Nikon AF-S Micro NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED

My only complaint about this lens is its f/2.8 aperture, which is obviously not as good as f/1.4-f/1.8 lenses in terms of subject isolation capabilities when keeping the subject distance the same. For smaller details, you would want this lens over the 50mm, because of its short minimum focus distance. For those situations, the smaller aperture is actually an advantage, since depth of field is razor thin!

6) What About the Camera?

I know that some of our readers will ask about the best camera for food photography. FX or DX? In all honesty, I do not think it really matters! Many of my older shots were taken with cropped-sensor cameras and they look just as good as the images I took with full-frame cameras. If ISO performance on your camera is poor, just use a tripod and you will be good to go (see Nasim’s excellent guide on how to buy a tripod). Most of us end up cropping and down-sampling images anyway, so camera resolution does not matter for the most part.

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Nikon lenses for food photography (14)

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Please let me know if you have any questions!


Avatar of Lola Elise About Lola Elise

is a professional wedding and portrait photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. She is the co-author of Photography Life and author of the Lola Elise website. Read more about Lola here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) John

    Lola, I think you left out one other lens: the Nikon AF-S DX Micro-Nikkor 40mm f/2.8G. Priced slightly higher than the 50mm f/1.8G, it is also quite versatile as it does double-duty as a true macro lens and an almost standard one. By the way, I love the sample photos you’ve provided. Do you normally add a touch of saturation for that vivid look?

    • 6
      ) Edward Liu

      I’ll double the recommendation for the 40mm micro, at least for DX cameras. I used one on my Nikon DX bodies and really liked it a lot for close up work (mostly shooting toys) and even as my general walk around lens. Experimented a bit with food photography with it too and was pretty happy with what I got. Was even thinking of getting the 60mm micro for my FX body because of how much I liked using the 40mm.

  2. 2
    ) greg heller

    Lola most of those dishes look like they would be very tasty, except for that first one, Is that cole slaw with strawberries and green olives?

    • Hi Greg, probably would have been better if I linked to the original recipe. Nevertheless, it is a cabbage salad recipe which goes well with olives and strawberries. You can always not have them, though.

      • 19
        ) greg heller

        Sorry Lola – I didn’t mean to be disrespectful , I like all the components of that salad, but the thought of strawberries and green olives caught me off guard, I would never think of those two together. Your photography and plating are top shelf.

  3. I had stumbled on a WordPress blog titled “Walk and Talk” that featured interesting places and the foods that could be purchased. His photos were of the foods along with mouth watering descriptions. When we visited London and Paris last year I was snapping pics of the foods we ordered. I now appreciate the value of good close up lenses. Thanks for the entry.

    • Thank you for visiting our blog and leaving a comment! :)

  4. 4
    ) Jonathan

    while shooting food photos with those lens, do you use external speedlight? And any recommendation speedlight for food photography.

    • 7
      ) AM

      This article is about lenses. I’m pretty sure that one about lighting for food photography is coming. At least, that’s what I hope. :)
      By the way, great article Lola!

    • Hi Jonathan, like AM mentioned, I will get to in hopefully within this week. I do use both natural light and speed-lights for food photography.

      • 23
        ) Jonathan

        Thanks Lola for your reply and am ready to read future article.

  5. I have 50mm/1.4g and 60mm/2.8g for food, but I use the 60mm 99% of the times for final shots at presentation stage. It’s just perfect on fx camera.

    • Thank you for commenting Maggie! Always appreciate the input from our readers :)

  6. 8
    ) Johny Wong

    Hi Lola,

    When your food looks this nice, I’m wondering, what kind of sport does Nasim do to keep him from getting fatter :)

    Anyway, I had two questions.

    1. How do you decide the prop that you will use in your photo ? For example in your last photo, why do you put tomatoes in the background ?

    2. how do you decide to arrange the food in certain way ? For example, your tomato meatball soup (the last photo before Nikon 60mm f/2.8G Macro). You arrange three meatballs in triangle formation.

    Thank you :)

    • Let me guess Lola’s answer for question no.1…
      The plate looks like the Italian dish Osso Bucco on a bowel of Rissotto. Putting recipe ingredients in the background is a natural practice. Tomato is heavily used when cooking the veal dish Osso Bucco.

      • Or the meat might be North African lamb stew on rice cooked with saffron…

      • Good guess, Maggie :D This is actually an Uzbek dish that we enjoy lots and it is eaten with a tomato salad.
        http://arbuz.com/recipes/uzbek-palov-osh-recipe

        I used Ikat for the background and used national serving plates for the dish itself. Tomatoes seemed to go well with the overall design I was going for.

    • Hi Johny!

      Your first question refers to food styling, which I do quite moderately, without going overboard. That’s my personal choice. I might change my mind though :) When I choose background elements and/or supporting elements for any given food, I consider the color of the food and what it might go well with. First thing I look for is, what can this food be eaten with. If the colors and shapes will go well together with the composition, I try to incorporate them.

      The arrangement of food most likely will depends from each angle you wish to photograph the food. It will change the overall composition if you photograph food from different positions. Since stacking 3 meatballs looked more coherent to my eyes with a 105mm lens (further down and with more elements in the frame), that’s what I shot. If I would have used a 50mm for example, I would have gotten much closer and probably focused on one meatball only. Does it make sense?

      • 20
        ) Johny Wong

        Thank you, Lola. Your explanation is very clear.

        I particularly like this statement “what can this food be eaten with”. I’ve never thought about it before.

  7. 9
    ) Peter

    Forget the lenses, where is the lasagna? A side view looking up at the melting cheese would be perfect.
    I’d use a 105 macro on that.

    Vegetable lasagna would provide more texture and color than ordinary meat.

    Also, show me how you would photograph a purple/red wine in a crystal long-stem glass.

    You can tell I know what I’m talking about.

    • Hi Peter, I find lasagna hard to photograph. The color palette is just not there and as you mentioned, if it is just the cheese and sauce in the picture, I would have to work a little harder to bring out what I need in the frame. In my books same goes for Indian food, where the dominant color is yellow and orange. You will also need to keep in mind that I like to photograph real food and not half cooked or stage prepared icky stuff. Once the food is cooked and ready, you do not have much time to play with it as it will change pretty fast and the cheese will not keep melting :)

      As for the purple/red wine in a crystal lone-stem, it might be a challenging task, but nothing that can’t be done. I would choose a white background, use couple of strip banks (to have that elongated reflection on the glass that will go well with the length) along with a simple black foam to block the unnecessary light spill on the glass, work with it in post production a little and things should look good.

  8. Dear Nasim;

    I’m an begginer photographer with D5000 + 18-105VR 1:3.5-5.6G lens.

    Your photos looks way more bright and colorful against mines, also my friend’s Canon could take pictures more clear.

    I really love my body + lens, but do you have a trick about settings?

    Here is an example photo of corinth canal (by me, probably my best).
    http://fav.me/d625zib

    This photo edited with adobe photoshop 4.3 , but i used it just for coloring pictures.

    Original one seems pretty colorless, the colors were so weak..

    please inform me asap :)

  9. 22
    ) Tapo

    Excellent photographs Lola. What is the last dish, looks very similar to Indian Biryani !

  10. it takes the quality of high luminity of 2.8, 1.4, 1.8 great report and post, thanks for your information,

  11. 25
    ) ayan

    i love the photos.
    i love the 50mm 1.8.
    bang for the buck!

  12. 26
    ) amelia

    Dear Lola,

    I love food , tableware, kitchenware, now wanna expand my hobby to food photography. pls help and suggest the most worthed camera and lens that I have to prepare for this new hobby.

    thanks a lot
    Amelia

  13. 28
    ) Angel

    thank you so much for the information!!!!
    i am a pastry chef and dont know much about photography !!!!
    and i am in need desperetly of buying a great camera!!!! for my dessert pictures!

    i am looking into the Nikon 5200 or the 7100 but the prices are a bit high for me!
    any lens you could recomemt if i get the Nikon 5200?

    thanks in advance!

    my Blog below
    http://poss3.blogspot.com/

  14. 29
    ) Angel

    by the way love you blog!!!! great pictures!

  15. 30
    ) angel

    thank you so much for the information!!!!
    i am a pastry chef and dont know much about photography !!!!
    and i am in need desperetly of buying a great camera!!!! for my dessert pictures!

    i am looking into the Nikon 5200 or the 7100 but the prices are a bit high for me!
    any lens you could recomemt if i get the Nikon 5200?

    thanks in advance!

    my Blog below
    http://poss3.blogspot.com/

  16. 31
    ) angel

    thank you so much for the information!!!!
    i am a pastry chef and dont know much about photography !!!!
    and i am in need desperetly of buying a great camera!!!! for my dessert pictures!

    i am looking into the Nikon 5300 or the 7100 but the prices are a bit high for me!
    any lens you could recomemt if i get the Nikon 5300?

    thanks in advance!

    my Blog below
    http://poss3.blogspot.com/

    • 34
      ) David Worthington

      35 1.8 DX. great value, best lens in the DX line in my opinion. Works great to learn with too.

  17. i would like to thank you!!!!!!!
    i did follow your advise and went to buy the Nikon 50mm f/1.4G
    and i am sooooo happy with it!
    i would like to send you the pics if you allow me

    regards

  18. 33
    ) Nico

    Hello Lola.
    Thank you for this great article.
    It help me a lot to make the right decision.
    Greetings from lake constance, germany and a happy new year with lots of good photos and recipes.

    Nico

  19. 35
    ) David Worthington

    Just a heads up on the 35 used on FX. The lens still thinks it’s shooting on a DX when you turn the crop off. That changes the way the light meters. Something you have to think about and account for if your light isn’t consistent throughout the frame.

  20. 36
    ) puneeta

    Hi Lola ,

    Great shots.

    I have a D 90 which came with a 18 105 kit lens .

    I want to buy a lens for food photography and was planning on 50 mm 1,8 g . Now wondering if i should buy the macro instead .

  21. 37
    ) Jessica

    Thanks for the informative post. I am looking for an upgrade to my Nikon standard lens I got my my SLR camera. This really helped!

  22. 38
    ) cliff

    Great informative post. I shoot and and have shot a fair amount of food and find on fx nikon the older 28-105 afd with its macro mode a very versatile and high quality lens. Though its only a f3.5/4.5 lens often my clients want some greater depth of field rather than the 2.8 1.8 look. The 50mm f1.8 as stated by many is also a good choice and not expensive. (non nikon: tamron 90 macro f2.5 mf: fantastic lens).

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