There is a huge craving in photographers that is difficult to hide, and we tend to get a little bit freaky with gear. Gear gets our enthusiasm into a level that can defocus the real purpose of photography. A great piece of glass will be translated into great quality. Lenses fit into the category of optics when cataloging it as an asset. Optics is the branch of physics that involves both properties and behavior of light. It also has an interaction with the object that is used for detecting this light. Said and done, we have covered what lenses true nature. When it comes to photography, optics has an interaction with the camera’s sensor or the film that we are using.
There are three big categories of lenses:
- Wide Angle Lenses:
This optics goes from the extreme range of 4.5mm to 35mm. The peculiarity of these lenses is that they tend to bend reality in a way our human vision will seem closer to the object in focus. The smaller the focal length, the weirder the visual effect that you are going to get when shooting.
- Normal View Lenses:
This optics are just set on 50mm. This optics works pretty well with product photography because it’s an almost exact equivalent to our normal eye vision. It’s true that on a small sensor (when not mounted to a full frame camera) you will have a tighter scene; it still will give you the exact distance perception of the object compared to your eyes.
- Telephoto Lenses:
This optics goes from anything beyond 50mm. I think a good range here is from 50mm to 135mm. Some of these lenses have the benefit of allowing you to do macro. Macro can be understood as this: When you have the ability to do Macro, the minimum distance of the object in relation to the lens, will be extremely short. So, you can magnify details by filling the sensor with a specific portion of the product. This great cheat sheet from Digital Camera World, hosted at DPS explains this in a very good way:
In this cheat sheet you can understand better all the boring explanation of above:
For product photography will stick to the Normal View Lenses and the Telephoto Lenses because they give us a great amount of view field, and the most important aspect, is that they don’t deform lines. Wide Angle Lenses and Super Wide Angle lenses ten to deform the qualities and aesthetics of products because they bend horizontals and verticals lines. These artifacts occur because of the convexity of the optic. You can make corrections when running lens profiles in RAW development, but it will still not be the wisest way to go when shooting products.
Anything within 50mm to 150mm will work fine:
There is a great variety of lenses out in the market, and I don’t want to talk about brands, but about the quality you are looking for. I use two lenses from a certain Japanese manufacturer that loves to do their gear a little bit bigger than its most popular competitor.
One of them is a 50mm f/1.4 and the other is a 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. Both lenses are greatly built; you can feel their quality by just grabbing them. Before buying my tanky 100mm, I had my vision on another 100mm f/2.0 lens, but then, something happened in my decision, and I want to share it with you. I watched some reviews, and the idea of having a compact 100mm f/2.0 lens was just thrilling. I based my decision upon a factor that you can hardly find on review forums. I decided to go with the 100mm f/2.8because of its historical record. The lens has been around since 1990, it’s built like a tank, and for product photography, you don’t need extremely fast apertures. You’ll 95% of the time working under controlled situations. With controlled light, and controlled fixing of the camera, you need a great built hardware that has optical elements that excel in quality.
It is a macro lens as well, meaning that it is capable of reproducing an object the size of the image sensor, known as 1:1 magnification. Despite the macro designation, the lens can focus to infinity like regular lenses. As such, it is appropriate for use as a portrait lens as well. I can tell you with evidence and faith, that this decision has giving me a helpful hand for working with product photography.
Of course I did some homework, and I’ll try to stablish a little procedure when choosing lenses here. First you need to stablish the focal length that you are willing to invest in, in relation to the photographs that you are going to be making, then you can see at specs, and finally, when you have 2 or 3 options, you need to base your choice upon an MTF chart, like I did in that moment in time:
100mm f/2.8 100mm f/2.0
The guys at The Digital Picture have made a great tool for showing good MTF charts: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/MTF.aspx.
Both charts are set by default at the sweet spot (the most optimal aperture set by the manufacturer), and they both are from the same Japanese Manufacturer, and the chart doesn’t lie, the 100mm f/2.8 shows a superior acutance. And this is how you should make decisions on the future. Everything within the range of 50mm to 135mm will work outstanding in product photography, and if it has the capability of going macro, you are pretty much perfectly prepared for starting to look at products with your own vision.
Product as a service:
You can of course, make a combination of elements in your final product delivery. Especially if the product belongs to a firm that wants to show certain aspects that can match their philosophy. Let’s talk a little bit of products as a service. You can’t get a tangible medium to shoot when you are working for clients that offer products as a service in the commercial line. But still, you can work based upon a concept, and this is when Staff photography, or photo reportage comes to play in the offer.
The greatest lens of all
The greatest lens of all time in you gear, will be a flexible and sturdy tripod. You can get focals that reflect your own vision when working with a product, but you need to have a hardware that will maintain everything on its place. There are certain tripods that are so intelligently designed and built, that they have a built in screw for you to hang some weight underneath them to maintain everything even more secure and aligned to the ground. Don’t you ever forget about the tripod when shooting products.
So, all said and done, let’s summarize. You need a focal length between 50mm and 135mm. And after that decided, you need a good quality glass inside the lens. Macro lenses will give you extra capabilities when shooting because it will unveil details that are not obvious and sometimes hide from our eyes. Products are built with passion, don’t forget it, and try to get everything you can from the products design, shapes, forms and textures. Always shoot in RAW, because you can correct the lens profile. Each lens is manufactured with specific singularities, and Adobe Camera Raw, allows you to correct the barrel distortion of practically all lenses, if you shoot in RAW of course. Barrel distortion is a lens effect which causes images to be spherised or “inflated”. Barrel distortion is associated with wide angle lenses and typically occurs at the wide end of a zoom lens.