Product Photography, Part 6: Selecting a Lens

Choosing the best camera lens depends on the products you’re shooting and the camera itself.

This is the sixth post in my series to help ecommerce merchants take better product photos. “Part 1” discussed the importance of backgrounds. “Part 2‘ explained tripods. “Part 3explored the fundamentals of artificial lighting. “Part 4” angles and viewpoints viewed, and “Part 5” describes how to select a camera.

In this “Part 6” I will cover lenses.

Cropped sensor vs. full frame

A camera’s sensor is the electronic equivalent of film. It captures light and converts what you see through a viewfinder into an image. A sensor affects the lens. A full-frame sensor is a true representation of the lens’ focal length – how much of the viewfinder is captured in the frame. A cropped sensor captures less than the focal length.

Illustration from PhotographyLife.com of a Nikon camera with a crop sensor and full-frame sensor.

A full-frame sensor is a true representation of the lens’ focal length – how much of the viewfinder is captured in the frame. A cropped sensor captures less than the focal length. Source: PhotographyLife.com.

A crop factor is the ratio between a camera’s sensor size and a 35mm film frame. A camera with a crop factor of 2x means that a 35mm film frame is twice the size of your camera’s sensor. This can affect your final images because a cropped sensor will multiply the focal length of any lens you use by the crop factor.

For example, a 1.5x crop factor with a 50mm lens will replicate a 75mm lens. This added focal length allows for a narrower angle of your product and can exceed your desired field of view. In this example, if you had to shoot a product with a 50mm lens, you should have chosen a 35mm lens to get closer to your desired 50mm focal length.

But what exactly is a focal length and how does it influence your choice of lens?

Focal Length

The focal length of your lens determines how much of a scene your photo will capture. Photographers call this the ‘angle of view’. It works in tandem with magnification to produce an image that appears very large or very small, depending on the focal length.

A longer focal length provides a narrower angle of view and a higher magnification. Conversely, a short focal length produces a wider image with less magnification.

Photo from Freepik.com showing a 105mm, 50mm and 24mm beer bottle.

A longer focal length, such as the 105mm on the left, provides a narrower angle of view and higher magnification. A short focal length, such as the 24mm on the right, produces a wider image with less magnification. Source: Freepick.com.

Understanding focal length is important in product photography because the goal is sharp, magnified images that show important details. Therefore, do not use a wide-angle lens. Instead, use a minimum 50mm lens. Anything smaller than 50mm can cause wide angle distortion. For product photography, I usually use an 85mm or higher telephoto lens with a good lens speed for depth of field.

Opening

Aperture, or lens speed, refers to the maximum opening of a lens. Aperture is expressed in an f-number, or f-stops. An f-stop of f/2.0 lets more light through than, for example, an f/8.0. Some photographers recommend a high aperture value in product photography to avoid blurring important details.

Wikipedia example with six f-stops: 1.4 to 8.0.

Aperture refers to the maximum opening of a lens and is expressed in an f-number or f-stops. An f-stop of f/2.o will let more light through than, for example, an f/8.0. Source: Wikipedia.

But if you’re shooting for Amazon or your own e-commerce store, use f/7 to f/11 to keep the details in your shot sharp. But your perfect aperture value depends a lot on the product you’re shooting.

Lens types and classes

The last point is understanding the two types of lenses. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length and produce sharp images with excellent contrast. Zoom lenses have a variable focal length, which makes them versatile.

Photo from PhotographyLife.com of a fixed lens and a variable (zoom) lens.

Prime lenses (left) have a fixed focal length and produce sharp images with excellent contrast. Zoom lenses (right) have a variable focal length, making them versatile. Source: PhotographyLife.com.

While a quality zoom lens can produce exceptional images, the variability of the lens can cause distortion. That’s why I prefer fixed lenses for most product shoots. A fixed lens will naturally produce sharper images in most cases.

Within the two lens types are three main classes:

  • Wide angle lenses have a focal length of up to 30mm.
  • Standard lenses have a focal length of up to 50mm.
  • Telephoto lenses have a focal length of more than 100mm.

There are also divisions of these lenses, such as ultra-wide zoom and super-telephoto, and specialty lenses, such as macro and tilt-shift lenses. I will cover these in the next installment.

Also remember that camera brands like Canon, Nikon and Sony make their own proprietary lens. Independent manufacturers, such as Sigma, make excellent third-party lenses that are worth investigating if you’re on a budget.

Leave a Comment

x