Best lens for product photography in studio conditions (for D90)

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by aloha_voya, Dec 25, 2009.

  1. hi fellow shutterbugs
    I am kind of new to semi-pro equipment and setup so wanted to run a few questions by the more experienced folks so I don't low my budget on inappropriate equipment.
    I am planning to get D90 to shoot our company's products in the studio (homemade equivalent of the bench top kind of so now I ponder the lens selection. I have read some articles by ken rockwell on his site and he seems to be happy with versatility and quality of 18-200mm VR (I or II) lenses and has me almost convinced that this lens would be a good chioice for my needs.
    the products vary in size and are mainly bathroom fittings and fixtures - showers, sinks, faucets ... close up here and there.
    I have the luxury of space and will make most of the lighting on my own per instructions from Dean Collins' tinkertubes book and similar DIY internet resources.
    1.) what would be the most appropriate lens for this application
    2.) I would prefer to get one flexible solution (lens) and master it - instead of adding layers of complexity, cost and pushing the learning curve and results further out with multiple lenses.
    3.) it would be grand to have a lens which would also serve in capacity of taking photos of family, vacations ... kind of jack of all trades. not a key requirement but a nice bonus so to speak.
    I am not set on a particular kind of lens so please feel free to chime in with suggestions which have been proven in practice (preferably)
    any input and/or suggestions would be welcomed!
  2. 1. The Nikon PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f/2.8 Manual Focus is the most appropriate Nikon-mount lens for this application. After lighting, the biggest problem you'll face when you have close ups is getting the entire product in focus. Even at a small aperture, the depth of field will often not be enough. The tilt capability of this lens will allow you to tilt the plane of focus, which is the best solution for this. You can use it together with depth of field to get great product shots. The lens will also work beautifully for your application when you don't need close ups.
    2. You'll have plenty to learn with this lens. Look at the reviews at the B&H site. It is a difficult lens to use, but once you learn it, it will give you the best possible results for the application you describe.
    3. A big, complicated, cumbersome, one focal length, manual lens -- not the best for family or vacation photos, although it's great for landscapes. If you really want it for family and vacation photos, you might decide on a lens which is less appropriate for your primary application. It's up to you.

    Answers to questions you didn't ask, but related, and hopefully appropriate since you asked for any input:
    4. You didn't say anything about cost. This lens is very, very expensive. Again, you may not want it.
    5. You might want to back to the site of the fellow whose articles you've been reading ** and read his "About" page, in which he tells you that he makes things up, and that you need a good BS detector to use his site. On that page, he is being honest. Believe him. The lens he is suggesting you consider might be enough for you, or not. Sometimes he's right, sometimes by coincidence.
    ** I find it is bad luck for me to mention this person's name. Hopefully, it's not a problem for you.
  3. Product photography is a very demanding endeavor requiring backdrops and complex lighting techniques. This is probably best left to someone with the required skills, gear, and experience.
    If you are determined to do it yourself with a DX (crop sensor) camera, there are a few lenses that would be helpful. However, some of these are specialized lenses that will require considerable skill to make the most of their potential.
    AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED - An excellent general-purpose lens that will let you capture wide to semi-close views of your products. However, it will not let you "zoom in" close for macro details (see other lens options below). This is a higher-quality lens than the 18-200 versions which suffer from complex distortion problems and uncontrollable lens creep, two characteristics that render the "DX super-zooms" all but unusable in a studio setting where accuracy is important.
    AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR - This is a macro lens that will help you get close-up shots of the details of your products.
    PC-E Micro NIKKOR 45mm f/2.8D ED - This manual-focus lens requires a lot of skill to use, but it can add flexibility to your tabletop shots by allowing you to control perspective and depth-of-field in creative ways. Extension tubes would add to this lens' flexibility.
    If you're really serious about the quality of your product shots, please consider hiring a pro to do the work for you. This is one of the most challenging types of photography.
  4. What is your intended use of the images and what is your budget? If they going to be posted on the internet or printed in brochures, the 18-200mm will likely be fine. If you are making poster sized prints or shooting very small objects, a macro lens may be needed. Lighting and composition are more important than the lens. You may find a tripod to be very useful as well.
    Although there are many lenses that will likely produce slightly sharper images than the 18-200 (as listed above), the differences are minimal and for internet/printed brochure work, you likely would not see any differences unless printing huge posters or pixel peeping.
  5. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If you want a "jacks of all trades" lens for family, vacation and travel, the 18-200mm/f3.5-5.6 AF-S VR is precisely what you want. However, it is among the last lens I would use for serious product photography.
    It boils down to how serious and demanding this product photography is. If you want excellent results, both Hector and Dan gave very good suggestions. However, the D90 is a DX body so that 85mm would be on the long side. Moreover, those PC-E lenses they mentioned are expensive and difficult to master.
    If quality requirement is not that high, you can use just about any lens that covers the mid range (e.g. 24-100mm) for product photography, including the 18-200, which apparently will suit you very well outside of product photography.
  6. You could do a reasonable job with the plain old 50mm f1.8 AF if you don't really require macro.
  7. I think for close-ups and macros and sharp... very sharp images consider Nikkor AF 60mm f/2.8 D
  8. 1. Lighting, 2. Technique, 3. 50 or 60mm as mentioned should do it. Make sure you have a good way to control stray light on the lens.
  9. well thank you guys for the quick and meaningful replies. I really appreciate your input.
    to clarify my dilemma, here are additional details.
    4.) I would like to stay within 500-600 ($/eur) budget for the lens. as I see PC-E lenses are close to $1.7k; AF-S DX Zoom-NIKKOR 17-55mm f/2.8G IF-ED is about $1.3k. ouch!
    5.) the reproduction medium will be A4/A3 or 8,5x11"/17x11" brochures, web ... no posters ... or Pulitzer's :-(
    btw, tripod will be surely used.
    I am sure the road to professional results is a bit tricky and will require time and effort, but I can manage it. this road can be easier or more difficult based on the equipment selected. I have always been interested in photography and this is a good reason to go into it. I want to bring this expertise in house for professional and personal reasons which are beyond the scope of this forum.
    given that we as humans have a poor propensity to divorce "needs" from "wants" is the precise reason I am posting here. if I/you could only have one lens for this task mentioned above, which would it be?
    assuming following key requirements
    a) product photography in a studio with acceptable lighting for this application for use in general purpose brochures/marketing
    b) somewhat limited budget for the lens ($500-600), new or used - no hangup's about "new car smell"
    c) tool/lens which will yield quick results (easy to master, or if not master - at least utilize well)
    again, thank you hecktor, elliot, dan, shun, stuart and juan.
  10. If you are serious about product photography in the end there is no substitute for one of the longer PC-E lenses.
    In the meantime while you're saving for one of those, you could try some decent primes, especially a macro lens-- you'll need them anyway. However, professional work requires professional tools.
    You might be able to jury rig a cheaper solution by getting a nice medium format 80mm lens (say a Biometar in P6 format) and one of the ex-USSR-made shift-tilt adapters or some of their tilt-shift lenses like the Hartblei which can be got in Nikon F mount for under US$900. If you can find the adapter for Nikon, I think you'd be better off with the Biometar than a Hartblei. It's a very decent lens, even on small-format cameras, much less on the 6x6 cameras it was made for and it has the coverage (6x6 as I say) to allow tilts and shifts.
    I think that in the long-run you'd still want the Nikkor versions, so I'd suggest that you just suck it up, get a loan, and go there from the start.
  11. Having spent most of my career shooting product photography, my suggestion would be to use a Nikon 50mm f1.8. and 85mm f1.8. for DX format. My guess is that the 50mm f1.8 will work for the majority of your shooting.
    You can certainly use the Nikon 50mm f1.8 for vacation photography, but it would not be my choice for an all around travel lens.
  12. thanks JDM, but I would prefer to stick with stock solutions as time to hunt and jury rig is limited to non existant.
    robert, if you are talking about these lenses then prices are manageable
    Telephoto AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D Autofocus Lens * B&H # NI8518DAF * Mfr # 1931 $449.95

    Normal AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Autofocus Lens * B&H # NI5018DAF * Mfr # 2137# $124.95
    thanks for feedback!
  13. Aloha,
    Yes those are the ones. Here is an old card of mine. The photos were taken with medium format lenses (6x6) with a horizontal angle of view equivalent to the Nikon lenses I suggested.
  14. Having looked through the typical product shots for bathroom ware - I would have thought 85mm on a D90 is a bit on the long side. 50mm is possibly a better starting point - and as suggested above - is pretty cheaply available.
    I started up using the 17-80mm kit lens with a D70 before using it on the D90. I prefer the 50mm 1.4 now - and it dovetails with the D90 really well.
  15. The longer 85mm focal length, although not really that long, is to give you some control over perspective, among other things. Also, the 85mm will be good for detail or close up work when you don't want to be working so close to the product that it is uncomfortable, (ducking under soft boxes or umbrellas), or you may even physically interfere with the lighting.
  16. The 85pc lens (1st. version) is the finest piece of Nikon glass I have ever owned.
    There is a learning curve, but the rendering of detail and utility of focus make all my other micro nikkors pale in comparison.
  17. One thing - is the 85mm PC lens compatible with the D90 ? I seem to remember reading that the shift clashes with the in-built flash (I could be wrong - but I did a bit of investigation on it some time back - it could just be a false memory from the tons of reading I did).
    I know it may be stating the obvious - but on the D90 - 85mm is giving you the crop of 128mm equivalent (just in case the OP isn't aware)
  18. For full frame the 85 PC is just about perfect for what you have in mind. I changed my mount so that the shift and tilt both work in the same direction, (ala Bjorn Rorslett). It's not an easy lens but will do what you ask of it!
  19. robert thanks for the picture it was helpful.
    can you, mart and steven please clarify which 85mm are you talking about?
    much obliged
  20. mab


    Another vote for the 85mm PC. If you must use a DSLR for tabletop photography (really the wrong tool for the job), having shift and tilt makes a huge difference.
  21. Though I have shot hundreds of products using swings and tilts, (4x5), I have shot thousands of products without swings and tilts, (Hasselblad).
  22. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    The only PC-E lens I have is the 24mm/f3.5. And I know as a fact that it cannot be mounted onto the D3000 and D5000, as one of the knobs will hit the viewfinder overhang.
    But the OP is not interested in any one of the PC-E lenses anyway, due to cost. So it is not going to be an issue. If the OP wants a dedicated lens for product photography within $600 or so, I would consider the 60mm/f2.8 AF-S macro, but that is not going to be your general-purpose travel lens.
  23. Another vote for the 85mm PC. If you must use a DSLR for tabletop photography (really the wrong tool for the job), having shift and tilt makes a huge difference.​
    Let's recall that the OP has a D90. With the 1.5x magnification factor, the 85mm PC-E lens might be too long. That's why I suggested the 45mm version instead. That will be like a 240mm lens on a 4x5 camera. Most of the tabletop work I've done wht 4x5's used either a 210 or a 240 mm lens, so the 45mm lens should work well with a D90. The 85mm PC-E is a better choice for full frame cameras.
    That said, either one costs more than the OP wants to spend.
  24. mab


    Yes, but the 85mm PC can focus closer and works better at high magnification than the 45mm. I also tend to use a 240mm for 4x5 tabletop work, but when I was using a D2x, I was reasonably happy with the 85mm PC's focal length for tabletop work (the 45mm PC didn't exist then).
    It's still out of the original poster's price range, sadly.
    All that said, thinking about it a bit, I'd suggest that the original poster invest first in lights and reflectors before getting new lenses. Successful still life photography is more about lighting than cameras or lenses.
  25. Hi Aloha,
    As suggested above a macro lens in the 35-60mm range on the D90 would probably work great for general product photography - I've done quite a few shots with similar gear. Instead of using the perspective control lenses listed above you might want to look into Helicon Focus as a less expensive and possibly more versatile way to overcome depth of field limitations when doing macro photography of still objects under controlled lighting conditions. It takes a bit of learning, but the results are probably sufficient for your intended use. Lights and reflectors are also key - depending on the size of your products light tents and a combination of flashes might be the answer - you can find references to these at a number of sources on the net.
    Have fun!
  26. Have you tried shooting any of these products already ? If so - do you have a fare idea of the best focal range ?
    Also - will you be shooting any of these p.roducts in-situ ? Showers, sinks, wcs etc. are normally shot as an assembly - as a mock-up, ie showers are wall mounted and include the shower head and bar, sinks with pedestals are shown fully, taps shown mounted to a sink etc.
    These would move you away from 'macro' as you would (I'm guessing) need something in the range of 24-50mm to be able to compose the complete subject in shot. As others have raised, this does introduce perspective distortion as a problem.
    Moving to a longer focal length and moving away from the subject to reduce distortion may help (if you have the space) but it also will change the viewpoint so that you are looking more horizntally at your subject (unless you also move to a higher vantage point) - with basins and similar subjects you would want to be looking at least partially into the bowl to get a better idea of the product.
    I would have thought, given your budget somthing like the 16-85mm Nikkor would provide a balanced lens to meet the product shots and be a general travel lens.
    It is not a pro - or even semi-pro product lens - but then, that would be stepping outside of your budget. A limitation of the lens would be in the macro department, close focusing would be limited - but it is difficult from what you have said so far to identify what % shots would be macro. The other limitation is a factor of the wide angle end - distortion, although it can be corrected to some degree in PP.
    There's a review of the lens here:
    As ever with photography - your wish list is not met by any one lens, so it will be a case of prioritising your needs - and available budget.
    Good luck
  27. I have to agree with Robert Hooper on this. A normal to slight telephoto, to maintain proper perspective, will do the best job for the product shots. Not the best answer for all around pohotography but you've stated that that would only be an added bonus. Also I think for product photography, non moving objects, you can do without the shift lens some others have recommended. Try looking at this video about merging photos focused at different points in Photoshop CS4. I think it's just the thing for your project and will save you a bundle of money on a lens. Of course you'll have to purchase CS4 if you don't have it...
    Here's the link to the video:
    Good luck with your project,
  28. Before I even saw any of the other responses, I too was ready to recommend the PC 85mm. The tilt-shift will provide great scope for producing professional product images. Yes - it will take some serious learning but will be well worth the time spent. Don't overlook lighting. Lighting is equal top priority, if not more so. Some pretty impressive examples from Bob Hooper show what can be done with a lot of experience and a feel for the craft.
    THEN I realized you mentioned a camera with crop sensor. It would be an absolute shame to waste the full potential of that magnificent lens on anything less than full frame image capture.
    You did say "I am planning to get D90". Can't you plan to get something else? Invest a bit more?
    The family/travel pics can be done with the 18-200 zoom. Easy one.
    The product photography, as stated above by others is a specialized field. Prepare to put in the overtime.
    Actually, it looks like almost everything I've said has been said already by some pretty knowledgeable people here. I always feel good when experts agree with me ;-)
  29. First choice would be the 45 PC-E (85 is pretty much perfect on full-frame, but on DX 45 will do). The fitting to a D90 should not be a problem at least with the 85 -- the physical dimensions are different from the 24 making it easier to handle. The compatibility problems seem to be about the 24.
    Second choice is 55/60 macro, since those give better quality on close distances than regular lenses. On the plus side, second hand 55 mm macros are really cheap nowadays considering what you get.
    Third choice is a regular 50/1.8. Quality up close is a bit lower than with the options above and it can't focus that close anyway, which can be a bit annoying if you need a closeup.
    An 85 is a good addition, although on DX is a bit long and depending on your style, subject and studio may not be used as often as the shorter lens.
    Many zooms have somewhat pronounced distortion and tend to lose sharpness towards the long end, making them less well suited to tabletop photography than the dedicated lenses. And the really good zooms that are worth considering are expensive.
  30. Just to throw in a opinion, I think almost all these suggestions would work, but the one lens I would never get to do this type of work is a 18-200. It has hard to correct distortions and mediocre IQ. Certainly the 50 and 85 are good. Also the tilt lens mentioned above. Maybe your company would pay to rent a lens.
  31. The regular 50/1.8 will do the job, there is no lens what will be better. There is also no need for a 50/1.4 because you can do the lighting. For the macro-work you can use an extension-tube. So then you got a lot spare bucks for a good tripot, a remote controle and a standaard-holiday lens.
  32. ok guys, time to close this thread.
    I have learned new things and your posts have helped me a lot.
    result is that I am on the hunt for the good deal on full format cam and if nothing arises I will go with new D90.
    thank you all for your advice. wish you all a happy and prosperous new year!

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