Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Good Lenses for Fashion Photography

Offline or online there is no definitive answer as to what particular lenses we need to do specialist jobs like fashion photography. Some prefer zooms and some primes. Out of these two, prime lenses seem to have better sharpness, though I haven’t tested or compared the two.

They say it’s the photographer not the lens. Yes its true for some jobs but for specialist jobs like fashion, jewelery etc. gear matters a lot.

Since the last few weeks I have been doing an enormous amount of research online (where else) on lenses suitable for fashion photography. Since I am primarily a Nikon shooter I will list out some Nikon lenses here. The same equivalent focal length and aperture lenses are available in Canon, Sony and Pentax as well. 

Firstly I would like to remind you that these specialist lenses do not come cheap and may cost hundreds of dollars or even more than a thousand dollars. You CANNOT do fashion photography with cheap lenses like the 50mm 1.8D because it will ‘show’ on the picture. The optical properties, optical formula, coating on these lenses is not as good as expensive lenses. Doing fashion photography with a 50mm 1.8D may work sometimes in some lighting conditions but you may not always be lucky. Don’t count on your luck, get the better lens. 

Even though these expensive lenses are a bit of a financial strain you will have invest in them. Over a period of time these lenses will pay for themselves and they are a better investment than camera bodies.

Unfortunately to make matters worse, even Nikon does not mention what kind of lenses it has for fashion, the classification of their lens selection is pretty generic.

As a reference I had a few month old Nikon lens catalogue along with a price list. I painstakingly started researching each lens and what kind of pictures it produced and went through thousands of pictures on both flickr and 500px. My main criteria were color reproduction, sharpness and contrast. NOT price.

The G (Gelded, with no aperture ring) series lenses somehow seem to have a bit low quality and low color reproduction.       

So time and again, during the course of my research I have been coming across a few lenses and they are popping up on various forum discussions. I have mostly listed primes as zooms are considered a bit soft and not so sharp. 

           AF Nikkor 20mm f2.8D – Though not entirely practical for fashion but possibly feasible, the 20mm lens can be used for wide outdoor shots. Color rendition is superb as is edge to edge sharpness. After this one the 24mm f2.8D, 28mm F2.8D and 35mm F2 follow up in focal length but are not good at all, so better skip these three. Price: INR 32,335/-

          AF Nikkor 50mm f1.4D - The catalogue says quality optics, superb resolution, color reproduction and fine detail. It is mostly true. The pictures I have checked out on flickr confirm this. A great lens for portraits. Can be used for body shots in a mid size studio. Price: INR 16,000/-

          AF Micro Nikkor 60mm f2.8D – The catalogue describes this lens as crisp and it surely is. This is also a great portrait lens as it comes to around 90mm on APS-C cameras. Note that this is designated ‘Micro’ that means a real macro lens from Nikon, flowers bees, you know the drill. Price: INR 25,180/-

           Nikkor 85mm f1.4D IF – This is ‘the’ lens to have for fashion photography. Everything else is an excuse. Melissa Rodwell swears by this one. Both the color rendition and sharpness are amazing. Internal Focus. Surprisingly, for some strange reason this lens is not listed in the catalogue I have. Price: INR 67,000/-

           Nikkor 85mm f1.8D – The catalogue says crisp, natural image reproduction with high contrast. Though not that bad a lens to have, definitely not as good as the 85mm 1.4. The only consolation is the sharpness and the price. Price: INR 23,785/-

          AF DC Nikkor 105mm f2D – This is a Defocus Image Control lens which means you can control the soft focus in the foreground and background. The sharpness and bokeh on this one are out of this world. Just get this one. Price: INR 57,215/-

          AF DC Nikkor 135 f2D – This one too is a Defocus lens and has excellent sharpness and color rendition. It costs 10k more for the extra reach in focal length and at f2 is reasonably fast. Price: INR 67,165/-

Though this list not exhaustive, it pretty much covers from wide angle to telephotos. Readers can also suggest other lenses with samples if possible, that will help other people as well. One or two or three lenses from this list will get you started. To save money you can buy lenses during festive offers with special discounts, rent them if you don’t have the money or pool some money together along with some like minded photographer friends to buy it or borrow it from some one who is not using them.

Goodluck and happy clicking J



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