Following up my recent post on the best DSLR for photographing children, today I'm going to look at which is the best lens for child photography.
I have to say straight off that there is probably not one single "best" lens for photographing children - what I like and what you like may be two different things! It's down to personal style, where you are going to take most of your photos, what your aspirations are, what type of camera body you have and how much you are willing to spend. That said, I'll do my best to narrow down the lens choices out there.
You'll note I mentioned above that it matters what type of camera body you have. Basically, you get two types of sensor - a full frame or a cropped frame sensor. This makes a big difference to how the focal length of the lens will work on your particular camera. Lets look at a 50mm lens as an example - if you put that lens on a full frame camera, when you look through the lens you will see roughly the same as you would with the naked eye. Put the exact same lens on a cropped sensor camera and everything will look much closer than it actually is! Only the most expensive cameras have a full frame body, so unless you have a professional camera body (like the 5D) you will have a cropped body. It's a good idea to keep this in mind when looking at the focal lengths of the various lenses on offer.
I'm going to list a few lenses here that I think are worthwhile considering, including some lenses from third party manufacturers (Tamron and Sigma) You buy these with the correct mount so they will fit your particular camera, such as Canon or Nikon. These are a good bit cheaper so are definitely worthwhile looking at, especially if you are only going to be taking shots of your own children. However, if you have aspirations of being professional one day, you might want to save up the money and go straight to to the Canon or Nikon professional lenses, which come with a hefty price tag but are superior in quality.
For ease, I've referenced Canon only here - you will find a Nikon equivalent if that's your camera of choice. I've included prices and links for both US and the UK. OK, now lets look at the lenses...!
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II around $115.00 /(in the UK Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 II around £90.00)
This is probably the universal first upgrade lens as it is a prime lens (so will give you tack-sharp images) has a nice low aperture number of F1.8, and best of all it is still very affordable at about $115.00. This is a fixed lens, which means there is no zoom - you have to physically move yourself in and out to get the shot you want. There is a bit of a learning curve with fixed lenses, so this is a great one to start with (I hated it at first but now I absolutely love it) I have also noticed that using the 50mm on a cropped body indoors means that you have to back up quite a bit in the room to get everything you want included in the picture in the frame, but all in all it doesn't cause too much problems. This is really excellent quality for a low price. (See the post "What is the Nifty Fifty Lens?" for more details) I've taken lots of shots of my child with this lens and love it.
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 around $500.00 (for UK readers Sigma 30mm f1.4 around £390.00)
You might want to consider this lens instead if you have a bit more cash to spare and a cropped body. Again, it's a fixed lens, so no zoom, and has a nice low aperture. On a cropped body this lens gives you a view that is similar to what the naked eye would see, so is probably a better focal length than the 50mm fixed lenses if you plan on taking a lot of indoor shots of your children.
Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 around $500.00 (in the UK Tamron SP AF 28-75mm F/2.8 around £340.00)
This is the lens I have most often on my camera after the 50mm F1.8 and I love it. It is a zoom lens which means you have the ability to be a bit further away from your child, but it's a fixed aperture, which means you can use it at F2.8 in the whole focal range which makes it quite impressive. If you only get one lens, then I would probably recommend this one as it's a great all-rounder at a great price.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L around $1900.00 / in the UK Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 around £1500.00
With pretty much the same focal range, and with the same fixed aperture of 2.8, this is the more expensive version of the Tamron one above. This has Canon's professional L series lens and is meant to be superior to the Tamron- (as you can probably tell that just by the price tag!) I would recommend if you have extra funds available but I think the Tamron does a great job at less than half the price.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 around $1500.00 (or in the UK Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 at £1,300.00) /
You are probably thinking "why would I pay that much more for a lens that only stops down slightly below the 1.8 that I can get for about $115.00??" The answer is quality - this lens is absolutely amazing and is aimed at professionals, with a price tag to match. If you can afford it, go for it! If I ever become a professional child photographer, then this would be my top lens choice!
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 around $370.00 / (UK Canon EF 50mm - f/1.4 around £270.00)
Sitting in between the 1.2 and the 1.8, both in terms of aperture, price and quality, it's one to consider if you don't have the funds for the 1.2 but want a more rugged, professional lens than the 1.8.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 around $390.00 (UK Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 around £300.00)
This is great quality lens but the focal length probably makes it best suited to those with a full frame sensor. Even on a full frame it will allow you to be a bit farther back from your subject.
There are loads more lenses out there, each suited to different purposes. You'll notice I've not listed any that have an aperture over 2.8, as I think you'll want at least that for low light shots and to get the nice blurred backgrounds for portrait styles.
I want to stress again though, this is just my view on suitable lenses - you'll need to look to the ones that work best with your style - do you like to be further back and shoot from afar or do you like to be close and interacting with them? fixed or zoom? I think when we start out we just don't know the answer to these so I wouldn't suggest spending a vast amount of money on lenses until you are sure about what you want. (I personally first went for the Tamron 24-70mm and the Canon 50mm F1.8 and I'm really pleased with the quality from both of these) Remember it is also possible to rent lenses before you buy - I think this is a great idea, and would certainly suggest renting to make sure you like it before parting with your hard earned cash if you are going for a big ticket item.
That's it! My view on the best lenses for photographing children, I hope it has helped narrow down the choices and with knowing what to look for!
As always, I'm happy to answer any specific questions anyone has (if I can!)
Other posts you might like:
How to photograph children: Camera Settings
Nailing Focus: Part 1, Focus Modes
What is the nifty fifty lens?
Zoom vs Primes
What do the lens numbers mean?