Best lens for child photography?

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 more expensive cameras have a full frame body, although some mid-level cameras are now coming out with full frame, but if you are on an entry level camera you will most likely 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 can be superior in quality.

For ease, I've only referenced Canon in the main part, but there are equivalent Nikon versions listed at the end of the post if that's your camera of choice - the descriptions are the same as for Canon so just refer to them.  OK, now lets look at the lenses...!

50mm F.18 Best Lens child photography

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

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. 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 and I recommend this as a starter lens. (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 30 mm F1.4 Lens for child photography

Sigma 30mm f/1.4

You might want to consider this lens instead if you have a little 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. It's a little bit more expensive but it's great quality.  If you have a full frame this gives you more of a wide-angle.

tamron best lens for child photography

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8

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 zoom in and out through the focal length, 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. It's suitable for both cropped and full frame cameras.

canon 24-70mm best lens for child photography

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L

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 is Canon's professional L series lens and is meant to be superior to the Tamron in sharpness (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 so perhaps if you are starting out that would be the better option for you!

Canon 50Mm f1.4 best lens for photographing children

Canon EF 50mm f1.4
This is a great focal length for both full frame and cropped frame cameras, and is a step up from the Canon 50m F1.8 mentioned above, in terms of sharpness, auto focus and build quality. I recently upgraded to this lens and love it.  It's not much more expensive either. You can read a review I did between this and the cheaper 50mm F1.8 here.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
This is great quality lens but the focal length probably makes it best suited to those with a full frame sensor (unless you like shooting from a little bit farther back for more candid shots) On a full frame this lens is magnificent for the price - it has a great focal length, excellent sharpness and is pretty quick to focus. Great lens and relatively cheap.

Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Lens
This is on my lust list. It's a great focal length on a cropped frame as it gives you roughtly the same field of view as the naked eye, but yet also great on a full frame for full body shots or where you want to include more in the scene. This lens has excellent reviews and is definitely one to consider if you have a bit more cash to spend.

If you have a Nikon camera, the lens choices are actually very similar as Canon and Nikon match each other in focal lengths and versions. Here's the Nikon equivalents:

Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF  around $125.00
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 for Nikon DSLR Cameras around $499.00
Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 with built-In AF Motor for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras around $520.00
Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 Zoom Lens around $1889.00
Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor Lens around $450.00
Nikon 85mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras around $499.00
Sigma35mm F1.4 DG HSM Lens for Nikon (Black) around $899.00

See the main section for descriptions.

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've also not listed any with longer focal lengths as with children you generally need to be a little closer to them.

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: 

What do the lens numbers mean?
What is the nifty fifty lens?
Zoom vs Primes
What's In My Camera Bag? 


çiçek said...

i am interested in child photography, thanks for share:)

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information. I had already decided on the 50mm f/1.8 for portrait style shots of the kids, but i need help with what lens to get for the kids soccer, football, dance recitals,school assemblys, etc. I figured that the 50mm would be the lens i change to, and the other lens would be more like an everyday lens, is this right?

Audrey said...

For things like soccer, school assemblys etc you are going to be fair bit back from the action so you might want to consider an even longer zoom lens such as a 70-300mm range. Are you full or cropped frame as that would make a difference too.

Anonymous said...

I have Nikon d7000 which is cropped frame. I'm interested in taking mostly headshots of half-body photos of my child. I'm thinking of buying 50mm (Nikon 50mm f/1.8G AF-S NIKKOR FX). Do you think this is the right lens or is it better to go with the 35mm one? Since the recommendation for portrait photography is to stay around 6 feet away from the subject, I looked through my kit lens (18-105) at both 50mm and 35mm and it seems like the 50mm one gave a better closeup of the upper body.
I'm a beginner amateur photographer.

Audrey said...

For head shots and partial body I would go with the 50mm. This will give you a better portrait style shot. X

menucha said...

Hi Audrey, which lens do you recommend for mostly shooting indoors of my kids. I just got the 50mm 1.8 and I'm not sure if its the best choice. (If I should return it or not.) I want something that gives you more of the same look as the naked eye. I find that sometimes I need to move back to get the photo I want but I physically can't... (I dont want to spend more than $350

From what you wrote would it be the Sigma 30mm f/1.4? Does canon make that one too? What does it mean when you wrote about the Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 that it has a fixed aperture? Which would be better as they are both the same price..? Hmm just scrolled up and realized they are both 500 for some reason I thought they were $390 I guess I was looking at the wrong currency..) Is there anything for about $350 that you would recommend? Thanks

Audrey said...

Hi menucha, something around the 35mm mark will be great for indoors. Canon do a 35mm f2.0 which would come in around 300 - never used it though so I can't comment too much but the focal length and aperture would be good for indoors.hope this helps x

Tasha Meyer said...

I am looking to replace my kit lens. I just got a 50mm f/1.8 and I love it, but would like to have a better zoom lens. Would you recommend a Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 or a Tamron AF 70-200mm f/2.8 as the next step? What is the difference between the two? Thanks!

Audrey said...

Hi tasha, the difference is in the focal length - if you have a croPped frame camera I would suggest that the 28-75 is more useful. 70-200 is quite long on a crop making it more useful for distance like sports etc. hope this helps!

Tasha Meyer said...

Thank you! Although I want both, the 28-75 probably would be more useful right now. :)

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Angelica A. De Lara Delgado said...

Hi! Love your site,
I just bought the Canon t3i AND although you recommended against it, lol i got the kit lens with it along with someother goddies for a good price. After reading the about the lens you recommend i think im going to wait abit after i get familiar w the cam to get a 50mm lens as i will mostly be taking pics of my growing 8 mo old.

I wanted to ask though should i get the 1.4, or 1.8 ?

Audrey said...

Hi Angelica, that's a tough question! There is a bit of a price difference between the F1.4 and the F1.8, but in my opinion it is worth it if you like the focal length. I assume you have a zoom lens at the moment - fix it at 50mm and don't zoom for a few days to see if you like a prime (remember the 50mm's don't zoom) and the focal length. The reason I recommend getting the 50mm F1.8 first is it's a (relatively) cheap introduction to the world of primes and therefore you can see whether you like primes without forking out a lot of cash. If you don't you can sell it and get a better zoom. I got the 1.8 first and liked the focal length so upgraded to the 1.4. That wasn't much help was it.....!

naila said...

Hi i know this may be a little off subject of child photograpy-
Which Nikon (d3100) lens would you recommend for a maternity session (outdoors)
I currently have a 55-200mm
also would you suggest a differnt flash from the built in?

thank you so much!

Audrey said...

If you are outdoors you probably won't need a flash - you should be able to find great natural light, but yes, if you think you need one an off-camera flash would be better. Although you could do the session with that lens, maybe a sharper prime would be a good investment? It all depends on your budget but perhaps the 50mm F1.8 or 1.4 would be good on your crop frame camera. Essentially you would be best with a lens in the portrait range, Hope this helps!

Sylwia said...

Hi Audrey, I think I mentioned on FB how much I love your blog and all your advice given.
I have a Canon 500D and to go with that the 50mm 1.8 lens.
But as other readers mentioned sometimes the 50mm is too long for indoor use. Unfortunately winter is coming, so more time will be spent indoors, Christmas etc... So I'm seriously considering getting the Sigma 30mm 1.4 - do you have any experience with it? It has great reviews.
If you have any photo examples I'd love to see them. Many many thanks.

Audrey said...

I'm sorry Sylwia, I don't own the 30mm F1.4 so have no direct experience of it, but have heard it's great. The one that steals the show is the Sigma 35mm F1.4 (art) which is the one I'm after! Hope that helps x

Anonymous said...

Hi Audrey, thank you for the article, it helps me so much. I really love your blog!! What do you think about buying used lens?

I would like to buy Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 and maybe upgrade from Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II to 1.4 according your recommandation.


Audrey said...

Hana, I'm actually planning on buying a used lens myself soon, but I will be buying through a company who specialises in used lenses - I wouldn't trust Ebay. If you are a member of Clickin Moms they have a selling area where you can sometimes pick up some lenses. I'm planning on doing a post on it soon but taking a little bit of a blog holiday first!

Anonymous said...

Hi Audrey,
Totally new to photography here. I have 6 month old twins and NEED to stop using my iphone for everyday pictures. I'm trying to decide between the Canon T3 and T3i but I would like you opinion on the lens. I'm looking for a great lens to capture my little ones. At this point I'm not needing ones for distance but what will work outside AND inside. Also our house has tons of windows so it's very bright and hard not to get windows in the background sometimes. I think you have convinced me on the 50mm 1.8 but would it be ok for my only lens? Costco right now has a package with the T3i, EF-S 18-55mm, EF-S 55-250mm, a bag and 16 GB card for $750. I'm wondering if that is just more than what I need to start and it would be better to buy the body and 50mm only or add another lens in that you recommend. Thank you so much for your input. I'm overwhelmed here!

Anonymous said...

Hi Audrey
Love your website and the valuable advice! I'm about to buy a Canon EOS 70D with the aim of shooting photos of maternity, newborns and children amongst my (many!) pregnant friends. I'm a photo enthusiast, keen to gain more experience, but really struggling to decide which lenses to buy. Shoots will mostly be indoors (limited space) - varying between head and shoulders and fullbody (children) - would a prime and zoom combination be best? Or can I get away with using just zoom? Would you recommend 85mm prime and 24-70 zoom combo? Or another zoom maybe? (Canon 24 - 70 is really expensive!) Thanks so much for your help! All advice and suggestions very gratefully received!

Audrey said...

You will possibly be able to get away with just using a zoom - the 24-70 will do you proud. I wouldn't use an 85mm on a cropped frame sensor (the 70d isn't full frame am I right?) as it will be far too long for indoors. A 35mm will do you better, or even a 50mm. I would suggest maybe getting the zoom first and seeing which focal length you tend to use most and get a prime in that focal length if you feel you need the extra stop of light that primes gives you. hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

what isbest lens to purchase for a Nikon 3100at is the

Erika Harkey said...

Hi Audrey,

I've just started my photography journey in March of 2013 when I purchased a used Nikon D3000 and a 50mm 1.8 lens. I love the 50mm! I have not taken it off my camera yet! Now I'm looking to purchase another lense. I was looking at your post about the Tamron 28-75mm but I also see the Tamron 24-70 mm. Can you tell me the difference between the two as far as quality of images? I see they both come in 2.8 aperture. The 24-70 is much more expensive than the 28-75mm. Thank you! Erika

Audrey said...

I've never used the 24-70 but it will be better glass, and probably a faster auto focus system. I think this model also has Image Stablisation, which controls camera shake from your movements, allowing you to shoot still subjects at lower apertures. Overall the image quality will be better - to a certain degree you do get what you pay for!

Sarah Mouscardes said...

Hi Audrey, I have a 650D and have just ordered the Canon 50mm/1.8 lens for indoor photography and portraits. I am now looking for an upgrade to my 18-55mm and thanks to your blog am now considering buying the Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8. Would this work well for taking holiday + family pics at the beach and at the park etc? Thank you!!

Audrey said...

Hi Sarah, I think it's a great "all-rounder" lens - I take it on holiday with me to save me taking a more than one lens, and it's a great focal lenght on a a crop, but also if you ever upgrade to a full frame. Hope this helps x

Anonymous said...

Hello, I am interested in taking quality pictures of my own kids. I am willing to spend up to $1,500 on the camera and lense. I am a beginner but I am definatly thinking about taking a class on how to use whatever I get. I want something so I get a crisp, clear picture with a blurred backround, I like to take a lot of pictures outside, but some inside too. Please help! I want something versitile for both indoor and out, plus fast moving kids. Also do you knjow anything about editing pictures or programs for editing(how much they may cost?). Thank you!

mothersin2ition said...

HI Audrey :) I have loved your blog so much and have learned a ton! I had asked a question about lenses awhile back, and thought I knew what I wanted- but when I went down to Best Buy, I ended up being talked into an 18-55 kit lens (don't even ask how that happened, I have no idea!). Now I am kicking myself. I know I wanted the Tamron 28-75mm. I want to return the 18-55 and get the one I wanted originally- however, I'm finding that on Amazon, it is saying that this lens is not compatible with my Canon EOS Rebel xsi. Can you recommend something that would be compatible?
Thanks so much in advance, I so appreciate it!

Audrey said...

Hi there! What about the 17-50mm Tamron? It's for cropped sensor cameras like the Xsi, and is a great focal length on a crop frame. I'm 95% certain it works with a Xsi, but to be on the safe side, check this out first to make absolutely sure. The only downside to this lens is that if you ever went full frame on your camera, then you'd have to sell it as it only works on cropped frame sensors. There are other third party suppliers out there that do go lenses for the Xsi, Tamron and Sigma are pretty good bets. If you haven't already considered primes, a 50mm F1.8 is nice and cheap, sharp and quick enough to focus. Might be a good option for you too!

mothersin2ition said...

Thanks Audrey! I do have a 50mm 1.8 prime and I love it! I just really want something with a zoom, and that will fit all 7 of us into the picture without too much trouble. I will check out the 17-50 Tamron and see if that will work for my camera. As always, thanks so much for the advice! I appreciate how you always respond so quickly.

Namrata said...

Hi Audrey, I use Sony Alpha 330 (yeah that obsolete one:)) to take pics of my 1.5yr old. I now wanna do some professional family and kids photography and am looking for a new camera. I like Canon 5d Mark iii but it's too expensive for me right now. I am ready to pay up to $2500 including lens. I looked at Nikon 6100 and Canon 6D to name a few but I am all the more confused. Please help me pick a decent camera.
Also, which lens do you think is better- Canon 85mm/1.8 or Sigma 85mm/1.4?
Thanks a lot

Audrey said...

If you are planning on doing this professionally then I would recommend a full frame, something like the 6D from Canon or the D600 from Nikon. I have no experience of the Sigma lens, but I can tell you that the Canon 85mm F1.8 is awesome for the price. Depending on where and number of people you are shooting, you might also want to get a 50mm or a 35mm (again this is assuming you are wanting to go professional) Whilst costing this, bear in mind you will need insurance etc for turning pro so you want to keep this in your head too. Hope this helps.

Namrata said...

Thanks a lot for your suggestions, Audrey! And thanks for bringing up the insurance point...that's very useful!

Namrata said...

Audrey, I finally bought a Nikon D610 with a 85mm F1.8 and 35mm F1.8 lens. I love the camera! Thanks again :)

Audrey said...

Yay for you!

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