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...!
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 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 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 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 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?