Canon lenses for baby photography
There are many web sites where photographer can find tests and reviews of lenses. Some of these sites are listed below and this is no attempt to provide information about general performance of lenses. Instead, I am focusing on suitability of my lenses for baby photography.
How I Work
I’m using full frame camera and the suitability of lenses described below is related to full frame cameras only. I never use flash and rely on fast lenses and high ISO performance of my camera.
The requirements and usability of lenses change with the ability of the baby to move. When they start walking, the AF speed becomes more important, especially during the age when they can’t understand everything you say and any attempt to stop them or attract their attention only causes that they start running to you. This has been a challenge especially with my 85mm lens and to some extent with 50mm.
Most of my photographs are from indoors, a situation which usually calls for shorter fast lenses. For baby photography I have been using mostly 85mm, 50mm and 35mm focal lengths, in that particular order.
Suitable for snapshots where it is necessary to get very close or where you need to include lots of background. The minimum aperture of 4 is limiting for indoors shots, but ok during daylight. You will often get close enough for the child to be able to reach the front element of the lens. Since the lens hood is shallow and won’t prevent the baby from actually reaching the glass, an UV filter is handy. If you are considering purchasing a wide angle zoom lens and plan to use it for baby photography, think about 16-35/2.8 II, which is more practical for low light situations.
This 35mm lens is considered by some the best wide angle lens from Canon, some reviewers rate it higher than 35mm Summilux R from Leica, but I found achieving sharp looking shots more complicated than with other lenses. Wide open it has shallow depth of field, but does not isolate the main subject the same way as longer fast lenses. This may create tricky situations on pictures with multiple isolated subjects, where some of the photographed subjects are not perfectly sharp and the viewer percepts this as bad focus. This may and may not be a problem for your type of photography. This lens can be hand hold at 1/30s and at wide open allows taking pictures with virtually no light. This is great especially during the period when baby works in 3 hours cycle and lots of interesting photo opportunities (feeding) happen in the middle of the night.
I found this lens practical especially in the hospital. It is relatively unobtrusive, light and universal enough to cover all the needs. This lens is fast, makes nice background blur and I would recommend this lens for baby photography to anyone on budget.
This is my most used lens. 85/1.2 closest focusing distance works great for adult portraits, but babies are smaller and you won’t be able to get close enough to fill the frame with head and shoulders of several months old baby. When they grow and start to move, this lens’ AF system is not fast enough to track their movement. Nevertheless, the fast aperture and background blur made it my favorite baby lens. The 85/1.8 is faster and focuses from closer distance and should be a great alternative.
Greater shooting distance makes this focal length great for shooting unnoticed. Also great for details with blurred background. This lens is sharp wide open and despite the longer focal length can be used indoors. It’s sharpness and beautiful background blur make it tempting to use it wide open, but babies, especially those that can walk, may easily move after locking the focus and before the exposure and easily get out of the shallow depth of field. Using AI-servo, checking the shots for sharpness,multiple exposures and stopping down the lens will help mitigate the problem.
The only other lens from my collection that I used for baby photography was 180/3.5 macro. I used it for some detail shots but also for shots where the 135mm was short. This is a great lens and the pictures are fine, but as one would expect, this lens is absolutely impractical for macro shots of moving subjects. Shorter macro lens would serve that purpose much better.
Update – Two Years Old
At two years, ability to track the child and quickly frame became more important than anything else.
This lens proves to be very practical for action shots. It allows taking reasonable pictures even if the kids get very close to you – and this happens a lot, especially if you talk to them. It also allows reasonable framing without cropping in post processing when the kid or kids quickly move back and forth.
Still one of the favorite lenses for that purpose, especially in low light, like these pictures taken when my daughter befriended with our waitress in a restaurant and the other one from a hotel room.
Great for portraits. While lenses like the 16-35 allow the photographer to become part of the action, the 85 gives you certain distance and isolation allowing you to capture totally different moments.