Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Best Nikon Lens(es) for Baby Photos - 5 Points to Check

A new baby in the family is often paired with the decision to get a "better" camera or lens, thinking - and rightfully so - that they grow so fast. You really want to make sure you'll capture all the wonderful moments ahead, and so you're looking for the best possible lens (preferably without having to mortgage the house). I'm here to help you - there are literally tens of thousands of baby photos in my hard drive, so trust me, I know what I'm doing ;)

So, first things first: There isn't "a" best lens. There are many options for you, but you should be aware of what some give you that others don't. I'll give you the points you need to be aware of (in brief), then I'll conclude this article by giving you some concrete Nikon suggestions for baby photography.

1) Working Distance
This is your main concern, believe me. Babies (especially during the first months) are usually in their cot or snuggled in their parents' arms. In short, their little faces are usually positioned so that it's difficult to get into a good position. Even if you are the parent (=around the clock access), it can be hard to find a good, unobstructed view. Don't make things harder by choosing a lens that gives you too long a working distance! In other words, pick a lens that let's you frame from close and personal. Focal length is the main element here, and it should be between 24-50mm (DX) / 35-85mm (FX)  (preferably shorter than longer).

2) Low Light Capability
Babies (and breastfeeding mothers even more so!) dislike flashes firing around them while they're trying to relax. A lens that can be used in low light is very useful. f/2.8 is good, f/1.8 is better.

3) Autofocus Considerations
Babies are very still subjects. It will take many months, more than a year actually, before you start missing autofocus. If you're budget-minded and you want a good lens for now, manual focus is fine for baby photography (perhaps even preferred. Baby photography is almost, not quite but almost, like macro photography!). The only issue if you have an entry level camera is the lack of metering with manual focus (AI-S) lenses.

4) Zoom or Prime?
This one is tricky, and the reason is financial. A good zoom lens that will give you the stuff I described above will take you to some pretty expensive solutions - but worry not, there are some other options too, read on! Zooms are great for babies, because they can give you what you need the most in baby photography: flexibility in framing. But, like I said, a good Nikkor zoom lens in the 24-70 f/2.8 category can be very, very pricey. However, if you're a DX user you will find some good 3rd party options (Tamron, Tokina, Sigma) in the 18-50 f/2.8 category - my personal choice would be the excellent Sigma 17-50 f/2.8, with built-in focus motor and optical stabilization. For FX, your best budget option for a zoom would be the Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8. They're worse than a prime in terms of distortion, maximum aperture, and image quality, but if you want prime quality in those in a zoom, you'll need $1500+. 

5) Bokeh
Good bokeh is always a great thing in portrait photography, and for baby photography this is even more so, as short working distance means shorter depth of field. Expect plenty of blur in baby photos (which a good thing, it adds to the dreaminess of baby photos!). Hence, a good lens for baby photography should also have good bokeh.

Lens Suggestions
Many of you perhaps skipped right to this point. You shouldn't have! Go back and read the points above, they're important so that you know which lens you need.
Having said all of the above, here are some ideas:

(Disclaimer: the list is composed in terms of value; the best without mortgaging the house)

Nikkor AF-S 35mm f/1.8
Micro-Nikkor AF-S 40mm f/2.8
Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8 (If your camera has a focus motor, go for the cheaper and just as good or better AF 50mm f/1.8)

Micro-Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 (actually, the AF version is basically just as good and cheaper)

If your budget is tight, take a look at some good used options on manual focus lenses, such as the Nikon E Series 50mm f/1.8.

Again, as mentioned above, this is a list made with value in mind. Those are lenses that are quite cheap and offer you what you need and more. If you have 2k lying around in some bank, by all means go and get an AF-S 24-70 f/2.8. I'd still prefer my AF 50mm f/1.8

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