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I'm going to start in photography and I'm looking to build a home photography studio. I'm planning to get a Canon 60D (wished for a 7D though). I'd like to find out what are the recommended lenses for shooting, mostly portraits, in studio. I have the option of the Canon 18-135mm IS or 17-85mm lens bundle. Or should I rather buy the body only and then buy a lens separate? I have a budget of $400-$500 for a standalone lens.

I plan to shoot mostly in studio but will want to shoot outside as well.

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    Since nobody else has mentioned it: for studio photography, the most important thing you need is a really good flash or two! Fortunately, those don't cost that much while allowing you to use relatively "slow", i.e. cheap lenses. – Michael Borgwardt Mar 25 '14 at 14:33
  • Why do you wish for a 7D? AFAIK, the main advantages of that over the 60D is better autofocus and weather sealing. The better autofocus does not make much of a difference since the subject is not fast moving. And weather sealing is completely irrelevant for studio photography. Image quality should be the same, afaik. – Pete Mar 28 '14 at 12:40
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    Unless his studio has not roof 8-) – Robin Mar 30 '14 at 17:56
  • On the bundled lens question, see Should I buy a camera with kit lens, or body plus lens separately? – mattdm Mar 30 '14 at 18:39
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With you budget considered, there isn't a lot of point in purchasing a body and lens separately right now. Yes, there is an argument to be made that buying a 50mm prime lens can solve a certain class of problems at a very low price, but it's not a panacea, and one of the advantages that people keep tossing about (the shallow depth of field and relatively large bokeh) is not really much of an issue in studio photography unless you're doing something wrong. (You have control of the background. If it's busy, it's your fault, not the lens's.)

There are higher-quality, "better" lenses available for your application, but they're well beyond your current budget. A single prime lens, or even a pair or trio of prime lenses, is not the answer either; it will tremendously restrict the kinds of pictures you can shoot effectively. If you want to use primes, you'd pretty much need to have a full range of somewhere between 21mm and 100-135mm for all of the various types of shots that would, rightly or wrongly, be called "portrait" shots in the current sloppy vernacular.

Babies and toddlers crave close-in views with wider-angle lenses. Beauty shots (and, checking ModelMayhem, it seems that about every fifth girl on the planet thinks she's a model, not matter what she looks like) need longer lenses to fit current expectations. Something in the headshot vein needs something in the 50mm (horizontal) to 75mm (vertical) range to get you about the right distance from your subject.

And that's the real key: the distance between you and your subject. Different types of photographs of different types of people call for different camera-to-subject distances. If you want someone to seem approachable, you're not going to make that happen by shooting them from a distance. Kids at a distance look like they're having fun if they're having fun, otherwise they'll look a little lost and forlorn — somebody else's kid, which is the last thing a parent wants. Some pictures will call for intimacy, some for a little bit of formal space, and some for "you ain't in her league, buddy". And yes, it will take some time and effort on your part to see which focal length works best when. Anyone who tells you that there is a "definitive portrait lens" is guessing, and guessing wrongly.

You will never miss the difference between 17mm and 18mm in studio, but you will, for sure, miss the difference between 85mm and 135mm. If you later decide to augment that lens, then a 50mm prime, a 30-35mm prime and an 85mm prime, in that order, will give you the ability to play a dangerous game of shallow DoF when you want at relatively little cost. But with the kit discount, you really can't go wrong starting with the 18-135.

  • What a complete answer @Stan Thank you, you have decreased the confusion I had. I guess it's mastering the focal lengths that work for you especially because with the studio you have control between the distance between you and camera. I guess a prime 50mm 1.4 lens can be my second buy, which will be dedicated for most close up and headshot. – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 25 '14 at 19:31
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    @Stoan - If you're buying the 18-135mm lens, then budget for lights too. In a studio inside at f/5.6, you're going to need some :) – rfusca Mar 26 '14 at 3:15
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    But not much. ISO 400 isn't a tragedy on a 60D. What is the damned obsession with making things sound scary and difficult around here? A set of cheap manual speedlights and trigger set (well under $300; you can cheap out/DIY on everything else) or 300-ish watts of good fluorescent will get you where you want to go. – user2719 Mar 26 '14 at 3:56
  • May I ask? whats the difference between a Tele lens positioned at 50mm and a 50mm prime lens? e.g. a 18-135mm at 50mm vs a 50mm 1.4 – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 26 '14 at 6:08
  • Whats better speedlights or lights,or umbrella. I'm still confused around this area of lighting. Still doing research, I'm considering signing up for a short course in town for studio lighting. – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 26 '14 at 6:11
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Better focus your investment on lenses, not bodies, when you go for (home-) studio photography.

I'd recommend an EF 50mm 1.4. Alternatively an EF 85mm 1.8 accompanied by a 50mm 1.8.

Well, on the other hand, when you want to get real closeups too, and considering that your body is a crop size one, then an EF-S 60mm Macro could be the lens of choice. It suites well for portraits an general studio photography and it is a nice lens for real close pictures, tabletops, macros in general.

  • I assume this would better than a Zoom lens but less flexible for general shooting outdoors? – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 25 '14 at 18:51
  • Yes, fix focal length lenses are less flexible. Your question was clearly related to studio photography and you added a price lable to that. Zoom lendes that deliver the same quality on (nearly) all of their zoom range are hell of expensive and do certainly not cover all fo therange from uww (18) over normal (30-35 in your case) to tele (135). Especially not within your budget. – Hermann Klecker Mar 25 '14 at 18:55
  • Yes :-) I'm looking to focus on studio/portrait photography majority of the time, but as I will be learning photography I would like to explore other genres, I'm torn between starting with a prime lens or a telephoto lens. What are the major drawbacks of a prime lens like the EF 50mm 1.4? If I have a prime lens will I have to always move closer to the subject I wish to capture. – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 25 '14 at 19:36
  • Or you will have to move farer away. :-) – Hermann Klecker Mar 25 '14 at 20:02
  • lol :-) now that's what I call manual zoom hehe, I have decided I'm gonna get a prime lens as my second lens. How does the 50mm 1.4 stack against the EF-S 60mm Macro? – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 25 '14 at 20:30
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I will add my 5 cents worth (can't do 2 anymore, we discontinued the penny in Canada). First, I will add that I have only shot in the studio about a half dozen times in meetups with other photographers. I have almost exclusively used my 28-135mm for all of these shoots. It isn't a great lens, but in a studio with GOOD lighting conditions (i.e. studio strobes), I have gotten great results on my 7D. The most predominant lenses I have seen others use have been along the lines of the 24-70 or 24-105 type of ranges.

I rarely see primes used, as most shoots tend to use deep depths of field where the advantages of the fast primes don't really help. Unless your studio is quite large, you will also have restrictions on how far you can move away from a model to get full body shots, especially on a crop sensor. You also have the advantage of quickly going from full or 3/4 body shots to head and upper body shots while your model is holding a particular pose. It allows you to quickly try a couple of different perspectives like this within a few seconds. Not so easy if you have to move in and out yourself, especially if you are kneeling.

That being said, if you do want to do some really shallow DOF shots, then having at least the nifty fifty would probably be a good idea.

The one time I did have the opportunity for a few shallow DOF shots, I was in a studio where there wasn't enough room to step back with my 50, but I managed to get a few good shots with my 17-40 f4.

So, my advice is to go with a reasonable range zoom, and make sure you get some good lighting.

  • Just got my nifty fifty Thanks @Robin,You have some good points especially about the size of the studio. I ordered camera kit with the 18-135mm lens. – Siya Stoan Sosibo Mar 31 '14 at 5:03

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