I am purchasing a Canon 550d primarily to document my fiance's artwork for archival purposes. I would like to know what lens or lenses you would recommend in order to minimise distortion.

I will be photographing the work indoors, using artificial light (thanks for the suggestions about lighting and other technical matters). The artwork is primarily 2D, up to 3 meters long on its longest size.

We were considering buying a the kit EF-S 18-135mm IS lens as a versatile lens, however I suspect the ~$300 could be better spent on a more specialised lens. While this is around the current limit of our budget, an initial purchase of this magnitude could be followed by later, more expensive lenses.

We have no existing system of SLR lenses.


When photographing artworks for sale, I use Canon's 24-70 f/2.8, which is way out of your budget; However, the reasion I do this is that with a compatible camera body, it stores a lens profile in the image produced that can correct for distortions during post-processing. A list of currently supported lenses is available from the Adobe website

You don't need a lens that expensive though; If you use the RAW mode on your camera and use Adobe Lightroom, then you can correct most distortions by hand, if a lens profile is not available. In which case, I'd probably look to recommend a lens that is going to be flexible and allow you to work in tight situations, such as in the artist's studio. You won't be needing a particularly wide aperture/narrow depth of field for this (otherwise the 50 f/1.8 is one of the best value for money Canon lenses), but you might need some fairly wide angles for some of the larger pieces, if you are in confined spaces, in which case, I'd probably err towards the 18-135 that you're already considering - it might mean a little more work getting the post-processing sorted, but it is a good all range for use as a general purpose lens.

  • Thanks for the advice Rowland. Can point me towards any further information on lens profiles and post processing? – fmark Jan 20 '11 at 13:00
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    @fmark I've added a link to the currently supported lenses on the Adobe site - it really is as simple as take shot; load it into Lightroom, go to the "Develop" tab, and at the bottom, select to use the lens profile. – Rowland Shaw Jan 20 '11 at 13:04

You'd be best off getting a medium telephoto to minimise distortion - upwards of 80mm I'd say, with a cropped sensor camera. Sigma make an excellent, sharp 105mm lens, the 105mm EX-DG Macro f/2.8, which is about £350-£400.

You'd need to set up the camera a fair way back from the photo, but should get good results with this sort of focal length. Make sure you stop down as much as is practical to ensure as much of the painting is in focus as possible.

  • Thanks for the recommendation. Considering this is an APS-C sensor (I think), does your suggestion of greater than 80mm need to be translated to greater than 50mm? – fmark Jan 20 '11 at 10:28
  • No, I deliberately adjusted for CS cameras. I wouldn't use less than 100mm on a full frame camera, so 80mm would be my preferred minimum on APS-C. – NickM Jan 20 '11 at 10:42
  • @Nick Miners Great, thanks for clarifying that. At 105mm, how far back would I need to be to photograph at 3m artwork? Also, what are the characteristics of a Macro lens such as the one you recommend? – fmark Jan 20 '11 at 11:08
  • Hmm... trigonometry gives me 14m for a 3m long picture. That might not be practical... this is based on Sigma's site sigma-imaging-uk.com/lenses/macro/105mm.htm stating an angle of view of 23 degrees. I don't know however whether this figure they quote is for full frame or APS-C; if the former, then you'd need to be even further away. – NickM Jan 20 '11 at 11:16
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    An 85mm lens will have a wider AoV than a 105mm lens; like I said, that figure on the Sigma website may be for Full Frame cameras, and will be smaller on an APS-C camera. Using that same site, 105mm equates to 12.2 degrees on your camera, giving a distance of 14m. And we're back to square one! – NickM Jan 20 '11 at 13:13

I think a 50mm 1.8 would be ok for your work, considering that you have pieces that are up to 3m long you will need a long room to fit the painting with a 105mm lens. Also the 50mm is cheaper, sharp and you will have enough money left to invest in color management to render the colors of the artworks as accurate as possible, or, buy some lights.

For color management, I use RAW-Processing Accelerator, and for monitor calibration I use spyder cube which will help you a lot with the processing.

  • Thanks for the answer Sergiu. Fortunately at this stage most of the work is greyscale charcoal drawings and etchings so I don't have to worry too much about colour (although this will change in future). – fmark Jan 20 '11 at 11:37
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    @fmark Consider rethinking this. Even charcoal has color and it can be affected in the same way any color (including, and especially, white) is. – whuber Jan 20 '11 at 17:46
  • @whuber I'm very happy to be corrected, thank you. – fmark Jan 20 '11 at 23:15

It's hart to get a good lens in the $300 price range. You can have good results with the 18-135 EF-S lens as long as you a have enough light to shoot at F8 and enough distance to have your focal length between 70 mm and 105 mm. This is your best option on this budget.

  • If I'm using artificial lighting (and a tripod, obviously) I should be able to have suitably long exposures to shot at F8, right? – fmark Jan 20 '11 at 11:42

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