There is no such thing as the best lens or best camera for jewelry photography – why: because you can get the same quality image using so many different cameras and lenses. The question should be – what is the best camera and lens based on your needs.
My take on it –
You can photograph any type of jewelry for the web using white lighting and a starter DSLR camera. For lenses, the 18-55 kit lens works for most types of jewelry photography. A macro lens is useful when shooting products that are less than 2 inches long.
Here is more detail…
Camera for Jewelry Photography
When photographing jewelry, you need to click from 1-2 feet away from the product. When shooting from so close, to get the entire product in focus, you have to be able to control the aperture setting. Any DSLR lets you do this.
Have you photographed a ring from up close and the back of the ring is always blurry? Did that frustrate you? To fix that, you need to shoot at a wider aperture like F11 or F14.
Which camera to buy?
Buy an entry level DSLR. Both Nikon and Canon have DSLR’s in the <$500 price point. For example, the Nikon D3400 (or prior versions d3200, d3300) is a 24mp camera.
While you can get similar megapixels in point and shoot cameras, the advantage of owning a DSLR is that you can tweak the settings like shutter speed and aperture to match your lighting and the product you are shooting.
Point and shoots could work for larger items like necklaces because you don’t need to shoot those from too close. But it’s better to start with a DSLR and take a course to learn the basics.
Why not a more expensive DSLR?
Because higher end camera’s have features that you rarely need for jewelry photography. For example, if you’re shooting sports or wildlife or shooting in dim lighting conditions, higher priced cameras will help. For product photos, where lighting is abundant and controlled, a basic DSLR is all you need.
FX (Full frame cameras) v. DX (cropped sensor cameras)
The biggest difference in price is when moving from a DX camera to a FX camera. Full-frame means that the image covers a larger area in the frame. This is more important when shooting landscapes or other nature related photographs because you can capture a larger scene from the same distance. For jewelry, since products are small, a DX camera works fine.
There is more to it that the above, but the size of the frame is the main reason to move to FX. For jewelry or most other product related work, you don’t need it.
Other Camera Options
I’ve mentioned the Nikon entry level DSLR above. Canon also has equally good camera’s in the same price range. All DSLR’s let you control the shutter speed and aperture settings so you can buy any brand. The differences between cameras in the same price range are mostly about look & feel – how heavy they are, how they feel in your hands, etc.
There is a lot of content out there on how to take professional looking pictures with your iPhone or a point & shoot. While this is fine if you only need a few pics, it’s not sustainable if you plan to take pics for your store on an ongoing basis. Sooner or later you’re going to want to make some changes to your settings and will need to move to a camera that lets you do that.
Lenses for Jewelry Photography
What to buy?
For web images, the 18-55mm lens that is included with your camera kit is sufficient for almost all products. In most cases, you don’t need a macro lens or any additional lenses. For smaller pieces like rings or small studs, a good macro lens will give you a better quality picture. However, the 18-55 is sufficient – do some sharpening in Photoshop and your images will look good for the web.
Because for web images, you don’t need pics that are poster size magnifications. For example, if you want to print an image of a ring on a 2 feet wide poster, then a macros lens is required. For web images in a 1000×1000 size, the kit lens works.
Again, both Nikon and Canon make all the same types of lenses. Some might argue one is better than the other but for the most part, the differences are too minor to be picky about.
The below pendant is about 1 inch wide and was photographed using the 18-55mm kit lens.
Do you really need a macro lens?
For web images, you rarely do. However, if you want to print a full page ad in a glossy magazine, then a macro lens will help you capture the image in a better quality for print. For web, you can use the non-macro lens and you won’t be able to tell the difference.
105mm or 100mm Macro lens: When you want a large image (bigger than 1000x1000px) of a ring or a tiny stud, then consider the Nikon 105mm macro (or Canon 100mm). You only need this if you want large images of products smaller than a couple inches. For bracelets, necklaces, dangle earrings, etc, the basic 18-55mm lens works well. Even for rings, the 18-55mm lens will give you good-enough images in a 1000x1000px size. If you want a ring image bigger than 1000x1000px then look into a macro lens.
If and when you do buy a macro lens, it’s not going to magically take better pictures. You need to learn focus stacking – here is a post on macro jewelry photography that gives you a focus stacking example.
Choosing your next lens
It’s easy to get caught up in the details of all the lenses available. Sure, some lenses are technically superior to others. However, for jewelry photography, since your camera is so close to the product, the important metric you need to pay attention to the “macro focus range” or “minimal focus distance” number mentioned with each lens. Here is a screenshot from Amazon showing this number for the 18-55mm lens –
Macro lenses let you focus on the product closer than other lenses. The smaller the distance, the better it is to photograph jewelry. The 105mm macro has a 0.31m distance (about a foot). The 18-55 has a minimum distance of 0.28m. However, the 105mm has double the zoom factor so the 0.31m distance gives you double the closeness to the 18-55mm.
Note: without getting technical, the number on the lens e.g. 105mm, indicates the zoom on the lens. For example, the 105mm has close to double the zoom of 55mm or triple the zoom of a 35mm.
Prime lenses give you sharper images than non-prime lenses. These are lenses that are of a fixed zoom and are optimized to work best at that zoom level. i.e. you cannot zoom in and out like you can with the 18-55 lens. You have to physically move closer or away from the camera to get the product in the frame.
Macro lenses are prime lenses. The kit lens is not a prime lens. How can you tell? When a lens is marked as 18-55 or some range, it indicates a range of zoom. Notice that the 105mm macro and 100mm macro, do not have a range. They just say 105mm or 100mm. Similarly, there are prime lens for 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 85mm and others.
If you do photography full time, it helps to have a few different lenses but if you’re shooting for your own store, the kit lens plus maybe a macro lens is all you will need.
Consider a prime lens if the products you’re shooting are of a similar size – otherwise you’ll be moving back and forth a lot trying to get your product to fit well into your frame. Portrait photographers typically use prime lenses because they photograph different people from the same distance i.e. they don’t have to move back and forth between shots and the image quality is better.
If you know how to use basic functions like aperture and shutter speed with a DSLR, you can get great pictures of your jewelry with an entry level DSLR and the basic 18-55mm kit lens. The difference between an expensive DSLR (like the Nikon D750 or D810) is more feature related – for example, the higher-end cameras let you take faster pics which can be useful when you’re shooting sports or wildlife. When photographing jewelry, you’re shooting in a still setting with light pointing directly at your product – for such a scenario, any DSLR is sufficient.
Similarly, for lenses, the kit lens works in almost all scenarios. If you decide to get a macro lens, learn how to focus stack to get bigger images with a high level of clarity.
Which camera and lens do you currently use? Why are you considering a new camera or lens?