WARNING WARNING WARNING!
This is going to be a giant photo-nerd-out session in at least two parts! No obscure death metal recommendations. No theoretical art rants. No rambling about science fiction nor my hatred of those goody-goody hobbits. No strange Korean food reviews or beers that make you see through time. But if you're interested in expanding what you know about photography, get a Manhattan made and get ready to learn about the exciting world of depth of field!
This post was an answer that got increasingly epic from a couple quick questions my friend Shing asked. She does the amazing Marlowe the Monster sculptures/comics/photos if you want to take a peak at the kind of work we're going to be talking about making!
She asked me two basic questions which I'll paraphrase here.
#1: What is the best general purpose zoom lens for a Canon digital SLR camera, especially for shooting photos of tiny things?
#2: For shooting small toy/doll house sets, how do you control depth of field to make the background more out of focus?
It's a bit hard to separate these two questions, but I've been meaning to talk about general purpose Canon zoom lenses anyway, so here's that post in response to question #1!
If you own a Canon digital SLR that isn't full frame (anything below the 5DmkII) I can easy tell you to go pick up the genius Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens, wether you are shooting tiny object or giant objects. It's an amazing lens at a really good price.
I own one and shoot it in almost every situation where I'm not shooting primes, from fashion to architecture to product. Great build quality too. It's exactly the same top-end glass Canon makes but it's a little slower than it's bigger brother so it's a lot cheaper! They make f/2.8 version similar to this lens, but that one extra stop of speed costs another $800.00! The lenses compare very well optically in tests by the gurus at Luminous Landscape!
The other lens I would recommend if you want something a bit longer, say if you are doing fashion, portraits or such, is the Canon EF 24-105 f/4L USM. It's the same deal - you trade a small amount of speed for a huge price savings, while still getting best-in-class quality. My friend Greg was working on the recent OPI travel job and they used the 24-105 f/4 extensively for that shoot. Without a full frame sensor, this lens might make you feel a bit cramped though.
Before you toss one of those in your Amazon cart, I'd read through all of the next post incoming this afternoon because I'm going to cover specific lenses for the purpose of shooting small object in different ways! But any photographer would be quite happy with the two lenses I recommend.
Aside from almost the entire second half of my SM Blues project, which was shot on the 17-40mm f/4L, here's a couple frames I've shot with the 17-40 f/4 lens.
["Renaissance Pleasure Faire 2010" — 20mm @ f/7.1 & 1/100 shutter. ISO 100.]
["Sailor Moon Hentai Origami" — 40mm @ f/16 & 1 sec. shutter. ISO 100.]
["Alice and the Pirate Fashion Show Promo" — 40mm @ f/13 & 1/160 shutter. ISO 100.]
["Nullsleep Performing in L.A." — 17mm @ f/6.3 & 1/60 shutter. ISO 3200.]