best lens for cathedral interiors

best lenses for interior photography

It doesn’t matter which brand of camera you’re using, you’re going to want to choose the best lens to go with it.

The below guide will give you a good, brief overview of the best lenses for interior photography and will hopefully help you shape your decision on the options which are available for your camera system.

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Prime lens V zoom lens

The eternal debate.

Your initial answer to this question may largely depend on when you first took up photography. Many of the old guard may swear by prime lenses (and may still refer to them by their angle of view rather than how wide they are in mm). If you’re only just starting out, you probably own a 50mm prime and the rest of your equipment will consist of zoom lenses.

There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer to this question though and much of it will come down to a combination of personal preference, cost and speed of use.

Firstly, a little bit on what prime and zoom lenses actually are and how they differ.

A prime lens is a fixed focal length i.e. 35mm f1.4 or 85mm f1.8 where as a zoom lens does what it says on the tin. It has a variable focal length which allows you to zoom in or out of a scene, it will represented by a number such as 70-200mm where the 70mm is the widest this lens go and it will zoom all the way into 200mm.

First, a little on how they differ:

Prime Lenses

  • The quality of a modern prime lens is often superior to a zoom lens as it doesn’t have to deal with moving parts, meaning the glass is fixed.
  • Much wider aperture. The majority of zoom lenses are f2.8 or f4 but prime lenses go as low as f1.4 or even f0.95 if you go back in time a bit for your kit. This allows you to let a lot more light in, which is handy for particularly dark scenes.
  • This also comes with the bonus of producing a much shallower depth of field. Neither of these are massively beneficial for interior photography though, as most of the time you’re going to be mounted on a tripod at f8-f11. However, if you shoot other kinds of photography it’s a toss up between buying two lenses or just getting the one.
  • The price of a standard 50mm prime lens from Canon is around £80, which is much cheaper than your average zoom lens and will dramatically improve the image quality over your kit lens.
  • If the size of your kit is an issue to you, then a prime lens may be the way to go. They are, for the most part, a lot smaller than zoom lenses, simply because they don’t have to fit as much stuff inside the lens.

Zoom Lenses

  • A zoom lens comes into its own when you need versatility. Instead of carrying three prime lenses to a job you can grab a single lens which will cover all of the focal lengths, saving you space in your bag and also saving you time messing around in front of a client, constantly changing your lens.
  • Image stabilisation now comes as standard with most zoom lenses, something which is missing from a lot of the higher end prime lenses. A good image stabilisation system, such as Canon’s IS, will easily give you 3-4 stops of stabilisation, allowing you to use much slower shutter speeds.
  • Although the above looks swayed massively towards prime lenses coming out on top, you need to consider how important going into 100% and pixel peeping every single image is. If your final image is only being used for web, you will not notice a difference between a prime and a zoom lens.
  • It may also work out cheaper to buy a couple of zoom lenses to cover the whole focal range that you need, rather than buying 5-6 individual prime lenses.

Again, it all comes down to personal preference, cost and speed of use.

Best wide angle lenses for interior photography

For most interior architecture jobs, you’re going to want to carry a wide angle lens. Ideally something within the 16-35mm range is a perfect place to start.

Below I will try to give you what my research has shown to be the best wide angle lens for interior photography for the three main camera systems, as well as a couple of bonus lenses produced by third party companies:

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L iii usm

This lens and its ancestors have pretty much set the standard for wide angles lenses in digital photography.

Containing 16 elements in 11 groups, this lens is seriously sharp and produces gorgeous contrast with very little barrel distortion considering how wide it goes.

Featuring Canon’s USM (UltraSonic Motor) the autofocus is as good as it gets with a manual over ride if you’re short of focus points on your camera (or if it just gets a little too dark for your autofocus and you don’t want to wait for it to lock on).

It is built like a tank – and water and dust resistant too, so your precious investment is fairly well protected from the elements.

Canon does also offer an even wider option which is the EF 11-24mm f4/L USM This is so wide on a full frame camera though that you have to wear shoes which match the floor as there is a good chance they will be in the shot.

Nikon NIKKOR AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR

Nikon’s wide angle lens features 17 elements in 12 groups and their SWM (Silent Wave Motor) focussing system, as well as full manual.

Where it betters the Canon equivalent is that it has inbuilt VR (Vibration Reduction), which Nikon claims offers slower shutter speeds of up to 2.5 stops.

Not a biggie if you’re mounted on a tripod all the time, but if interior photography isn’t your only revenue stream this could be a deal breaker.

Again, Nikon does offer a slightly wider 14-24mm f2.8G ED option in their lineup, but it offers no ability to directly mount filters to the lens, which could be a game changer for your interior photography.

Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f4 ZA OSS 

Sony enters the party with the largest amount of random sounding words and letters so far but with a lens that is packed with the great heritage of the Zeiss line of lenses.

With 12 elements in 10 groups, this lens features less glass than the competition, so comes in at only 518g, but the glass which is included ensures there is a minimal barrel distortion through the use of a large AA (Advanced Aspherical) elements. It also minimizes colour aberration with three ED (Extra-low Dispersions) glass elements too.

Unlike the Canon and Nikon offers, which both have 9 aperture blades, the Sony only features 7 with will produce a harsher bokeh pattern. Not a deal breaker if you’re choosing the best lens for interior photography, but as an all round it could influence your decision.

This lens has been made purely to create the sharpest and best technical image and cuts out all the other bells and whistles.

Equipped with Optical SteadyShot and a constant f4 aperture, the Sony lens is dust and moisture resistant, so if you’re planning to use it in the pouring rain be aware it doesn’t have the same protection as the other lenses in this line-up.

Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 FI VC USD

The first of our third party lenses to consider goes a little wider than the last two at the expense of the telephoto end of the lens.

Featuring a constant aperture of f2.8 and coming with optical image stabilization built-in, this is a great choice. Weather and dust sealing also comes as standard so you can be fairly confident at putting it through its paces.

Offering a field of view of 110 degrees, this lens is wide and is sharp even in the corners at 15mm.

There is a small amount of barrel distortion, which is expected, but chromatic aberration is poorly controlled so you will need to correct that in post production.

The one drawback of this lens is that it will also put you through your paces. Coming in at a whopping 1.1kg (half a kilogram heavier than the two above), you’re going to feel it by the end of the day.

However, that is the price you have to pay for the huge amount of glass needed for the constant f2.8 aperture and the 18 elements which are arranged in 13 groups.

That’s a heck of a lot of glass!

Tokina AT-X 16-28mm f2.8 PRO

At the “budget” end of our spectrum is Tokina’s offering.

I use the term budget loosely, as it currently comes in at just over £500, but this is under a quarter of what a new Canon or Nikon equivalent would cost you and can always be picked up cheaper second hand.

Again, this offers a constant f2.8 aperture at the expense of the 950g weight tag. The Tokina offers a DC autofocus motor as well as a GMR (Giant Magnetoresistance) module, which, apart from sounding like it’s straight from Star Wars, basically means improve autofocus.

It also features a patented one-touch focus clutch, which is a push pull mechanism for switching between manual and autofocus modes.

Featuring 15 elements in 13 groups, the lens suffers significantly from barrel distortion at 16mm and is fairly soft in the corners throughout the whole range of apertures, but is very sharp in the centre around f5.6-8.

Perhaps the biggest drawback of this lens is that it doesn’t allow you to mount filters to the lens, as the glass stands proud of the front of the lens.

For interior photography, this is a deal breaker.

This lens has been developed more for speed rather than as a dedicated interior or architecture lens, so you will need to weigh up where you’re getting the majority of your work and also if the price point can get you through the drawbacks of this lens.

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Best standard zoom lenses for interior photography

It’s a great idea to also carry a “standard zoom lens” with you on any interior architecture photography job.

By standard zoom, we’re talking somewhere in between the 24-70mm mark, which gives a you a wide option but also lets you get in nice and close to get some great detail shots.

Below I will try to give you what my research has shown to be the best standard zoom lenses for interior photography from the three main camera systems. Again, with a couple of bonus lenses thrown in from third party manufacturers

Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L ii USM

This lens is a beast. Featuring 18 elements in 13 groups, with three aspherical elements, two UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements and one “Super” UD element, this lens is built for image quality.

With a constant f2.8 aperture and 9 aperture blades, it is also capable of some gorgeous bokeh, if you’re combining portrait photography with your interior photography in your business.

Being an L series lens it is, of course, built to last, with dust and weather resistance built in and will probably outlast you if looked after well. But with a price tag just shy of £1400, you may expect it to.

The one drawback of this lens is it lacks any form of image stabilisation, if you’re shooting in low light or think you’ll be using slow shutter speeds without a tripod under you then bear this in mind, as image stabilisation is offered in our remaining four lenses.

Canon does offer a cheaper 24-105mm f/4L IS ii USM lens which offers image stabilisation and gives you a few more mm on the telephoto end, but it doesn’t come close to the image quality of the 24-70mm.

As always, it’s a constant fight between cost and use.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f2.8E ED VR

Nikon’s reply features a whopping 20 elements in 16 groups, including two ED (Extra-low Dispersion), three aspherical pieces of glass, one aspherical ED glass and one HRI (High Refractive Index) elements.

Basically, that’s a heck of a lot of glass combining to create exceptional image quality.

And, it keeps on giving with Nikon’s VR which provides an effective equivalent to a shutter speed which is 4 stops faster. If you’re shooting a lot in low light, then this is the lens for you.

It does weigh in at just over a kilogram and comes in at nearly two grand, but it is a serious piece of kit.

If you own a Nikon body and want the best standard zoom lens for your interior photography, then this is the best choice.

Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM

With a name like G Master, this lens has a lot to live up to.

Thankfully it manages to get most of the way there. Featuring an XA (Extreme Aspherical) lens as well as two aspherical lenses and one ED and one Super ED glass, much like its wide angle counterpart, this lens is built purely for image quality.

It comes equipped with Sony’s DDSSM (Direct Drive Super Sonic Motor) which makes the auto focus lightning fast, as well as a focus mode switch, focus hold and zoom lock to give you complete creative control of the lens.

As you would expect though, quality costs,. Coming it in at just shy of £2300 at the time of writing this, it is our most expensive lens.

If that price tag makes you wince a little, you can pick up a Vario-Tessar T* 24-70mm for around half the price, which features a constant f4 aperture.

Tamron SP 24-70mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2

17 elements in 12 groups brings this lens in at 900g. This includes 2 XR (Extra Refractive Index elements, 3 LD (Low Dispersion) elements, 3 GM (Glass-Molded) and one hybrid asphercial lens element. Which, according to Tamron, minimize axial chromatic aberrations, transverse chromatic aberrations, spherical aberrations and distortion.

If you’re not all aberration’d out then this lens also offers a best in class VC system. Offering 5 stops of stabilisation and a USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) to offer silent auto focus, it isn’t quite as fast as the Nikon or Canon offering, but we’re really trying to pick faults here.

It is also weather sealed and incredibly sharp throughout.

To top it all off, the Tamron comes in at under half the price of the big three, so if you’re not brand loyal and the minimal difference in auto-focus won’t matter to you, then this could be the best standard zoom lens for interior photography.

Sigma 24-70mm f2.8 DG OS HSM

Described by Sigma as a “modern workhorse”, this lens is part of the Art series of lenses which Sigma promotes as its high end option.

Equipped with 19 elements in 14 groups and weighing in at just over a kilogram, it is a solid lens and the build quality is right up there with other manufacturers.

The HSM offers super fast autofocus and OS offers 4 stops of stabilization, which is in line with the offerings from Nikon and Sony.

Where it is slightly let down is the image quality, which doesn’t quite match the others in the list and is visibly softer in the corners throughout the aperture range.

If you’re a stickler for image quality above all else, then this probably isn’t the lens for you.

Introducing tilt shift lenses for interior architecture photography

As a little bonus for reading this far, let’s quickly scan over the grand-daddy of the interior photography lens – the tilt shift.

Tilt shift lenses are, on the whole, much more expensive. However, if you’re taking your interior photography seriously then they can get you out of some really tight spaces, such as bathrooms and closets.

Tilt shift lenses are used in interior architecture photography to combat perspective distortion and allow you to keep your vertical straight, even using a wide angle lens. 

It is worth noting that all tilt shift lenses are a fixed focal length and due to the nature of the lens they are also all manual focus, so it’s important to be competent with them before trying them in front of a client.

Both Canon and Nikon offer tilt shift lenses for their systems which are great fro interior architecture photography, as do some third party manufacturers such as Samyang.

Canon offers the TS-E 17mm f/4L and the TS-E 24mm f/3.5L, on the wide end and a TS-E 50mm f2.8 L, TS-E 90mm f2.8 and finally a TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro at the longer end. 

Bonus tip: Pair the TS-E 17mm f4/L with the extender EF 1.4x III and you have a very similar lens to the TS-E 24mm f3.5L but without the insane price tag if there isn’t quite enough in the bank to purchase both.

You will notice a slight decrease in image quality and increase in barrel distortion doing it this way, but neither will be all that perceivable to the naked eye.

Of course, the extender will work with the other tilt shift lenses too.

On the Nikon front they offer a similar line up with a PC Nikkor 19mm F4E ED and PC-E Nikkor 24mm f3.5D ED on the wide end with the PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f2.8D ED and PC-E Micro Nikkor 85mm f2.8D at the slightly longer end.

Samyang, which also trades as Rokinon, also offers a third party 24mm f3.5 ED AS AMC, which comes in at just under half the cost of the Canon and Nikon offerings.

So if you’re not particularly bothered which brand is stamped on your lens and only need the option of 24mm, this could be a good place to look.

Are there any lenses which you think we have missed on our list of the 10 best lenses for interior photography? If so pop us a comment below and share the knowledge.

Photography in Churches: All About Stabilization, Aperture, and Solid Ground

TAGS: CATHEDRAL, CHURCH, INTERIOR

Spiritual buildings have impressive atmosphere, and they are a frequent destination for curious visitors. But taking good pictures inside them is not easy. You often have to struggle with a lack of light. However, there are several tricks for dealing with this. Take a look at how to get the best pictures from church interiors that you can.

Not only is photography in churches difficult, sometimes it’s completely forbidden. This especially applies for the cathedrals of Europe. So pay attention to the signs at the entrance. At some churches, you’ll have to forget about taking pictures. But even when it’s allowed, be respectful towards others. You’ll generally be there alongside people who are praying or contemplating, and it’s rude to disturb them.

Troubles With Tripods

Meanwhile in some churches, photography is allowed, but only without a tripod. Even when it’s allowed, I find shooting with a tripod in churches to be unpleasant. I feel like tripods have too large of an impact here on what’s happening around me. I’ve only used a tripod in one case. I truly needed the pictures, and I had signed, official permission.

I’ll leave the question of “tripod or not” up to you. It’s partly about your experiences here. And I’ll be glad if you share them in the comments.

But since using a tripod is often impossible, or you simply don’t have one with you, you’ll usually need to shoot without one.

Not All Churches Are Alike

The disadvantage of taking pictures without a tripod is clear—you can only use short exposures. Otherwise your result will be blurry. This can be a problem, since there’s generally not a lot of light in churches.

But there are large differences among individual buildings here. Photography goes differently in a large and bright cathedral than in a dark corner of a small rural church.

The weather also plays a large role here. Wait for a sunny day if possible. This will fill the church with light nicely, and you might encounter pretty lighting effects as well.

The following two pictures illustrate the differences. The first shows a large, bright cathedral. It contained 30× (!) as much light as the second, much smaller church.

A large cathedral with an enormous quantity of light.
Canon 5D Mark II, Canon EF 16-35/2.8 II, 1/20 s, f/5,6, ISO 160, focal length 16 mm
A much darker small church where taking pictures was much harder.
Canon 40D, Sigma 18-50/2.8 MACRO, 1/15 s, f/4, ISO 1600, focal length 18 mm

Fast Lenses: Only Sometimes

You can handle low-light conditions with the help of a fast lens. But think carefully before using one, since they have disadvantages too. True, it will let you reduce your ISO and thus decrease noise, but your depth of field will decrease too.

I took the following picture with an f-stop of f/1.4. But because it was so dark, I had to use a relatively high ISO. The fully open aperture forced me to focus on just the altar, and so the floor remained blurry.

The low f-stop kept the ISO under control, but it cost me a blurred floor.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 85/1.4 IS, 1/160 s, f/1.4, ISO 2500, focal length 85 mm

But don’t be afraid to use low depth of field to your advantage. A church environment offers lots of room for experimenting here.

Deliberately taking advantage of low depth of field. 
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 85/1.4 IS, 1/125 s, f/1.4, ISO 4000, focal length 85 mm

You’ll mainly run into a lack of depth of field when using long focal lengths. For wide lenses, the complications aren’t so large, because they have so much more depth of field even at wide-open apertures. Despite this, with an f-stop of f/2.8, you usually won’t have everything sharp enough. So try to at least stay in the range from f/4 to f/5.6.

Learn to Love Image Stabilization

In dark interiors, having a stabilizer in your camera or lens will come in handy. It will let you shoot with much longer exposures, because it suppresses the blurring caused by hand-shooting.

As a rough estimate, you can normally manage a time of 1 divided by your lens’ focal length. For example with a 24mm lens, this is a time of roughly 1/24 second. But a stabilizer can extend this by even five times or so. It depends on the specific type and on how firmly you can hold your camera.

It also pays to try your luck and take several identical shots in a row. Most of them will be motion-blurred, but you might find one sharp shot among them. Don’t expect miracles, but with a little luck you can manage even much longer times than you’d expect.

I needed five attempts for the picture below. Not even a stabilizer got me a sharp picture with a time of 1/4 second and a focal length of 85 mm.

After five attempts, I managed to take one sharp photo.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 85/1.4 IS, 1/4 s, f/3.5, ISO 800, focal length 85 mm

Shooting wide offers you a great advantage here. Even without stabilization you can take sharp pictures with even relatively long exposures.

With wide shots, handling longer exposures is simpler.
Canon 40D, Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5, 1/10 s, f/3.5, ISO 800, focal length 10 mm

The Tripodless Tripod

However, there’s another way that you can get longer times than usual without a tripod. You can try leaning against a wall or a pillar. You can also instead try laying your camera on some kind of surface.

In a church, that will mean a pew, or perhaps the floor. That can give you some interesting compositions as well.

This long exposure worked out because my camera was supported by the floor.
Canon 40D, Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5, 1/5 s, f/4.5, ISO 800, focal length 10 mm

Large Dynamic Ranges

When taking pictures in churches, you might run into a large dynamic range in your scenes. They will often include both dark corners and illuminated windows. Your camera’s automated systems then don’t know how to deal with the situation.

This scene’s dynamic range is too much for my camera.
Canon 40D, Canon 10-22/3.5-4.5, 1/15 s, f/4.5, ISO 800, focal length 10 mm

It doesn’t have to be an especially serious problem; it depends on the specific church, weather, and even picture. Take a look at the picture above. The windows on the right side are exposed correctly, but the left side is overexposed. That’s because the left side is where the sky itself is brighter.

To resolve problems like these, you might try using HDR after taking multiple source shots. You then combine them in Zoner Photo Studio to get the correct exposure. But for HDR you’ll want to take your source shots from a tripod.

Another way to take pictures inside a dark-and-light church is to take one dark picture in which all the details you want will be preserved even in the light areas. Then brighten the dark areas on a PC to get a balanced exposure.

The original picture (top) and the edited version, in which the dark areas have been brightened.
Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 85/1.4 IS, 1/125 s, f/1.4, ISO 500, focal length 85 mm

Endless Inspiration

You can find sacred structures in every village, town, and city. They conceal great photographic opportunities, and you can take countless interesting pictures there. Just keep our tips in mind, and you’ll get one impressive picture after another.

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