Your Desert Island Lens?

One of the most frequently asked questions of a photographer is about naming their favorite lens. A favorite lens is a very personal choice, and you can bet that if you ask five photographers this question you are going to get five different answers.

With that in mind, I decided to open the topic up to the Toy Photographers team at large. I asked them, “If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring one lens with you, what would it be and why?” Below is how the team responded. Drop a comment and tell us your favorite lens.

Alan Rappa

I love my 50mm macro to death, but if there is only room on this desert island for one lens, then it has to be my Sony 24mm f/1.8. While not a macro lens, the 24mm does have a close minimum focusing distance of 6.3″/16cm, which is great for working with toys.

Sony 24mm f/1.8

In addition to getting in close, the 24mm focal length allows me to capture a wide field of view in addition to my subject. The 24mm’s large, f/1.8 aperture is great in low light, and it is a fairly compact lens, which makes it a fantastic travel companion.

This was the sole lens I brought with me during my visit to Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. If it’s good enough for a galaxy far far away, it will most certainly do well on a desert island.

Oliver Peterson

I, too, love my beautiful, outrageously expensive macro lens—in this case a Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L—but I still find myself going back to my “Nifty 50.” Actually a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, this fixed lens is relatively inexpensive at $125, and can be had for less than $100. It picks up lots of light and it’s easy to manage in-hand or on a tripod.

My “Nifty 50” lens survived this shot (barely).

For whatever reason, I keep going back to this lens. You can get crisp focus as close as 1.15 feet, so it’s not a macro, but it gets close enough for most of the photos I want to take. Plus, I’ve made a mess of this lens and never had a problem with it. And if it ever does break, paying $125 for another isn’t going to kill me. I tend to get a bit more precious with my 100mm (stay back, Bagginses!) and I really don’t like worrying about it.

I recommend this lens to any toy photographer, especially those just starting down the road with DSLR photography. It’s the perfect followup lens after the usual 18–55mm zoom that comes with most cameras.

James Garcia

If there’s one lens that’s always on my camera, and will almost certainly be with me if I ever end up on a desert island, it’s my trusty “Nifty Fifty.” But it won’t be alone… Most of the time, I shoot with an extension tube attached.

I love the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens as-is, because of its affordability, sharp focus, and shallow depth of field. But it’s not a dedicated macro lens, so it can sometimes be hard to capture the finer details, especially when I’m shooting LEGO.

I first tried remedying this problem by picking up the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 “Pancake” lens. It’s not only adorably thin, but it allowed me to get closer to my minifigs and capture more detail without sacrificing a shallow DoF. I like the wide angle on it, too, especially if I’m going for a cinematic look, but I don’t always want to shoot that way on a macro scale.

Thus, I invested in the Canon Extension Tube EF12 II. It’s even thinner than the 24mm, attaches in between the lens and camera body, and retains all metering and auto-focus functions. By slapping my Nifty Fifty onto it, I can get closer to my subjects while retaining the 50mm focal length and that signature bokeh! Perfect for photographing toys on a desert island.

Shelly Corbett

What lens would I take to a desert island? Well, that’s an easy choice: Lensbaby Composer with a Sweet 35 lens. I’m going to push the rules and insist that I can bring a set of macro rings with me. That’s in the rules, right? 

Here I am two years later still trying to get the hang of the Lensbaby – I love a challenge! – Shelly

If you’ve been following my creative journey you know that my choice isn’t very surprising. A couple of years ago I purchased a Sony mirrorless body so I could play with older / legacy lenses. Frankly, I have no use for lenses that are crisp and clear from edge to edge. This isn’t interesting to me anymore. 

So, if I’m going to be stranded on a desert island with only one lens, I choose the Lensbaby. Why? Because it’s a compact, lightweight and versatile lens. Sure, I can make crazy images with plenty of blur and funky bokeh. But I can also straighten out the swivel and stop down the aperture to get a more traditional look. I can imagine exploring my new desert island (preferably not a volcano) through the unique look of the Lensbaby. The reason I’m still infatuated with this lens is that it continues to challenges me as a photographer.

What’s fun about questions like this (thank you Alan!) is that they capture a particular moment in time. Two years ago, I would have answered this question with the Sony FE 90mm f2.8 lens. And four years ago, I would have answered the Canon EF 100mm f2.8 lens. Who knows what I will answer two years into the future. Whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it won’t be the answer I gave today. 

James Gibbs

It’s funny, when I was younger, my grandfather use to ask me if I was on a desert island and I could only choose one food, what would it be? I would say burgers, he’d always say soup, because then you can take lots of different ingredients to make different flavors, but it’ll still fall under the food choice of soup. I’d point out that it’s more than one food group if you have multiple ingredients. Pretty clever but frustrating as I could never win the argument.

So what lens would I take? For me, it would have to be the 24-70 F2.8 LII series from Canon.

My go-to lens is the 24-70 F2.8 L series from Canon—in this shot, I shot wide… 24mm

The versatility of this lens is amazing for my toy photography. It is wide enough to get a full shot, but tight enough to get close-up shots of characters and figures.

And with this shot, I was tight at 70mm

I have a pretty large collection of toys, of various sizes and shapes. I would love to say that my 50mm F1.2 is my go-to, but for larger figures and intricate scenes and setups, it is limiting. And although the 24-70 is not a macro lens, when shot at 24 (wide) you can get your lens pretty close to the action. At 70mm and F2.8 you can achieve a pretty decent depth of field and bokeh effect.

It ticks all the boxes for me. It’s my go-to workhorse for 80% of my shots and allows me options without having to move my camera farther from or closer to my subject. A must for my desert island. Although, realistically, I’d take my iPhone 11 pro. It has three cameras and also CELL RECEPTION TO CALL FOR HELP!

5 Comments

  1. Love this post. For me it’s the Canon 100mm f/2.8. It can take such detailed and beautiful pics with LEGO and it is fun to watch what it can do. Someday I’ll better understand my Canon 80d and then I think of the possibilities! I blame Shelly for this purchase and I have yet to reach past it. This post has me thinking…

  2. Alan, although I don’t use it for toy photogrsphy often, that Zeiss/Sony lens is my favourite too, both for real world and toy photography. The focal length is just perfect most of the time: I love walking up close to my subjects, and “exaggerating” the perspective a bit…

  3. Matthew Wyjad

    I’m with James Gibbs on both choices. If I had to have one DSLR lens it would be a wide zoom 2.8… i don’t have one. Otherwise, the cell phone is awesome. It’s pretty wide and can focus up close at about 2.5inches. I like those wide angle close ups. Most used after my cell is an old M42 mount 50mm pentax macro I’ve had since forever. On a crop DSLR it’s an 80mm macro. And i find that f4 on a closeup of lego is plenty soft. I usually bring it up a bit above 4 anyway.

  4. Tehkei

    90mm macro on my sony or the olympus 12-40 pro on my panasonic. between the two it would be the 12-40 2.8 because its the most versatile and can get close for some decent macro shots.

  5. Janan Lee

    Interesting to find out what each person’s preference is and I would love to ask as well, if the choice has anything to do with one’s previous experience with photography in general that translate to the toy world?

    Personally, I use the Tamron 28-75mm which I bought pre-toy photography days for portraits/street and I love the fixed f2.8. When the hobby started, I just used what I have and hadn’t gotten new lens for toy photography. The nifty-50 and Helios 44-2 +/- extension tubes are the usual go tos for me.

    I never really considered getting a TP specific lens but Shelly has gotten me sold on the LensBaby Composer + Sweet 35 (I had a hunch it was gonna be your choice before even reading this article!)

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