InSights on Macro Lenses

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There are few things that elicit a bigger ‘wow’ than a strong close-up of something – it can be anything - especially when the image is viewed larger-than-life on a large screen or in print-form.  This holds true for many of the ‘mundane’ things we see on a daily basis from afar, and only in passing. And that’s one of the reasons close-up photography is so visually seductive. In a world of non-stop hustle and bustle, close-ups make us pause and observe.

Overview - Macro lenses, which are designed specifically for close-up photography are one of the most effective tools for eyeballing the details of everything around us.   Available in a selection of focal lengths for most every camera system we sell at B&H, macro lenses by definition allow focusing down to life-size (1:1), though a few only focus down to half life-size (1:2). On the other hand Canon’s Macro Photo MP-E 65mm f/2.8m, a special purpose macro lens designed for extreme close-focusing can magnify your subject up to 5x life-size.

Note-While Nikon calls their macro lenses ‘Micro-Nikkors’, they only focus down to life-size (1:1) despite the fact ‘micro’ is traditionally defined as greater, i.e., closer than life-size.

Macro lenses can (usually) be identified by their recessed front elements (most macros do not need lens hoods), which tend to have less of a curved surface compared to traditional lenses. This shallow curve of the front element is similarly reflected in the focusing qualities of macro lenses, which like enlarging lenses, are designed to maintain edge-to-edge sharpness even when shooting at widest apertures. Traditional lenses resolve more detail towards the center of the frame and less-so towards the edges at wide apertures, though sharpness levels even out as you stop the lens down to smaller apertures. Still and all, the resolving of macro imagery is noticeably better than non-macro lenses.


 This flatter plane-of-focus also results in finer control of selective focus, which comes in handy when you want to isolate your subject from the foreground and background. Conversely, this flatter focus plane also requires you to stop the lens down more than normally required to increase depth-of-focus. As such, apertures as small as f/32 and f/45 are not unusual on macros, especially the longer focal-length macro lenses.

It should also be noted many lenses, especially zoom lenses, make ‘close-focusing’ or ‘macro-focusing’ claims; and it should be understood there is a great difference in terms of resolving power and overall image quality between lenses that can focus extra close and true macro lenses. Depending on your actual needs, these differences may not be critical, but be advised, a trained eye can spot the difference.

Focal Lengths – Macros come in a variety of focal lengths, and are commonly available in the form of ‘normal’, short-telephoto (portrait), and longer telephoto. (Note - If you’re looking for a ‘normal’ macro lens for your DSLR, keep in mind some of these optics are specifically designed for use with smaller (APS-C) format sensors and others for both full-frame and APS-C format cameras. Mid-range (100-105mm) and longer (180-200mm) macros work equally well with APS-C and full-frame DSLRs).

As for deciding which focal range is best for your needs, keep in mind if you plan on photographing easily-accessible flowers and similar static subjects, most any focal length will do. If however, you plan on photographing easily-startled subjects – i.e., butterflies and other skittish, camera-shy subjects, you might want to invest in a longer focal length macro to eliminate the spook factor. Another reason you might want to go the longer route is that when photographing subjects at close range it’s inevitable you’ll also be casting your own (or the camera’s) shadow on your subject. When shooting with a longer lens you’re much less prone to run into this problem. As with conventional telephoto lenses, tele macros also allow you to easily isolate your subject from the foreground and background, which is important for shooters into wider-aperture, selective focus.

It’s also worth noting some macros now feature image stabilization technology, which can come in handy when shooting at closer distances. And while there are few if any wide-angle macro lenses, the 24mm tilt-shift wide-angle lenses from Canon and Nikon are macros by design and focus near or down to half life-size.

The following is a selection of macro lenses we carry at B&H designed to enable snappy close-ups of the world around you -

Nikon

AF Micro 60mm f/2.8D                                                               Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60mm f/2.8G ED                                       Max magnification  1:1      APS-C only

AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR                       Max magnification  1:1      APS-C only

AF Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR                    Max magnification  1:1   APS-C / Full-frame

AF Micro Nikkor 200mm f/4.0D ED-IF                                    Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

PC-E Nikkor 24mm f/3.5D ED    (Tilt-shift )                          Max magnification  1:2.7 APS-C/ Full-frame

PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED   (Tilt-shift)                  Max magnification  1:2    APS-C / Full-frame

PC-E Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8    (Tilt-shift)                          Max magnification  1:2    APS-C / Full-frame

Canon

EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro                                             Max magnification  1:2    APS-C / Full-frame 

EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM                                                 Max magnification  1:1      APS-C only

Macro Photo MP-E 65mm f/2.8   (manual focus)               Max magnification  1:1 to 5:1   APC-C / Full-frame

EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro                                                  Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM                                               Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

Sony

SAL-30M28 30mm f/2.8 DT AF Macro                                 Max magnification  1:1      APS-C only    

SAL-100M28 100mm f/2.8 AF Macro                                   Max magnification  1:1     APS-C / Full-frame

SAL-100M28 100mm f/2.8 AF Macro                                   Max magnification  1:1     APS-C / Full-frame

Pentax

SMCP-DA 35mm f/2.8 Macro Limited                                 Max magnification  1:1      APS-C only    

smc P-D FA 50mm f/2.8 Macro                                            Max magnification  1:1     APS-C / Full-frame

 smc Pentax-D FA 100mm f/2.8 WR Macro                        Max magnification  1:1     APS-C / Full-frame
 
Panasonic
 
Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45/2.8 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S.    Max magnification  1:1  Four Thirds
 
 
 Olympus
 
 Zuiko Digital 35mm f/3.5 Macro ED                                     Max magnification  1:1  Four Thirds

 Zuiko Digital 50mm f/2.0 Macro ED                                     Max magnification  1:2 Four Thirds

Sigma  (For Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, Sigma, and 4/3 lens mounts)

24mm f/1.8 EX Aspherical DG DF Macro                             Max magnification  1:2.7  APS-C / Four Thirds

28mm f/1.8 EX Aspherical DG DF Macro                             Max magnification 1:2.9   APS-C / Four Thirds

50mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro                                                        Max magnification    1:1     APS-C / Full-frame

70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro                                                        Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

150mm f/2.8 EX APO Macro EX DG HSM                Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

 180mm f/3.5 EX DG APO Macro IF HSM                             Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

Tamron (For Nikon / Canon / Sony)

 SP AF60mm f/2 DI II LD IF Macro                          Max magnification  1:1      APS-C only   

SP AF 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro                                  Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

 SP AF 180mm f/3.5 Di LD IF Macro                             Max magnification  1:1    APS-C / Full-frame

 

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The Tamron SP AF90mm f/2.8 Di II LD IF Macro is available in Pentax K mount.

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro is my favourite lens. I also like to add a Raynox DCR-250 magnifying lens to the front of it for a cheap solution to greater magnification than 1:1

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