Regardless of the focal length of your favorite lens, I'd venture to say you've been in situations where you've tried to focus in tight on your subject and inevitably hit the wall—the minimum focus point of your lens. Sure you can crop, but in a perfect world it would be swell if each of our lenses would focus as close to our subjects as our mind's eye focuses. Alas, the world isn't perfect... but we do have macro lenses.
Every class of optics has its own unique qualities. Landscapes aside, wide-angle optics can add an element of drama to the most mundane subjects, especially when photographed close up or from an angle other than eye level. Telephoto lenses can produce equally powerful imagery by their ability to bring distant subjects closer to us as well as their ability to seemingly "crush" the airspace, foreground to background, between individual elements within the frame.
Just as telephotos are interesting in their ability to bring distant subjects closer, macros are unique in their ability to focus in on subjects that, while readily within arm's reach, often remain as far away as distant landscapes. We've all looked at leaves on a tree, snowflakes, caterpillars, the inner workings of an old pocket watch, but how many of us have taken the time to really look at leaves, snowflakes, caterpillars and the innards of old pocket watches?
Macro lenses are available in a variety of focal lengths and for every camera format we sell at B&H. Some are designed for specific formats such as FourThirds or APS-C and others can couple with the full range of formats from full frame on down. When considering a macro lens, keep in mind there's a difference between true macro lenses and lenses—mostly zooms—that feature "macro focusing" or "close-focusing." They might focus close and take wonderful close-ups, but unlike true macro lenses they seldom deliver the same levels of resolving power as true macros, especially toward the edges of the frame.
For general, all-around macro shooting, a "normal" focal length should prove to be fine. If you're shooting with a full-frame DSLR, you'd want a 50mm or 60mm lens. If you shoot with an APS-C or FourThirds format camera, a normal will be in the 35mm range. There are also a number of macros in the 70mm, 90mm and very popular 100-105mm range.
Macro lenses allow you to get close up
and personal with your subject.
All photographs © 2010 Allan Weitz. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.
Depending on the format and brand of your particular camera model, macro lenses are also available in longer focal lengths up to 200mm, and with few exceptions, all of these lenses focus town to life size (1:1). There are a couple of advantages when shooting with longer focal length macros. As with all telephotos, longer focal lengths allow you to bring distant subjects closer, but from a greater distance. You're less likely to scare away skittish subjects such a butterflies, turtles and bullfrogs when photographing them from a few feet away as opposed to a few inches away, even if you're lucky enough to get that close in the first place.
When shooting with longer focal length macros at closer range, you're also less likely to cast shadows onto your subject, which can be a challenge when shooting at closer range. Longer focal length lenses also allow you to bring accessory lighting gear closer to your subject, compared to shorter focal length optics.
If you shoot with a Canon DSLR, you also have the option of shooting with a Canon Macro Photo MP-E , which can focus down to 5x life size, or as Canon's website spells it out, "fill the frame with a grain of rice."
Back in the day, macros had maximum apertures that rarely exceeded f/3.5 or at best, f/2.8. Today you have the option of shooting with macros with maximum apertures of f/2.0, which allows you more wiggle room when it comes to playing with selective focus. It's also worth noting that Nikon's PC-E Micro Nikkor 45mm f/2.8D ED and Nikon PC-E Micro-Nikkor 85mm f/2.8, as well as Canon's TS-E 45mm f/2.8 and TS-E 90mm f/2.8 tilt-shift lenses all focus down to half life size, which when combined with their tilt-shift functions, can be produce interestingly dynamic close-ups in the field and in the studio.
Note: While Canon does not officially recognize their 45mm and 90mm TS-E tilt-shift lenses as being macro lenses, Nikon's 45mm and 85mm PC-E tilt-shift lenses are recognized as such and since they share remarkably similar specs and functionality, we've decided to include them in this article. For the record, the photograph below of the toy taxi (about 3" long) was taken with a Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 at its closest focusing distance (approx 1.6'), making full use of the lens's tilt, shift and swing movements, with the lens stopped down about 3.5 stops from maximum aperture.
When shooting macro photographs handheld, it's important to keep in mind that camera shake becomes increasingly evident as you get closer to your subject. As such, it's always a good idea to use a tripod or monopod to ensure sharper results when shooting life-size close-ups. And if the lens you are interested in is available with image stabilization, strongly consider the additional cost. When shopping for a macro lens—or any new lens for that matter—always check to ensure that the lens you are interested in will function properly with your current camera.
|Format Compatibility||Max. Mag.||AOV||Min. Focus||Image Stabilized||Filter Size|
|Nikon AF Micro 60/2.8D||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||39°/26°||0.72' (0.22m)||No||62mm|
|Nikon AF-S Micro-Nikkor 60/2.8G ED||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||39°/26°||0.6' (0.18m)||No||62mm|
|Nikon AF-S DX Micro-Nikkor 85/3.5G ED VR||APS-C||1:1||18°||1.0' (0.3m)||Yes||52mm|
|Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 105/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||23°/15°||1.0' (0.3m)||Yes||62mm|
|Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 200/4D IF-ED||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||12°/8°||1.6' (0.487m)||No||62mm|
|Nikon PC-E Micro Nikkor 45/2.8D ED Tilt-shift||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:2||51°/35°||0.83' (0.25m)||No||77mm|
|Nikon PC-E Micro-Nikkor 85/2.8 Tilt-shift||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:2||28°/18°||1.3' (0.396m)||No||77mm|
|Canon EF 50/2.5 Compact Macro||Full-Frame APS-H APS-C||1:2||46°/37°/30°||0.8' (0.23m)||No||52mm|
|Canon EF-S 60/2.8 Macro USM||APS-C||1:1||24°||7.8" (0.198m)||No||52mm|
|Canon Macro Photo MP-E 65/2.8||Full-Frame APS-H APS-C||5:1||18°/14°/11°||0.8' (0.23m)||No||58mm|
|Canon EF 100/2.8 USM Macro||Full-Frame APS-H APS-C||1:1||23°/19°/15°||0.97' (0.3m)||No||58mm|
|Canon EF 100/2.8L Macro IS USM||Full-Frame APS-H APS-C||1:1||23°/19°/15°||0.97' (0.3m)||Yes||67mm|
|Canon EF 180/3.5L Macro USM||Full-Frame APS-H APS-C||1:1||13°/10°/8°||1.6' (0.48m)||No||72mm|
|Sony 30/2.8 DT AF Macro||APS-C||1:1||50°||5.1" (0.0129m)||In camera||49mm|
|Sony 50/2.8 Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||32°||7.9" (0.2m)||In camera||55mm|
|Sony 100mm/2.8 AF Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||24°/16°||13.8" (0.35m)||In camera||55mm|
|Pentax SMCP-DA 35mm/2.8 Macro Limited||APS-C||1:1||44°||5.5" (0.14m)||In camera||49mm|
|Pentax smc P-D FA 50mm/2.8 Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||47°/31°||7.7" (0.195m)||In camera||49mm|
|Pentax smc Pentax-D FA 100mm/2.8 WR Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||24.5°/16°||11.93" (0.3m)||In camera||49mm|
|Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45/2.8 ASPH||Micro FourThirds||1:1||27°||0.5' (0.15m)||No||46mm|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital 35mm/3.5 Macro ED||FourThirds||1:1||34°||5.8" (0.147m)||No||52mm|
|Olympus Zuiko Digital 50mm/2.0 Macro ED||FourThirds||1:2||24°||9.45" (0.24m)||No||52mm|
|Sigma 24mm/1.8 EX Aspherical DG DF Macro||Full-Frame APS-C FourThirds||1:2.7||84.1° (FF)||7.1" ( 0.18m)||No||77mm|
|Sigma 28mm/1.8 EX Aspherical DG DF Macro||APC-C||1:2.9||75.4°||7.9" (0.2m)||No||77mm|
|Sigma 50mm/2.8 EX DG Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||46°/30°||7.4" (0.19m)||No||55mm|
|Sigma 70mm/2.8 EX DG Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||34° (FF)||10.1" (0.28m)||No||62mm|
|Sigma 105mm/2.8 EX DG Macro||Full-Frame APS-C FourThirds||1:1||16.4° (FF)||15" (0.38m)||No||72mm|
|Sigma 150mm/2.8 EX APO Macro EX DG HSM||Full-Frame APS-C FourThirds||1:1||16.4° (FF)||15" (0.38m)||No||72mm|
|Tamron SP AF60mm f/2 DI II LD IF Macro||APS-C||1:1||26°||9.1" (0.23m)||No||55mm|
|Tamron SP AF 90mm/2.8 Di II LD IF Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||27° (FF)||11.4" (0.29m)||No||55mm|
|Tamron SP AF 180mm/3.5 Di LD IF Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||14°/8°||18.5" (0.47m)||No||72mm|
|Tokina AT-X 35/2.8 Pro DX Macro||APS-C||1:1||43°||5.5" (0.14m)||No||52mm|
|Tokina AT-X 100/2.8 AF Pro D Macro||Full-Frame / APS-C||1:1||24°/16°||11.8" (0.3m)||No||55mm|