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How to Choose a Macro Lens

Macro Photography Lens

Macro Lens Tips

I have a growing number of pages devoted to macro photography where you can find interesting ideas on how to shoot close-up pictures on a budget and how to make high quality macro photographs without buying money-draining equipment of any sort.

Yet there are cases when we are ready to acknowledge that some equipment is maybe worth its price.
Every major camera or lens maker has a few macro lenses in its catalogue.
Such devices differ from the standard lenses in that they are designed to focus very nearby objects1.
Also, they differ from the macro mode of most average camera lenses in that the optical quality is definitely high.

A limited Macro Lens selection

I list here a small selection of macro lenses which, I think, deserve your attention. By browsing their technical details, as well as buyers’ comments, you will manage to get a rough idea of what you can expect from macro lenses on the whole. My list is far from complete of course: please consider it just as a hint to look for more, in case you are interested in such lenses.

Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP A/M 1:1 Macro Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP A/M 1:1 Macro
Nikon 200mm f/4.0D ED-IF AF Micro-Nikkor Nikon 200mm f/4.0D ED-IF AF Micro-Nikkor
Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM APO HSM IF Macro Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM APO HSM IF Macro
Leica 120mm f/2.5 CS APO Summarit-S Macro Leica 120mm f/2.5 CS APO Summarit-S Macro
Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX IF HSM Macro Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX IF HSM Macro

Which is the best macro lens to buy

Such an obvious question has no easy and no single answer.
Some lenses are designed to work only with one camera brand. So, if you own a Canon there is no practical way to use a Micro-Nikkor lens (at least, out of the box; this is more and more true as cameras today are based on electronic and digital settings between camera and lenses).
Also, it is wise to include in the macro lens range all those lenses which, although not part of a specific photographic system (EOS, OM, Nikon, etc.) have the inherent qualities to focus sharp and close. Any lens, even legacy lenses from the old chemical/mechanical era, are good choices. Moreover, most of such lenses can be bought cheap second hand. You might wonder how to mount such lenses on your camera body. Well, chances are that you will use some sort of extension tube or macro bellow: just have it ready with the suitable adapter device. Automatic functions, mechanical and electronic couplings are lost; nevertheless you will shoot the best macro pictures with your camera.

You can even stack a reversed infinity-focused prime lens on a macro lens, or just employ a close-up lens. High quality close-up lenses, when used on macro lenses such as the micro nikkor series, must be mounted in a reverse position in order to offer the best optical performance.

Enhance your Macro Lens with a Teleconverter


One more way to improve your close-up pictures by adding on the magnification ratio is to use a teleconverter, also currently known as doubler. Such a device, just like an extension tube, is mounted between photographic lens and body, but has a diverging lens (or group of lenses) inside. Its function is to multiply (usually 2x, from which the term ‘doubler’ comes) the focal length of a prime lens. Thus, if you own a 50mm and a 150mm, by mounting a 2x teleconverter you end up with a 100 and a 300mm as well.
Doubling the lens length means that aperture halves, which has to be taken into account: too long lenses with too narrow an aperture could be a problem to use.
Doublers were popular in the old days when zooms were not ubiquitous, and cameras had a choice of prime lenses only.
Now that zooms create good/high quality pictures, there is less interest in doublers. Chances are, though, that you may already have one, in which case it might be useful in increasing the magnification of your prime lens.

Teleconverters do not make a macro lens out of a standard one; nevertheless they can enhance close-up somehow. As with other photographic solutions, you should make some tests in order to understand that a certain lens combination is good for you or not.


1 It is maybe worth to make it clear that such lenses are often (despite their macro/micro label) just close-up lenses, in that they are optimized for nearby focusing and not, instead, for a real life-size 1:1 magnification. They do, anyway, get wonderful pictures at 1:1 life-size, provided that you use apertures at about f/8-f/11. (↑)

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