An online book of Common Sense Photography, by Rhett Stuart

Macro Photography Lens Evaluations and How They Are Used


50mm to 65mm Macro Lenses

50–65 mm is used for table top photography and small inanimate objects. There is limited distance between the lens and the subject. This makes it easier for the tabletop with a flash system but difficult for subjects outdoors or small creatures that move.

The Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens is only 1:2 (.5X) magnification and you need an expensive optional accessory Canon Life Size Converter EF to get to a true 1:1 (1X) macro magnification. The lens is not really that well built but would do for tabletop macro photography.

The Canon Macro Photo MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1X- 5X Manual Focus Lens for EOS is an excellent advanced and expensive lens that you might want to buy later after some experience. It allows for extreme macro photographs! You could take a close up photograph of a grain of rice! Just in case you wanted to double check those rice grains you can get with engraving… The manual focusing is very critical so you will need a tripod and probably a focusing rail. This is a dedicated macro lens that is all you will use it for, so having it manual focusing is a good thing since auto focusing isn’t need at these close ranges. The amount of depth of field ranges from 2 mm at 1X to only about 1/3 of 1 millimeter at 5X! Considering a millimeter is about as wide as the wire on a paperclip, it doesn’t take much to get it out of focus. The working distance ranges from 100mm at 1X to about 40mm at 4X. A flash will come in handy to stop the action, and to get light on the subject that the lens is blocking so it is so close. This lens is very well built and solid! It comes with a tripod collar on the lens that can be rotated or removed also. This is a very nice feature to have since you will very likely be using a tripod on this stellar lens!

The Nikon Normal Macro 60mm f/2.8D AF Micro Nikkor Auto focus Lens gives 1:1 (1X) magnification with an 8” working distance. It is a decently priced lens with sharp image quality and can be used for all around photography also.

100mm to 105mm Macro Lenses

100mm to 105mm is the standard focal range used for insects, flowers, small objects and the most versatile size. I use my 100mm Canon f/2.8 macro lens the most.

The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro Lens is excellent. It has the ring type focus which works very well. It focuses quick and sharply. It can also be used as a portrait lens! This is a very practical lens which you will likely use more than any others. It is also a good lens to start out with. It has a working distance if about 6 inches which is pretty good. It won’t blur your backgrounds as well as the Canon EF 180mm f/2.8 USM lens, but it costs less and doesn’t require the use of a tripod as much!

The Nikon Telephoto AF Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR (Vibration Reduction) Auto focus lens gives 1:1 (1X) macro ability at 12 inches of working distance! Plus Vibration Reduction! This lens can also be used for portraits and is a very practical lens.

The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Lens is very sharp, but focuses slowly. It is very well built. It allows for a working distance of about 5 inches at 1X. It is a bargain lens.

150mm to 200mm Macro Lenses

150–200mm lenses give more working distance for insects and small animals. These lenses blur the background very well, giving more emphasis to the subject. This is probably the maximum focal length lens you will want to use. Longer lengths produce too many problems and are too awkward. Even very small lens movements during exposure can cause blur in the photographs. Careful use with a sturdy tripod and ideally a tripod telephoto lens attachment can help overcome this, especially with some stacked lens arrangements. Make sure the tripod center post is less than 4" from the top of the legs to avoid vibrations.

These lenses are top of the line macro lenses and their prices reflect that!

The Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens is very well built with excellent quality. It has the nice ring type USM focus but it focuses slowly. It has a very nice working distance of about 18 inches at 1:1 (1X) magnification.

The Nikon Telephoto AF Micro Nikkor 200mm f/4.0D ED-IF Auto focus Lens has 1:1 (1X) magnification at 18 inches and can be used for portraits and other photography.

The Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens and the Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG HSM Macro Lens are giving Canon and Nikon have some stiff competition! Both lenses have good build quality with very sharp images. The Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Macro Lens has a working distance of 15 inches and the Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX DG HSM Macro Lens has a working distance of 18 inches also with excellent image quality. The Sigma 180mm is a good bargain since it is about $500 cheaper then the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro Lens.