To get up close and personal with this tree blossom, the photographer used an affordably-priced Canon 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro AF lens, which is currently available for $269 from Adorama. Ready to buy a macro lens so you can photograph those May flowers? Read on! Photo © Mason Resnick.
Macro lenses come in a variety of fixed focal lengths, ranging from 50 to 200mm. (Read Sandy Ramirez's exclusive Adorama Learning Center article on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each focal length or scroll down for a summary of each key lens range.) Some macro lenses focus down to 1:2 but extend to 1:1 via an optically-matched adapter at an additional price. A handful go beyond 1:1 into super macro photography territory. Let's take a close-up look at the top Macro lenses available now. Keep in mind that all the lenses in this article are available at Adorama's Macro Lens department.
Once exclusively the domain of DSLRs, Macro has started to make inroads into the rapidly growing category of mirrorless interchangeable-lens compacts (MILCs). You can see the small but growing selection of MILC macro lenses at the end of this article.
Note: If you have a zoom lens that says it’s a “Macro,” don’t believe it. Sure it’ll get you close, likely to within 1:3 magnification (that’s 1/3 life-size on the film or sensor) but technically, true macro is considered 1:1 magnification—life-sized--or higher. ) Close-up filters are a less expensive way to get into macro photography, but you will probably lose a little image quality, especially if you use budget close-up filters. Stick to name brands and look for specially coated surfaces.
Reversal rings are another way to go. These rings mount directly on your camera; you screw the lens front into the ring, so it is facing the reverse direction. Turning the optics around can yield dramatic, super-close results. Read Carl Heilman II's article on shooting spectacular close-ups of snowflakes by using reversal rings. And if you want to do something totally off the wall that will separate your macro shots from the crowd, check out the Lensbaby Macro Converter.
Here is a look at some top macro lenses, by focal length (Prices accurate as of April 9, 2014 and factor in any instant rebates that may apply at the time of posting):
Short Macro (30-50mm)
These shorter lenses are primarily designed for smaller-sensor cameras. Shorter focal lengths mean greater depth of field, which can be worked to your advantage; the disadvantage? A shorter working distance, which means you can't shoot skittish subjects, such as butterflies, and you have to take care so the camera and lens don't block the light source because you may be working at less than six inches to get 1:1 magnification. Big advantage? In most cases, these lenses cost less than longer macros. All lenses listed here are available at Adorama's Macro Lens department.
Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro 1:1 for NEX-line of APS-sensor-based MILCs ($278)
Olympus Zuiko 35mm f/3.5 E-ED Digital 1:1 Macro for Four Thirds DSLRs, 70mm equivalent ($229)
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro: compact entry-level macro, focuses to 1:2; 2x multiplier brings you to lifesize ($299)
Nikon 40mm f/2.8G AF-S DX Micro: 1:1 Macro for Nikon's DX (APS) Sensor cameras ($246.95)
Olympus 50mm f/2 E-ED Digital Macro for E: 1:2 magnification, but with 2x crop factor it's like a 1:1 lens. ($499)
Sigma 50mm f/2.8 Macro for Sigma: compact APS DSLRs ($369)
Sony 50mm f/2.8a Macro: 1:1 magnification, AF; circular aperture for good Bokeh. ($598)
Standard Macro (60-105mm)
This most common focal length for macro lenses gives you a somewhat more comfortable working distance of between 9 and 12 inches for 1:1 macro (depending on which focal length lens you are using), and in most cases these lenses are also well-suited for portraits, since the focal length is more flattering when photographing faces. Wide range of prices starting at around $450 for consumer-level optics. All lenses listed here are available at Adorama's Macro Lens department
Nikon 60mm f/2.8 D AF Micro-Nikkor: 1:1, also good for portraits on an APS DSLR. ($469)
Tamron SP 60mm f/2 Di II: 1:1 magnification, internal focusing, designed for APS DSLRs only. ($524)
Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro: (manual focus); focuses to 5:1 ($1,049)
Sigma 70mm f/2.8 EX DG AF Macro: low-cost alternative fast Macro lens ($469)
Nikon 85mm f/3.5 G AF-S DX Micro ED (VR-II): Internal focus, 1:1, vibration reduction ($426.95)
Sony Planar 85mm T* f/1.4a: 1:1 magnification, AF, circular aperture for smooth Bokeh, doubles as a great portrait lens. ($1,698)
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di: highly-rated mid-range macro ($499)
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro (AF): Inner-focusing to 1:1 ($599)
Canon EF 100 f/2.8L IS USM (AF): 1:1 plus image stabilizatin ($949)
Sony 100mm f/2.8a: 1:1 magnification, circular polarizer, works with full-size and APS sensor DSLRs ($798)
Tokina AT-X 100mm f/2.8: macro also valued as a portrait lens ($399)
Pentax D-FA 100mm f/2.8 Macro WR: 1:1 magnification, water resistant! Compatible with 35mm film and digital APS models. ($846.95)
Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Makro Planar ZE for Canon Superb optics, outstanding bokeh, uncompromising quality. Manual focus. ZF2 version for Nikon ($1,843)
Nikon 105mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor: Latest generation of the 1:1 macro classic, with AF and vibration reduction added. ($796.95)
With a working distance of a foot and a half to two feet for 1:1 magnification, tele macro lenses let you get up close to hard-to-reach subjects (that perfect mushroom that's visible behind an impenetrable shrub) and skittish creatures who don't want you to invade their space. They are generally pricier, require larger filters, and are somewhat bulkier than standard Macros, but they let you get closer. Bonus: Use a tele extender and you can double your working distance when you need to. All lenses listed here are available at Adorama's Macro Lens department
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG APO AF for Canon or Nikon: 1:1, wide aperture for a long lens, compatible with 35mm, APS format cameras. ($1,099)
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM: 1:1, internal floating system so front element doesn't move ($1,579)
Tamron SP 180mm f/3.5 Di Macro LD-IF: 1:1, internal focusing ($739)
Nikon 200mm f/4 ED-IF AF Micro Telephoto Nikkor: Longest macro tele lens, 1:1 magnification ($1,649)
As the MILC (Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens Compact) camera category continues to be refined and improved, a new generation of macro specialty lenses has cropped up. Keep in mind that Micro Four Thirds lenses cover a 2x equivalent field of view, so double the focal length to get the actual coverage.
For Micro Four Thirds Cameras
Olympus M-Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 $499
Yauhara Nnoha Macro 5:1, (4x-5x magnification) $499
For Fujifilm, Sony APS Cameras
Yasuhara Nanoha Macro 5:1 for Sony E-Mount (4x-5x magnification) $499.95
Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 for Fujifilm X-Series (1:1) $999
Zeiss Touit 50mm f/2.8 for Sony E-Mount (1:1) $999