Macro specific lenses are prime lenses with maximum widest apertures of f2.8. As with everything, there are some exceptions to this such as the Canon 50mm macro lens, which has a maximum widest aperture of f2.5, and the Canon 180mm macro lens, which has a maximum widest aperture of f3.5. Both of these are prime lenses though.
Consequently, when it comes to buying a macro lens the choice of maximum widest apertures is limited and if you like your ultra-wide maximum apertures, i.e. f1.8 and less, you’re not going to get a macro lens that opens up this wide.
The most important thing to consider when buying a macro lens is the subjects you are going to be using it for. Arguably, you can use any macro lens for all subjects but you will struggle using specific macro lenses with certain subjects, and your keeper rate will be non-existent.
Before you even start to look at the different macro lenses available you need to think about your subjects and think about what you want to achieve. Jumping in both feet first and buying a macro lens before doing this could end up being a costly mistake.
Macro photography typically involves photographing still subjects, moving/living subjects and a mixture of the two.
If you want to photograph still subjects you can use any macro lens with no problems. When shooting still subjects you can use a cheap and cheerful 50mm f2.5 macro lens or you can use a top end 180mm f3.5 professional lens. The final decision will ultimately come down to which lens delivers the image quality you want, which lens is built to the specification you want, and how much you are willing to spend on a macro lens. The professional grade macro lenses are, as you’d expect, tougher and more durable, and have superior image quality over the cheaper macro lenses but they are significantly more expensive
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If you want to photograph moving/living subjects you need to buy a macro lens with the longest focal length you can afford. The longer the focal length, the greater the working distance (i.e. the greater the distance between the subject and the lens), the less chance you will spook the creature before you get the shot.
When taking shots of living/moving subjects you need a macro lens with a focal length of at least 100mm to get a good working distance. Okay, you could use a 50mm or 60mm macro lens but I would never recommend doing so. The working distance of these short focal length macro lenses simply isn’t enough to get close to the creature before scaring it away on a consistent basis. Sure, you may nail one or two shots but your hit rate will be very low, which is not only frustrating but may be the catalyst that sees you quit macro photography.
There are plenty of 100mm macro lenses out there, all of which are ideal for taking macro shots of moving/living subjects. As you’d expect the price of 100mm macro lenses varies with the professional grade macro lenses having more features (such as image stabilisation), better build quality (i.e. they are tougher and more robust) and better image quality (i.e. they are sharper and deliver better contrast). The professional grade macro lenses are, as you’d expect, more expensive so you have to weigh up what you want from a macro lens, and how much you are prepared to pay, before choosing which macro lens to buy.
There are some macro lenses with a focal length greater than 100mm, with the 105mm Sigma and the 180mm Canon lenses springing to mind. Both of these lenses offer a greater working distance than the 100mm macro lens but there are other things to consider. For example, the 180mm macro lens is significantly larger and heavier, and without any image stabilisation trying to capture sharp hand held shots can be a real challenge. It is also a very expensive lens. This is just something else to throw in to the mix.
Personally, I don’t see the point in getting a macro lens with a focal length of any more than 100mm or 105mm, but that’s just me. I know other people have a different opinion.
To sum up:-
If you want to take macro photos of still life subjects a 50mm or 60mm macro lens is ideal, provided you are happy with the image quality and the build quality of course.
If you want to take macro photos of moving/living subjects, or think you may want to in the future then you need to buy a 100mm or 105mm macro lens in the first instance.
Highly rated macro lenses
Below are some top rated macro lenses, all of which consistently get great reviews and write ups.
CANON EF 100MM F2.8L IS
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 100mm/ 160mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 32/ Min focus:- 11.8"/Dimensions:- 3.1" x 4.7"/ Weight:- 22.1 oz/ Image stabilization:- Yes/ Price (approx.) $USD/£ GBP:-$800.00/£685.00
TOKINA 100MM F2.8 AT-X MACRO
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 100mm/160mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 32/ Min focus:- 11.8”/ Dimensions:- 2.87” x 3.75”/ Weight:- 19.0oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£ GBP:- $410.00/£450.00
Check the price of the Tokina 100mm f2.8 macro lens on:-
SIGMA 105MM F2.8 MACRO
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 105mm/168mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 22/ Min focus:- 12.3”/ Dimensions:- 2.95” x 4.13”/ Weight:- 15.9oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£ GBP:- $620.00/£300.00
Check the price of the Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro lens on:-
TAMRON 90MM F2.8 MACRO
Focal Length – Full frame/APS-C:- 90mm/144mm/ Aperture:- 2.8 - 32/ Min focus:- 11.4”/ Dimensions:- 2.83” x 4.22”/ Weight:- 14.3oz/ Image stabilization:- No/ Price (approx.) $USD/£ GBP:- $650.00/£570.00
Check the price of the Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro lens on:-
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