Choosing Your Macro

Getting in close and maintaining critical focus is the forte of this breed of lens

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Macro lenses come in a variety of focal lengths: standard 50mm to 70mm, short telephoto 85mm to 100mm and telephoto 180mm to
200mm. With standard focal-length macros, you have to be physically much closer to your subject to get the full, 1:1 life-size magnification. Lens-to-subject distance usually will be less than six inches.

Short telephoto and telephoto macros allow for a more moderate working distance between the lens and the subject, usually one to two feet. The greater shooting distance also is better if you need to use a tripod, which frequently is the case with heavier, internal-focus telephotos. Because telephoto macros are particularly susceptible to image shake, to get focus dialed in properly and ensure the sharpest image, a sturdy tripod can be essential.

For including more background or foreground detail to complement your subject or serve as a visual reference for scale, a standard focal length will give you a much wider perspective. For minimizing backgrounds and getting selective focus, a short telephoto or telephoto macro is what you want. The focal length, together with a large aperture, will effectively reduce everything around your focal point to a beautiful abstract collage of color and light.

John Isaac
Olympus Zuiko Digital ED 50mm ƒ/2.0
Macro equivalent to 100mm in the 35mm format, the Zuiko 50mm will give you 1:1 life-size magnification at the closest focusing distance of 9.45 inches. With excellent all-around sharpness and optical quality, it performs equally as well as a standard lens for regular landscape shots.

John Isaac
Nature-wildlife photographer John Isaac says one of his favorite features in the Olympus system is its incredible macro lenses. “I use the 50mm macro as well as the 35mm macro,” says Isaac. “The new 12-60mm [standard zoom] also is very good as a macro lens. Whether it’s wildlife or a simple portrait, I tend to use the 50mm macro. I like the 50mm focal length a little better than the 35mm, since I can get my macro image from a farther distance. With the 35mm macro, I have to get a little closer. That’s the only reason why I prefer the 50mm. Sometimes I like the wider angle in the 35mm, but most of the time I tend to use the 50mm. Since all Olympus cameras have a Four Thirds chip, the 50mm is like a 100mm [in the 35mm format]. Many times, I just leave the macro on one of my cameras as my standard lens. In terms of sharpness and color, the 50mm macro works just as well as my other lenses, but it has that large ƒ/2.0 aperture and the moderate focusing distance. It’s nice not to have to get right on top of something to get a good macro.”

That ƒ/2.0 aperture lets Isaac blur out the background and turn it into an abstract wash of color and texture, bringing focus of the viewer’s eye almost solely on the focal point of the image. With its 0.52x magnification, the 50mm is equivalent to 1:1 in the 35mm format; the 35mm is equivalent to 2:1, or two times life-size. The amount of detail you can capture on a flower petal or a bird’s feather is amazing. And, like the 50mm, Isaac says you can leave it on the
camera and use it like a standard lens.


Adam Jones
Canon EF 180mm ƒ/3.5L Macro USM
1:1, life-size magnification can be captured as far as 1.6 feet away from your subject with the EF 180mm macro. Three UD glass elements and a floating design correct for chromatic aberrations, while the included tripod collar makes it easy to use with a tripod.

Adam Jones: Canon Explorer Of Light
The Canon EF 180mm ƒ/3.5L Macro is the lens Adam Jones uses for all his macro photography. Says Jones, “The narrower background of the 180mm gives me less distractions and that nice posterboard look behind my subjects, whereas a 50mm lens is going to get the trees and everything else in the frame. That’s the main reason, but I also like the longer working distance and the fact that it has a tripod collar, which facilitates using the lens on a tripod much better”.
It’s a big lens, though. It’s heavy, and it’s Canon’s most expensive macro.So it might not be right for everyone. For fieldwork, the EF 100mm ƒ/2.8 still gives you a moderate working distance, and it’s one-third the price. Plus, if you’re using the lens with anything other than a full-frame sensor, the focal length will bump up 1.3x to 1.6x anyway. So it will perform like a 130mm or 160mm lens.

“Close-up photography in the field demands exacting skills” says Jones, “and longer lenses simply make working in the field a lot less aggravating and a whole lot more fun”.

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David Middleton
Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 60mm ƒ/2.8G ED
With a Close Range Correction (CRC) system, high performance is guaranteed at both near and far distances with the Micro-Nikkor 60mm. Continuous focusing from infinity to life-size 1:1 reproduction is possible as close as 8¾ inches from your subject. When used with DX-format sensors, the focal length bumps up to 90mm.

David Middleton
Professional outdoor photographer, author and teacher David Middleton has used all of Nikon’s macro lenses over his career, but the one he likes the best by far is the Nikkor 200mm ƒ/4. “There are three big advantages to this lens”, says Middleton. “The 200mm gives me a great working distance to my subject. This means I’m less likely to spook what I’m photographing, and it makes it easier to get my tripod in the right spot to get the picture I want. The 200mm has a very narrow angle of view, which is certainly the biggest advantage for me. This allows me to pick the best background with just the smallest adjustment of my shooting angle.”
Middleton says the third advantage is the fact that the lens has a tripod collar. This allows me to flip from horizontal to vertical compositions painlessly”, he says. “And it makes it very easy to slip the lens off the tripod, so I can beat away a noisy photographer trying to get my shot, after which I can simply slip it back on the tripod. The fact that it’s built like a brick makes the beating part worry-free!”


Stephen Lang
Sigma 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 DC Macro
With a maximum magnification of 1:2.3, the 17-70mm DC Macro comes close to the 1:1 standard of macro lenses, but with the decided advantage of
a variable focal range.Part of Sigma’s DC line, it’s designed for smaller sensors and has
an equivalent performance of 109-310mm on the likes of Sigma, Sony/Minolta, Pentax and selected Canon and Nikon D-SLRs.

Stephen Lang
Macro-zooms can be a great complement to a
fixed-focal-length macro. Each definitely has it’s advantages for close-up work, so one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Macros get you life-size 1:1 reproduction. Macro-zooms get you close to that, but with the added benefit of flexible focal range. Like the pros we talked to, the ideal lens depends on your preferred compositional style and how you like to work when you’re out in nature.
Professional photographer Stephen Lang loves the versatility of the Sigma 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 DC Macro and describes it as his “workhorse” lens. “I use this lens for just about everything”, says Lang. I’ve used a number of fixed macro lenses, which are all fine, but the 17-70mm ƒ/2.8-4.5 Macro has an excellent range for the kind of shooting I do. It gives great options as to focal length. I can zoom into a flower from a comfortable distance, as opposed to having to be right on top of it and still have the sharpness of being close. Or I can have the wideness to do a group of people or a landscape.”

These features also are found in the new Tamron SP AF70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Di LD Macro, with a magnification ratio of 1:3.1 at 200mm. Since it’s a Di lens, it gives you an equivalent focal range of 109-310mm when used with APS-C-sized sensors in Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony D-SLRs.


TokinaTokina AT-X 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro
Capable of serving both digital and film cameras, the AT-X 100mm macro gets you life-sized, 1:1 reproduction at 11.8-inches‚ a nice, moderate working distance from many subjects. There’s still plenty of room for using reflectors or a wireless flash, yet close enough to capture all the tiny details with great sharpness.
TamronTamron SP AF70-200mm ƒ/2.8 Di LD Macro
While the maximum magnification of 1:3.1 makes it shy of true macro, you won’t hear photographers complaining about that. The flexible zoom range makes up for that, and the minimum focusing distance of 37.4 inches means you don’t have to be right on top of what you’re photographing to fill the frame.
SonySony SAL 100mm ƒ/2.8 Macro
From close-up nature shots to mid-range telephoto work, the SAL 100mm Macro provides sharp 1:1 reproduction when focusing as close as 12.24 inches. With a built-in focus-range limiter, focus time is speeded up by limiting the range of distances that are brought into focus either close-up range or telephoto range.
PentaxPentax P-D FA 50mm ƒ/2.8
When you want to get close, the P-D FA 50mm lets you focus as close as 7.67 inches from your subject to capture life-size reproductions. It also works just as well as a regular telephoto lens, so you don’t have to change lenses every time you want to grab a wider shot.

>> To see more work from John Isaac, visit

>> To see more work from Adam Jones, visit

>> To see more work from David Middleton, visit

>> To see more work from Stephen Lang, visit