2015-04-12 11.58.15 am

Choosing the Ideal Macro Lens Focal Length

What is the difference between the 60mm, 100mm and 150mm macro lens? 

If you’re looking to purchase a DSLR macro lens for the first time, it’s easy to get confused by the range that is available. To be considered as a macro lens, the lens must feature a 1:1 magnification, meaning that the object will be reproduced at its actual size on the sensor. depending on the practice you have, you’ll need different length of macro lenses. But let’s define what macro photography is.

What is Macro Photography?

Eye macro lens - iLHP
(Photo credit: Suren Manvelyan)

But first, what is macro photography? It’s pretty hard to define. We all have our own appreciation of the distance it should be to be considered macro. Usually people tend to call everything macro as long as it is a general close-up. It actually gathers 3 types of categories:

Macro_lenses_focusing_distance_cheat_sheet
(http://www.digitalcameraworld.com)

What are the main differences between 60mm, a 100mm, or a 150mm Macro Lenses?

  1. The lower the focal length of the lens, the lower the cost. For example, a Canon 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens is cheaper to buy than a Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Similarly, a 60mm Nikon lens is cheaper than the 105mm Micro Nikkor lens.
  2. The lower the focal length of the lens, the smaller and lighter it will be to carry. For example, the Nikon 105mm f/2.8G Lens weighs 27.9 ounces or 790g, whereas the Nikon 60mm f/2.8 lens weighs half that at only 15.5 ounces or 439g.
  3. However, the lower the focal length of the macro lens, the closer you also need to be to the subject you’re photographing. This is an important consideration to take into account when it comes to macro photography. That is what I’m going to detail because that should determine the length you want to choose.

Which One Should You Buy?

Ideally, if you own a Canon DSLR camera, then the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens is currently the best glass for both insect and flower photography. While the best Nikon macro lens would be the105mm f/2.8 lens. These would be the most versatile lens but not necessarily the one that you really need. Here’s my experience below.

“To achieve higher magnification, use extension tubes combined with your macro lens!”

Why I Love Longer Focal Lengths

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All of these featured photographs are achieved with natural light.

It’s common to come across photographers who had purchased a 50 or 60mm and later wished they’d upgraded to a 100 or 105mm macro lens. They’re actually mostly designed to photograph food and still life. Most complain that they need to be physically positioned too close to an insect to properly focus their 50/60mm macro lens. This can scare away the insect before they get a chance to take the shot.

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Another complaint, concerns the shadow that can be thrown over a subject when you need to be closer. Light is an important aspect in macro photography to enable you to keep a fast enough shutter speed to capture insects on the move.To give you an idea of the difference in shooting distance between focal lengths, a 100mm macro lens used at approximately 45cm from the subject will have the same magnification as a 50mm lens used at only 23cm from the subject. 

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So 100-105mm lenses will be the most versatile ones for most macro photogaphers but I also want to share my own experience as an exemple. I love the 100mm focal lenght, but the 135mm or 150mm allows me to stay rather far away from the insects or little mammals which is always better in order to be as discrete as possible. This is for me and my practice, the best lenght to do close-up macros, proxy and also be able to shoot some wild-life. Thanks to the Sony A7II, I can even switch is into APS-C mode which will transform the lens into a 225mm thanks to the crop factor. That can be useful from time to time. The drawback of such a long lenght is that you shake a little bit more produce some blur from camera shaking.

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As said earlier, the light is crucial, indoor or outdoor. If you have to be very close to your subject you might worsen the quality of the light you can get from natural source. I personally always want to work with natural light excepted in rare cases. if you need to be very close, you’ll have to work on the lighting you want to obtain with accessories like macro flashes or reflectors which can be great of course. I personally think it’s easier to be creative with the lighting when you stand farther from the subject, but that’s opinion. It is just another way to work with the lighting.

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Those are the main reasons why I prefer to use long lenght focals. My desire to shoot wildlife guides me towards longer lenghts. That’s for me the ideal lenght for my practice but 100mm is also a perfect lenght for most proxy and macro work, probably more versatile than a 150mm.

Now that you know the pros and cons of these different macro lenses, it’s up to you to determine which one would fit the best with your own creativity. Don’t forget that there are also ways to do macro photography on a very affordable budget detailed here.

Here is a run down of the best macro lens for Canon, Nikon and Sony Digital SLR (and one for FF mirrorless) cameras.

Best Canon Macro Lenses

Canon 100mm macro 2 - iLHP

For Canon Digital SLR camera’s, there are 5 popular choices.

Best Nikon Macro lenses

Nikon 60mm macro - iLHP

For photographers who use Nikon SLR camera’s, there is:

Best Sony Macro Lenses

With Sony, it is important to consider third party manufacturers like Sigma or Tamron.

Sony 90mm macro - iLHP
Sony 90mm f/2.8 G macro available in July 2015

Please share your experience with us and tell us what is your favorite focal length to do your macro shots!

Chris