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Macro lens

Imagine capturing the intricate details of a delicate flower petal, the texture of a butterfly's wings, or the fascinating world of tiny insects...

What is a macro lens?

The macro lens is a particular type of lens that allows you to focus on a subject from an extremely close range. This lens makes your subject appear more prominently in the viewfinder and thus the final image.

Macro photography enables viewers to enjoy the incredible details of an object, which sometimes feels like entering a whole new world. Insects, plants, wood texture, and other everyday things look more entertaining to explore.

But how do photographers capture these tiny little details? An answer is a unique tool called a macro lens. This type of lens is a must-have item for those who want to step up their game.

You may already be interested in adding the macro lens to your collection. But there are things to consider before buying one, as this photography kit has many types with different specifications. 'True' macro lenses can project subjects onto your camera's sensor at a 1:1 reproduction ratio.

This gives you a 1.0x maximum magnification at the lens Minimum Focus Distance/MFD (MFD is measured based on the subject’s distance to the sensor). For example, the sensor will project a subject with an 18mm length as it is. At first, this may sound trivial and of no value. But remember that a 36 x 24mm subject will fill the frame of your full-frame camera. So, when you project this onto your display, the teeny tiny details will become more apparent than before.

What is considered a macro lens?

The macro lens should have a magnification ratio of 1:1 (or even greater), with a minimum focusing distance of around 30 cm. That is why the subject size ratio on the sensor plane is precisely the same as the subject's real size.

It also lets the photographer take extremely sharp close-up images of the objects. These features distinguish the macro lens from other photography lenses. Lenses with magnification ratios of 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, or more are considered macro lenses. On the other hand, those with magnifications of 1:2, 1:3, 1:4, and above aren't considered macro lenses.

Depending on the chosen focal length, you can achieve unique portraits and stunning shots for food photography.

What is a macro lens good for?

Many people won’t bother buying something that isn’t multifunctional. The good news is the macro lens comes with some built-in versatile features. Macro lenses are available with various focal lengths, starting at ~50mm and ~100mm and going up to ~150mm and above. Lenses with a tighter crop provide more pleasing images and a flattering composition.

As a rule of thumb, the higher your focal length, the higher your magnification ratio, lens price, and shooting distance. There are also zoom lenses that label themselves as macro lenses, although the performance differences are significant. Zoom lenses will not quite cut it because they can’t produce images sharper than the macro lens.

Conversely, some macro lenses have a focal length of around ~35mm and a magnification ratio of 1:2. But if you want a multifunctional, all-rounder type of macro lens, go for a medium focal length of ~100mm.

They are right in the middle, allowing you to take detailed shots from a reasonable distance. The focal length allows you to take images on your full-frame camera with a shallow depth of field and add some apparent details for the cherry on top.

Tips for using a macro lens

Using a macro lens opens up a world of intricate details and close-up photography. Here are five detailed steps on how to make the most of your macro lens:

1. Choose the right subject

Look for subjects with captivating textures, patterns, or small details you want to highlight. Flowers, insects, jewelry, or everyday objects can create great macro subjects. Consider factors like color, shape, and texture to create visually appealing compositions.

2. Set up proper lighting

Adequate lighting is crucial for macro photography. Natural light can work beautifully, so consider shooting outdoors during the golden hours for soft, diffused light. If shooting indoors, use diffused light sources like softboxes or light tents to minimize harsh shadows and maintain even lighting.

3. Get close and use manual focus

Macro photography is all about capturing extreme close-ups. Use the minimum focusing distance of your lens and get as close to your subject as possible while maintaining focus. Switch to manual focus mode for precise control over focus, as autofocus can struggle at such close distances.

4. Steady your camera

Steady your camera: Macro photography magnifies even the slightest camera movements, leading to blurry images. Use a tripod or stabilize your camera by resting it on a sturdy surface to ensure sharpness. Consider using a remote shutter release or the camera's self-timer function to eliminate any camera shake during the exposure.

5. Experiment with depth of field

In macro photography, the depth of field becomes incredibly shallow. Play with aperture settings to control the area of sharp focus. A wider aperture (lower f-number) creates a shallow depth of field, isolating the subject from the background, while a smaller aperture (higher f-number) provides a greater depth of field, keeping more of the image in focus.

What is the difference between a macro lens and a regular lens?

Even though it’s explicitly designed to take images at close range and magnify their little details, you can also use macro lenses for everyday photography. Compared to a regular lens, the macro lens performs better for realistically shooting artwork and documents. Thanks to its “flat field” characteristic, every shot looks sharp and appealing.

Regular lenses can also mimic a macro lens to a certain degree. However, it cannot transcend the quality presented by the macro lens.

Can you use a macro lens as a normal lens?

It may depend on how you define the “normal lens.” If you refer to its versatility, I will give you a solid yes to answer that question. The medium macro focal length, around ~100mm, will capture detailed images with high quality. It is also perfect for events that require a closer look at your subject.

You can also use the macro lens to shoot a portrait. It will capture every beautiful detail of your perfect-looking model. Remember to use it from a creative angle, as it can expose even the smallest imperfections. A macro lens costs (and weighs) significantly more than regular lenses with all those qualities. It would be wise to use it to its full potential.

Macro lens photography is a highly specialized niche, guaranteeing each lens is of high quality. To guide you in choosing the best macro lens, here are my top three recommended models:

1. Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro Lens

If you want to dive head-on into the world of diverse close-up images, this lens will be your perfect partner in crime. Its 5:1 magnification ratio allows you to fill your full-frame sensor camera with your subject of choice in extreme detail. The only setback is that this lens is strictly manual focus only. However, it also comes with a tripod support foot that allows you to easily attach it to your tripods or rail systems.

The lens is specially crafted for scientific imagery and has many macro applications. It cannot focus more than a few centimeters from your subject/front element, making it less versatile than the standard macro lens. I don’t recommend using this lens to use a standard lens as you will waste its phenomenal potential.

2. Nikon 105mm f/2.8 IF-ED AF-S VR Micro Lens

Putting aside the fact that it is an extremely sharp portrait lens, it is equipped with a highly reliable yet crisp macro lens. It has a 12” minimum focusing distance, allows you to get up close and personal with plants and insects, and a 1:1 reproduction with astonishing details.

The lens also packs Nikon’s built-in “Vibration Reduction,” which helps photographers take hand-held shots with longer shutter speeds much more comfortably. Despite the technology, I still recommend using a tripod for a better result.

3. Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art Lens for Sony E Mount

This more budget-friendly lens is ideal for many occasions, from portraits, to close-ups, and even fine art photography. It delivers images at the magnification of 1:1 coupled with the new coreless motor that allows for a smooth AF. Despite being created specifically for the Sony full-frame, mirrorless cameras, you can also pair Sigma 70 mm on the APS-C sensor camera.

You can also use its crop mode if you want to. With a minimum focus distance of 10-16”, it helps you capture various subjects, from portrait photos to small objects. If you want the highest-quality lens, look no further than Canon and Nikon. They are known to produce the best macros (at a high price, too).

Despite its specific design for close-up shots, the macro lens is also great for regular photo shoots, food photography, portrait, and fine art photography. Some people may mistake a macro lens for a zoom lens, as they serve the same purpose. However, the actual macro lens has a magnification ratio of 1:1, 2:1, 5:1, and above.

Even though a macro lens can effortlessly shoot stunning detail, it can also expose the smallest imperfections on your object. That is why raising your skills should come together with buying this lens.

Last but not least, all macro lenses come at a high price. It will be wise to calculate your budget carefully or turn this purchase into something profitable. That's pretty much it about the macro lens. There is a more technical side to it, but let's keep that for another day. So, which one do you wish to buy?

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