Macro Lenses Close-Up and Personal

Macro Lenses Close-Up and Personal

Versatile Optics That Expand Creative Horizons

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Macro lenses have dual personalities, and their versatility makes them ideal choices for everyone from emerging enthusiasts to pros. While they let you capture exquisite close-ups, macro lenses are also superbly corrected lenses you can pressed into service for shooting crisp, compelling portraits and scenes at “normal” shooting distances.

For dealers, macro prime and zoom lenses represent a dependable, high-margin niche in the ever-expanding lens market. Over the past few years, some macro lenses in DSLR mounts have phased out, while the number of new macro lenses for mirrorless systems has surged. This is a trend reflecting the decline of DSLRs and the triumph of the mirrorless camera category. However, the choices in both categories remain plentiful, and lens makers have not abandoned DSLR users.

What’s a True Macro Lens?
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Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro

A true macro lens allows you to take photographs at reproduction ratios in the 1:2 to 1:1 range, that is, ½ life size to life size respectively, without requiring additional accessories. A picture is described as life size when the image size on the sensor or film is the same size as the actual subject. At their closest focusing distances, most standard, general-purpose lenses can capture images that are approximately 1/3 to 1/5 of life size. However, that’s hardly big enough to fill the frame when shooting tiny subjects like small birds.

Macro lenses are popular because they offer tremendous versatility, high reproduction ratios, ease of use and, in many cases, outstanding value. By far the most popular macros are prime (single focal length) lenses. This is as opposed to the many so-called “macro zooms,” most of which only get down to a “near-macro” 1:4 or 1:3. Yes, there some notable exceptions. For instance, there is the new Sony FE 70–200mm f/4 Macro G OSS II covered here. It gets down to 1:2 over its entire focal length range. However, most of the lenses presented here all fall into the most popular class—namely, high-performance macro primes.

Many of the best and most popular true macro lenses are moderate telephoto primes in the 90–105mm range. That’s because they provide a longer working distance (the distance between the front of the lens to the subject) when shooting at close distances. A longer working distance makes it easier to arrange lighting and less likely you’ll spook skittish critters like butterflies, birds and kids.

Why a Macro Lens?
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HD Pentax-D FA Macro 100mm f/2.8 ED AW

In fact, “macro” literally means larger than life. So technically a true macro lens is defined as one that focuses continuously down to 1:1 or even greater magnification. However, in accordance with marketing conventions, and to enhance options for dealers, we’ve also included some fine examples that “only” get down to 1:2 without optional accessories.

Acquiring a high-quality macro lens can reveal exciting new worlds of picture-taking possibilities. And because they’re so sharp and well corrected, many serious enthusiasts and top pros use moderate and longer telephoto macros for shooting portraits, architecture as well as a wide variety of nature subjects.

If we’ve piqued your interest in this lens category, a good place to start is by perusing the write-ups of the macros covered here. However, there are literally dozens of other worthy choices, and we encourage you to check out the extensive macro lens category. You’ll be glad you did.

Macro Lenses Close-Up and Personal
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro

We start off with Sigma’s outstanding, full-frame, short telephoto macro lens. The AF prime lens gets down to a minimum focus distance of 12.3 inches to provide life-size (1:1) magnification on sensor. Further, it employs a rounded 9-blade diaphragm that contributes to its beautiful bokeh. While made for DSLR cameras, you can also use the lens on a variety of mirrorless models with Sigma mount converters.

The 105mm lens features an advanced 16-element, 11-group optical formula. It includes two special low dispersion (SLD) elements to minimize color fringing as well as suppress chromatic aberrations. Super multi coating throughout enhances contrast and color fidelity as well as minimizes flare and ghosting. Moreover, its floating element, internal focus design maintains consistently high image quality over the entire focusing range.

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Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro

In addition, the lens incorporates a hypersonic AF motor (HSM) for quick, quiet, precise autofocus along with full-time manual focus override. Joining the HSM is a built-in optical stabilizer (OS) that minimizes the appearance of camera shake, enabling sharp images when shooting handheld shooting at slower shutter speeds. The lens is also compatible with optional APO 1.4x EX DG and APO 2x EX DG teleconverters. The Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro measures 3.1 inches in diameter and 5.0 inches in length. It weighs in at 25.6 ounces. In Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, $669.

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

Next up is Sony’s superb high-performance, full-frame, E-mount, moderate telephoto macro prime. It employs a high-performance 15-element, 11-group optical design that includes two extra-low dispersion elements (including one super ED element) plus one aspheric element to reduce chromatic aberrations to a minimum. Thus, it provides excellent correction for astigmatism, field curvature and coma. Plus, a rounded 9-blade diaphragm creates enhanced natural G lens bokeh.

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Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

As a result of its advanced optical formula and Nano AR coating, it also captures crisp, flare-free, high-resolution, high-contrast images at all settings. Furthermore, an advanced direct drive SSM system and an internal focus design contribute to its swift, silent, decisive AF. This is complemented by built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization (OSS). Additionally, OSS can combined with the in-body stabilization in select Sony cameras to provide an impressive level of shake-effect correction during handheld shooting.

Other features include a focus range limiter for faster AF at close distances; a sliding focusing ring for quick shifting from AF to manual focus; and 1:1 magnification. The Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS measures 3.1 inches in diameter and 5.3 inches in length. It weighs 21.3 ounces. E mount, $1,099.99.

Nikon Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S Macro

Nikon’s top-end S-line tele macro in the full-frame Z mount focuses down to 11.5 inches. Thus, it achieves a 1:1 (life-size) magnification ratio. Further, a rounded 9-blade diaphragm enhances its beautiful bokeh. Notably, an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism in the lens barrel ensures accurate aperture blade control when shooting at high framing rates.

The Nikkor lens also employs an advanced 16-element, 11-group optical design. The formula includes one aspheric element and three extra-low dispersion elements. As a result, the lens delivers excellent correction and impressive image quality over its entire focusing and aperture ranges. Additionally, Nikon’s ARNEO antireflective coating is used in combination with Nano Crystal coating to improve light transmission and clarity and minimize flare and ghosting. Plus, fluorine-coated external elements repel contamination and facilitate cleaning.

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Nikon Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S Macro

The lens employs a dual-motor multi-focus STM autofocus system with full-time MF override for fast, responsive autofocus. Plus, the multi-focus system reduces the chromatic aberrations and color fringing often seen in macro lenses. What’s more, built-in VR (vibration Reduction) image stabilization provides a 4.5-stop advantage in minimizing the effects of camera shake. Other specs are an integrated OLED lens info panel displaying key settings in any light; a customizable control ring for access to selected settings; and a 157.5mm focal length when used on DX-format Nikon cameras. The Nikkor Z MC 105mm f/2.8 measures 3.4 inches in diameter and 5.6 inches in length. It weighs 22.3 ounces. $1,049.95.

Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD M 1:2

Here’s a true macro lens based on its 1:2 maximum magnification at the minimum focus distance of 5.9 inches. Moreover, this fascinating compact, full-frame wide-angle lens combines street photography creds with true macro capability. And that makes it a versatile (and affordable) choice for general shooting.

It features a sophisticated 9-element, 8-group optical design. It includes one molded glass aspheric element (GM) and one low dispersion (LD) element. They help the lens achieve impressive sharpness, clarity as well as color correction across the image field. Complementing this is Tamron’s BBAR (broads band antireflection) coating applied to all elements to increase light transmission and suppress flare and ghosting.

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Tamron 35mm f/2.8 Di III OSD M 1:2

What’s more, its OSD stepping motor achieves quick, quiet, precise autofocus, and the system provides a convenient full-time manual focus override. The lens also has a rounded 7-blade diaphragm that contributes to its pleasing bokeh. For use in inclement weather, it boasts well-sealed, moisture-resistant construction. Further, a fluorine coating on the front element protects it against dust and smearing as well as facilitates cleaning. Though mainly intended for full-frame Sony E-mount cameras, the lens is also suitable for APS-C-format models. On them, it provides 52.5mm-equivalent coverage. This compact gem measures 2.9 inches in diameter and 2.5 inches in length. It weighs in at just 7.4 ounces. E mount, $249.

OM System M.Zuiko Digital ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS Pro

This fine-performing compact macro prime provides a versatile 180mm full-frame-equivalent telephoto focal length on the latest OM-1 as well as other Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras. Moreover, it focuses down to an ultra-close 8.8 inches to deliver an impressive maximum magnification of 2:1. That’s two times life-size on sensor! And a rounded 7-blade diaphragm augments its smooth, pleasing bokeh.

From OM System, it employs a sophisticated 18-element, 13-group design. Featured are a variety of high refractive index (HR) and extra-low dispersion elements to minimize chromatic aberrations and achieve exceptional image quality at all apertures. That includes two SED elements, four ED, one HR and one super HR element. Additionally, ZERO (Zuiko extra-low reflection optical) coating throughout maximizes light transmission and suppresses flare and ghosting. Notably, a movie and still compatible (MSC) AF system delivers rapid, precise quiet AF when shooting stills or video.

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OM System M.Zuiko Digital ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro IS Pro

Plus, a focus limit switch provides faster AF when working at close distances. Further, a convenient L-Fn side button lets you make lens-based settings adjustments on the fly. This outstanding lens also provides IP53-rated weatherproof construction. What’s more, its built-in optical stabilization (OS) system reduces the appearance of camera shake in handheld shooting. The M.Zuiko Digital ED 90mm f/3.5 Macro measures a compact 2.7 inches in diameter and 5.4 inches in length. It weighs in at a portable 1 pound on the nose. $1,449.99.

Canon RF100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM

Canon’s leading-edge L-class, full-frame, medium tele macro prime is made for Canon EOS R-series mirrorless cameras. The RF-mount lens autofocuses down to 10.2 inches, achieving an impressive maximum magnification of 1.4x.

The lens features an innovative 17-element, 13-group optical formula that captures crisp images over its entire focusing range. In addition, a 9-blade diaphragm enhances its smooth, natural bokeh. The lens also features built-in optical image stabilization (IS) along with a hybrid IS system. It’s a high-tech pairing that provides up to 5 stops of shake-effect correction. This increases to an amazing 8 stops when combined with the camera’s in-body image stabilizer.

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Canon RF100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM

Furthermore, the lens has a dual nano USM AF motor to ensure swift, quiet and decisive autofocus. Plus, Canon’s Super Spectra coating on all elements minimizes ghosting and flare. In addition, the lens boasts a unique spherical aberration control ring that lets you adjust the shape and character of foreground and background bokeh for artistic effects. Other features include a separate control ring for direct settings as well as comprehensive weather sealing for working in harsh outdoor conditions. The Canon RF100mm f/2.8 L measures 3.2 inches in diameter and 5.8 inches in length. It weighs in at 25.8 ounces. RF mount, $1,099.

HD Pentax-D FA Macro 100mm f/2.8 ED AW

From Ricoh Imaging, this full-frame, moderate tele K-mount lens is the first Pentax macro lens to feature an AW (all weather), dustproof, moisture-resistant design. That’s great for nature photographers shooting in harsh environments. Moreover, the lens focuses down to 1:1 magnification (life-size) at a working distance of 5.1 inches from the front of the lens (12 inches from the subject to the image plane).

Further, its 10-element, 8-group optical design incorporates one extra-low dispersion element as well as two anomalous dispersion (AD) elements. Consequently, this macro lens produces crisp, high-resolution images across the field—with virtually no color fringing. It also employs a rounded 8-blade diaphragm to heighten its inherently beautiful bokeh at the widest apertures.

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HD Pentax-D FA Macro 100mm f/2.8 ED AW

Another key feature is its HD (high definition) multi-layer coating throughout that enhances light transmission and minimizes flare and ghosting. Furthermore, Pentax SP (super protect) coating on the front element repels contaminants and facilitates cleaning. It also features a body-based FREE (fixed rear element extension) autofocus system; a rugged aluminum barrel; as well as an effective focal length of 135mm when used on APS-C-format K-mount cameras. Compact for its class, and with a high-grade aluminum barrel, the lens measures 2.6 inches in diameter and 3.2 inches in length. It also weighs a portable 12.3 ounces. K mount, in black or silver, $549.95.

Fujifilm XF80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro

Designed for Fujifilm X-mount, APS-C-format cameras, this is a high-spec tele macro lens. It offers an equivalent focal length of 122mm. Moreover, it focuses down to 9.8 inches, which is equivalent to 1:1 or life-size magnification.

Its sophisticated 16-element, 12-group optical formula features one aspheric and four ED elements, including one super ED lens. Plus, an innovative floating focus system employs two distinct focusing groups to provide exceptional image quality and impressive detail over its entire focusing and aperture ranges. A linear motor also achieves quick, quiet, decisive autofocus.

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Fujifilm XF80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro

The XF80mm lens also incorporates a built-in optical image stabilization (OIS) system for a 5-stop anti-shake-effect advantage in handheld shooting. Further, a focus range limiter has two settings (from 9.8 inches to 1.6 feet, and from 1.6 feet to infinity). Other specs include Super EBC coating throughout to enhance clarity and suppress flare and ghosting; a rounded 9-blade diaphragm to enhance its bokeh; and comprehensive weather sealing to enable shooting in harsh conditions, along with freezeproof protection down to 14°F. This outstanding lens measures 3.1 inches in diameter and 5.1 inches in length. The lens weighs in at a hefty 26.5 ounces. X mount, $1,199.

Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Plus

This classic, full-frame, short telephoto macro from Tokina focuses continuously down to 11.8 inches. As a result, it provides a 1:1 (life-size) maximum magnification image on sensor for DSLR cameras. (The i stands for “interactive.”) Plus, its flat field optical design minimizes field curvature to achieve a natural lifelike rendition. Another nicety is a two-step focus range limiter that provides a macro range for faster AF when shooting closeup subjects.

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Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF Macro Plus

The tele prime lens is built on a 9-element, 8-group design. It uses two aspherical glass elements and two SLD glass elements to minimize distortion and manage spherical aberration and astigmatism. This results in excellent edge-to-edge resolution and contrast. Plus, it is multilayer coated throughout, and a 9-blade diaphragm achieves artistic, soft bokeh. In addition, the lens has aperture settings to f/32 for extended depth-of-field control. It also delivers sharp, clear, high-resolution, flare-free images over the entire focusing range. Furthermore, a one-touch focus clutch mechanism makes it fast to change between MF and AF settings.

Moreover, since the barrel does not rotate when the lens is extended, you can use polarizing and graduated filters. The lens also provides a 160mm equivalent focal length when used on APS-C-format cameras. The Tokina atx-I 100mm measures 2.9 inches in diameter and 3.8 inches in length. It weighs in at a moderate 17.6 ounces. In Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, $429.

Sony FE 70–200mm f/4 Macro G OSS II

This reimagined version of Sony’s classic workhorse telephoto zoom is handier, lighter and more compact. However, it includes significant upgrades in AF performance, image stabilization, magnification as well as sharpness. Thus, it boasts expanded versatility to encompass video and macro applications.

Based on a 19-element, 13-group optical design, the E-mount lens includes a floating focusing element. Plus, it uses aspherical, advanced aspherical, super ED and ED aspheric elements to suppress chromatic and spherical aberrations. As a result, it delivers images of exceptional resolution and corner-to-corner sharpness across its entire zoom and aperture ranges. Moreover, it focuses down to 1:2 (half-life-size) at all focal length settings, with a minimum focusing distance of 10.2 inches at 70mm.

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Sony FE 70–200mm f/4 Macro G OSS II

Its speedy, video-optimized AF system employs four XD linear motors, two for each optical focusing group. Consequently, it can achieve 20% faster AF than its predecessors. It also supports focus tracking while zooming and a blackout-free, full-res burst rate of 30 fps with the Sony Alpha 1 camera. Cinema-oriented features include much quieter operation as well as noticeably reduced focus breathing and focus shift. Further, its new linear response MF system provides full-time direct manual focus (DMF) for enhanced “feel” and easy MF adjustments while in AF modes.

Another key feature is built-in SteadyShot optical IS that works with in-body stabilization. It also has a three-mode optical image stabilization switch to match the OSS to the shooting conditions. Other features include internal zoom; dust- and moisture-resistant construction; a rounded 9-blade diaphragm; three focus-hold buttons and an AF/MF switch; zoom lock and range limiter switches to prevent unwanted lens extension and enhance AF performance; and a fluorine coating on the front element. The Sony FE 70–200mm f/4 Macro G OSS II measures 3.2 inches in diameter and 5.9 inches in length. It weighs 1.7 pounds. E mount, $1,699.99.

Panasonic Lumix S 28–200mm f/4–7.1 Macro OIS

Brand new, the Lumix S 28–200mm f/4–7.1 Macro OIS is based on the L-mount standard. Touted in February as “the world’s smallest and lightest long zoom lens,” it fits into the palm of a hand. Further, it is the first wide-to-tele zoom for Lumix S cameras. Thus, the full-frame lens is compact and lightweight to match the camera.

Panasonic engineered it for enhanced imaging performance with beautiful bokeh and a starburst effect. In addition, it’s capable of half life-size macro shooting with a magnification of 0.5x and close-up photography from 1.2 inches. What’s more, its bokeh effect makes the subject stand out and you can stop down the aperture to capture a spacious background.

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Panasonic Lumix S 28–200mm f/4–7.1 Macro OIS

The lens features a 17-element, 13-group optical configuration. Special lenses include one aspherical; one ultrahigh-refractive; and four ED lenses to minimize aberrations. Moreover, it boasts high-speed, precise, silent autofocus. This is complemented by Panasonic’s 5-axis Dual IS 2 compatibility. Consequently, the lens can compensate for up to 6.5 stops of correction. It also offers micro-step aperture control for smoother exposure changes, as well as the ability to choose between linear or nonlinear focus ring settings.

For video production, the lens suppresses focus breathing. Furthermore, it features a rounded 9-blade diaphragm; dust and splash resistance; is freezeproof to 14ºF; and has a fluorine coating on its front lens. The Panasonic Lumix S 28–200mm f/4–7.1 Macro OIS lens, releasing in April, has a diameter of 3 inches and is just 3.7 inches long. It weighs 14.6 ounces. L mount, $899.99.

Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M ZF.2 Macro

This is an exceptional high-speed, full frame, manual focus portrait telephoto macro prime for DSLRs. It employs a unique Zeiss Planar-based optical design that includes floating elements to achieve consistently high image quality at both near and distant subject distances. In addition, its classic 9-element, 8-group optical formula features two anomalous partial dispersion elements that control a wide range of aberrations and distortions. As a result, the lens provides impressive image quality at all apertures.

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Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M ZF.2 Macro

It also boasts a 1:2 maximum image magnification (half life-size) at its minimum focus distance of 1.4 inches. Plus, its nearly circular 9-blade diaphragm enhances its smooth transitions and pleasing natural bokeh. Another key feature is Zeiss T* antireflection coatings throughout for effective flare suppression and enhanced contrast and clarity. The lens also has weather-sealed, moisture- and dust-resistant construction, as well as a robust, frosted anodized metal lens barrel. Plus, it offers ergonomic rubberized control rings and an included de-click tool for silent aperture changes when shooting video.

Further, it provides a 150mm-equivalent focal length on APS-C-format cameras. The Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2M measures 3.2 inches in diameter and 4.1 inches in length (5.8 inches at maximum extension). It weighs in at 1.8 pounds. In Nikon F (ZF.2) and Canon EF mounts (labeled ZE), $1,920.

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