Picking the best lens for macro photography is tough. There are dozens of options available, all capable of transforming small objects into works of art, and each offering a slightly different set of features. That said, no matter your skill level or budget, there is almost certainly a macro lens suited to your needs.
Now, if you’ve never done this type of photography before, I recommend you keep a few key items in mind:
For one, most macro lenses offer fixed focal lengths, but the upside is exceptional optical quality and very large apertures that let in a great deal of light. Also, note that you don’t have to choose a macro lens purely for macro photography; many photographers buy a macro lens for close-ups and portraits, thanks to the outstanding sharpness and contrast they provide. Finally, while some macro lenses (especially the cheaper ones) feature wide focal lengths, most macro shooters prefer to work around the 100mm range as it lets them capture brilliant images without needing to be physically close to their subjects.
One more thing: If you plan on getting into macro photography but don’t currently have a tripod, I highly recommend you buy one. All of the lenses on this list can be used without extra support, but if you can stabilize your camera and lens, you’ll be able to work with longer shutter speeds and smaller apertures to create more compelling images.
It’s all a lot to take in, but don’t worry: If you start by grabbing one of the lenses on this list, you’ll set yourself up for macro photography success!
Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM
The Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 is one of my absolute favorite macro lenses because it’s simple, inexpensive, and highly effective. I highly recommend it for beginners who are looking for a way into macro photography without breaking the bank (plus, it’s designed for Canon’s less-expensive line of APS-C cameras, which are wildly popular among beginner and amateur shooters). The 35mm focal length does require you to get very close to your subject, but after taking Canon’s 1.6x crop factor into account, the effective focal length is actually in the area of 56mm.
The best part about this lens is the built-in ring light. No, it’s not extremely powerful – but it can easily be the difference between a good shot and a blurry shot, and it’ll cast a nice, even glow over your subjects. The lens also features image stabilization, which is always a nice bonus. While this lens isn’t as versatile or sharp as other lenses on this list, it’s almost impossible to beat its value for money!
- Built-in ring light
- Optical stabilization (unusual for this price range)
- Optical performance isn’t as good as more expensive lenses
- Plastic construction instead of metal
- No weather sealing
- Not suited for full-frame cameras
Nikon AF-S 40mm f/2.8G Micro
This 40mm f/2.8 macro lens has long been revered as one of the best options for Nikon shooters who want to get started with close-up photography (and who also appreciate a versatile all-around lens). It’s small, light, and lets you shoot brilliant photos of tiny subjects without spending a lot of money.
In fact, the Nikon 40mm f/2.8 is quite similar to the aforementioned Canon 35mm macro lens, though it does lack both a ring light and image stabilization. Neither of these omissions is a huge deal, however; if you’re set on a ring light, you can always purchase one as an accessory, and image stabilization is more of a luxury than a necessity when doing macro work.
This is a DX lens, which means it won’t function on full-frame cameras. But on APS-C models, the 40mm focal length is equal to 60mm, so in addition to macro shots, the lens will offer plenty of potential for portraits and street photography. While the f/2.8 aperture can’t compete with f/1.8 or f/1.4 lenses, it still offers pleasing bokeh and out-of-focus backgrounds.
The best part about the 40mm f/2.8 is the price: It’s by far the cheapest option on this list, so if you’re a Nikon shooter and you’re on the fence about diving into macro photography, it’s tough to go wrong with this lens!
- Incredible value; one of the cheapest autofocus macro lenses available
- Great optical performance
- Not suited for full-frame cameras
- Autofocus can be a bit slow
- Plastic construction and no weather sealing
Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Serious macro shooters who want top-notch image sharpness will be more than pleased with the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L. It’s designed for RF-mount mirrorless cameras and its high price point puts it out of reach for most beginners and hobbyists, but you do get what you pay for.
Not only does this lens produce optically stunning images, but it packs some brilliant bonus features that’ll impress any macro photographer. There’s a three-position focus limiter, which guarantees faster, more-reliable autofocus for different shooting scenarios. There’s also an innovative ring for controlling spherical aberration, which basically lets you adjust the optical quality of the out-of-focus elements of your image – not a must-have, but a nice feature that can certainly come in handy.
- Exquisite image quality
- Reliable, accurate autofocus
- Unique spherical aberration control ring
- Very expensive; not ideal for casual shooters
- Autofocus can be a bit slow
- Focusing elements tend to be noisy
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S
For years, the Nikon AF-S 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED lens was basically the holy grail of Nikon macro photography. First released in 2006, it easily held its own against much more modern competitors and is still an excellent lens option to this day.
However, Nikon recently launched an updated version specifically designed for Z-mount mirrorless cameras, the Nikon Z 105mm f/2.8 VR S, and the result is a stunning performer that ought to sit at the top of every Nikon macro shooter’s wishlist.
What makes this lens stand out? For one, its near-impeccable optical quality. Images are wildly sharp, and chromatic aberration is well controlled. Additionally, autofocus is fast and reliable, and the lens even offers a custom function button that you can assign to different functions in your camera menu. Then there’s the built-in image stabilization, which will help you get sharp images even when handholding in low light, and there’s also a focus limiter switch that’ll increase autofocus speeds in certain situations.
- Amazing image quality
- OLED screen shows focusing information
- Less expensive than the Canon 100mm f/2.8
- OLED screen is somewhat of a gimmick and not especially useful in practical shooting situations
- The focus limiter switch only includes two positions, while many similar lenses offer a three-position focus limiter
Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS
If you’re a Sony photographer in need of a world-class macro lens, then look no further than the 90mm f/2.8 Macro, which combines the best of what its Nikon and Canon competitors have to offer. Expect this lens to feature strong, durable construction along with dust and moisture resistance, which can be especially helpful when doing macro photography in rain, snow, and more.
Image stabilization can be enabled via a switch on the side, and this lens also has a three-position focus limiter similar to the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8. Sony’s lenses are renowned for their superb optical quality and this one is no exception, producing images that are tack sharp with outstanding contrast and color rendition. There is a customizable function button, and you can quickly change from manual focus to autofocus with a sliding ring.
One slight limitation is this lens’s f/22 minimum aperture – even stopped down to f/22, depth of field is still extraordinarily thin at high magnifications. But you can always use focus stacking to compensate (which will help you bypass diffraction for sharper results).
- Specially coated optical elements help reduce lens flare and other common problems
- Very fast autofocus
- Focus ring can be slide backward and forward to engage and disengage manual focus
- 90mm isn’t quite as long as the 100mm and 105mm focal lengths offered by competitors
- Relatively large minimum aperture of f/22
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Macro Art
While some photographers are reluctant to use third-party lenses, manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron have been working hard to produce outstanding glass, and recent offerings from both companies have been equal to first-party counterparts in every respect (even besting them in some areas). Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8 Macro deserves serious consideration from any photographer interested in taking beautiful macro shots, especially those on a budget, as this macro lens offers everything a close-up shooter could need, including stunning image quality, fast autofocus, and good weather resistance.
One interesting feature is the manual aperture ring, which lets you smoothly change the aperture by hand. This lens also focuses internally, so unlike some other lenses, you won’t see the front barrel protruding outward (which helps if you’re taking pictures of skittish insects).
Some users find Sigma’s autofocus to be a bit slow, but that has never been my experience. Currently, Sigma only makes this lens for Sony and Leica cameras, which might be an important limitation to keep in mind depending on your current gear.
- Outstanding value; priced lower than similar first-party lenses
- Solid, durable construction
- Physical aperture control ring for those who prefer a more tactile shooting experience
- Images are sharp but don’t quite match the quality of top-notch macro lenses on this list
- Only available for Sony and Leica mounts
Fujifilm XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR
It might seem a little strange to see an expensive 80mm macro lens on this list, but keep in mind that Fujifilm does not produce full-frame cameras; this lens is designed for their X line of APS-C cameras, which gives this lens an effective focal length of 120mm. In other words, the Fujifilm 80mm f/2.8 gives you the best of both worlds: the versatility of a shorter lens combined with the extra working distance of a longer lens.
This lens sports all the features you would expect given the price tag, including weather sealing, a focus limiter switch, and a ring for manually adjusting the aperture. Built-in optical image stabilization is rated at five stops, which is a huge benefit for macro photographers who prefer to work without a tripod, and autofocus is fast and silent. I do wish the minimum aperture went beyond f/22, but it’s definitely not a deal-breaker. Unlike other camera systems, you won’t find a huge range of macro lenses for Fujifilm cameras, but with a lens this good, you won’t really need to look at anything else.
- Effective 120mm focal length when mounted on a Fujifilm APS-C camera
- Sturdy build quality
- Good built-in image stabilization
- Somewhat expensive, especially for an APS-C lens
- Surprisingly large
Tokina ATX-i 100mm f/2.8 Macro
Macro photographers who want to move beyond inexpensive lenses such as the Nikon 40mm and Canon 35mm but don’t want to empty their pocketbooks will find a lot to love in Tokina’s 100mm f/2.8 macro lens. Built for full-frame cameras, this lens offers astonishing value and great optical performance, even if it lacks some of the features offered by its higher-priced competitors. Its 100mm focal length is great for macro photography as well as portraits, and image quality is very good.
Though this lens is half the price of others in its focal-length bracket, it does come with some trade-offs. Body construction is high-grade plastic instead of metal, and there is no weather sealing or image stabilization. Autofocus is fine but not quite as snappy as similar lenses from Sony, Canon, and Nikon. Fortunately, these drawbacks probably won’t matter to most macro shooters, while you and your bank account will definitely appreciate getting a great lens at such a low price.
- Excellent value; half the price of many of its peers
- Clutch mechanism for quickly switching between manual focus and autofocus
- Barrel does not rotate when extended
- Plastic build is fine but not as durable as metal
- Some photographers prefer lenses with internal focusing
- Autofocus is on the slower side
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro
While Micro Four Thirds cameras aren’t as popular as they once were, they still enjoy a dedicated following, and there are plenty of photographers who appreciate their small size and good selection of lenses. When using a Four Thirds sensor, focal lengths are doubled to find their full-frame equivalent – so this Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens offers a 120mm focal-length equivalent. It’s also significantly cheaper and lighter than similar full-frame lenses, which is a huge benefit for macro photographers who like to travel.
In terms of features and image quality, this Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro lens has everything you’d expect from a top-notch performer: Images are sharp, focusing is fast and reliable, and a three-position focus limiter lets you shoot subjects that are far away, really close, or all of the above. There’s no built-in image stabilization, but you do get a good level of weather resistance. Overall, if you want to capture macro shots with an MFT camera, you can’t beat the combination of price, size, weight, and performance this lens has to offer.
- Small and lightweight
- Effective 120mm focal length
- Lens barrel has helpful built-in indicators for focusing on close subjects
- No built-in image stabilization
- Good image quality for an MFT lens but can’t quite match that of its full-frame peers
Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro
At first glance, the Irix 150mm f/2.8 might not seem worth considering: It’s manual focus, doesn’t include image stabilization, and its optical performance isn’t in the same league as some of its peers. Look closer, however, and macro shooters will quickly find a lot to like. For one, it features the longest focal length of any lens on this list, which is great for photographers who want to take high-magnification shots without getting physically close to their subjects.
The lens features outstanding weather sealing, and a huge, chunky manual focus ring to help you nail the shot. Focus can also be physically locked so it won’t change from one shot to the next, and you even get a large, Arca-type foot that works great on many tripods. Finally, the price is about half the cost of its Canon-, Nikon-, and Sony-made peers, so if you need a long lens but you’re on a budget, it’s a great pick.
- Long focal length compared to most of its peers
- Strong weather sealing
- Built-in tripod foot for improved ease of use
- Manual focus only
- Images aren’t quite as sharp compared to other macro lenses
- No built-in image stabilization
Laowa 100mm f/2.8 Ultra Macro APO
Laowa has made quite a name for itself by producing unique lenses that offer outstanding results; this 100mm f/2.8 macro lens continues the tradition by going beyond “standard” macro magnifications. You might even consider this a super macro lens.
You see, most macro lenses, including every other lens on this list, let you reproduce subjects at a 1:1 ratio. It sounds complex, but it really just means that the sizes of objects on your camera sensor will correspond to the sizes of the objects in real life. In other words, at 1:1 magnifications, you can capture incredible detail that you just can’t get with a normal lens. But this Laowa lens takes things a step further: it’s capable of shooting at a 2:1 ratio, so tiny subjects are twice as large on your camera sensor as they are in real life. That feature, combined with the 100mm focal length, means you can capture shots with this lens that you can’t get with any other lens on this list.
There are some important trade-offs, however. The Laowa 100mm f/2.8 is not only manual focus, but also manual aperture, which means you can’t set the aperture on your camera. This adds up to quite a steep learning curve, but if you want mind-blowing macro shots that are impossible to achieve with other lenses, then it’s worth the effort. It’s also half the price of its peers, which makes its limitations a little easier to deal with.
- Incredible 2:1 magnification
- Excellent value
- Large, easy-to-reach focus ring
- All-manual control makes for a steep learning curve
- Barebones set of features compared to its peers
- The long focal length with no image stabilization is difficult to use without a tripod
Macro photography is an incredibly fun, challenging, and rewarding pursuit, and one that brings an almost endless amount of joy. Boring, everyday objects can look like priceless works of art when photographed up close, while flowers, insects, and other elements of the natural world can take on an otherworldly beauty.
While you can explore this type of photography with close-up filters and extension tubes, a true macro lens can take things to a whole new level. If you’re looking for the best lens for macro photography, you can’t go wrong with any of the options on this list; the important thing is to find a lens that fits your style and budget.
Do I Need A Special Camera To Take Macro Photos?
No. Any interchangeable-lens camera can take macro photos as long as you have the right lens.
Can I Take Macro Photos With My Phone?
Many phones now have a built-in macro mode, and there are also attachments and accessories that let you take beautiful close-up shots. However, many people prefer longer focal lengths and other qualities that you can only get with a dedicated camera and macro lens.
How Do I Know If I’m Really Taking True Macro Photos?
“Macro” is kind of a catch-all term, and it really just means “super-duper close.” Most photographers define macro photography as replicating subjects at a 1:1 ratio, but that definition isn’t written in stone. If you are able to take sharp images of tiny subjects up close, it probably counts as macro photography.
Do I Need A Tripod To Shoot Macro Photos?
You do not need a tripod, but it definitely helps. I like to take close-up shots with small apertures at low ISOs; this usually means long shutter speeds, and shots like that are definitely easier with a tripod and a still subject.
Why Don’t Macro Photographers Shoot Wide Open At F/2.8 To Get A Shallow Depth Of Field Effect?
Wide apertures are great for shallow depth of field effects in normal shooting conditions, but when you get into macro photography, you’ll quickly find that f/2.8 results in extremely shallow depth of field at high magnifications. So most macro photographers don’t shoot wide open unless they plan on doing focus stacking afterward.
originally posted on digital-photography-school.com by Simon Ringsmuth
About Author: Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He and his brother host a monthly podcast called Camera Dads where they discuss photography and fatherhood, and Simon also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him as @sringsmuth.