10 Best Macro Lenses for Canon DSLRs in 2017 – Ratings & Reviews
Macro lenses come in a variety of fixed focal lengths, ranging from 50 to 200mm. (Read Sandy Ramirez’s exclusive Adorama Learning Center article on the relative advantages and disadvantages of each macro lens focal length or scroll down for a summary of each key lens range).
Some macro lenses focus down to 1:2 but extend to 1:1 via an optically matched adapter at an additional price. A handful goes beyond 1:1 into super macro photography territory.
Let’s take a close-up look at the top macro lenses available now. Keep in mind that all the lenses (and recommended alternatives for discontinued lenses) in this article are available at Adorama’s Macro Lens department.
Once exclusively the domain of DSLRs, the Macro has started to make inroads into the rapidly growing category of mirrorless interchangeable lens compacts (MILCs). You can see the small but growing selection of MILC macro lenses at the end of this article.
№1 – Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro
This weatherproof macro lens’s biggest selling point is its Hybrid image stabilization system that helps produce blur-free images with accurate details when shooting in macro and telephoto in low light.
Canon brought two key elements to the table: IS (Hybrid Optical Image Stabilization) and a USM (Ultrasonic Focus Motor). You may ask yourself, “What on earth does this mean?” Well, it means that the IS will keep your photos from blurring by correcting small movements without compromising image quality, while the USM — picked up from its predecessor — delivers an AF that won’t disappoint.
Canon decided against building this lens in metal and used engineering plastic instead, and this is something that has drawn everyone’s attention. Is it odd? Probably, since we were already used to the L-Series’ metal finishes. Is it good? Definitely. Some people were annoyed by this and even said the lens looks cheap. We believe Canon did not disappoint when assembling this, and the change of material also reduced some weight. Go, engineering plastic!
№2 – Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS
There are some chromatic aberration light details in the corners, but they’re not deal-breakers and won’t ruin your photographs by any means. Even though around three-quarters of the images taken were usably sharp while using the OS, only about half were excellent. It will be no bother if you use a tripod, but some people find it’s a great disadvantage.
This lens is incredible for photographing with wide-open aperture. It captures color beautifully, and the background blur is of very high quality. When the main subject is focused properly, the result is a beautiful, soft background. It is slightly longer than what we’ve seen previously, which gives you a little more space to work with.
№3 – Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Macro Canon EF
The Tamron 180mm f/3.5L Macro is your go-to lens for professional photography. This longer type of lens will allow you to keep your distance from certain subjects while maintaining the image quality and 1:1 ratio. Professionals use them when photographing fast animals or when they don’t want to invade someone’s personal space.
The 180mm telephoto is INSANE. The colors look beautiful and everything looks sharp. The AF makes it easy to use, and it’s not as heavy as other lenses. In other words, this hardcore lens is made for challenges. You’re planning a trip to the Amazon rainforest and want a lens to capture tree cortex details? It can do it. Your sister is getting married and wants detailed pictures of the bouquet? It can do it. A beetle got inside your house, and it’s been lying still, basically posing for you? Yep, it can do it.
№4 – Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro
Tamron made sure to pamper this lens, equipping it with two types of coating to avoid reflection: the eBAND (Extended Bandwidth and Angular-Dependency) and the BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection). It also added fluorine coating, so it’s water- and oil-resistant.
I think it’s safe to say you’d take good care of it and would not let it anywhere near a pool or a river, but it’s good to know these specs have your back.
Beautiful sharpness, low-light versatility, autofocus, light, short and all for a little over $300! This lens is the underdog that’s come to save the day of those whose budget can’t take the usual demands of photography.
№5 – Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 Macro
We considered this lens because its 5:1 ratio makes it almost like a microscope! OK, we might be exaggerating a little, but you get what we’re talking about.
People who compose their images thoroughly and plan everything in their head before going into action will get the best out of this lens. We recommend it for studio photography because it’s less dynamic. It can be hard to set up if you’re going hiking, but it’s perfect for backyards or vast lands.
This crazy 5:1 ratio is incredible for photographing slow subjects or flowers with your DSLR. Hell, even details on people if you’re up for it. Imagine you’re an amateur working at a hardware store, for example. Could you imagine the indescribable beauty in a macro photo of brand-new screws and nuts?
OK, here’s a slightly less rustic example: It’s your kid’s party, and you get to test this lens with the ball pool. Think of the colors, the details, the challenge of focusing while being surrounded by kids! Are you ready for it?
№6 – Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro D Macro
We loved that its minimum focus distance of 12 inches gave us enough space to get real close, amazing pictures without being intrusive. Whether you’re going to photograph bugs or dental pieces — yes, dentists can be photography enthusiasts too — it’s a great deal if sharpness is your priority.
35mm fans, this is right up your alley. It works for both digital and film cameras! According to Tokina’s official description, “The lens’ multi-coating have been re-engineered to match the highly reflective silicon based CCD and CMOS sensors in today’s digital SLR cameras, while the optics still give full coverage and excellent sharpness on 35mm film.”
№7 – Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
This one’s highly recommended for active, can’t-stay-still users because it’s comfortable to carry, shorter than a 180mm and will give you amazing results! If you value practicality the most, this lens is the match for you.
This lens’ versatility is such that there’s really no need for a tripod. In fact, it’s so good that our #1 pick was its stabler successor! As long as you stand on solid ground, you’ll get high-quality images with beautiful colors and nice sharpness!
№8 – Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6
Are you just starting in this great-but-painful road of macro photography? Will you be visiting Hawaii, Cabo or the Rocky Mountains during spring break? Your heart is made of gold, you have great ideas, but your pocket can’t take another blow?
This is a great, versatile option for beginners! If you feel like zoom comes in handy sometimes or you can’t carry three bags of lenses, this Sigma deserves a chance — especially when it will cost you less than $200!
The price, the versatility, the possibilities! It even has a built-in macro mode for focal lengths of 200-300mm!
Singers could make a love album out of this description. Do you know what comes to mind when thinking about this lens? Travel bloggers, soccer moms and dorky dads. It’s THAT functional.
Photos of freshly baked cupcakes, close-ups of the dog’s nose, a beautiful shot of a ladybug on your sister’s foot. You’ve got the whole package!
№9 – Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L
We couldn’t miss Canon’s telephoto on this ranking. The only reason it’s almost at the bottom is because we already have a 180mm lens, but this L-Series lens will definitely give your pictures a professional finish. Also, it’s compatible with extenders. You’ll basically own a microscope!
The FTM (full-time manual focusing) is extremely helpful for real close subjects because it maintains the length. This is valuable, especially when you already set everything up and don’t want your focus compromised by the final adjudgments.
№10 – Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO
Let’s say you want to invest in a fixed lens with a nice telephoto — Why else would you be here? — and you run into this 150mm Sigma. Its presentation card would probably read, “Hello. My 150mm macro prevents you from invading subjects’ personal space, I am sharp, have a cool bokeh and want you to work with me”. Probably. Actually, we’re sure.
This is still the only 150mm fixed lens for Canon on the market! Also, we trust this image stabilization system (Optical Stabilization) so much that we won’t remind you to use a tripod when shooting macro. See what we did there? In case you don’t have your tripod at hand, this lens will give you amazing results!
Want to shoot close-ups? We pick the best lenses for the job
If you want to shoot ultra-close-up images, you need a macro lens. The ‘macro’ badge often seems to be bandied about willy-nilly. You’ll see it applied to zoom lenses that give as little as a 0.33x maximum magnification ratio, or thereabouts, and to prime lenses that only give 0.5x magnification. By comparison, all of the lenses we’ve selected here go the distance, at least when it comes to short focusing distances, enabling full 1.0x magnification at their closest focus setting. But what does that actually mean?
A macro lens with a 1.0x or 1:1 magnification ratio can reproduce objects at full life size on the camera’s image sensor. For example, if you’re shooting with a APS-C format DSLR body like a Canon EOS 750D or Nikon D5600, a postage stamp will fill the whole of the image frame. When viewing photos on screen or in print, this therefore gives the possibility of massive enlargements of the tiny things in life. Shoot a spider or garden bug, for example, and it can take on the appearance of a giant alien invader, complete with astonishing fine detail that’s invisible to the naked eye.
While all of the lenses on test give the same maximum magnification, there’s a wide variation of focal lengths on offer, ranging from 40mm to 105mm. The main difference in practical terms is that lenses with shorter focal lengths have closer minimum focus distances, at which full 1.0x magnification becomes available. A focal length of between 90mm to 105mm is often preferred, as it gives a convenient working distance to the subject, of around 15cm. The minimum focus distance remains the same whether you use a lens on an full-frame or APS-C format camera. However, the 1.6x/1.5x crop factor of a APS-C DSLR gives the appearance of even greater magnification.
Shorter focal lengths can shrink the closest available focus distance. Bearing in mind that the distance is measured from the ‘focal plane’ near the rear of the camera body, rather than from the front of the lens, you can find that the forward end of the lens comes frustratingly close to the subject in macro shooting. Not only do you risk scaring away small bugs that you’re trying to photograph, you can also find that you’re blocking light from reaching the subject. The problem can be compounded in lenses that lack an internal focusing mechanism, because their physical length often stretches considerably as the focus distance is reduced.
Unlike regular lenses, the performance of macro lenses in terms of sharpness and contrast at narrow apertures is an important factor. This is because depth of field can be as little as a millimetre or two at the shortest focus distance, so you often need to use a narrow aperture to enable sharpness at more than one specific point on a three-dimensional subject.
Remember, macro lenses can focus at normal distances too, so they can be used as regular ‘prime’ lenses and make great portrait lenses.
Here are our top pick macro lenses for Canon DSLRs. All these recommended Canon macro lenses are designed for full-frame sensors, so you can use them on APS-C format Canon DSLRs too, and you’re free to base your choice on value, focal length, autofocus systems and whether or not they include image stabilization. It’s useful in a macro lens, though ultra-close-ups are usually shot on a tripod anyway.
Canon Macro Lens
If you want to see your subject larger in the frame than your current lens collection can deliver, you want a macro lens. You may also want a macro lens for the excellent image quality that many of these lenses deliver. Macro lenses are very fun to use – the results from macro photography can also be very fun. And the unusually close look at these typically-small subjects is beautiful and intriguing.
While many lenses have “macro” in their names, I don’t get interested in the macro feature of many of these lenses. My personal qualification for a real macro lens is a 1:1 or 1x maximum magnification ratio. This means that the subject will be rendered at life size on the camera’s sensor. A 20mm subject will be rendered across 20mm of the sensor. And it will be rendered HUGE on your large monitor as 20mm is going to fill a substantial portion of the frame.
There are always subjects available for macro photography. And bringing home flowers for your wife (and to photograph of course) can even strengthen your marriage.
Deciding which focal length will work best for your needs is, as usual, part of the lens selection process. Longer focal length macro lenses will give you more working distance at 1:1 – this reduces the tendancy of live subjects to fly or crawl away. Longer focal length lenses also have narrower angles of view, which means that there is less background to incorporate into an attractive-looking image. And that background will be more-diffusely blurred as shown below.
They images above are identically framed using the same camera, the same aperture setting (f/16) and they have identical subject to background distances. As a rule, the same framing and the same aperture results in the same Depth of Field (DOF) until focus distances approach the hyper-focal distance. But, perspective/compression/angle of view are very different between these sample photos. The 180mm lens shows only a small physical area of the subject’s background that is enlarged – magnifying the blur. Background subjects in the 60mm picture appear to be more in focus. They are not – they are just about as blurred, but they appear much smaller in the picture – and there are more of them because of the 60mm’s angle of view. This yields a less diffusely-blurred background.
If you are using a backdrop (such as rolled paper), the background blur aspect will probably not be important to you.
There are downsides to the longer focal length macro lenses. They are larger/heavier and require a faster shutter speed for handholding. They also typically cost more.
My personal preference has been for a 180mm focal length macro lens, but I have been finding the image stabilization feature of Canon’s 100L to be a significant advantage to my macro photography. So, I have been using the 100mm focal length much more frequently – primarily for handheld without flash needs. If you want more background in focus, a 50mm or similar focal length might make more sense for you – though I seldom find myself recommending these.
Keep in mind that the depth of field at 1:1 macro focusing distances is very shallow. You will want to use narrow apertures for much of your macro photography. Narrow apertures mean longer shutter speeds – speeds that in many situations will require a tripod or flash to stop camera motion blur.
The maximum aperture of a macro lens is often not important to me as they all have my most-needed f/8 through f/16 aperture openings.
Unleash your creativity. Or move farther from your subject and a wide aperture can be extremely useful for keeping a distracting background in a blurred state.
While autofocus is nice to have in a macro lens, I often use manual focus for critical focus accuracy at close focusing distances. But as with a wide aperture, a good-performing autofocus system can be very helpful in some macro photography uses and in many other macro lens uses.
Just because it is a macro lens does not mean that you can only use it for macro photography. Most macro lenses (the Canon MP-E 65mm Lens excluded) also make great general purpose lenses. Portraits are one particularly good use for many of these lenses. A wide aperture and solid AF system are very helpful with this usage.
The First Canon Lenses You Should Buy
If you want more options than your kit lens can offer, you’re probably asking yourself, “Now what?” We’ve been recommending Canon lenses for three years now, and after putting in another 10 hours of research and testing, as well as interviewing three leading lens experts, we’ve picked out the four best lenses for a new photographer who is ready to improve.
To take your photography to the next level, you’ll want to begin building your arsenal of lenses. We recommend starting with the newest Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 as your standard prime, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L as your telephoto, and the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 for a wide-angle option. If macro is your thing, start with the Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP.
Acquiring lenses is the natural next step toward harnessing the power of your Canon. Your camera body likely came with a kit lens, probably the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6; that’s a sufficient everyday zoom lens for learning the ins and outs of your camera, but you’ll quickly outgrow it. If you want to shoot in lower light, with a wider viewpoint, or up closer, you’ll need to invest in new lenses. This guide will point you in the right direction for filling your camera bag with excellent glass that’s supremely affordable.
Why you should trust me
I have more than 16 years of experience as a photojournalist, writer, and professional photographer. I started my career so long ago, we actually used something called “film.” I’ve worked as a photographer and written about photography ever since, including my role as an editor at DPReview, the most popular camera site on the Web. In that time I’ve gained many years’ worth of real-world experience researching, testing, and writing about photography trends, techniques, and tools.
I’m also a Canon photographer: I use both the Canon EOS 5D Mark III and the Canon EOS 5D Mark II in my lifestyle-photography work.
When researching this piece, I considered more than 50 lenses from several manufacturers. I read lens reviews by the dozen, and I interviewed industry experts such as Jeff Keller, senior editor at DPReview, and Andy Westlake, technical editor of Amateur Photographer and What Digital Camera.
How we picked
Here we focus on lenses that work well with crop-sensor Canon cameras such as the new Canon EOS 80D or those in the popular Canon Rebel line, like the latest Canon EOS Rebel T6i (which we used for much of our testing).
If you’ve just bought your first DSLR and it’s a Canon, it probably has an APS-C sensor inside it. An APS-C (or crop) sensor is smaller than the sensor on some of Canon’s higher-end cameras (such as the 5D Mark III), and that’s important in terms of what kinds of lenses work on your camera—as well as their cost and performance. If you have a full-frame model, you’re probably far enough into this game that you can do the necessary legwork yourself.
Many of our recommendations are designed specifically for crop-sensor cameras and won’t fit a full-frame model; while they are lighter and less expensive than their full-frame counterparts, they are often not as good optically. In some cases, such as with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, the lens we recommend is suited to both crop-sensor and full-frame cameras. Although it’s certainly a plus to know that a lens could fit both sensor sizes, we urge beginners not to get sucked into the full-frame upgrade myth and to instead outfit yourself with gear that’s appropriate for your current needs.
You’ll find any lens’s focal length expressed as a distance in millimeters. That measurement gives you an idea of the lens’s field of view and thus the magnification of the scene. Higher numbers give you a narrower field of view, and more magnification; for example, a 400 mm lens is a telephoto, while a 20 mm lens gives you a wide-angle view. (You’ll see the measurement on the side or front of the lens around the glass.) Because of the difference in sensor size, when you’re using a camera with a smaller sensor than a full-frame one, a given lens’s field of view will be narrower, referred to as the “crop factor.” In camera reviews and manuals, you’ll often see this crop factor given as a multiplier based on the industry standard of a 35 mm, full-frame sensor. The crop factor for Canon APS-C sensors is 1.6—that is, a 50 mm lens on a crop-sensor camera will give you the same field of view as an 80 mm lens will on a full-frame sensor. Other sensor formats have different crop factors; Micro Four Thirds, for example, is 2x. For easy reference, manufacturers give their crop and full-frame lens lines different names: For instance, Canon’s crop-sensor-specific lenses are in the EF-S series, while EF lenses are compatible with all Canon cameras. For Sigma, the respective designations are DC and DG, and for Tamron the labels are Di II and Di.
The lenses we looked at don’t cost thousands each, so you can buy a few to experiment with different types of photography. We’re recommending the best gear at the best price—but if you want to invest more in higher-end lenses, we also have some options that will offer a bit better quality than our primary pick.
Great Macro Lenses vs. Great Lenses for Macro
These are all great macro lenses, but most of them aren’t great for serious macro photography. What?
All of these macro lenses are super-sharp and free from distortion. Any half-decent macro lens is extraordinary for use as a normal or telephoto lens for general photography — but here I’m discussing which lenses are best for serious macro shooting.
For serious macro shooting, you need a much longer lens, at least 100mm and preferably 200mm, so that you can make close-up photos from at least a foot or two away. With any 40mm to 60mm macro lens, by the time you get close enough for serious macro work, you’re so close that you block your own light, annoy the subject, and the picture looks funny because of the unnatural perspective from being too darn close.
For instance, the Nikon 55mm f/2.8 (both auto and manual focus versions) is arguably the sharpest lens in photography, but it’s a poor choice serious macro use because it’s too short and you have to get uncomfortably close.
Regardless of how ultra-sharp or merely super-sharp any of these may be for general photography, because depth-of-field is nonexistent at real macro distances, lens sharpness isn’t important because you’ll be stopped down to f/32 anyway. Therefore, these will all be indistinguishable from each other as far as sharpness for serious macro use is concerned. At f/32, diffraction makes them all the same. Shoot wider, like at f/8, and nothing will be in focus, so again, whatever miniscule differences there may be at infinity won’t matter. These are so good technically that sharpness doesn’t matter — but focal length does.
Hint: for great macro on a budget, use any 2x teleconverter with a 105mm or 100mm macro lens to give you a 200mm macro lens and let you stand farther away for the same magnification— but it will be much more difficult to compose and focus because you’ll only be at about f/8 after adding the converter at most macro distances. For Nikon, a used manual-focus TC-200 for about $50 and any 105mm macro could be all you need.
Here are the best macro lenses for both general and macro photography. All of these are at least as sharp, and usually sharper than regular lenses, even at infinity. See also How to Shoot Macro.
Get the lens you really want, since unlike cameras, good lenses are always a great investment.
Click each for its complete review. See also the Comparison sections of many of these reviews for far more details.
Sigma and Tamron
I wouldn’t buy either of these brands. Even if the optics can be as good as the others, the mechanical quality of the samples I’ve seen has not been up to my standards, and there is far more potential for the lenses you buy today not to work on the cameras you buy tomorrow with these brands than with camera-maker-brand lenses.
The main reason people bought Sigma and Tamron was for price. Today, you’re much better off with a used manual-focus Micro-NIKKOR for even less money with far superior quality, but hey, if you prefer these off-brands, don’t let me stop you.
Best Canon Macro Lenses
Macro lenses are designed for photographing small subjects at close range, such as flowers or insects. All lenses can take close-up photos, but Macro lenses are optimised for it, and are able to focus closer and deliver better quality results.
Typical macro lenses have equivalent focal lengths of around 100mm and can also double-up for portrait shots, although they are designed to perform best at close range. For extreme close-up capabilities, Canon’s MP-E65 can deliver reproductions up to five times life-size.
Best macro lenses for DSLRs
Macro lenses allow you to focus closer to your subjects than conventional optics, which lets you to capture even finer details with greater clarity. As a genre this type of photography is fairly broad, covering everything from flowers and insects to abstract and even food photography.
True macro lenses offer a 1:1 reproduction ratio, which means they can resolve an image on a sensor at the same size as in real life. They are always prime lenses, so beware of zoom lenses claiming to offer ‘macro’ capabilities, as these simply may focus slightly closer than normal. They also come in a range of focal lengths, with longer lenses more suitable to insects and other live subjects as they allow you to keep a greater distance away from the subject as you shoot.
Even cheap macro lenses can offer excellent quality images, although pricier alternatives do have their benefits. Aside from optical advantages, these may include focus limit switches to limit the range between which a lens focuses, which helps speed up focusing, as well as image stabilisation systems to broaden their use to handheld photography.
If shooting live subjects such as insects, look out for internal focus systems; these keep the centre of gravity constant while focusing, as well as the length of the barrel so that they don’t disturb the subject. As this also keeps the front of the lens from rotating, they also allow for the use of front-mounted flash units.
Read more at http://www.whatdigitalcamera.com/roundup/lens-roundup/best-macro-lenses-14638#p7xmIG3IORtvSgaj.99
Macro Lens Buying Guide
It is probably safe to say that many of us photographers have, either with our cameras or smartphones, tried to capture a close-up image of an insect, flower, toy, or other object. We have an idea of what we want this photograph to look like as we prepare to capture the image. We have seen and admired beautiful close-up images before but, when we nose the camera lens up to the object, the camera balks—it cannot focus close enough to create the image we want to capture. Fewer things in photography can be as frustrating as trying to get a close-up photograph of something inside the lens’s minimum focus distance.
There are several ways to do close-up, or “macro” photography, but the macro lens is the easiest path to creating and capturing compelling, detailed close-up images of the larger world.
The macro lens is an optic that is designed to have a very short minimum focus distance to facilitate close-up photographs. The mission of the macro lens is to reproduce objects at, or slightly smaller than, life-size. What does this mean? We have all seen large images of small things—a poster-sized image of a flower, for instance. The reproduced flower is obviously larger than life-size. In fact, if you make a big enough print of anything, it can be larger than life-size. The reproduction goal of the macro lens is the life-size reproduction of the object on the sensor or film. For example: If you photograph a small coin with a macro lens capable of life-size reproduction, the image framed on the digital sensor will be identical in size to the coin.
The reproduction dimensions of which a macro lens is capable is labeled with a ratio. A macro lens that can reproduce objects at life-size is said to be a 1:1 macro lens. A 1:2 macro lens can reproduce objects at half-size. A lens that can reproduce objects at double life-size will be a 2:1 macro lens. Many macro lenses feature the 1:1 or 1:2 ratios.
Beware! There are a lot of lenses on the market, especially some longer zooms that promote their “macro” capabilities. If your goal is close-up photography, keep an eye on the magnification ratio of these lenses, as they might not get you as close to the 1:1 or 1:2 ratios as you want for your images.
Macro lenses have other tricks up their sleeves beyond the close-focusing capabilities. Many macro lenses are designed with a flat focus field instead of a curved field common in other lenses. The curved field means that the image is sharper in the center than at the edges. This is often not extremely noticeable due to the lens’s depth of field. With a dedicated macro lens, the flat-field focus is designed to allow the image to be in focus from edge to edge in the frame.
Focal length, the distance between the optical center of the lens and the image plane, is one important factor when considering a macro lens. You might think that the longer the focal length—the more telephoto the macro lens—the more magnification you can get from the lens. This is not necessarily true, since certain macro lenses of all different focal lengths obtain a 1:1 ratio.
The difference you experience when using a normal or wide-angle macro lens versus a telephoto macro lens is a different minimum focus distance. In the macro photo world, this is known as the “working distance.” A longer focal length lens will have a greater working distance than a shorter focal length lens. The advantage of the larger working distance is the ability to stay farther from your subject. That may not matter for shooting a still life, but if you are photographing a small animal, the extra distance might be just what you need to keep from startling the critter. A longer focal length lens will also have shallower depth of field. This may or may not be advantageous to the photograph you are trying to achieve. Lastly, the extra working distance may also help keep your gear from casting an unwanted shadow on your subject.
It sounds like a longer focal length is better for macro photography, right? Are there advantages to a shorter focal length macro lens? Yes. The shorter focal length macro lenses are generally smaller, lighter, and less expensive than their longer counterparts and they can achieve the same level of magnification. If you are a casual macro shooter, having a small and light macro lens in your bag might be a better option than carrying around a heavier, bulkier telephoto macro lens that might rival your largest optics for size and weight.
Macro Lens for Canon 6D
Consider getting the Canon 100mm f2.8 USM, or alternatively a Sigma 105mm f2.8 or Tamron 90mm f2.8 if the Canon 100mm f2.8 L IS is too expensive for you. The latter 2 have image stabilization, and are excellent lenses, and they cover FF. I’ve got the Canon 100mm f2.8 L IS, and it is a very nice lens. However, I have to admit that it isn’t noticeably better than most of the other macro lenses I’ve owned, or own, and that’s quite a lot. The nice little extras are effective IS and weather sealing. Both useful but not essential. For instance IS is handy for some type of handheld natural light close-up photography. But IS doesn’t freeze subject movement, and I’ve got many very sharp handheld natural light images with non-IS lenses.
All the lenses I’ve mentioned will give many years of excellent service and are capable of top draw image quality. Most macro lenses are optically very good and well made. If you’ve got a need for a macro lens, I would recommend you get the one you can afford rather than dreaming about one you can’t, or which you have to save up for longer. Macro lenses are not the type of lens you have to worry about getting the right one. It is true with other lenses that you can be limited by the lens, but all the main macro lenses, including those from the independent lens manufacturers are so optically good, that in real world images you wouldn’t notice the difference between them. A macro lens is a very useful photographic tool if you’ve got a use for one.
It’s hard to come up with a BAD macro lens. I would go for the Canon non-IS 100mm f/2.8 or for a third party lens around that focal length, if you want one under 500 bucks. Used ones are abundant. Don’t overlook refurbished lenses bought directly from Canon. The nonL costs 419 bucks and is out of stock, the L costs 719 bucks and is in stock. Or – ebay or a local camera store.
And if someone in your family shoots Nikon and has a film era AIS macro lens around, you could buy a used F lens to EF mount adapter ($50.00) and shoot with it in full manual mode. Which means that the live view can be dark at realistic ISO / shutter / aperture combinations – ok for shooting coins or rocks or other non-moving objects, PITA if you want to shoot moving objects by live view. (Yep, I have tried this with an old family lens, one of the gazillion 55 f/3.5 1:2 macros made by NIkon)
Focal length and working distance
As focal length increases, the minimum focusing distance also increases, so the working distance – that is, the gap between the subject and the front element – becomes greater.
This means a telephoto macro lens, for example, has the advantage of allowing greater distance between the lens and the subject, which reduces the chance of the camera and lens shading the scene and so there is less need for supplementary lighting. But if extra illumination is required, then there’s more space with which to work, which means standard lights and flashguns can be used instead of a specialist macro lighting kit, such as a ringflash.
A longer lens is also useful when shooting insects and animals, as they are less likely to be disturbed or become anxious or aggressive when the photographer keeps a respectful distance.
However, one downside to using a telephoto lens can be the reduction in the available depth of field, although this can also be helpful when backgrounds need to be blurred.
Another potential issue is that the subject may be out of arm’s reach, so it can’t be adjusted or moved quite as quickly or easily as it can when a short focal-length optic is used.
As well as producing greater depth of field at any given aperture, wideangle macro lenses offer the opportunity to include more of the surroundings in the image, so it’s easier to show the subject in context. This makes them a good choice for creating interesting garden and landscape images with shallow depth of field, perhaps with one flower in sharp focus while the rest of the flowerbed and the surrounding lawn is rendered as a soft blur.
Round up of macro lenses
Macro lenses. 30-70mm lenses
On 35mm cameras, a 50mm lens offers a similar field of view and perspective to our eyes, making it a popular choice for macro photography. These lenses have the advantage of being light and portable, and a minimum focusing distance of around 20cm is typical.
On full-frame cameras, a 60mm lens gives a little more distance between the subject and the front lens element than a 50mm optic, without the weight and bulk of longer lenses. On an APS-C-format camera, they effectively become 90/96mm optics, close to the popular 100mm focal length of full-frame photography.
Macro lenses. 85-200mm lenses
Not surprisingly given its short telephoto status, 100mm and 105mm is the most common focal length range for a macro lens, as it sits neatly between the shortest and longest macro optics available. They are also a popular choice of portrait lens.
With working distances of around 20cm or more, 150-200mm lenses allow more scope for manoeuvring flash and studio lighting around the subject. Despite the greater subject distance, depth of field is shallower than with a 50mm lens at its closest focusing point at any given aperture.
Macro Lenses for the Canon EOS system
First, what exactly is a “Macro” lens. To a lens maker it appears sometimes to be a lens with “macro” printed on it! I’ve seen “macro” applied to any lens that will close focus to a magnification of about 0.25x (1/4 life size). However that’s not really what most photographers would mean by a “macro” lens. A true macro lens is optically corrected to give a flat field, minimum distortion and high sharpness when focused at its closest distance, and at that distance provide a magnification of at least 0.5x (1/2 life size), though most true macro lenses will provide 1x (life size) magnification.
A simple lens (such as a typical 50/1.8) focuses by linear extension, which is just a fancy way of saying that you move the whole optical assembly closer and further from the sensor/film in order to focus. If you move it far enough, you can get 1x magnification. For a simple 50mm lens, if you put it 100mm from the sensor/film plane, it will give a 1x magnified image of an object that’s 100mm from the lens. However there’s a catch. Optical aberrations increase as you focus on nearer and nearer objects by moving the lens further and further away from the sensor/film. Field curvature, distortion and spherical aberration increase. You can make a 50/1.8 lens focus closer by using extension tubes of course and I’ve seen it said that since extension tubes contain no optics they can’t degrade image quality, but that’s not really the case. Moving the lens further from the sensor/film than it was designed to be introduces additional optical aberration.
So how do you get a lens that performs well both focused at infinity and focused at life size 1x magnification? Well, you use what are called floating elements. As you focus the lens, the elements of the lens move around in relation to each other in order for compensate aberrations at different focus distances. This may actually cause a change in effective focal length, but that doesn’t really matter much. What it does is allow the design to be optimized for both close and distant focus. Obviously this is a more complex design than a lens with fixed elements and more elements may be required, so the cost is higher. For example the $85 Canon EF 50/1.8 II has 6 elements, while the $250 Canon 50/2.5 macro (which focuses to 1/2 life size) has 9 elements as shown below.
It’s generally true that macro lenses are very well corrected and so yield very sharp images. Even 3rd party macro lenses are usually quite good.
Magnification can be specified in three equivalent ways, descriptive, magnification and ratio.
“Life Size”, “1x” and “1:1″ all mean that the lens will cover an area equal to the size of the film or sensor. So for a full frame 35mm camera, that means you can fill the frame an area as small as 24mm x 36mm (15mm x 22.5mm for an APS-C camera)
“Half life size”, “0.5x” and “1:2″ all mean that the lens will cover an area twice as wide and high as that of the sensor. So for a full frame camera that means you can fill the frame with an area as small as 48mm x 72mm (30mm x 45mm for an APS-C camera)
“5x” or “5:1″ means that the lens will cover an area 1/5th the linear size of the film or sensor. So for a full frame camera that means you can fill the frame with an object as small as 4.8mm x 7.2mm (3mm x 4.5mm for an APS-C camera).
Macro lenses typically come in 3 focal lengths, “normal” – 50mm, 90 or 100mm and telephoto – something like 180mm. Each has it’s advantages and disadvantages. From the macro point of view, increasing focal length means increasing working distance. A larger working distance may mean that it’s easier to get light onto the subject (since the camera is less in the way). It can also make working with live subjects (e.g. butterflies) easier. However longer focal lengths mean larger, heavier and more expensive lenses. Macro lenses can, of course, be used for non-macro work, and again the focal length may be a consideration. A 50mm macro lens can double as a “normal” lens on a full frame camera. A 100mm macro lens can double as a portrait lens and a 180mm macro lens can double as a short telephoto.
Macro Depth of Field
Depth of field depends on magnification, no matter how you get there, so the DOF of a 180mm macro lens at f8 and 1x magnification is exactly the same as that of a 50mm macro lens at f8 and 1x magnification. Depth of field gets smaller very quickly as magnification goes up and is symmetrical about the focus point. Here are some examples of the approximate DOF calculated for an APS-C DSLR. As you can see, it’s pretty shallow.
- 1x – DOF @ f2.8 = +/- 0.1mm
- 1x – DOF @ f8.0 = +/- 0.3mm
- 1x – DOF@ f16 = +/- 0.6mm
- 0.5x – DOF @ f2.8 = +/- 0.3mm
- 0.5x – DOF @ f8.0 = +/- 0.9mm
- 0.5x – DOF @ f16 = +/- 1.8mm
- 5.0x – DOF @f16 = +/- 0.075mm
Since DOF is so small, it’s usually a good idea to use manual focusing for 1x macro shots so you get the DOF exactly where you want it. Sometimes focusing is better done by moving the camera forwards and backwards rather than using the lens focusing collar and Just about always you will want the lens mounted on a tripod. A Focusing Rail can be very useful for precise positioning of the camera left and right as well as focusing. It’s tough moving the tripod exactly 3mm to the left! The Adorama focusing rail (shown on the left) allows precise movement both back and forth and left and right and is something the dedicated macro shooter might want to invest in.
Canon EOS Macro Lenses
Canon currently make 6 macro lenses for EOS cameras:
- MP-E65mm f/2.8 1-5X Macro
- EF 50/2.5 macro
- EF-S 60/2.8 macro USM
- EF 100/2.8 macro USM
- EF 100/2.8L IS macro USM
- EF 180L/3.5 macro USM
Third Party Macro lenses
Third party macro lenses can be quite good and they are usually cheaper than the Canon equivalents. I usually try to stick with Canon lenses, but if their cost is too high or they don’t have the lens you want, in this case a 3rd party lens can be a reasonable choice. They are all sharp lenses. Note that the Sigma 50.2.8 macro goes to 1x, while the Canon 50/2.5 macro only goes to 0.5x unless you also buy the life size extender.
One unique 3rd party macro lens is the new Tamron SP 60mm f/2 Di II 1:1 AF Macro. It’s the fastest macro lens (1x) available right now. Being a DiII lens it’s only for crop sensor cameras (like the Canon EF-S series lenses), but it can do double duty as both a macro and fast portrait lens. It’s very sharp too. At 1x it gives you a working distance of about 4″
Which Macro lens to chose?
If you have an APS-C DSLR, I’d go for the Canon EF-S 60/2.8 macro USM. It gives a decent working distance, it’s very sharp, it goes to 1x and it can double as a portrait lens and it’s about 1/2 the size and weight of the EF 100/2.8 USM. It’s also significantly cheaper. If you want something faster, look at the Tamron SP 60mm f/2 Di II 1:1 AF Macro.
If you have a full frame DSLR I’d go for the Canon EF 100/2.8L IS USM Macro. Again the working distance is good, the lens is very sharp, it goes to 1x and it can double as a portrait lens. The IS version makes handheld work much easier.
The MP-E 65/2.8 and EF 180/3.5L are very good, but expensive and specialist lenses and the 50/2.5 macro only goes to 0.5x without the life size extender (which doubles the cost).
But I can’t afford a macro lens!
If a macro lens is outside your budget and you want to do macro work, using an extension tube or a high quality 2-element close-up diopter (which screws onto the front of your lens like a filter) is certainly an option. If you have a telephoto zoom like the Canon 70-300/4-5.6 IS USM, a 58mm Canon 500D closeup diopter can give you a good quality zoom that will go to about 0.7x and will provide you with a very good working distance. It won’t be quite as good as a dedicated macro lens, especially in the corners of the image if you are shooting a flat subject, but it may be good enough. A Canon 58mm Close-up Lens 250D will give you almost 1.2x, with somewhat less working distance though Canon don’t recommend that combination. Canon recommend the Canon 77mm Close-up Lens 500D (also available in 72mm and 52mm sizes) for use with lenses in the 70-300mm range and the 250D for lenses in the 35-135mm range. Another plus of these lens combinations with the 70-300IS is that they provides macro with image stabilization.
All you need to know about macro lenses
There are three types of lenses you can use for close up photography:
- fixed focal length macro lens $$$
- macro zoom lens $$$
- close up filters $
You’ve probably noticed I’ve put price points on each of the options. With macro photography, you definitely get what you pay for.
Fixed focal length = Sharpest
A fixed focal length macro lens (Nikon calls them micro) is your sharpest option, but can be the most pricey. I’ve used the Nikon 105mm Micro lens quite a bit and I must say when you have a good piece of glass, it’s hard to go back to the macro zoom variety, but I’ve also used a macro zoom and I’m really happy with the results I get for flowers and garden things, but I can tolerate a bit of softness in those. Maybe you can’t.
If you’re mainly shooting flowers then having a longer lens is more practical than a wide angle (such as 35mm) macro. Reason: You can get a little farther away from the plants and you won’t block the light. However, when you use a longer focal length you get less depth of field than with a shorter lens, so you need to be mindful of that.
These macro lenses can be used for regular photography too, not just close up work. In fact, they make great portrait lenses, especially the 100mm.
Depending on your sensor size, these fixed focal length lenses could set you back from ~$400 to $1,300. There are a few others focal lengths and brand names than what’s listed here, so be sure to do your research.
Macro zoom = Most convenient
Many zoom lenses have the macro option built in. This makes for one less lens in your camera bag. The convenience of having a zoom lens, and the price, may outweigh your need for the more expensive fixed focal length macro lens.
However in my experience, the focus falls off rather quickly using macro zoom lenses. If you like the look of soft edged, shallow depth of field flower photos, then you probably don’t mind. But as the question states: what’s the best lens for crisp images, then this might not be satisfactory. On the other hand if you’re moving from a consumer grade standard dSLR kit lens, then the macro zoom might look fantastic to you.
Close up filters = Cheap and soft at the edges
Thirty plus years ago, I bought a set of three close up screw on filters for about $40. Just like reading glasses, they come in +1, +2 and +4 strengths. They can also be stacked so you get a 1+2 = +3 magnification. On my babysitting earnings budget, they were all I could afford. I was using them to make copies of old family photos at the time. They are definitely not sharp to the edges, they are really hard to focus, and they almost take on a Holga-ish effect! If you like that sort of thing, then this will work for you. Anyhow, I ditched them soon after.
If you can afford it, get the fixed focal length macro lens. You won’t be disappointed. Do the research first though. I always recommend testing out any lens that I’m considering buying. Here’s how:
- Look up a few lenses you are considering
- Read reviews on them in camera magazine or websites
- Take your camera to your favourite photography retailer and take some photos in the store, or outside (you may have to take the salesperson with you)
- Better yet, rent a lens for the weekend and really test it thoroughly
- Compare it to the usual lens you use
- Look at the photos on your computer at 100%, or use a good loupe and light table if you’re shooting film
- Weigh quality, with your budget and your needs
While camera bodies continually drop in price and rise in features, having a good lens collection will keep it’s value. It’s worth the investment!
The 3 DSLR Lenses You Need
This goes out to people who bought or want an entry-level DSLR, and wonder what’s the deal with interchangeable lenses. You really gonna buy that extra glass? It’s a beginner’s guide to growing as a photographer, preferably without going broke.
It doesn’t matter what brand of camera you bought—if it’s an entry-level DSLR, it was offered to you with an 18-55mm kit lens. I hope you took them up on that offer because no matter what you bought, that kit lens comes cheap, and is well worth it. Yes, of the five lenses covered here, that kit lens is numero uno.
Like most bundle pricing, it’s cheaper than buying the camera body and lens separately, and most experts agree that an 18-55mm is actually the perfect lens for most immediate photographic needs, with both a decent wide angle plus the ability to zoom in on far away objects. In fact, if you take a look at the four shots below—all taken by me with kit lenses on basic DSLRs—you can see a foreshadowing of the four other lenses in this briefing—telephoto, wide-angle, portrait and macro:
But if you read Gizmodo enough, you know that we’ve made the case that lenses, and not the cameras themselves, account most for great pictures. Photography is an optics game first and foremost, and there’s a point at which that kit lens can’t achieve shots that your heart and soul tell you are achievable. There’s nothing wrong with your camera—seriously, there’s nothing wrong with it. You just need to get some more lenses.
In order to run this story I called some experts at Canon, Nikon and Sigma, which makes discounted lenses for most DSLRs. I could have called experts at [insert your favorite non-Canon or Nikon camera brand here] but early on, the advice was consistent and clear: Anyone who is really taking an interest in their camera should invest in a telephoto zoom next, followed by a fast “normal” lens, which you might call a portrait lens.
In the interest of speed, I can’t talk about lens anatomy, but there are some key attributes you need to know to read all lens retail listings: focal length and aperture.
In most cases, the lens categories here differ by the focal length, that is, how close a subject appears, indicated in millimeters. The human-eye equivalent is between 30mm and 50mm. A telephoto lens, which gets up close to things that are far away, can be as long as 500mm. A wide-angle lens, which makes close-up objects appear farther away, can be 10mm—still less if you want the bulbous fisheye look. A “zoom” lens simply means that it has a variable focal length—for instance, your kit lens, which can hit any length from 18mm to 55mm.
Because entry-level cameras have smaller (APS-C) sensors than professional APS) full-frame 35mm cameras, everybody makes two sets of lenses. Typically all lenses work on beginner cameras, but beginner lenses don’t work on pro cameras. If you stick with beginner lenses (denoted Nikon DX, Canon EF-S, Sony DT, Pentax DA, Sigma DC and Tamron Di II), you won’t have to stress, but if you want to buy a pro lens, or have some lying around, bear in mind that you need to multiply the focal length by 1.5 or so to get the equivalent focal length for your camera. A 50mm pro lens is really a 75mm lens on your beginner’s model. Why am I telling you this? Because there are new and used pro-level lenses out there for really good prices.
In one case below, what sets the lens apart is its large aperture. The aperture is the hole that lets in the light, and it’s measured by the f-stop. A wider aperture means more light comes in, and you have a better chance of getting nice shots indoors, in dimmer settings. A narrower aperture lets in less light. The trade-off is that a wide aperture can’t focus on as many things that are at different distances—it is said to have a “shallow depth of field.” Your main subject is clear, but the background is blurry—artistic in many cases, annoying in some. When you narrow the aperture, you can crisply resolve more elements, but only if there’s enough light. The wide aperture of a “fast” lens can always be narrowed, but there’s no way for a “slow” lens with a narrower aperture to bring in more light.
As if that wasn’t tricky, check this out: The f-stop is a fraction, and the number you refer to is on the bottom, so if it’s low (f/1.4), the aperture is wide, and if it’s high (f/6.0), the aperture is narrow. Got it? Zoom lenses at beginner prices tend to have variable f-stops, apertures that get narrower, and in need of more light, as you zoom in.
Lenses in many ways are about reach, about bringing faraway subjects closer to your camera’s sensor. “The low-end customer, who may take out their DSLR only occasionally, says, ‘I want to shoot a picture of the moon, or animals at the zoo, or kids playing soccer,'” says Dave Metz, a lens specialist at Sigma. Even when that kit lens is cranked to the max, it’s only giving you a 55mm focal length, which is why most DSLR makers have a very well-priced 55-200mm lens waiting at the ready. Prices range from $120 to $250, and it’s usually the easiest purchase to make.
Another telephoto zoom lens you’ll see is the 18-200mm, which can cost anywhere from $350 to $600. That’s a hefty premium to pay just so you don’t have to schlep around two lenses, and generally speaking, the broader the focal length range, the more corners are being cut in performance. That lens is a pass.
If you are feeling particularly far out, both Metz and Nikon’s camera marketing guru Steve Heiner suggest a 70-300mm lens. Sigma’s model sells for under $200, Nikon’s most recent model, with built-in image stabilizing, is just over $500, and there are 70-300mm lenses for everyone else ranging from $130 to $850, all with variable f-stops of either f/4.0-5.6 or f/4.5-5.6. Better yet, these lenses are spec’d for pro-grade full-frame cameras, so they’re exceptionally zoomy on your beginner’s camera, more like 105-450mm. Hey, don’t think about it too much, just enjoy it.
NORMAL (AKA PORTRAIT)
As much traction as you’ll get from a zoom lens, it doesn’t really teach you much, except maybe how to compose without cropping. I personally learned a hell of a lot more about photography when I started playing with f/1.8 50mm lenses. This is called a “normal” lens because, says Heiner, “It was all you could get on a camera in the ’50s and ’60s.” In fact, he jokes that even though younger people are snapping up this relatively cheap lens ($100 to $150), he and his ilk “couldn’t wait to get away from it” when zoom lenses started hitting the market.
What does it do? As a “fast” lens, it can shoot really well in low light. Keep the aperture wide, get up in your subject’s grill, and start clicking. You’ll see parts of their face sharply resolved while other parts are softly blurred. Tighten the aperture a tad, and your subject’s whole head is clear while the backdrop is soft and peaceful, even if it’s a Manhattan street corner at rush hour. What doesn’t it do? It doesn’t zoom, and because it’s usually rated for pro cameras, it’s about the equivalent of 75mm on an entry-level DSLR—which is roughly the preferred focal length for portrait shooting—so you often have to step back to get a decent shot.
Alternatives to the cheap f/1.8 lens are an even faster one, f/1.4 ($300 to $500), or a 30mm or 35mm that gives entry-level cameras more of a “normal”—what your eye can see—perspective.
At this point, in addition to the original cost of your camera, you’ve spent less than $500, and you’ve added immeasurable functionality and artistic wiggle room. You can stop here, and you won’t be judged. But, if you like, I can tell you about two more lenses that might rock your casbah.
ULTRA-WIDE ANGLE ZOOM
That kit lens brings you down to 18mm, which is enough for you to stand in a corner of a room and shoot pretty much anything going on in that room. But what if you’re not in the corner? The same twist of fate that makes pro-level telephoto lenses even more zoomy on your entry-level DSLR makes wide angles trickier—or at least more expensive—to attain.
Why is this? Film is flat, so light can come in at any angle, and the film will mostly record it. But camera sensor pixels are concave, and don’t do well with light coming in from the side. Think of the pixels as little water glasses, says Sigma’s Dave Metz. “You can fill them up with water by pouring it in from above, but try shooting it in from the side with a garden hose, and it’s going to go all over the place.” A telephoto by definition is pulling in light from directly in front of it, whereas a wide angle by definition is bringing in light from the sides, too. Hence the trouble, and the added expense.
But if you have the means, it’s the consensus of my experts that you should pick yourself up an ultra-wide-angle zoom lens (10-24mm, 10-22mm or 10-20mm). Just be very careful that it’s one built specifically for entry-level DSLRs, with the arcane designations I mentioned in the “Lens Labeling” section. Discounted on Amazon, Nikon’s is selling for $809 while Canon’s is around $730. Tamron and Sigma make them for Canon and Nikon for just under $500.
And the aesthetic pay off? As Metz tells it, “I am sure you’ve seen a beautiful mountain scene; in the foreground there’s beautiful little flowers. Because they’re so close, they appear out of perspective. You effectively enlarge the flowers.” It’s also, as he points out, the best way to make sure that all the uncles and aunts are included in the family portrait you take at the Christmas dinner table.
The final stop on our survey of lens-topia is the macro—or big hairy bug—lens. “When I try to show people about macro photography, they say ‘What is that?'” says Lisette Ranga, a Canon camera marketing specialist, “but when they look through the viewfinder, and see how close you can get, they get it.” While I don’t understand why people like taking pictures of bugs and flowers so much, I am a victim of the chronic urge to do so. Though some are 50mm or thereabouts, many macros are telephoto lenses. The ideal, it seems, is to shoot stuff up close that you wouldn’t even want to get near—he who snaps the most snakes and scorpions wins.
So what do you look for? Typically, macro lenses have a fixed aperture of f/2.8 (sometimes f/2.5). Sigma has five lenses, ranging from 50mm ($300) to 180mm ($900), all fixed, plus a few zooms such as the one I personally want to try out, the 24-70mm ($570, compared to well over $1,000 for the equivalent Canon or Nikon). What’s cool is that when you’re not photographing scorpions (or stamps or coins or documents), you can use these for portraits and other “normal” shooting, but with such sharp resolve that some even recommend a bit of digital softening.
So you see, adding those final two lenses more than doubles your investment, and for a diminished payoff. That’s what you would buy next, but for most of you, it’s not what you should be buying.
IMAGE STABILIZATION & LENS MOUNTS
Though some readers probably gave up on this story a long time ago, I have made every attempt to keep it clear and moving. In doing so, I skipped over lots of hot topics, including image stabilization and lens compatibility.
Canon and Nikon currently promote the hell out of image stabilizing lenses, in large part because their cameras do not have in-camera image stabilization like Sony, Pentax and Olympus. While image stabilization does tend to matter, its location doesn’t seem to matter as much. The consensus on the internet is that it’s a drag to have to buy IS in lenses over and over, and from what I’ve seen, there is a clear added cost when buying lenses a la carte. Nevertheless, there’s a premium for buying Nikon and Canon because they are consistently the best reviewed and the biggest sellers, so there’s no right or wrong. It’s just something to look for when buying lenses, and to discuss with your favorite camera nerds.
The main reason Canon and Nikon don’t have IS in their cameras is that the camera technologies pre-date the digital revolution, and it was harder to do with film. The flipside is this: Older film-based lenses from Canon and Nikon work on newer Canon and Nikon digital cameras. For Canon, it’s the EF standard, which dates back to 1987. If the lens says EF on it, it will work. If it says EF-S, it was specifically made for entry-level DSLRs, and won’t work on pricier pro models. If you put an EF lens on a camera that typically takes EF-S lenses, remember to multiply by 1.6 to figure out the real focal length.
For Nikon, it’s a tad weirder: Any F-mount lens dating back to 1959 will fit on the thing, but only the lenses labeled AF-S will definitely work with D40/D60/D90/D3000/D5000 class of entry-level DSLRs. If the lens doesn’t say “DX” on it, multiply the focal length by 1.5 to see what it really is. If your dad hands you a bag of Nikon lenses, accept them graciously, and try them all out, but be ready for weird results, or at the very least, a sudden lack of autofocus and auto metering.
I want to leave you with one final bone of contention—the quality of the lenses. I recognize that I have made many suggestions that seem like go-out-and-buy-’em recommendations. I do think that shopping for new lenses on a tight budget is a good way to expand as a photographer, but this is not a “buyer’s guide.”
Many photography enthusiasts believe buying a cheap lens to attach to your camera would be like buying a used prophylactic to… well, I’ll spare you the imagery. But the point is, there is surely a reason why third-party ultra-wide-angle zoom lenses cost half as much as big name versions, just as there is surely a reason why Canon’s 50mm f/1.4 costs nearly four times as much as its 50mm f/1.8. There are real differences in lenses, and I’m happy to invite you to discuss them below.
Which lenses should I use for underwater photography?
By far, the most important thing when shooting with a DSLR, both top-side and below, is choosing the correct lens.
Underwater, this becomes even more important, because every lens needs different gear and ports, so you want to keep your lens arsenal to a minimum.
If you’ve finally decided your DSLR is ready for the Big Blue, the first thing you need to decide is which lens you will use and then adjust your setup accordingly.
A few common DSLR’s used today for underwater photography are the Nikon D7200 & D7100, D810, D5500 & D5300, D500, Canon 5DS / 5DSR / 5D III & 7D Mark 2, 80D, 700D and 750D.
I recommend not looking for a “general, all-purpose underwater lens”. Why? Because then all your photos will be “general and all-purpose”. You probably won’t get the best out of any of them.
- Underwater, you can’t have your cake and eat it too..
- Just try to remember your favorite underwater photos – They were probably all taken either with a cool wide effect or were extreme closeups showing remarkable detail.
Start out with your favorite type – either Macro or Wide and upgrade to the other when you feel like it and have the budget.
Lighting underwater is extremely important. Without that, you won’t be able to get the best out of your lens. If you are shooting stills, getting a strobe would be wise. If you’re into videos, get a good video light. Shooting underwater with a dSLR without lighting gear is like getting a Ferrari and staying under 20mph.
As I mentioned earlier, starting off with a wide angle (WA) would be the best choice. Even better is getting a fisheye ultra-wide lens.
Above water, a lot of photographers avoid fisheye lens because the distortion is too surreal for some to handle (though most buy it FOR that special effect). The distortion we all know, makes straight lines bend in a circular fashion. Luckily, there aren’t that many straight lines underwater! I guess that’s why fish have fish eyes and you don’t see them complaining.
Another very important reason to get a fisheye lens, is that underwater, the closer you get, the cooler your photo will be! Whether you are shooting a tiny Nudibranch, or if you’re lucky enough, a Great Blue Whale, you can’t go wrong by getting closer. Even closer! That’s it…
The problem with most lenses is that they have minimum focusing distance, due to optical limitations. Underwater, that limitation gets even worse (due to some more optical mumbo jumbo). Hence getting close to that awesome blue whale will just result in a blurry shot of blue nothingness.
Fisheye lenses are optically made to focus at super close distances so naturally they’re perfect for underwater.
Remember that the “Minimum Focus Distance” on the lens specs is measured from the sensor, not the tip of the lens! So if it says 5.5″ for the Tokina 10-17, in reality it’s less than an inch from the lens tip.
Finally, fisheye lens make it much easier to shoot over-and-under shots, which are plain awesome!
Rectilinear Ultra Wide Angle Lens
This type of lens is made for wide angle, but without any barrel distortion. This doesn’t mean there’s no distortion, because you are still trying to fit a very wide piece of scenery to a regular sized frame. The distortion here maintains the straight lines straight, but the rectilinear perspective will cause objects to appear increasingly stretched and enlarged as they near the edge of the frame.
These are quite common above water, and are also very good underwater, though less common than the fisheye lenses. One of the reasons is that Fisheye lenses work better under dome ports, due to optical technicalities.
If you are looking for just one ultra wide lens for above water and below, this would be a good choice.
Note: If you have a zoom lens that says it’s a “macro,” don’t believe it. Sure, it’ll get you close, likely to within 1:3 magnification (that’s 1/3 life-size on the film or sensor) but technically, true macro is considered 1:1 magnification—life-sized–or higher).
Close-up filters are a less expensive way to get into macro photography, but you will probably lose a little image quality, especially if you use budget close-up filters. If you choose to go this route, stick to name brands and look for specially coated surfaces.
So, TOP10 of Macro Lenses for Canon:
- №1 — Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro
- №2 — Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS
- №3 — Tamron 180mm f/3.5 Macro Canon EF
- №4 — Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro
- №5 — Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 Macro
- №6 — Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro D Macro
- №7 — Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM
- №8 — Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6
- №9 — Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L
- №10 — Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO
by Don Oliver | Last Updated September 1, 2017