From Antalya
Jump to: navigation, search

Lenses that lets you come closer

Macros are designed so that the minimum focus distance is lower than a lens of comparable focal length. This allows you to take pictures of small things, insects, flowers and detailed close-ups.

Why/how use a macro

What sets a macro lens apart is the reproduction ratio of the lens. It allows objects that are comparable in size to the image sensor (36mm x 24mm for full frame, which is the size of an SD card) to be captured filling the entire frame (for a 1:1 reproduction ratio). In practical terms this means that minimum focus distance is much closer than a regular lens. As an example, a Nikon 200 macro lens can focus from about 50cm, whereas a regular 200mm lens would require about 2 meters.

Note that many pictures that you think needed a macro, are not shot using macro lenses. In fact there are very few specific cases (for example photographing coins or post stamps for catalogs) that will need a macro. Commonly cited motives like flowers (they are usually bigger) or insects (you usually can not come that close) do not always require a macro.

It is also interesting that when you use a macro lens you usually will:

  • Use smaller apertures as when you are close, the depth of field will be very small, so you will have to use much smaller apertures (f/20 and larger).
  • Due to the distance and small aperture, the exposure will be longer and therefore you will need a tripod
  • As you are very close, fixing the Focus manually will be more practical.

This is why, for macro photography, auto focus, vibration reduction techniques and fast lenses with large apertures are really not that important. But you will see a lot of lenses with these capabilities because...

You can use macro lenses for other purposes

Most macro lenses are prime lenses (there are some zooms) and they can be used regularly for anything else as well. They do not have any shortcomings when you use them regularly. Auto focus, vibration reduction etc, are more useful when they are used for other purposes, not so much for macro photography. They are excellent landscape and portrait lenses.

While very few people actually use the macro capability of these lenses, macro lenses are popular, even second hand their prices are higher than other lenses (of similar focal length and aperture).

Getting enough light

One thing to keep in mind is that the minimum focus distance is the distance between the camera sensor and the subject, and not the end of the lens. This is sometimes an issue for smaller focal length macro lenses (60mm or less), for maximum effect you need to come very close, and the camera/lens will start blocking the light. Of course there are tricks for this (flash around your lens for example), but this is why, most of the time, you would want to use 100mm or longer focal length lenses that allow you to have a bit of distance between the camera and your subject so that you can get the light in properly.

Typical setup with a Macro


Here I am trying to take a picture of a few small microchips. There is a Nikon 105 macro lens together with a TC 20E teleconverter on a Nikon D90.

And here is the result


The microchips here (Dustin) are 4mm by 2.5mm large and you can read about these chips more here.


For macro lenses, the focal length does not really tell you how much larger the picture will be, as the minimum focus distance also scales. You usually talk about reproduction ratio which is how large the image will appear on your sensor.

Lens Minimum focus distance Weight Notes
Nikon 55 21cm 235g Manual, old
Nikon 105 32cm 750g Many models
Sigma 150 38cm 1'100g
Nikon 200 50cm 1'200g
Difference between regular and macro lens

The following shows how close the Nikon 50, a regular lens, can come to its subject. Nikon50 distance.jpg And this is how the picture looks like. The reindeer here is only 7cm high. Nikon50 deer.jpg Now this is how close we can get with a moderate macro, here the Nikon 55. Nikon55 distance.jpg This is a reproduction ratio of 1:2 meaning that we can fit something that is twice the size of the image sensor (36mm x 24mm) onto the sensor. Nikon55 deer.jpg You basically need the macro for only the cases where you want to come closer to very small subjects. Once you move a bit away like here, a macro lens is just like any other regular lens. The picture below is from the Nikon 55 and looks like the one from Nikon 50: Nikon55 deer far.jpg

Macro lenses on this wiki


These pages are for Amateur Photographers and not really for seasoned photographers and professionals. I have no affiliation or commercial interest with any brand/make. I write from my own experience. I ended up using mainly Nikon, so I am more familiar with this brand than others. See price for notes on pricing as well as photography related links.