You do not need a macro

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Macro lenses serve a very specific purpose

Basically you need a macro to take pictures of things that are 1 to 5 cm in size so that it fills the entire picture. There are very few cases where you will need this. Fortunately macro lenses are usually excellent prime lenses that have many uses.

Real Macro lenses

There are not many cases where you need a macro lens. Basically only very small objects need a macro. This one is a small microchip and the entire scene you see is about 3cm by 2cm. Only a macro lens will allow you this (without cropping). Nikon200chip.jpg

This following one is a tricky one. A regular prime lens of 100mm to 150mm focal length would normally not allow you to come this close (which is less then 50cm here) to the flower to fill the entire frame. So in this sense this is a macro shot. But many zooms would actually have a range where you could get this sort of reproduction ratio which is less than 1:2. Nikon105 flower.jpg

Macro lens but out of Macro range

The following shot is a very good example of a macro lens being used as a regular long lens. Sigma150 berry.jpg

If the previous one was a bit too close for you to call, try the following one. A rose is much larger than most camera sensors, and this one fills maybe a quarter of the screen which tells you that a macro was definitely not needed here. Nikon200 rose.jpg

Basically most macro lenses are extraordinary prime lenses and they deliver very nice results, but actually very few of the shots need the macro capability.

This one checks all the macro boxes, insect (check), nice bokeh (check), but I'm simply too far in this case for the Nikon 105 to play out its macro chops. In a true macro shot, the butterfly would have filled the entire frame. Nikon105 butterfly.jpg

Shots without macro capability

All the shots here, look close to the previous shots, but they are taken without the use of (true) macro lenses

Crop from a larger picture

Practically all cameras have way too many pixels for you to use. One perfect use of these extra pixels is cropping which lets you come close to the subject, effectively making your shots look like macro shots. Take this one for example: Tamron60-300 raspberry crop.jpg

Ironically this Tamron 60-300 is a lens that has a macro mode, in this case, we make very little use of it. The original can be seen File:tamron60-300_raspberry.jpg.

The following is from a lens that is definitely a macro, the Nikon 85 on an APS-C camera, making about a lens with 135mm focal length. Nikon85 poppy crop.jpg The original can be seen under File:nikon85_poppy.jpg. Compare this to some of the shots from the real macro lenses.

Zooms bringing you closer

Notice that zooms seem to bring things closer. This also applies to smaller things. Take a look at the following one taken with a Nikon 70-300. Nikon70 300 flower.jpg

Especially newer universal zooms like the Nikon 28-300 here will allow you to come quite close to your subject. Coupled with the (rather strange setup) using an APS-C camera which effectively gives it a 1:1.5 cropping, you get things you would normally expect from a serious macro lens. Nikon28 300 flower.jpg

Just so that you do not say I'm cheating here is one with a Nikon 18-200 as well. This time an APS-C lens on a APS-C camera. Nikon18 200 flower.jpg While you may argue that this is not a macro shot at all (it isn't), notice how well it compares to File:Sigma150_berry.jpg which was from a macro lens but not in the macro range.

Final thoughts

Macro lenses are great lenses, no doubt about that. However, do not be fooled by some of the shots you see on the internet and think you need a macro lens. Most of those shots can also be made by other lenses that do not have (or only have limited) macro capability.


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.