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FAQ: Which macro lens should I buy?

Discussion in 'Canon Conflab' started by Benchista, Sep 5, 2013.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    There are lots of macro lenses available for the Canon shooter, and it can be difficult to decide which one to go for. Some general-purpose lenses can give respectable close focus ability and with it reproduction to about a third life size, with one or two (including Canon's 24-70mm f4 L IS) going to half life size, and for many people, that will be enough.
    There are also other options to consider:

    Close-up lenses (sometimes wrongly called close-up or macro filters) - these are a cheap way to get closer, and can often be very cheap indeed. The downside is that optical performance is compromised, and can be awful with some of the cheap ebay sets. At the other end of the scale, there are two element lenses from some suppliers, including Canon, that can give very respectable quality, but these are considerably dearer.

    Another option is extension tubes - these allow any lens to focus more closely, at the loss of some light. There's no direct impact on optical performance, but they will work better with lenses optimised to work at closer focus distances. The Canon ones are fully automatic so retain all metering modes, control of the aperture and autofocus; many ebay examples are entirely manual, which means you can't easily control the aperture, so I wouldn't recommend them.

    In many ways a blast from the past is a set of bellows. There is a set of Novoflex automatic bellows available for the EF (and EF-S) mount, but it's pretty expensive. An alternative is to use bellows in another mount with an appropriate lens, and use a mount adaptor. I use a set of Pentacon bellows with an old Industar 50mm f3.5 lens sometimes - it's quite effective.

    So those are the main alternatives to a macro lens, but nothing beats the convenience of a dedicated macro lens, and often they can be used as a handy general-purpose prime lens, too.

    Let's look at various focal lengths and their potential uses, before getting to individual lenses (I'll cover the MP-E there):


    On full frame, a useful focal length for still life and copying - the short working distance makes for great convenience and ease of providing plenty of artificial light if necessary, and quality is generally very good.
    On APS-C, this is a reasonable general-purpose focal length - because of the crop factor, the frame can be filled from a greater distance.


    On full frame, perhaps the most useful focal length as it gives a comfortable working distance outside but still within the range of a ringflash. Good for flowers and the less skittish insects, still OK for still life work
    On APS-C, as above but also beginning to be useful for some more nervous wildlife.


    Best for nervous insects and wildlife as it has the longest working distance, these lenses tend to be big, heavy and expensive.

    Musings on various lenses in each category

    I'll start with a lens that doesn't fall into any category, the unique Canon 65mm MP-E. This lens is macro-only, and offers magnification between life size and 5x life size. There's nothing else like it, and if it's what you need, it's a terrific lens.


    First up is the venerable Canon 50mm f2.5 Compact Macro. This is on of the oldest EF lenses, but is still very capable optically - sharp, with no distortion or other bad habits. AF is slow and noisy, and it only actually goes to half life size unaided - there's a Life Size Convertor available that's part teleconvertor, part extension tube and allows the lens to create 1:1 images at a focal length around 70mm - so the working distance is somewhat longer than it would be for a 50mm at 1:1. If you can cope with the foibles, this is a very good lens indeed.
    There's also a Sigma 50mm f2.8 macro that gets good feedback - I can't really comment much on it, but it's worth a look. Finally for now there's the 60mm f2.8 EF-S Macro for those with APS-C sensors - this is a very good lens and an excellent choice if you're quite sure you don't want to move to full frame. Oh, and post-finally there's a well-regarded Sigma 70mm f2.8 around as well...


    One of the most popular lenses in this category is the Tamron 90mm in all its various forms. It's popular because it's pretty good and pretty good value. A safe option if you can't afford better, as it's probably good enough for most of us. If you can afford a little more, Sigma's latest 105mm f2.8 is supposed to be pretty good. Canon have two more or less current offerings here - the 100mm f2.8 USM and the 100mm f2.8 L IS USM. The former is a very respectable offering, the latter quite excellent, with multi-dimensional IS that really helps handheld use. If you can afford it, it's the best in class IMHO.


    Several manufacturers have an offering here. Canon, Sigma and Tamron. Sigma also have a 150mm f2.8 that's highly regarded. All of these lenses seem to be pretty good, so I you pays your money...
  2. johnsonscott

    johnsonscott In the Stop Bath

    90-100 mm
    its good lens for camera to take a picture.........
  3. Alphonso

    Alphonso Well-Known Member

    Have you considered the Canon ...MEP-65.

    We had a show the other night at our Camera Club. Given by Oliver Wright. Look at his web page.

  4. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    This isn't a question from me, but a general advice thread for those looking for such a lens in Canon mount...
  5. plebob

    plebob Well-Known Member

    I've used the canon 100mm f2.8 L macro for a couple of years and its been a superb lens. Even on a full frame the working distance is good and you don't get in your shadow too much. The lens feels quite sturdy and the IS works well. Having used a couple of other macro lenses I've found the 100mm to be an ideal focal length.

    I find myself using the lens a lot as a standard telephoto as it very sharp and produces some very good detail. If I had to sell my other lenses this is the one I'd keep!
  6. Xenol

    Xenol Well-Known Member

    The MEP-65mm isn't a macro lens, its a microscope! XD It's a very difficult lens to use iv'e been told, what with the 5x magnification it has no DoF. This guy: http://lordv.smugmug.com/popular#!i=120917883&k=X69vGwD has done some superb work with it however.
  7. davholla

    davholla Member

    Last edited: Jun 23, 2015

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