Capture A Mini World With A Macro Photography Lens

If you don’t have a macro photography lens you’re missing out on a whole mini world of photo opportunities. Like seeing firsthand why beetles are your back yard’s natural slug controllers.

A beetle taken with a macro photography lens

Seeing a world where a single rain drop is huge.

A raindrop taken with a macro photography lens

We’re going to look at what a macro lens is. The term has been clouded in confusion with lens marketing. What you should look for when choosing one. Not to mention how to get the best from using your lens.

Go for life size

The word “macro” has become overused in lens marketing to the extent where lots of telephoto lenses are getting labelled as macro. Some of these may offer 1:3 (third life size) or even 1:2 (half life size) magnifications.

True macro lenses offer 1:1 magnification. This is life size, meaning that if an insect covers half your camera sensor it will fill half the frame in the image. Look for 1:1 and you can get close enough to see the hairs on a butterfly


A butterfly taken with a macro photography lens at 1:1 magnification

Depth of field

Macro lenses have tiny depth of field. This can make things tricky when hand holding without a tripod. A perfectly focused shot

can become blurry with a movement of millimetres

Lots of people keep adjusting the focus ring but you and the insect are moving all the time. Therefore it’s better to roughly focus using the ring then just rock your camera back and forth to find the focus. You’ll still get lots to delete but the success rate will be higher.

Working distance

A focal length of 50mm is fine for photographing flowers. For insects you have to consider the distance you want to leave between yourself and subject to avoid scaring it. This is where the longer focal lengths of 180mm are so useful in the field.

With a 180mm macro photography lens, I can be a comfortable distance away from skittish insects such as dragonflies and still fill the frame.


Manufacturer Lens aperture Focal length To fit Comments
Tamron f2.8 90mm Canon Normally the third party lenses are quite a way off the Canon and Nikon brands but fortunately with macro the quality gap is small for the price saving. Not as solid build quality as the Canon but optically it is great value. f2.8 makes it a Fast lens for hand holding
Tamron AF 180mm f/3.5 Di SP A/M FEC LD (IF) 1:1 Macro Lens for Canon Digital SLR Cameras f3.5 180mm Canon The lens I use for macro and it has served me very well. Extra focal length provides vital working distance for insects. Not as solidly built as the more expensive Canon but you’d still have to go a long way to break it.
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Digital SLR Lens for EOS Digital SLR Cameras f2.8 60mm Canon Short focal length means you need to get closer to mini beasts but also means a big cost saving. Big aperture and low weight good for hand holding
Canon EF 180mm f3.5L Macro USM AutoFocus Telephoto Lens for Canon SLR Cameras f3.5 180mm Canon The grand daddy of macro lenses. Not cheap but you get what you pay for. Pin sharp and built like a tank. It doesn’t get any better for close up photography.
Tamron AF 180mm f/3.5 Di SP A/M FEC LD (IF) 1:1 Macro Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras f3.5 180mm Nikon The Nikon fitting of my macro lens.
Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP AF/MF 1:1 Macro Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras f2.8 90mm Nikon
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Medium Telephoto Macro Lens for Nikon SLR Cameras f2.8 105mm Nikon

A macro photography lens offers life size magnification