Sherry Anderson Featured at

Let’s stay focused and follow a sensible perspective to narrow down what characteristics you’ll look for in a macro lens.

Maybe from here, you’ll make a decision and start having some macro fun if you aren’t already!

Photography by Sherry Anderson


What’s best for you?

Let’s get started with two key points to consider –

  1. Maginfication

  2. Minimum Focusing Distance

What? Just two points to consider? Yes. No need to make your head spin.

I recently talked about magnification in a previous article. However, this time I”ll introduce you to a few lenses to help guide you in your decision for the kind of macro photography you’d like to pursue.

Digital SLR Lenses

1. Magnification

Life size macro magnification is described as a 1:1 or 1X magnification. This often requires being very close to the subject. I generally use a 1:2 magnification in all of the photos shown here. That may not be quite enough to get the fine details of a bugs eye, but the advantage of the lens I’m using most often for macro, is that I can get remarkable magnification at just at about 5 feet of distance . Why is that a significant consideration? This is more ideal for small animals and insects in nature.

If you’re Photographing objects, because they’re still, any 1:1 magnification macro lens will do fine where the minimum (closest) focusing distance can be just a few inches. However, in the great outdoors, there aren’t a lot of great looking bugs and lizards that will let you get so close. Spiders don’t seem to mind though.

2. Minimum (Closest) Focus Distance

Every fixed lens “point and shoot” camera or digital SLR lens has a closest or minimum focusing distance. If you get closer than that distance, the lens is not capable of focusing. Know what that distance is by looking in your camera or lens user guide.

Three Lenses, Three Brands and Considerations

The brands of lens we are looking at are not the point or interest. It’s that each lens has some unique characteristics. Then, in considering those characteristics, you can make a better choice on a lens that suits your needs within the brand you like. Some lens manufacturers make compatible lenses for many brands. Sigma for example makes lenses for SLR brands like Canon, Nikon, Sony and Pentax. Always check compatibility.

Lens Number #1 “The Budget Friendly And Versatile”

Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG Macro Telephoto Combo

Manufacturer’s description:

  • Designed for use with full frame digital SLR cameras. May also be used with smaller APS-c size sensors with a corresponding effective increase in focal length to about 100 to 450mm with most cameras
  • Closest focusing distance of 59 inches & allows macro photography with a maximum magnification of 1 to 2
  • Extremely compact design weighing only 19.4 oz & measures only 4.8 inches in length
  • A lens hood, front & rear lens caps and carrying case are included with the lens.
Marc’s Comments:
This is actually listed in Sigma’s Telephoto Lens line up, and notes 1:2 macro magnification at 59 inches. This makes it a great nature macro lens because you can capture your bumble bees, butterflies and spiders at nearly 5 feet away. How many critters do you think you might get if the minimum focusing distance was 6 inches? This lens is designed for full frame sensors and can be used on smaller sensors too.

Lens Number #2 “The Pro Full Magnification”

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

Manufacturer’s description:

Another telephoto macro lens with a maximum magnification of 1x. Life-size close-ups can be taken from a father distance without disturbing the subject (insects, etc …). The internal floating system minimizes fluctuations in aberrations caused by changes in the focusing distance. The delineation is therefore razor-sharp from 1x to infinity.

Marc’s Comments:

The famous thin red stripe on a Canon lens means professional optics with a professional price at about $1500 on the date of this article. Although the closest focusing distance is about 18 inches, that’s still pretty good for insect and small critter shots while achieving the full 1:1 life size magnification. Professional lenses for full frame sensors can be used on smaller sensors too. This is a prime lens = no zoom, so you manage the distance physically.

Lens Number #3 “Short and Sweet”

Sony 50mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Manufacturer’s description:

A compact macro-focus lens that covers the full range from life-size to infinity. “Life size” macro imaging means that the image you capture is the same size as the subject in reality, giving you spectacularly sharp photos of insects, flowers, gemstones, postage stamps and other small nature subjects and collectibles.

Minimum (Closest) Focus Distance : 7.8” (20cm)

Marc’s Comments:

Well priced at under $600 and stated as compatible for all Sony SLRs. You’ll have a cropping factor with smaller sensors. At f/.2.8 this is known as a fast lens, but also means depth of field is narrowest at the smallest f/number. With close up photography, depth or focus is very thin, so it’s even thinner with a faster lens set to the smallest f/number. Macro photographers would always like that to be the other way around, but not the case with most any macro lens. You can push for a deeper or longer depth of focus with high f/numbers. The side effect is slower shutter speed, again with any lens. This is a prime lens = no zoom so you manage the distance physically. Sony has reputable optics.

Three Lenses


Lens #1 is a combo telephoto and macro. Nice range of focal length (zoom). It doesn’t have life size 1:1, but can shoot at about 5 feet away with 1:2 magnification. Very affordable.

Lens #2 has professional optics and full magnification at 18 inches and you should be able to still get nice close ups at about three feet. Pricey, but top shelf quality. No zoom, prime lens.

Lens #3 has short focusing distance with a very large aperture at the lowest f/2.8. No zoom, prime lens. Well priced.

Each different from the next. Now you have some considerations to help you decide what’s going to work best for your macro shooting aspirations. Within any brand you’ll find a range of selections with similar characteristics you’ve been introduced to here. Now you have some macro-savvy to make a better decision.

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