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Thread: Macro Lens Query

  1. #1
    ABPhoto's Avatar
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    Macro Lens Query

    Can anyone help me out I have had a question in my mind about macro lenses for some time now. Is there such a thing as a 'proper' macro lens as opposed to one that masquerades as a macro but is really only a lens that gets real close on the one hand and yet still can be used for portraits etc ! ? Am I even making any sense ?

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Amanda (?)
    Hello and welcome to CiC. Generally speaking, “macro” starts at life size – e.g. a reproduction ratio of 1:1. So most so called macro lenses only just qualify, and many don't qualify at all – since they only go down to 2:1 or half life size. As far as I know all such lenses focus all the way out to infinity. To their credit Nikon acknowledge this by calling all their lenses in this category Micro Nikors rather than macro.

    To my knowledge the only commonly available “proper” macro lens is the Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 1-5x macro lens. As the name implies it's focus range starts at 1:1 (life size) and goes all the way to 5:1. Now this is a very specialised device and in practice a lens of the more common – infinity focus sort – may be more useful. What sort of subjects did you have in mind?

    Regards,

    Nick.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    You are making lots of sense. And yes there are true macro lenses, and lenses that are claimed to be macro, but aren't. My definition is that a true macro is one that will capture an image full size, that is 1:1.

    If the bee is 1/4 inch long, it's image will be 1/4" long on the sensor/film with the lens at or near the closest focus distance.

    Glenn

    PS - and read the previous post.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Well its insects and flowers really. Would you have any suggestions for the more common type, Canon ?

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Thanks. I am glad I'm not going mad !

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    A true macro lens is one that is able to produce an image on the sensor the same size as the subject (1:1 magnification, so on a DX format camera you would be able to fill the frame with an object about 24x16mm in size). 1:1 magnification requires excellent optical performance for a good image, so true macro lenses tend to be high quality primes.

    There is a CiC tutorial here that explains it better than I can.

    - Paul

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Quote Originally Posted by PaulMiller View Post
    A true macro lens is one that is able to produce an image on the sensor the same size as the subject (1:1 magnification, so on a DX format camera you would be able to fill the frame with an object about 24x16mm in size). 1:1 magnification requires excellent optical performance for a good image, so true macro lenses tend to be high quality primes.

    There is a CiC tutorial here that explains it better than I can.


    - Paul
    Excellent ! I am off there right now.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Depends how you define macro and what you do with a lens. A macro lens that will take 1:1 life size images can still double as a fine portrait lens.

    If you're interested in a lens that really only takes macro subjects, the only one I know is the 65mm Canon macro lens which will take up to 5x life size. It's great but takes work to use as no autofocus and at that macro level depth of field is very narrow but you can get some incredible results with it. Portraits it won't take

    I think it might also be worth mentioning that life size in this context refers to the original 35mm frame and not the size you will see when viewing images on your computer which will be magnified a number of times from original frame size.

  9. #9
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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Thanks all very useful I think I am getting there. What I need now though is some real life examples (besides the Canon 65mm) that I can look up to see specs and prices etc. Also with the examples a quick brief on performance.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    I think we are getting somewhat bogged down by the 'legal' description of a macro lens.

    What I suspect you need, Amanda, is a 'wildlife' lens which will take good photos of insects and flowers.

    In which case, I would say there is an easy answer (at least initially). For close photos of small live insects, which may object to being photographed, get a 150 mm 'macro' lens, Sigma, for example, produce an excellent macro lens which, with the correct fitting, will fit most dslr cameras. There are alternatives depending on your camera make.

    For flowers and sleepy/dead or larger insects you could drop to 100 mm, possibly as low as 60 mm depending on the circumstances.

    These macro lenses will also work as excellent general purpose lenses. Forget about 1:1 ratio, etc, as we are now getting into specialised and unnecessary technical stuff which, I suspect, won't matter for what you want.

    And the alternatives are general purpose zoom lenses which also have the ability to focus fairly close. The usefulness of these lenses is quite variable. The best of them will work fine for flowers and larger insects like butterflies. I successfully used the Canon 70-300 IS lens fitted with a 25 mm extension tube for general macro wildlife work. Admittedly not quite as good or as easy to use as a 'proper macro' lens but it was usually sufficient.

    Then there are specialist 'microscope' lenses which will produce large photos of very small insects or parts of insects/plants. But these are expensive and have a number of other drawbacks; so I probably wouldn't recommend them for general use.

    In addition to a suitable lens you will require a good tripod and possibly some form of flash, but that will depend on what you wish to photograph and a basic camera flash will often prove sufficient.

    During the summer, most of my photography concerns insects, for identification, and I use a Sigma 180 macro lens on a Canon 40D but the 180 lens is probably a bit more than you need. 150 mm should be enough for general use.

    ps. You asked to see examples. Here is a small selection taken with the Sigma 180 lens (apart from obvious exceptions) http://www.pbase.com/crustacean/coas...mals_july_2010

    And I have several other insect 'galleries' at that site.
    Last edited by Geoff F; 7th March 2011 at 05:39 PM. Reason: link added

  11. #11

    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Quote Originally Posted by Amanda Burke Photo View Post
    Thanks all very useful I think I am getting there. What I need now though is some real life examples (besides the Canon 65mm) that I can look up to see specs and prices etc. Also with the examples a quick brief on performance.
    My favourite lenses of the type you seem to be looking for are the Canon 100mm macros (both the old and new) and the Tamron 90mm.

    For flower pics at 1:1 or less I'd probably go for the new Canon 100mm macro with IS because it has 9 curved aperture blades and should give you a very pleasing background blur (bokeh). The 180mm macros tend to be pretty good in this respect too but there have been times I've wished the Canon 180mm had curved aperture blades.

    I don't normally do flowers but I used my 100mm macro for this:
    Macro Lens Query

    And my MP-E 65mm for this:
    Macro Lens Query

    If you want to go pixel peeping to get an idea of how sharp these lenses can be the only full res shot I have from my 100mm online is here:
    Macro Lens Query
    Larger versions here.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Macro, now means a lens which can achieve 1:1 imagery while originally, the term macro began at 1:1 and included larger ratios...

    There are three general focal ranges of true "macro" lenses, which can achieve 1:1 imagery with or without adapters. these "true" macro lenses are all primes and can be used for other purposes. For example, my 90mm f/2.8 Tamron macro lens is also a nice short f/2.8 telephoto and a great portrait lens because of the smooth bokeh it produces...

    Lenses of 50-60mm
    These include the Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro which can achieve 1:2 imagery alone and 1:1 ratio with an adapter. Canon also provides a really nice 60mm f/2.8 macro which is an EF-S lens and can be only used on 1.6x cameras. Sigma produces a 50mm macro which can achieve 1:1 imagery without an adapter. Tamron produces a 60mm f/2 macro which is a great fast short telephoto for a crop camera in addition to being a nice macro lens.
    The 50-60mm lenses are light in weight and fun to use. Their only drawback is that you need to get quite close to your subject to achieve 1:1 imagery and this often frightens insects and other little creatures. The close distance from lens to subject sometimes interferes with lighting. Nikon, obviously markets its own Nikkor macro lenses and both the Tamron and the Sigma above can be had with Nikon mounts...
    As mentioned the 65mm Canon macro is a specialized lens for 1:1 to 5;1 imagery but, cannot be focused at image ratios of less than 1:1...

    150-180mm:
    These lenses provide wonderful image to subject distance when shooting at 1:1. Their only drawback is that they are somewhat heavy and are also fairly expensive. Canon and Nikon produce lenses of this focal range for their cameras while both Tamron and Sigma produce macro lenses of this focal range with either Canon or Nikon mount...

    90-105mm:
    This focal range, IMO, is a very good compromise between subject distance and cost/weight. I use a Tamron 90mm f/2.8 AF SP macro and really love it. However, Canon provides two 100mm f/2.8 macros (one with image stabilization at about twice the price of the non-stabilized model) which are certainly great lenses. Sigma produces a 105mm macro while a 100mm f/3.5 macro is marketed under the Phoenix label; as well as under several other brand names. This lens needs an adapter to get 1;1 imagery and can achieve only 1:2 imagery without the adapter (like the Canon 50mm f/2.5 macro). I have not used this lens but, have read quite a few comments about it and it seems to work quite well for a lens with a U.S. price of about one hundred dollars, new...

    Zoom lenses which include the term"macro" in their designation are rally just close focusing lenses and can seldom achieve an image ratio greater than 1:2.7 and quite often not that high of a ratio. IMO, this "macro" designator is a marketing ploy. However, these lenses can often be useful for shooting larger subjects like flowers. As an example, the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM Zoom Lens can achieve a ratio of 1:2.7. this is as large a ratio as many photographers need, but this lens is not a "true" macro lens.
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 7th March 2011 at 06:34 PM.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    An example from a Sigma 150.Nothing to add to all the great advice given.
    Macro Lens Query

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Excellent help and advice from all. Thanks very much. Amanda

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    If you go to flickr and search on something like Canon 100mm or Canon 160mm macro, you will see lots of pictures taken with those lenses. I used the 160mm in a Canon-sponsored workshop, and it's a fabulous lens. I wound up buying the 100mm, and I absolutely love it.

  16. #16
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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Nick, Amanda,

    Actually, your understanding here is reversed. 1:1 macro is indeed life size... however, 5:1 is 5 x life size, so a subject can be magnified 5 times its real size on the sensor.

    There also also lenses on the market that are labeled as macro but only get 1:2 (which is 1/2 life size) or 1:3 (1/3rd life size). I would not consider these to be true macro lenses. These are quite often zoom lenses - where true 1:1 lenses are usually primes (as the others have said).

    The Canon MP-E65 is a specialty lens and is full manual and basically has bellows/extension tubes built in. This is not really something you want to try as a first macro lens or to be used for portaits.

    As to picking the lens, the other posts here seem to have that covered pretty well. I just wanted to make sure that I shared the info about the 1:1, 5:1, and 1:2 designations.

    Hope this helps!

    - Bill

    Quote Originally Posted by nickjohnson View Post
    Amanda (?)
    Hello and welcome to CiC. Generally speaking, “macro” starts at life size – e.g. a reproduction ratio of 1:1. So most so called macro lenses only just qualify, and many don't qualify at all – since they only go down to 2:1 or half life size. As far as I know all such lenses focus all the way out to infinity. To their credit Nikon acknowledge this by calling all their lenses in this category Micro Nikors rather than macro.

    To my knowledge the only commonly available “proper” macro lens is the Canon MP-E 65mm f2.8 1-5x macro lens. As the name implies it's focus range starts at 1:1 (life size) and goes all the way to 5:1. Now this is a very specialised device and in practice a lens of the more common – infinity focus sort – may be more useful. What sort of subjects did you have in mind?

    Regards,

    Nick.

  17. #17

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    One other thing to consider is the ability to crop an image during editing. Many modern digital cameras have more pixels than are needed to produce a decent quality photo (say 10 x 8 ins) and a lot more than is needed for an internet image.

    So cropping away the background will make the image larger, if you see what I mean.

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    Re: Macro Lens Query

    Quote Originally Posted by ktuli View Post
    Nick, Amanda,

    Actually, your understanding here is reversed. 1:1 macro is indeed life size... however, 5:1 is 5 x life size, so a subject can be magnified 5 times its real size on the sensor.

    There also also lenses on the market that are labeled as macro but only get 1:2 (which is 1/2 life size) or 1:3 (1/3rd life size). I would not consider these to be true macro lenses. These are quite often zoom lenses - where true 1:1 lenses are usually primes (as the others have said).

    The Canon MP-E65 is a specialty lens and is full manual and basically has bellows/extension tubes built in. This is not really something you want to try as a first macro lens or to be used for portaits.

    As to picking the lens, the other posts here seem to have that covered pretty well. I just wanted to make sure that I shared the info about the 1:1, 5:1, and 1:2 designations.

    Hope this helps!

    - Bill
    Thanks Bill - I got some of the ratios the wrong way round - Cheers

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