Macro photography is always a compelling way to shoot – and if you’re stuck in the house, or only have access to your garden as an outside space, it’s even more appealing than usual!
With a macro or closeup view, all sorts of subjects become endlessly interesting. You can shoot everything from plants and flowers, to small animals and even get in close to man-made objects and products.
But of course you need the right kit – a dedicated macro lens, or the ability to make a regular lens give macro-style results.
In this guide we’ll showcase some excellent lenses and accessories to get you into macro shooting, as well as some of the most interesting macro options that can offer something over and above a regular macro optic…
Tamron SP 90mm F2.8 Di VC USD 1:1 Macro
If you’re getting into macro for the first time, Tamron’s SP 90mm f/2.8 is a brilliant option. It’s the latest and best in a long line of Tamron 90mm macro lenses, it’s available in a range of mounts, and gives excellent sharpness and build at an affordable price. With its 90mm focal length, the lens gives a decent amount of separation from the subject, letting you light it creatively, or avoid startling skittish creepy crawlies, and its closest focusing distance is 30cm. It’s also equipped with Tamron’s Vibration Compensation feature for easier handheld shooting at slower shutter speeds, and it has a weather resistant construction. All that and the f/2.8 aperture makes it a decent lens portraits, too.
Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro
Macro lenses don’t usually come at this wide an angle of view, and that makes the Laowa 15mm f/4 well worth a look, even for those with a macro lens in their bag already. Typically to get such close focusing at a wide angle you’d need to use extension tubes attached to a wide-angle lens, but the 15mm f/4 Macro takes that need away, and lets you focus as close as 5mm from the front element. As a wide-angle lens it opens up new avenues of composition for macro subjects, and of course you can also use it for landscapes, getting impressively detailed foregrounds thanks to the close focusing aspects of the lens.
Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x Macro
Want to get even closer to the subject than a regular macro lens allows? Then check out Canon’s MP-E 65mm f/2.8 1-5x. This lets you achieve anything between lifesize 1:1 reproductions and an astonishing 5:1 view, where subjects are captured at five times life size, bringing even smaller subjects under your spell. Its closest focusing distance is 24cm, and it comes with a removable tripod collar, so you can easily add it to a macro-specific accessory like a focusing rail, making the micro adjustments much easier than without. Image quality is tip top, but you’ll need excellent macro technique to make the most of its focusing potential.
Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8L Macro
Here’s another interesting macro lens from Canon. This time, you get a tilt-shift option, on top of the close focusing, and that makes the lens highly useful for lots of subjects. For instance, product photography can be made easier thanks to the tilt function, wherein the depth-of-field can be extended to easily cover a whole subject like a piece of jewellery. And the shift function helps macro as you can more easily adjust composition. The TS-E 90mm f/2.8L offers up to +/-10° of tilt and +/-12mm of shift, and both can be locked for stability, while one ultra-low dispersion element and one aspherical element in the lens’s construction keep image quality high.
Nikon AF 200mm f/4D IF-ED Micro
The longer the focal length of a macro lens, the further you can work from your subject and stll get that important 1:1 lifesize reproduction. This is really useful for shooting small animals which might be easily alarmed or even dangerous, but also if you need to get lighting in between your lens and subject. An oldy but a goody, Nikon’s AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED is one of the longest macro lenses you’ll find, and has a working distance of around 50cm, providing lots of space to work. Internal focusing also means that the front element won’t rack out when changing focus, so that’s another bonus, and ED glass elements in the lens’s construction ensure top-class image quality.
Tamron AF70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2
Okay, it’s not a ‘true’ macro lens as it doesn’t give a 1:1 lifesize reproduction of the subject, but a model like the AF70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro 1:2 is a great way to get extreme closeups while also enjoying the benefits of a regular telephoto zoom. Compact and lightweight, the AF70-300mm f/4-5.6 has a minimum focus distance of 1.5m in its normal setting, and this drops to 0.95m when macro mode is engaged. There, it gives 1:2 or half lifesize results at focal lengths from 180 to 300mm, where you can capture some great detail, and keep your distance from little subjects.
Extension tubes and closeup filters
We couldn’t finish this list without a shout for extension tubes and closeup filters – two of the most common macro accessories – and both of which will let you achieve closer focusing with your regular lenses.
Kenko’s Teleplus DG Auto set includes 12mm, 20mm, 36mm tubes, and the longer the tube you use, the closer the lens mounted on it will focus. You can even stack them up if you like. Best of all, as all you’re doing is moving the lens physically further from the camera, there’s no loss of optical quality.
Hoya’s HMC Close-Up Filter Set II features +1, +2, and +4 filters that will screw on to regular lenses just like normal filters, and make them focus closer. These are high-quality optics, with anti-reflective coatings for the cleanest sharpest images, and use aluminum alloy rings for durability.