If you want to get really close to smaller subject, as well as deliver 1:1 magnification, it's worth investing in a specialist macro lens. Here's a selection of some of the very best macro lenses available
Macro lenses allow you to focus closer to your subjects than conventional optics, which lets you to capture even finer details with greater clarity. As a genre this type of photography is fairly broad, covering everything from flowers and insects to abstract and even food photography.
True macro lenses offer a 1:1 reproduction ratio, which means they can resolve an image on a sensor at the same size as in real life. They are always prime lenses, so beware of zoom lenses claiming to offer ‘macro’ capabilities, as these simply may focus slightly closer than normal. They also come in a range of focal lengths, with longer lenses more suitable to insects and other live subjects as they allow you to keep a greater distance away from the subject as you shoot.
Even cheap macro lenses can offer excellent quality images, although pricier alternatives do have their benefits. Aside from optical advantages, these may include focus limit switches to limit the range between which a lens focuses, which helps speed up focusing, as well as image stabilisation systems to broaden their use to handheld photography.
If shooting live subjects such as insects, look out for internal focus systems; these keep the centre of gravity constant while focusing, as well as the length of the barrel so that they don’t disturb the subject. As this also keeps the front of the lens from rotating, they also allow for the use of front-mounted flash units.
Nikon 40mm f/2.8 G AF-S DX Micro
The lightweight macro offers an effective focal length equivalent to 60mm on DX-format bodies. There’s no image stabilisation or focus-limit switches, but a Close Range Correction system with a floating element helps image quality remain high at close-focusing distances, while Super Integrated Coatings help as much light pass through to the sensor as possible.
Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2 Di II LD (IF) Macro
This small and lightweight optic is compatible with Canon, Nikon and Sony bodies, and has the advantage of a relatively wide f/2 aperture. Other standout features include internal focus to keep the barrel length constant and Low Dispersion element to control chromatic aberrations. On an APS-C body, the effective focal length in 35mm terms (around 90mm) would make it great for portraits too.
Sony DT 30mm f/2.8 SAM Macro
One of the most affordable macro options around and weighing just 150g, this no-frills lens provides Sony users with an effective focal length of 45mm in 35mm terms when used on APS-C bodies. This suits it to flowers and food photography, with a focused-distance scale on its barrel in both feet and metres.
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macro
This compact lens provides an effective focal length equivalent to around 96mm in 35mm terms, making it great for portraits in addition to general macro photography. It benefits from a quiet USM motor as well as a large focused-distance window, and has a relatively small 52mm filter thread to make compatible filters more affordable.
Nikon AF-S DX Micro NIKKOR 85mm f/3.5G ED VR
The DX-format bodies with which this lens is compatible produce an effective focal length equivalent to 130mm, suiting it to most macro subjects as well as portraits. It has a slightly narrower aperture than some other options here, but Nikon’s second-generation Vibration Reduction system should lend a hand for sharper images when shooting handheld.
Pentax 50mm f/2.8 SMC D FA Macro
This lens is compatible with APS-C-format Pentax bodies, as well as older film cameras and the new full-frame K-1 DSLR, so it’s worth considering if you have a film body or imagine adopting the latter at some point. Key features include a focused-distance window and a clamp switch to enable much finer adjustment of the focusing ring.
Sigma 70 mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro
With a short telephoto focal length, this lens would be great for food photography, flowers and portraiture. Despite its budget price tag it boasts a focus-limit switch on the side of its barrel, together with Super Multi Layer Coatings, a Special Low Dispersion (SLD) lens and two high-refractive-index SLD lenses to keep image quality high.
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di USD Macro
It may lack the Vibration Compensation system of its pricier sibling, but this budget favourite has a lot going for it, including a focus-limit switch, a clear focused-distance window and a large focusing ring for critical adjustment. It’s compatible with Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sony bodies, and Tamron has even generously thrown in a five-year warranty.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
Showing its age somewhat but still respected for its optical quality, this Canon lens is a good mid-range option for the full-frame user. Users benefit from a focus-limit switch for faster focus, as well as a focused-distance window and eight-blade circular diaphragm for round bokeh.
Nikon 60mm f/2.8 G AF-S ED Micro
With a Silent Wave Motor (SWM), Internal Focusing (IF), Close Range Correction (CRC) system and Extra Low Dispersion (ED) glass all on board, it’s no wonder this lens is as popular as it is among both DX- and FX-format users.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
Despite being relatively affordable, this lens is packed with technology common to pricier optics. Optical Stabilisation helps to steady handheld shots, while internal focus keeps the barrel length constant while focusing. A nine-blade diaphragm is also on hand to keep bokeh round, and you can even use the lens with Sigma’s teleconverters for extra reach.
Sony 50mm f/2.8 D Macro AF
This lens benefits from a focus hold button and a focus-limit switch, and has a seven-bladed diaphragm on the inside for circular bokeh. Its compact size makes it a perfect partner to smaller APS-C bodies, although you can also use it in conjunction with Sony’s full-frame cameras.
Tamron 90mm f/2.8 SP Di USD VC
Available in Canon, Nikon and Sony fittings, this Tamron optic is designed with a moisture-resistant casing and a Vibration Compensation system (in Canon and Nikon fits) for sharper handheld images. Its optics include Low Dispersion and Extra Low Dispersion elements to keep chromatic aberration at bay, while a USD motor has been included for speedy focus.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
With L-series optics and a weather sealed construction, this pro-grade option from Canon is hard to beat. The lens is unique for its Hybrid IS system, which compensates for both vertical and horizontal shifting (useful at close-focusing distances) in addition to angle shake, with a maximum benefit of 4EV stops of correction.
Nikon 105mm f/2.8 G AF-S VR IF ED Micro Nikkor
Thanks to its sharp optics and effective Vibration Reduction system, this Nikkor option is perhaps the most popular macro lens among full-frame Nikon users, be it for tripod-based macro or handheld use. Internal focusing also makes it suitable for shooting live subjects, while ED glass elements help to combat chromatic aberration.
Pentax 100mm f/2.8 SMC D-FA WR Macro
A perfect partner to Pentax’s weather-resistant K-1, this aluminium-bodied macro option from Pentax boasts not only weather sealing but also a Super Protect coating on the front element to repel water droplets. It’s also been designed with Pentax’s Quick-Shift Focus system for instant manual-focus override.
Sony SAL100M28 100mm f/2.8 Macro
Compatible with all of Sony’s A-mount SLT and previous DSLR models, this 100mm lens has a barrel furnished with a large rubber focus ring at its front, together with a focus-hold button and a focus-limit switch. There’s also a nine-bladed diaphragm on the inside for circular bokeh.
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM
Slightly longer than the other options here, this is a great option for full-frame users capturing insects and other live subjects. You also benefit from a four-stop Optical Stabilizer, which means you can use it for handheld shots and achieve sharper results than you otherwise may be able to.