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Photography Question 
Vickie Burt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/29/2004

Which Macro Lens Should I Buy?

Please could someone advise me on the best macro to use for photos of flowers and small things in nature? Is "longer" better?

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10/22/2006 3:16:18 AM

Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  Without knowing your camera brand it's difficult to recommend specific lenses.
For close-ups in nature, anything in the 100mm to 200mm range will afford a decent working distance for skittish insects and other small critters.
Longer lenses will also work well for flowers but I've always relied upon my trusty 55mm macro for these.
Remember to check the specs on any macro lens you are considering. Choose a high-quality model from a reputable manufacturer that will close-focus down to 1:1 lifesize...(or at least 1:2).
There are, of course, less-costly alternatives, like extension tubes and those close-up filters that screw onto the front of your lens. (I've used tubes quite often but have never cared for the image quality of those screw-on close-up filters.)
You can also consider a bellows-type assembly for some really cool super close-ups. These are like an adjustable black "accordian" attached to a focusing rail. The entire assembly attaches to a tripod (essential), and allows the lens to be extended up to 160mm or more from the camera for greater than lifesize reproduction.

Editor's Note: Nature photographer Brenda Tharp teaches two 4-week courses - Mastering Macro Photography and Macro II: Advanced Techniques - that get under way on November 1st.

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10/22/2006 5:07:15 AM

Ken Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/11/2005
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  I have the Sigma 105mm f2.8 macro and have no complaints. I had asked the same question as you did awhile back:

I also have the Kinko extension tubes.

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10/22/2006 6:38:06 AM

Paul Stewart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/14/2006
  I'm going to be stepping up to dSLR from a Fuji S9000 soon. I have pretty much decided on the Nikon D200.

With that in mind, I am confused about lenses myself.

I know I want a macro lens because I know I want to try my hand at close up photography. But I am confused about all the different types the 20 character model numbers etc. Which ones will have their own “motor” which ones will work with the auto focus on the camera body, which ones have a cpu and can communicate focal length information back to the camera. What I would be giving up if I got one without a cpu that communicates with the camera body.

Does anyone know of a resource online or in print that would take a novice like myself from the point of not knowing anything about lenses to a place where I would at least be able to choose the right lens for what I hope to accomplish and be able to compare lenses from an informed perspective?

Some specific questions:

I have heard the longer the lens is the better for reasons of how far away you can be from the subject etc. I sort of understand that concept.

In addition to macro photography I am also interested in portrait photography; I have heard that macro lenses also do excellent portrait work.

Bob, would you agree with that? And if so, would a longer or shorter macro lens be better suited towards portrait work or would it matter.

Do any/all of the third party lenses offer a lens that will "speak" to the Nikon D200 with focal information etc, will they work with the D200 auto focus system as well?

Thank any and all who will take the time to help a newbie.

Hendersonville, Tennessee

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10/22/2006 12:45:22 PM

Vickie Burt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/29/2004
  Thank you to both Bob & Ken for their advice. I followed ken's link and it seems like the Sigma 105mm 2.8 is the way to go. I know the Sigma brand as I have a 70-300mm 4.5 Sigma zoom.

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10/22/2006 10:46:18 PM

anonymous A.    I can't speak highly enough of my Tamron 90mm 2.8 macro, but all of the camera and well known third party lenses are good glass. They will all support the data transfer with the camera for which they are designed, sdo they all support the same functions as a non-macro lens. The Tamron is a particularly good portrait lens, despite its extreme sharpness (not always desirable with portraits), and yes, the longer focal length is useful in allowing more working space with your subject matter. This is also a consideration with portraits and head shots.

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10/23/2006 2:51:23 AM

BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/28/2002
  Hi Paul, here's the lens terminology according to the Nikon Product Guide:

AF-S Autofocus with Silent Wave Motor

ASP Aspherical lens element(s)

CRC Close-range correction system where lens elements are configured in a "floating element" design

D AF-D type lenses relay subject-to-camera distance information to AF Nikon cameras that feature 3D Color Matrix metering, 3D Matrix metering and 3D Multi-Sensor Balanced Fill-Flash

DC Defocus-image control allows the control of spherical aberration to create an out-of-focus blur

DX DX-Type for Nikon's DSLR only

ED Extra-low Dispersion glass used

G AF-G Type similar to AF-D type but more compact and "excellent cost-performance ratio"

IF Internal focusing allows a lens to focus without changing its length

MA M/A modeallows switching between autofocus to manual operation with no time lag

SIC Super-Integrated coating

NCC Nano-Crystal coat

VR Vibration reduction

Hope this helps.

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10/23/2006 7:28:53 AM

anonymous A.    Oh dear! And none of this means anything if you buy a third party lens, or decide you prefer a Lumix or a Canon to the Nikon.... No wonder people feel overwhelmed.

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10/23/2006 7:40:06 AM

Paul Stewart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/14/2006
  Thank you Vickie, David, and Andy for the help.

Yeah it is overwhelming; I am still trying to understand the basics of lenses. Types, what each is best suited for, limitations, strengths, and variety of uses for different types, how to decipher all the specifications associated with lenses in general etc.

I bought Jim Miotke's guide to digital photography about two weeks ago, I'm about half way through it. The other day I picked up a copy of Tom Ang's digital photographer's handbook, it has a section in it about lenses.

If anyone runs across any web sites or books that explain lenses in a comprehensive way, IE construction, how they work, operation, terminology, uses, etc let me know. The Tom Ang book does have a section on lenses, I haven't read it yet, but there is only about 4-6 pages dedicated to this topic. It seems someone would have to dedicate 30 to 50 pages minimum to this topic if their aim was to educate someone from the ground up on lenses.

Again, thank you all.

Paul Stewart
Hendersonville, Tennessee

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10/23/2006 7:55:00 AM

Bob Fately   Vickie, to answer your original question ("is longer better?") - the answer is, sometimes. Which I guess is what Bob C was alluding.

A longer focal length macro lens will afford you more "working distance" - that is, how far from the subject (flower) you are to achieve a 1:1 reproduction ratio. So, a 50MM macro may require you to be within 4-6 inches of that rosebud, while a 200MM macro will alow you the same size image but from a distance of 12-15 inches.

The real advantage of the longer working distance is simply the ability to place and use different kinds of lighting - from 4 inches away you can't use an offset flash in many places without the lens itself casting a shadow. From 12 inches away it's less likely that the lens will get in its own way, so to speak.

Of course, for photographing icky things like spiders and snakes, having greater working distance isn't a bad thing either.

Andy's response gives you the meaning of the marketing gibberish, always handy to know. Be aware that with any macro lens, depth of field is very thin, meaning that you either need to use a steady support (read: tripod) or a small aperture to get more DOF - which again usually means using a tripod since the shutter speeds end up getting pretty ow (unless you use flash, of course). But my real point is that usually you won't use auto-focus in macro work, since with that shallow DOF you want to compose a shot and ensure that the exact portion you want is actually in focus. For example, in autofocus mode, the camera may hone in on the stamen, but you wanted that more blurry and have the petal sharp (whatever).

After the lens, you may end up considering a flash to supply additional lighting (especially when using small apertures). While a special purpose ring flash can get costly, you may want to get a remote flash cord to connect your camera body with the flash unit and still get the auto-exposure benefits.

Hope that helps.

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10/23/2006 8:28:39 AM

Vickie Burt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/29/2004
  Bob, thank you very much for your advice. You have given me quite a bit to think about. I have an SB-600 Nikon flash, so will look into investing in a remote flash cord as well.

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10/23/2006 9:56:25 PM

STEVE W. NELSON   As for macro-photography, I use Nikon, and my micro lense is the Nikon ED AF MICRO NIKKOR 200 mm 1:4 D, and I love it. I will give no more advise , you have quite a bit already. I pretty much agree with all of the above, a good micro lense is not cheap, but they are well worth the investment.
Also I have taken a class from Brenda Thorp and that also is worth the investment, she is a wonderful photographer, and a great teacher, not to mention her personality. I hope this helps. SN

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10/24/2006 11:04:18 AM

Michele Wassell   I shoot with a 20D and I am wanting to get into macro flower photography. I am not into bugs so I don't see myself every really going there.

What do you recommend for flower macro work? Open to any and all suggestions?

I did read the previous post and got an idea, but am still not sure what the best choice would be, so I thought I would ask.

Thank you all!

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10/24/2006 5:42:02 PM

Paul Stewart
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/14/2006
  I did find a web site with some excellent tutorials including one on lenses.

The photographer is Sean T. McHugh who is a graduate student at Cambridge in the UK. He has a web site, links below. His gallery there has some of the most interesting and beautiful low light photography I have ever seen. This is a great web site for information and inspiration.

Home Page


Lens tutorial:

Thanks to everyone here for their comments.

Paul Stewart
Hendersonville, Tennessee

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11/1/2006 10:25:19 AM

Bunny Snow
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/16/2004
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  For my Nikon, I bought the 105mm macro lens, which I used to photography tiny wildflowers approximately 1/16 inch in size. When switched off macro, this made a good portrait lens.

For my Canon Elan and 20D, I bought a 100mm macro, which is still a good macro lens and portrait lens. Whenever I find the dire need to purchase a longer and more costly macro/portrait lens, I will. In the mean time, I use both my macros/standard and my 70-200mm lenses for portraits.

My classical portraiture instructor taught us to use between 100 to 200mm for portraiture. Wider lenses can add weight to a subject, longer lenses tend to flatten more. For portraits, it is always better to move back so you are not in the subject's face..or so I was taught.

Hope this helps!

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1/1/2007 10:04:13 AM

Sherry K. Adkins
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/13/2006
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  I have the same lens that Bunny has and it is by far my favorite lens, both for macro and portrait work. I might suggest the Magic Lantern Guides to Nikon Lens. It not only describes each lens, but the terminology as well. They probably have one on Canon lens, too.

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1/1/2007 5:47:45 PM

Sharon  Day
BetterPhoto Member Since: 6/27/2004
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Sharon 's Gallery
  I use the Nikon 105mm and sometimes borrow a 60mm macro lens. The difference in how close you can get is very small. Maybe a couple of inches. I personally prefer the 60mm macro and it's a lot less expensive than the 105mm.

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1/1/2007 6:12:40 PM

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