The Best Macro Lens
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See also How to Shoot Macro
Great Macro Lenses vs. Great Lenses for Macro
These are all great macro lenses, but most of them aren't great for serious macro photography. What?
All of these macro lenses are super-sharp and free from distortion. Any half-decent macro lens is extraordinary for use as a normal or telephoto lens for general photography — but here I'm discussing which lenses are best for serious macro shooting.
For serious macro shooting, you need a much longer lens, at least 100mm and preferably 200mm, so that you can make close-up photos from at least a foot or two away. With any 40mm to 60mm macro lens, by the time you get close enough for serious macro work, you're so close that you block your own light, annoy the subject, and the picture looks funny because of the unnatural perspective from being too darn close.
For instance, the Nikon 55mm f/2.8 (both auto and manual focus versions) is arguably the sharpest lens in photography, but it's a poor choice serious macro use because it's too short and you have to get uncomfortably close.
Regardless of how ultra-sharp or merely super-sharp any of these may be for general photography, because depth-of-field is nonexistent at real macro distances, lens sharpness isn't important because you'll be stopped down to f/32 anyway. Therefore, these will all be indistinguishable from each other as far as sharpness for serious macro use is concerned. At f/32, diffraction makes them all the same. Shoot wider, like at f/8, and nothing will be in focus, so again, whatever miniscule differences there may be at infinity won't matter. These are so good technically that sharpness doesn't matter — but focal length does.
Hint: for great macro on a budget, use any 2x teleconverter with a 105mm or 100mm macro lens to give you a 200mm macro lens and let you stand farther away for the same magnification— but it will be much more difficult to compose and focus because you'll only be at about f/8 after adding the converter at most macro distances. For Nikon, a used manual-focus TC-200 for about $50 and any 105mm macro could be all you need.
Here are the best macro lenses for both general and macro photography. All of these are at least as sharp, and usually sharper than regular lenses, even at infinity. See also How to Shoot Macro.
Get the lens you really want, since unlike cameras, good lenses are always a great investment.
Click each for its complete review. See also the Comparison sections of many of these reviews for far more details.
Nikon Auto Focus top
All these lenses focus to directly to 1:1, meaning that the image on the sensor is the same size as the subject.
Nikon Manual Focus top
All these get to half-life-sized (1:2) at the image sensor. They all can be used with extension tubes to get to 1:1 life size or more.
Canon EOS top
Minolta and Sony top
Tokina for Nikon and Canon top
LEICA M top
Sigma and Tamron top
I wouldn't buy either of these brands. Even if the optics can be as good as the others, the mechanical quality of the samples I've seen has not been up to my standards, and there is far more potential for the lenses you buy today not to work on the cameras you buy tomorrow with these brands than with camera-maker-brand lenses.
The main reason people bought Sigma and Tamron was for price. Today, you're much better off with a used manual-focus Micro-NIKKOR for even less money with far superior quality, but hey, if you prefer these off-brands, don't let me stop you.
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19 June 2013