Now, many lenses are labeled as macro lenses in the market. But these are not true macro lenses because they cannot reproduce a 1:1 magnification of a small subject onto a camera sensor. An actual macro lens can reproduce a life-sized subject image onto a camera sensor from a close focusing distance. So a 1X magnification is a minimum to categorize a lens as an actual macro lens.
Macro lenses are very versatile. They not only shoot small subjects, but they are also capable of photographing other subjects. The favorite focal length for a macro lens is 105mm because it can then double as a portrait lens. Then there is also the 135mm macro manual focusing lens which is also a stunning portrait length.
In this discussion, we shall look at nine close-up lenses for various mounts.
Things to keep in mind when choosing a close-focusing lens
There are a bunch of things that you should keep in mind when choosing a macro lens.
True macro lens
The first and foremost thing to remember is if the lens is a true macro lens. In other words, if it can shoot 1:1 magnification of small subjects.
The next thing is the focal length. The longer the focal length, the more space you will get as a photographer to shoot images. If the lens has a short focal length, you must get close to the subject to fill the frame. With a longer focal length, you can stay back and yet fill the frame.
The third important thing is the presence of autofocusing. Though, in most cases, you will be using manual focusing to nail focus, autofocusing as a feature is nice. Manual focusing is more precise and allows you to pinpoint the focusing on a small petal or pore, which autofocusing can often struggle to do.
List of Best Macro Lenses for Close-Up Shots
Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro
The Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 is a true macro lens. Why? Because it has a maximum magnification ratio equal to 1:1, the lens can reproduce a life-sized reproduction of a small subject onto the imaging plane (sensor) at its closest working distance.
The lens has been designed to work with Sony’s full-frame and APS-C crop sensors. It works without issues on most cameras, including the NEX, the A6000, and the A5000 series cameras. This FE mount lens will, however, not work with any Alpha series DSLT cameras.
The f/2.8 aperture is relatively large and comparable to some of the other macro lenses we’ll see on this list. It can produce a very shallow depth of field, which can create some unique final images.
Performance-wise, the lens is very sharp. The sharpness is admirable even when you use the lens wide open at f/2.8. The 50mm focal length does not allow a shutter speed to be used too slowly, but when you push the shutter speed up and shoot hand-held, it’s possible to shoot very sharp images at f/2.8.
Let’s discuss the autofocusing prowess of the lens. Even though you are unlikely to use autofocusing when shooting close-up shots, autofocusing is still a feature you may require time and again. Autofocusing on the 50mm f/2.8 tends to hunt a bit. There will be some back-and-forth movement before the lens finally locks focus. That said, you have a focusing delimiter option that you can use in case the lens is struggling to lock focus.
The focusing ring is slimmer than that found on the Nikkor AF-S FX Micro 60mm f/2.8G ED discussed below. Also, it’s placed closer to the front of the lens (something that I personally don’t like).
The lens does not have a manual aperture ring, and it does not have image stabilization built-in either. You have to use a tripod to shoot at a minimum shutter speed of 1/50th sec or faster to avoid image blur.
Nikkor AF-S FX Micro 60mm f/2.8G ED
The Nikkor AF-S FX Micro 60mm f/2.8G ED is a true macro lens with a 1:1 maximum magnification and a minimum focusing distance of 7.3-inches. You get a M/A and M switch and the option to use a full-time manual focusing override. There is an electronic focusing distance indicator, something that every digital era lens has these days.
This lens has been designed for the full-frame Nikon FX-format cameras but is also compatible with DX-format cameras. On DX systems, the effective focal length becomes slightly longer. The effective focal length on DX-format lenses is 90mm (35mm format equivalent).
The design of the lens is compact and lightweight. They are essentially made of plastic except for the lens mount and the glass elements, which add up to a decent weight of 425 grams.
There is no image stabilization on this lens. So, for macro photography, you have to be careful when shooting hand-held not to shoot at a shutter speed that’s slower than 1/60th of a second. Most users will happily use a small tripod when shooting with this lens.
The focusing ring is closer to the front of the lens. I am happy with that arrangement because the focusing ring is significant, and you can easily access it. I usually like my focusing ring closer to the bottom of the lens, but it’s subjective.
The lens features internal focusing elements, ensuring that the lens’s barrel length remains the same throughout the focusing distance.
Is this my favorite lens for shooting macro shots? Not really. I prefer my macro lens to be slightly longer than 60mm—ideally 100mm or longer. At 60mm, you must be very close to the subject to fill the frame. The minimum working distance of this lens is around 7-inches. There is a high chance that you will block the light source and cast a shadow.
Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP A/M Macro
I like the Tamron 90mm more than the previous two lenses. Yes, those are decent lenses to start and they are both reasonably priced. But the Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP A/M Macro has a focal length of 90mm which means you can shoot from further back and yet capture a life-sized reproduction of a small subject.
This lightweight lens weighs only 405 grams and is one of the lightest macro lenses near or over 100mm.
The manual focusing ring sits close to the lens’s front element. As I have already mentioned, this is not my preference, but it is subjective, and you may like it.
The lens barrel extends by quite some distance when focusing. It nearly extends 50% of its normal length. If you are in the habit of getting very close to your subject, you have to be extra careful when extending focus.
Coming back to the manual focusing ring, I like the smoothness, and there aren’t many reported issues with it. However, like every Tamron lens, the transition between autofocusing and manual focusing is done using a focus clutch method. You have to pull the focusing ring to engage manual focusing.
I have always been critical of this because I love the seamless transition of the full-time manual focusing feature on Nikkor and Canon lenses. That said, if you have been a Tamron user for quite some time and are used to this feature, you wouldn’t feel a difference.
Performance-wise, especially when it comes to the autofocusing performance of the Tamron, there is a minor issue with speed. Does that make a significant difference? No, not really. To speed things up, you can use the focus delimiter button. This ensures the lens does not hunt for focus across its entire focal length. This can significantly improve the focusing speed.
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF ED
Nikon has multiple versions of the 105mm lens, but not all of those versions are macro lenses like this one. This is the fourth iteration of this macro lens that Nikon has made, so they’ve had plenty of time to perfect it.
The 105mm focal length is long enough. It allows macro shots to fill the frame without getting too close to the subject. That means you don’t block the light with your body and you don’t accidentally startle any live subjects.
This lens is designed to work with both Nikon’s FX and DX-format camera systems. The lens will offer an effective focal length of 157.5mm (35mm format equivalent) when used on a DX-format camera.
While the lens has a built-in autofocusing motor, these modern G-type lenses do not have an aperture ring. You can still adjust the focusing distance using the electronic focusing distance indicator. Older manual film camera bodies will not work with this lens if you have any plans to use a manual film camera as such.
Among the things that I like about this lens is vibration reduction. This is the first Nikon macro lens to have this feature. It extends the hand-held macro capabilities of the lens.
The other thing I like about this lens is that the lens features an internal focus design. That means when the lens focuses; the barrel length remains the same. This isn’t the case with the other lenses I have included on this list.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
Sigma’s 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro is an inexpensive option if you’re looking for 3rd party lenses. This one has the same focal length as the Nikon lens discussed above. A longer focal length allows more space between the subject and the camera, preventing any lighting interferences.
Just like the Nikon 105mm, f/2.8 is the first Nikon macro lens with vibration compensation or optical image stabilization; the Sigma is the first macro lens from the stable to have optical stabilization built in. Please note this is the second version of the 105mm f/2.8. The first one did not have optical stabilization built in.
The performance of the lens wide open is good, but stopping down the lens improves the sharpness. If you’re looking for shallow depth of field and lovely bokeh, this lens has plenty of that, thanks to the nice wide f/2.8 aperture and the nine rounded aperture blades that make up the aperture diaphragm.
Optical stabilization on the lens is rated at four stops by Sigma. This, however, will not work when the lens is used at its maximum magnification (1:1).
What I don’t like is the movement of the frame when looking through the viewfinder – a sudden jerky movement associated with the initiation and termination of the optical image stabilization process. Also, when optical stabilization is active, the image through the viewfinder tends to move around a bit in a weird movement. This is something that can be annoying for some users.
Nikon AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR
The 85mm is a classic focal length for shooting portraits. This versatile lens, however, is designed for Nikon’s crop camera systems. When you mount the lens on a crop camera, the lens’s effective focal length becomes 127.5mm—this is still an effective focal length for shooting portraits on a crop camera system, but extends the lens’s use to macro shots as well.
This lens has a true macro pedigree because of the 1:1 magnification ratio at a minimum focusing distance of 11.26-inches.
At f/3.5, it’s still a versatile lens for shooting shallow depth of field. For macro shots, however, you will likely use the lens at a smaller aperture to get a larger field depth.
This primarily plastic lens has been designed to work with DX-format camera systems. It has a built-in autofocusing motor which ensures that cameras like the D5000 and the D3000 series units can also autofocus with it. Don’t use this lens with the FX system cameras because a large part of the sensor will be cropped out. You will lose out on a lot of the resolution.
The lens has a full-time manual focusing override option which comes in handy when the lens is struggling to lock focus. This is especially useful because the lens does not have a focus delimiter button. I love the convenience of grabbing hold of the focusing ring and turning to adjust focus.
The large focusing ring is placed close to the front of the lens. It’s smooth and turns well, so you can quickly grab hold of it and adjust the focus manually.
The autofocusing speed of this lens is decent and, when pushing between normal and macro focusing distances, the lens does an admirable job of migrating from one distance to the other.
Overall, this inexpensive lens is easy to use, but the lens’s optical performance is the problem. This isn’t the sharpest of Nikon macro lenses we’ve had the privilege of testing. The version wide open is slightly softer than the 60mm Nikkor. Stopping down the lens improves performance slightly.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Macro Art for Leica
A favorite focal length for shooting macro photos, the Signa 105mm f/2.8 DG DN Macro carries the name “Art”. This suggests that the lens is one of the top-tier Sigma lenses in the business.
The lens is solidly built, with very few complaints to be found about the product’s exterior.
The lens’s versatility is that it works as a regular macro lens, and the focal length is also suitable for shooting portraits. The f/2.8 aperture is wide open and produces beautiful bokeh.
You can use this lens for other photography requirements, such as weddings, everyday photography, etc. This lens is particularly useful for capturing the wedding ring, accessories, and other details at events. But at a longer focusing distance, you can also use this lens to photograph the bride and the groom and take portraits of the guests. Thus, this is a very versatile lens.
The focal length is ideal for shooting macro photos because the lens allows the photographer to stay back and yet be able to fill the frame with a subject. The minimum focusing distance is 11.6-inches. This means there are fewer chances of the photographer blocking the light with their own body.
This is an actual macro lens because it gives 1:1 magnification at the closest working distance. And thanks to the long focal length, the photographer has sufficient working space and does not scare off any small subjects such as bugs (many photographers will be using this lens mainly for capturing close-up nature shots).
Background blur is more than average with this lens. The lens’s aperture diaphragm is composed of 9 rounded blades, making the background blur smooth and stunning. The f/2.8 maximum aperture also helps to accentuate the background blur.
Speaking of the maximum aperture of f/2.8, the lens gives us the option to shoot hand-held even in less-than-ideal lighting conditions. There is no need to push the ISO up and, in the process, induce noise.
Rokinon 135mm f/2 ED UMC Telephoto
This is a manual focusing lens. The lens sends no focusing information or information about exposure and aperture to the camera. You have to be careful when working with this lens to ensure that your exposure details are accurate and the aperture you’ve dialed in is also what you want it to be.
This lens is available for most leading mounts, including the significant full-frame and micro four-thirds mount. This is a prime lens, and the construction includes 11 elements arranged in 7 groups.
Although the lens is designed to work with full-frame camera systems, it also works on APS-C cameras with an effective focal length of 202.5mm. For APS-C camera systems, this lens becomes a medium telephoto lens. I feel the practical utility of the lens is more for traditional macro subjects and, to some extent, portrait photography; for that, it’s best to use a full-frame camera.
At 135mm, the lens can serve several purposes apart from macro photography, except that the manual focusing makes it much more challenging to use for anything other than macro and portraiture where the subject is relatively ‘steady.’ If the subject is moving around, precise manual focusing becomes very difficult. Therefore, the usability of this manual focusing lens will be limited.
Speaking of focusing, the manual focusing ring is located near the center of the lens barrel, which is more to my personal preference than other locations.
The f/2 maximum aperture gives a beautiful background blur that accentuates any subject, thanks to the nine rounded aperture blades that make up the aperture diaphragm. Compared to the f/2.8 lenses we have listed here, f/2 is a much wider aperture and produces softer bokeh.
Plus, the f/2 aperture means the lens will work in low light conditions, and you will not have to push the ISO number too high to compensate.
Pergear 60mm F2.8 Ultra-Macro Lens
The Pergear 60mm is a 2x macro lens designed for several mounts, including Sony, Nikon, Fuji, and the M/43 mounts. Among Nikon cameras, a compatible version mounts on the latest Z series cameras, including the Z6, Z7, and the Z50.
The lens also mounts with several Fuji X-mount cameras, including the X-T4, the X-S10, and the X-Pro1. In terms of Sony’s systems, the lens mounts on most of the A6000 and the A5000 series of lenses. Along with that, the lens is also compatible with the A7, A7II, and most of the other cameras in the A7 series.
Though initially designed to work with APS-C camera systems, the lens also works on full-frame cameras. However, you will find some vignetting at the corners when working with full-frame camera systems.
This is a very inexpensive lens, yet it offers a mind-boggling 2x optical magnification that no other lens on this list does.
One great thing about the lens is that it has a built-in hood plate. The plate is slightly curved, possibly eliminating any stray light from entering the camera.
Focusing is precise at macro distances. There is hardly anything to say against this lens’s macro focusing, but infinity focusing takes a bit of time and patience to master. The minimum focusing distance is 19.1cm.
The aperture ring on the lens is a de-clicked one. The result is a smooth and silent operation when you turn the aperture ring. This is great for close focusing distances, especially with creepy crawlies and other subjects that can easily get spooked. But that said, some among you would prefer the clicking sound just for confirmation.
The maximum aperture of the lens is f/2.8. Plus, the aperture diaphragm is made up of 10 blades, and that ensures that the lens can capture a lot of background blur. The bokeh quality is beautiful.
Among the lenses listed here, the Nikkor 105mm and the Sigma 105mm Art are our top choices. The Nikkor is an excellent choice if you’re using a Nikon camera, especially if you’re using a Nikon full-frame camera. The Sigma is a more all-around choice. It’s a well-built lens and has excellent optical performance.
We have also included a bunch of manual focusing lenses and one lens that offers a 2x optical magnification (the Pergear 60mm F2.8 Ultra-Macro). This list isn’t intended to be a comprehensive one, but it should give you a wide range of lenses to choose from to make an informed decision about the lens you need.