The Macro Lens | Why It Should Be Your Second Lens Purchase

After buying the first DSLR camera, equipped with a pack lens or two, the photographer had two options. One red pill, one blue pill, if you will. Take the blue pill and you’ll always be happy with your device and the degree of freedom and versatility the camera and zoom lens offers. Opt for the red pill and soon you’ll start to see the limitations of the kit lens. Slow aperture, lack of sharpness, its overall flatness. Kit lenses are great, but you know there are better ones. The question is, what is next? There are plenty of options for different types of photographers, but in this article, I’ll introduce surprisingly versatile macro lenses.

Macro is one of the most popular genres among photography enthusiasts, and for a good reason. It offers the opportunity to show the beauty of a small world that we rarely see, a magical world in which the smallest details become surreal landscapes. However, I often see photographers get tired of this genre and sell their macro lenses, thinking they don’t use them anymore. In fact, they couldn’t have been further from the truth! While macro lenses may have the word “macro” in them, they are much more than that.

Macro photography of flowers

Perhaps renaming these lenses “Fast Telephoto focus” would help. These lenses tend to have a medium aperture, medium focal length, and great clarity. In this article, I will discuss macro lenses in the 90-105mm F2.8 range. These macro lenses are also usually most useful on cropping sensors and full-frame cameras. Other macro lenses, such as the 150mm, 180mm, and even 15mm versions are also handy but are usually available in less frequent situations. They may also cost more or have other limitations that make them unsuitable as a second lens after a kit.

1. Why choose a macro lens as your second lens purchase?

The first reason has to do with the sharpness of macro lenses and the wide aperture they provide. Macro lenses, though cheaper than most other lenses, are almost the gold standard for clarity. At F2.8, the image quality is pretty good, very good at F4, and F5.6 is almost unbeatable. Almost any macro lens is comparable to the best prime lens when slightly reduced, and is a significant improvement over any kit lens.

Another important factor: aperture. At the minimum focal distance used for macro photography, the aperture is usually F5.6. However, when you focus at about 7 feet, the aperture can be open all the way to F2.8. If it doesn’t, it can still be used for macros, but F2.8 opens up options to use it for sports, wildlife, portraits, and more.

But what do these lenses do that makes them so good? Sure, sharp close-ups are cool, but what else can a macro lens do?

2. Use of macro lenses

(1) Shooting pictures of sports games

Especially for cropping sensors, these lenses are excellent entry-level motion lenses. If you can’t afford a 70-200 F2.8 or similar lens, then the 105mm F2.8 would be an excellent complement to the 55-300 or 70-300 F5.6 for use when the sun goes down or in smaller venues.

For field sports, you’ll need to crop frequently, but thanks to the F2.8 aperture, the lens will actually autofocus, and you can keep the ISO low enough to avoid magenta clutter. Where this shot really shines is hockey; It is the perfect focal length for a full-frame and a cropped body.

On the sensor body, you can easily take close shots of the net from the penalty area or nearby areas, while on the full-frame sensor, you can get better shots of open ice action and still get good shots of the net.

Macro photography of the scene

However, macro lenses are a bad choice for basketball, unless you’re in the stands. For basketball, I prefer the 50mm or even 35mm lens, plus the ultra-wide-angle zoom for under the net. For court sports, where there are fewer players and the action takes place farther from the edge of the court, such as tennis and badminton, macro lenses are still excellent.

(2) Photographing wild animals

In addition to the obvious bug and flower shots, the macro shots are also excellent wildlife shots. While 300mm F2.8 (or longer) may be great for some animals, you can usually find animals that are less easily spooked. Even with full-frame sensors, smaller mammals, reptiles, and low-flying birds make excellent subjects.

(3) Portrait shooting

A very important use for macro lenses is for portraits. When it comes to headshots and studio portraits, it’s hard to beat the stunning sharpness of macro lenses. While I tend not to do too many portraits, you can see from the 100% cropping of several postings that macro lenses can be used to show facial detail. When it comes to sharp eyes and skin textures, there’s plenty of room for embellishment, and you can trust the macro lens to provide that.

With the F2.8 aperture, you can also create pleasing background separation and bokeh effects, though not as much as specialized portrait lenses such as the 85mm F1.8 or F1.4. The closer you get to the subject, the better the background separation is, so for headshots, you’ll see bokeh start to compared to faster or shorter lenses that can’t focus. However, for full-body portraits, it is best to use a 50mm lens.

Macro photography of a portrait

(4) Shooting activity scenes

One of the places where 105mm macro really thrives is as a general event lens. As you walk around, you can capture a photo of the speakers on the stage across the room, then immediately turn around to take some detailed photos of the food. For weddings, you can shoot rings and other small objects and then immediately return to the scene 30 feet away. While I wouldn’t recommend shooting every event with a macro lens alone, for events where you’re moving and don’t need to shoot any highly specific lenses, a macro lens is probably what you need. From small concerts to public ceremonies, it provides everything you need to cover important details without wasting time changing lenses.

3. Conclusion

I’m sure there are many other creative uses I haven’t thought of. Is a macro lens worth considering as your next lens? It definitely is, because it’s not just for macro photography. If you want to experiment with macro while expanding your options with several other types of photography, then macro lenses may be the right choice for you.

FAQ:

What does macro mean in photography?

The strictest definition of macro photography is that the subject is photographed at 1:1 magnification—in other words, the subject is life-sized in the photo. However, most people use the term “macro photography” to refer to any photograph that depicts a close-up and extremely detailed image of a small subject.

Is macro photography hard?

Macro photography is a difficult genre — you’re pushing up against the physical limits of depth of field, diffraction, and motion blur. Naturally, focusing on macro photography isn’t an easy task, but it’s a crucial one.

Do you need flash for macro photography?

You don’t need to use a flash for macro photography, but without one, you might struggle to get enough light on your subject. Shooting wide open will give you a thin depth-of-field. A macro flash will allow you to increase your aperture to stops like F/9 and F/11.

Do you need autofocus for macro?

Autofocus is not the preferred mode to shoot macro images, but if you are not comfortable yet with manual focus, then the following are some useful tips for nailing autofocus. Set your AF mode to a single shot servo. This will prevent focus hunting if the wind is blowing your subject around.

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