The 10 Best Macro Lenses
How Close Is Too Close? A Discussion Of Minimum Focusing Distance
There are certainly people out there to whom complex charts detailing the ins and outs of focal physics make a tremendous amount of sense. I am not one of those people. I'm a photographer; I don't need to know the majority of these tricks and equations.
I just need to know how to make these tools work, and that's going to be a lot easier to learn by getting your hands on a good macro lens than it will be by sitting around and weeping over images like this all day.
Let's do what good physicists always seem ready to do, and let's have ourselves a simple, real world experiment that will illustrate our point.
Go ahead close one eye. Either one is fine. Now, hold your index finger about a foot and a half away from your face, and focus on it. Next, slowly begin to move your finger toward your eye, maintaining focus on it as best you can throughout.
At a certain point, hopefully before you poke yourself in the eye, you'll lose the ability to keep your finger in focus. That's because, like camera lenses, the human eye has a minimum focusing distance specific to its build.
In humans, this is going to be a different distance from person to person, and your focal plane is liable to change and narrow as you age. This is why you see your parents moving a piece of paper back and forth while trying to read it: their focal plane has become more limited.
One of the things that macro lenses do is to drastically reduce their minimum focusing distance so that the front element of the lens can get much closer to the subject than with another kind of lens.
This, combined with the 1:1 imaging ratio created by most macro lenses, ensures that the largest possible magnification of your subject occurs by the time the light hits the camera sensor, or–if you're a hold out with a lot of money to burn–before it hits the film.
These Things Aren't Toys (They're Totally Toys)
There's something I want everybody to remember while shopping around for a new macro lens, and that's to enjoy yourself.
Sure, these are precision instruments designed to perform under adverse conditions and provide you with stunning images for your business, or your website, or just for posterity.
But photography is so much fun! And if you're reading around on the web for information about the gear involved with the art, then it's pretty likely that you have that gene which helps you salivate over the comparison of minute differences from one lens to the next. It's all part of the pleasure.
With that disclaimer out of the way, we can get down to it. You need to know which of these lenses is right for you.
Well, it starts out pretty easily if you're already invested in one brand's system. Nikon shooters probably aren't going to buy Canon lenses and the necessary adapters to mount them when Nikon makes macro lenses of their own, and when third parties are making such killer lenses for so many different brand systems.
Start with the body you've got and work from there.
If you're building an outfit from scratch, but you know you want a macro lens, then the field is a little more open to you. Questions of size and weight come up, especially if you plan on traveling with your gear.
If it's a home studio you're building, and size and weight don't matter, you can opt for optical quality over all other considerations, even at the apparent expense of reason.
The point is that if you start with what you have, codify what you want, and work your way through our list with that in mind, then something will jump out at you, and when it does, take its picture.
Manipulating The Plane
Macro photography isn't anything new to the photographic world. As lenses developed to contain multiple elements in the middle of the 19th century, that combination altered the minimum focusing distance of each lens, some of which could be used much more closely to the subject than others.
Today, with that desire qualified by 150 years of experimentation, macro lenses are sharper and faster, letting in more light and operating more quietly than every before.
But there have been developments of other techniques and products to substitute for the purchase of a macro lens in that time. There are adapters that allow you to put the lens on your camera backwards, which performs a kind of trick of the light and creates decent macro images. There are also devices known as extension tubes that change the position of the focal plane, creating a similar effect.
The downside to the use of such technologies is often a loss of light, or a loss of sharpness. Sometimes it's both.
Your best bet for the highest quality image is to start with the lens that was designed to shoot macro photography, and if you want to rig something up using that, you'll at least have a clean head start.