Looking On

When we hear the term “Macro Lens” this is the type of shot we are expecting. Something small and up close. But a macro lens doesn’t need to be used for only macro shots. If you think about it, all a macro lens is, is just a prime lens that has the ability to focus up close. I have noticed that if I used a zoom lens at the same focal length and same aperture as the macro lens, I get better bokeh with the macro lens. This is because of the construction of the lens.

So what are macro lenses good for other than macro shots?

DSC_1455

This portrait shot was taken with the same macro lens as the mosquito above. Notice how creamy the bokeh is in the background and how sharp the subject is. While you can get the same sharp subject with a zoom lens, the bokeh just wouldn’t be as nice. This helps the subject stand out more with less distractions.

What if you don’t do much macro shots or any portraits?

Sunrise-Fence

This landscape shot was done with a macro lens. Although the same shot could have been achieved with a wide angle lens, I chose to go with the macro lens and take multiple frames to stitch together in order to get a more shallow DOF which would be more difficult to do with a wide angle lens.

As you can see, a macro lens is a very versatile lens in that it can do macro, portrait, landscape, along with other types of photography. The way I look at a macro lens is that it is a prime lens that has the capability of focusing up close, producing great bokeh, and a more shallow DOF than a zoom lens at the same focus length. The advice I would give when shopping for a macro lens? Get the longest focus length you can afford as it’ll allow you to be farther away from your smallest subjects when shooting. This has the major benefits of less of a chance of scaring your subject if it is an insect and blocking out too much light.

Below are a group of images that were taken using a macro lens. All of these photos were taken with either the Nikon DX 85mm Macro or Nikon FX 105mm Macro lenses. In the coming weeks I will be putting together a couple posts on something else I have been working on utilizing only my macro lens to get a full shot of a subject and then a group of more specialized shots of that subject.

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Versatility of a Macro Lens

51 thoughts on “Versatility of a Macro Lens

    • Thanks John! I think that when one hears the work “macro” when associated with a lens they assume it’s only purpose is to get up close to a subject. I have to admit that my main purpose of getting a macro lens was for macro photography but after thinking about it and testing it out, I have found that a macro lens has many different uses and is a great lens overall.

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    • That and my 16-35mm ultra wide angle lens are my two favorite. I only have 4 lenses in my kit, the other two being a 24-120mm and a 28mm f/1.8. The 24-120mm is my go to lens for a walkabout when I don’t want to carry additional lenses as it provides me with wide angle and zoom in one and the 28mm is my specialty lens for more bokeh shots. The only thing I don’t like about the 24-120mm is it doesn’t have a close focusing distance so I am unable to get the wide angle macro shots that I can get with the 16-35mm or the 28mm. So hard to choose just one lens when getting out as there are always many different possibilities. I find that I often change lenses on a walk. Lately it’s been the 16-35mm on the camera with the 105mm macro on standby.

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      • I have the 16-35 and 24-120 too, but whereas I used to use the latter a lot, I don’t now – 24 isn’t wide enough and 120 isn’t long enough! Its most use in interiors, and where I need more flexibility with people than the 105 can give. I have for a long time been married to the 70-300 Nikkor, which is often the only lens I carry – it suits the way I “see”. (The 80-400 is also good, but heavy.) Now I’m starting to carry it with an extreme wideangle – the 16-35 is good for its VR, but Sigma’s 12-24 is really astonishing, especially at 12mm – a UK professional said that everything he points the 12mm at produces a special image and he’s not far wrong. Good to meet another Nikon user! Adrian

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        • I now have the Sigma 12-24mm in my Amazon wishlist. I’ll have to do some more research on that lens and wait until I get enough money saved up to possibly get it. I know that going from 16mm down to 12mm will make a big impact. I tried out the Nikon 14-24mm lens but turned away from it as it has the fixed hood and an expensive filter option as I like to use ND filters with my wide angle when shooting water.

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          • I have the older version of the Sigma 12-24, which doesn’t take screw on filters – you’d have to use filters in holders eg the Lee system and vignetting might be a problem at 12mm. The MK2 version of the lens is out now but I suspect that it too doesn’t use screw in filters (unlike the 16-35 of course). I agree re the 14-24 Nikkor, not desirable, and bulky and heavy too. A

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      • I have the newer one. The reason for this is because I have read multiple reviews that state that the newer one will render sharper photos than the older one due to the type of glass that is used. I know that reviews can be subjective but that is what I mostly base my purchasing decision off of and when buying a new lens, I mostly go for what’s going to get me the sharpest results.

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        • I heard the opposite from someone who does a lot of insect macros. That is so funny. I’m not sure I would even be able to tell honestly until I mastered macro work. i’ve never done it so it would be a completely new venture.

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          • I think the autofocus feature came into play as well as the old one doesn’t have autofocus. For macro work, I don’t care so much for the autofocus, but for more landscape and portraits, I want the autofocus. For portrait the autofocus is very important as I can’t manually focus fast enough and for some of the landscape, it gets very difficult to know where it’s focusing when the subject is farther away.

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          • I think that’s what it was….not having the autofocus for macro was a good thing. It’s why he recommended the older lens for macro. But it makes sense needing it for non-macro work.

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      • Hi Laura! Its the new one and it is, simply, magnificent! Its certainly the classiest piece of glass (what a phrase!) I’ve got and an essential part of my kit. I don’t know about the D lens being better, but I do know that Amateur Photographer ran an in depth test on the VR version I use several years back and found it excellent. I’d thought about getting the D lens as I didn’t think I’d use the VR but I wouldn’t be without it. Adrian

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      • Also the point, Laura, that the new one is an AF-S lens ie it contains a motor rather than using the camera’s motor as the D lenses do, which makes for quicker focusing. I’m really aware of the slower focusing on my 80-400 D, as opposed to the 70-300 AF-S. I often use the 105 for taking unposed shots of kids running riot and its really its very fast autofocus that makes this kind of insane pastime possible. Adrian

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  1. This is such an informative post and I LOVE the conversation between you and Adrian above! I am a real newbie to the photography world, From the sound and look of it, a macro lens will be on my Christmas list.

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    • Thank you Carrie! Although a macro lens may not be right for everyone, it is a great lens to get. I can see a wildlife photographer who always shoots ultra zoom may not be interested in one, but for someone who likes the occasional macro plus portraits and landscapes, it is a lens that works out quite well as a multi-purpose lens.

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      • I am a macro fool. I honestly can’t get close enough. And, I love landscapes too. My boys, in particular, don’t sit still long enough for portraits 🙂 But, I could use that feature for a tree as my subject or some other form of nature I am sure.
        As of now, I am just shooting with a point and shoot Sony…always embarrassed to say that. But, I am gathering all the knowledge I can to make the right choice for my first “real” camera. I am hooked, I see images everywhere I go.
        I just really enjoyed this post because you really laid out exactly what it does best and you were really clear about that. That is refreshing! Thanks for taking the time to post about this.

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        • No problem Carrie! I always see blog posts or information in forums but it’s really hard for that information to reach everyone so I like to pass on information to people that follow my blog that may not be able to find that information elsewhere. There’s so many 101 posts though that I don’t want to post on how to compose a shot or things like that as it’s easy to find those. I focus on posting on the not so much thought of things that help give ideas and help expand one’s knowledge.

          As for the camera you shoot with, it’s not the camera that takes good photos, it’s the person behind the camera. I’m sure I can get good shots with a point and shoot. I would just need to think more about how to get the shot and it may be a little more difficult. The camera itself is just a tool that helps you. Just like with any type of work, different tools make different things easier, or even possible, where other tools just aren’t as good.

          Right now I think the best advice I can give to a beginner is to learn how to see a photo before you press the shutter. Look for interesting subjects and know how to compose it. Once you get there then it’s a matter of picking the tools you want to help you along the way and that becomes much easier once you know how to use them to your advantage. Most of the things I’m learning now have nothing to do with the camera, but how to see things differently in order to take interesting photos.

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          • Wow. Thank you!
            I am starting to see the photograph before I take the image, I am enjoying that transition. I am, at least I feel, at the beginning of that “picking the tools” stage now. I see the clarity and deep focus in images here and elsewhere, that my point and shoot just can’t give me. I want my image to look as I see it. Sometimes that happens but more times than not, lately, it doesn’t.
            I really appreciate this conversation. Have a great day!

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  2. Beautiful shots and yes, I too am beginning to experiment with my macro lens. I have a 60mm right now, and my wish is for a second macro, a 105mm lens. Every time I look at the price, my stomach plunges. So in the meantime, I use what I have. Thank you for giving me more ideas on how to use my macro. xx Amy

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    • Your welcome Amy. 🙂

      I wish I would have gotten the 105mm macro lens right away instead of the 85mm for my DX camera. Had I known I was going to upgrade to an FX a year later, I probably would have as it would have saved me a little money. The upside to a shorter focal distance macro lens is that you don’t have to have a faster shutter speed to freeze motion due to how physics works. The longer the focal distance the more movement there is with camera shake. The shorter the focal distance the less movement there is with camera shake. Unless you are shooting from a tripod, then I believe to freeze motion is dependent on subject movement which only factors the shutter speed.

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      • I have an f/2.8 60mm without stabilzation lens. And just with me taking photos with a very steady hand, I have minimal shake, if any at all. Now when I do upgrade to a 105mm I will be purchasing the IS due to the focal length. You’ve given me ideas with waterfalls using my macro. Hmmm….. I really thank you. Today just might be that day to go back to a small creek I found with my camera and tripod in tow. It just rained hard here, so the waters will be up. I work with 3 different lenses, but I never thought to use my macro for these kind of shots. Very nice!

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    • Thanks Laura! Next week I’ll be doing a post on wide angle macro photography. I am happy that I now have a nice library of photos that I can use for examples and also an audience to share my knowledge with. It’s always nice to have something to show as examples when trying to explain something as “a picture says a thousand words”. I am also very happy that others are enjoying these posts as it gives me more motivation to continue doing them. 🙂

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        • You have no idea how much I wish I could have found one blog that covered it all. It would have saved me many many hours of doing research when trying to figure out how to do a particular type of photography. The way I usually find out about this stuff is just to Google for something and then see a snippet of something else somewhere and then get interested in that so then I’d start doing more research. Of course I’d find other things during that research and pretty soon you’ve got the snowball effect where I’ve got too much to learn. I’m sure there were things I wanted to learn but have forgotten. One can only remember so many things.

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          • True! Information overload at some point. even bookmarking and looking at later is a lot right now for me. So many things going on and not enough time. And I’m retired! How does that happen?

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          • I have found that when you have free time you learn how to fill it, but when you lose that free time it is a pain. I work in IT and we always say give the users only what they need access to because if you give them more, they get used to it and when you take it away, they get upset. I think the same concept applies to free time. I know that when I was going to school I had a lot of free time as I wasn’t working, but once I started working, all my free time left me. Then more so when we had one kid and even more when the second one showed up. It’s only been 4 years since I was able to enjoy all my free time and I had 5 years off of working prior to that so I still remember what it was like and still wish I had it back. So for now it’s the long haul of a working life waiting until retirement arrives!

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          • It’s so funny because back when I was working it seemed like I accomplished a lot more. These days the time drags out for some reason and before you know it, it’s the end of the day! In between pictures of course. 🙂

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  3. Thanks Justin. This is an informative post.
    I enjoy reading about lenses and their owner’s preferences and choices.
    Choosing what we think will suit us best is important. There are many options.
    Will be following the rest of this conversation with interest.

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  4. Terrific post Justin! I don’t own a macro, but I’m all for them. I’ve heard they can potentially be sharper than standard primes of the same focal length, but I don’t know for sure. I also really like the idea of having better bokeh and greater isolation for that matter. I like portraits, and I’ve heard Peter Hurley say that he uses a macro for his work, and since he’s one of the top portrait photographers in the world at the moment, I might tend to take his advice 🙂 Great examples as well.

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    • Thanks Shane! From what I have read the 105mm macro lens would be towards the longest range to get for portraits on a full frame camera as a longer range will cause more compression on the face. Too short of a macro lens and the you start to widen out the face. Portrait photography is definitely a bit more finicky than landscape as you don’t want to cause too much distortion to a person’s face or it just doesn’t look as good. Landscape is a bit more forgiving.

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  5. Great post. Thank you. I’m not that adept with lens- or photogaphy. I do know that I couldn’t wait to get a zoom lens and now I hardly use it. Your posts are very informative and helpful. Thanks, again!

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    • Thanks Emilio. I know what you mean about thinking that we need to get a particular lens because we think we’ll use it. When I got my first DSLR I couldn’t wait to get a zoom lens and the 2x lens converter. The only thing I ended up using that for was to take 1 photo of the moon. After that, I never used them. Now that I’m on my 3rd DSLR where I had to purchase a new set of lenses, I thought carefully on my lens selection as I didn’t want to invest any money into something that wasn’t going to get much use. But, out of my 4 lenses that I purchased, I find that 2 of them constantly sit in the bag. I’m always wanting to use them but find it hard to find the shots they will be better at than the other 2 lenses that I am constantly using. I think it’s that what we think we want and what we actually want are very difficult to determine until we actually get it and see if it is something that we did actually want. Not always cost effective, and very disappointing when we drop a large sum of money on a particular lens or accessory to later find out it serves better as a paper weight. There is one more lens I would really like to get, the Nikon 24mm 1.4. I was instead talked into getting the Nikon 28mm 1.8 as the field of view on the two were very similar and the f-stop was not that much of a difference, but the price was 3 times cheaper which allowed for a purchase of an additional lens. After taking a few shots with the 28mm, I do like it, but the main purpose for it was to get great bokeh shots. I think that it lacks here and that the 24mm does a better job. Not sure if it has to do with the 28mm having only 7 blades where the 24mm has 9 blades or if it’s the quality of the glass. But then I find that I don’t even put myself in situations to get bokeh shots that often. Well, either that or I don’t think about it because I don’t want to get bokeh shots with the 28mm. Then I always think, if I did have the 24mm, would I look for those shots or would I just never use the 24mm for that purpose? The minimum focusing distance on the two is only just a .03 ft. difference and I can get closer to a subject with my 28mm than I can with my 16-35mm and have a shallower DOF with the 28mm vs the 16-35mm. This has got me to thinking that I should try using my 28mm to get some wide angle macro shots instead of the 16-35mm, which I’m doing a post this week on by the way. I think it’s worth a try. Thanks Emilio for getting me to thinking about this. Not that the 16-35mm will go into retirement though as I’ll still have countless uses for it as it will take my ND filter and the 28mm doesn’t. But it does give me some ideas on what I can use my 28mm for. Now this makes me a bit depressed as I wish I would of used my 28mm on my last photo walk now that I’m thinking about it. But oh well, I guess that’s what we think about on all photo walks. “Wish I would have brought that lens with me.” And life moves on. 🙂

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      • Wow, sorry to get you depressed. There is a local photography store that allows you to rent lenses starting at $20 a day on up. I have done it once when I thought I wanted a prime lens. Now, I want to upgrade my camera and lens but am holding off. I’ve only had this camera 3 years and I’m not sure my talents are up to a more expensive camera yet. So I’m still shooting with a Canon T2i and a kit lens.

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        • It’s all good. I think it’s work that makes me depressed more often than not as I’d rather be doing something other than working. Although it pays good and I do enjoy it at times, it’d still be nice to not do it all the time.

          I haven’t found any local places where I live to be able to do that. I’ve looked at online stores but I know that if I rented one then it’d only make me want it more. I think for me the best thing to do is to not think about it so I don’t want it. I tend to be the type of person that once I want something I’ll try to get it any way I can, even if it means putting it on the card. So to try and bypass that, I don’t do research on new stuff and just continue to work with what I’ve got as I’m still happy with it. I’m just happy now that after having some disappointment with my 28mm lens, I thought about some strengths it may have to help me get the shots I want in certain situations and now I can’t wait until I have the opportunity to experiment a bit with that lens now. On a more positive note, it is the lightest lens I have so that’ll help with the weight.

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          • My wife has now grown used to the fact that I want to spend all my time taking photos and/or working in lightroom. We take drives on the weekend to specifically find photo opps. And two weeks ago at a family get-together I was “allowed” to go off on my own for most of the day and into the evening.

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          • I often think about what it would be like to be able to do that. If we didn’t have any kids my wife and I would probably do a bit more exploring. I guess a good thing to that is I wouldn’t have enough time to process all of the photos. But, I’m still somewhat young and do enjoy the time with my kids so overall I tend to have a somewhat balanced life. I also enjoy learning how to better photograph them as my primary photography is landscape which is different than portrait. My wife doesn’t mind me going off on a day every once and awhile just to go shooting. Sometimes she’ll join me and sometimes she doesn’t. Once my oldest is a year or two older then she’ll probably join me a little more. She’s 4 right now and very impatient. Not sure if she’ll learn to be more patient as she gets a little older or not. I guess I’ll find out.

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          • Well, we don’t have any kids at the moment so we’re free. Except I do help take care of my grandfather, who will be 92 this year so we can’t take longer than a two or three day trip right now.

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