Do I really need a macro lens?
It can be hard to decide if the best macro lens is something you NEED versus something you WANT. Only you can decide if it’s worth the investment and space in your bag. But here are some times when a macro lens really comes in handy!
- Macro photography: Photographing small objects, animals, insects, plants or textures.
- Pet photography: photographing small animals or insects. Use a macro lens to fill the frame with a hamster or guniea pig, for example!
- Wedding and event photography: detail shots like rings, other jewelry or party/reception details AND portraits.
- Newborn photography: detail shots like eyelashes, wrinkly skin, tiny fingers or toes AND portraits, if you have the room to shoot them.
- Product photography: photographing products of any kind! A macro lens is great for capturing small details AND wider shots!
- Families and seniors: you might not need many macro shots but a dedicated macro lens is awesome for regular portraits, too!
So if you are going to be shooting lots of detail shots, such as a wedding photographer with a heavy workload or a product photographer, a dedicated macro lens makes sense.
If you only occasionally need a macro shot but don’t have a telephoto length lens, investing in a lens like a 105 mm f/2.8 macro may be a great double-duty investment.
If you already own a telephoto length portrait lens you love and rarely shoot macro images, you might be better off saving yourself the money and investing in a non-lens alternative described below!
What to look for in the best macro lens
Macro lenses come in a variety of focal lengths, from 40 mm up to 200 mm. Most are prime lenses. The shorter the focal length, generally, the less expensive the lens, making them a more attractive investment if you’re looking to save on costs. But these shorter lenses also require you to get closer to the subject. That *could* scare away subjects or require you to get closer than you really want to (ever tried to shoot a bumble bee from mere inches away?). You can also get so close you block the ambient light from hitting your subject.
I recommend a focal length of at least 100 mm in most cases. This gives you more working room and lets you still grab detail shots without getting all up in the business of your subjects.
Most macro lenses are f/2.8 or f/4. If you’re traditionally a portrait shooter that loves shooting wide open, this might concern you. It shouldn’t. In macro photography, you’re working with very limited depth-of-field. You actually WANT to use narrower apertures like f/8, f/11 or f/16 to have a greater depth-of-field. So don’t be alarmed that the lens isn’t as fast as other prime lenses you may own.
If you’re buying a macro lens that you plan to use for portraits, too, the f/2.8 aperture might not be as big of a deal as you think. Longer lenses, like the 90 mm or 105 mm, can still render beautiful bokeh and creamy backgrounds because of the compression offered by longer focal lengths.