Pho­to: www.pxfuel.com

A macro lens is con­sid­ered a high­ly spe­cial­ized tech­nique for a cer­tain type of shoot­ing. But to the ques­tion of what can be done with a macro lens, the cor­rect answer is yes, almost any­thing!

Of course, if you want to do macro pho­tog­ra­phy, then the best tool is a macro lens. But macro lens­es have fea­tures that make them an inter­est­ing solu­tion for oth­er gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy.

We under­stand what a macro lens can do when shoot­ing por­traits, land­scapes and the night sky.

What is a macro lens

As the name implies, a macro lens is a lens spe­cial­ly designed for macro pho­tog­ra­phy. The task of such glass is to repro­duce the object in full size on a matrix or on a film.

For exam­ple, if you are pho­tograph­ing a small coin, the image on the sen­sor will be iden­ti­cal in size to the coin in real life. The repro­duc­tion ratio, also known as the mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ratio, is in this case 1:1.

A lens with a ratio of 1:2 repro­duces the sub­ject at half the size. Lens­es 1:1 and 1:2 are called “true macro”. Mod­els with a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion of 1:3 or more are some­times called macro lens­es by mar­keters, but for seri­ous macro pho­tog­ra­phy, you need exact­ly 1:1 or 1:2.

There are also “ultra­macro lens­es”. They repro­duce the object on the matrix more than life size — for exam­ple, 2:1 or even 5:1. They are used to print pho­tos of inte­ri­or dimen­sions.

If you are look­ing for a macro lens with uni­ver­sal char­ac­ter­is­tics for dif­fer­ent pho­to gen­res, non-stan­dard mod­els will not suit you, it is bet­ter to choose options with a clas­sic ratio of 1:1 or 1:2

For macro pho­tog­ra­phy, it is bet­ter to take lens­es with a mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. Pho­to: pexels.com

flat field

Many pho­tog­ra­phers want their lens to be sharp all over the frame, edge to edge. How­ev­er, for many non-macro glass­es, the design can­not pro­vide it, since their field of sharp­ness is curved.

Most macro lens­es are designed to pro­duce a sharp image across the frame — they have a flat field of focus.

Of course, physics and the lim­i­ta­tions of opti­cal design do not allow for per­fect sharp­ness across the frame, but for macro lens­es, the most impor­tant thing is that the entire sur­face that you want to shoot close-up is in focus. This is their most impor­tant design fea­ture. Thanks to it, macro­glass­es can be used to cre­ate accu­rate two-dimen­sion­al repro­duc­tions.

Focal length for different tasks

Most true macro lens­es have a fixed focal length (no zoom). When choos­ing the focal length of your lens, there are two main alter­na­tives to con­sid­er — one for macro pho­tog­ra­phy and one for oth­er gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy.

For exam­ple, you have two lens­es with the same mag­ni­fi­ca­tion ratio (let’s say 1:1), but with dif­fer­ent focal lengths — 40mm and 180mm. They will dif­fer from each oth­er in the min­i­mum focus­ing dis­tance.

With macro lens­es, you achieve max­i­mum mag­ni­fi­ca­tion exact­ly at the min­i­mum focus­ing dis­tance — this is the so-called work­ing dis­tance. The longer the focal length, the greater the work­ing dis­tance at max­i­mum mag­ni­fi­ca­tion.

You can take almost iden­ti­cal shots with 40mm 1:1 and 180mm 1:1 macro lens­es, but 40mm glass will be much clos­er to your sub­ject com­pared to 180mm. This is a crit­i­cal fac­tor for shoot­ing insects and oth­er ani­mals, and for any mov­ing sub­ject, but not so impor­tant for sta­tion­ary sub­jects.

When using macro glass­es for oth­er gen­res of pho­tog­ra­phy, there are oth­er fac­tors to con­sid­er. For every­day shoot­ing, 50mm glass is quite suit­able. Por­trait pho­tog­ra­phers will like a macro lens around 85 or 105mm. And for land­scapes, both wide-angle lens­es and longer focal lengths, depend­ing on the type of shoot­ing, are suit­able.

So, let’s take a clos­er look at what macro­glass­es are used for.

for marco

The com­bi­na­tion of life-size repro­duc­tion ratio, close focus capa­bil­i­ty, and sharp­ness across the frame makes macro lens­es great for cap­tur­ing the small­est sub­jects, from minia­ture tex­tures on every­day sub­jects to exot­ic insects.

In order not to fright­en off a but­ter­fly and a frog, you need a lens with a decent work­ing dis­tance (around 30 cm). Pho­to: pexels.com

For portraits

Macro lens­es with nor­mal and tele­pho­to focal lengths are great for por­traits. They may not have a huge aper­ture — f / 1.2, f / 1.4 or f / 1.8. Most macro lens­es have a max­i­mum aper­ture of f / 2.8, although occa­sion­al­ly there are mod­els with f / 2. What they lack in aper­ture ratio, they make up for in sharp­ness. At f/2.8, a mod­er­ate­ly long (85mm) macro lens cre­ates a beau­ti­ful­ly smooth back­ground blur.

Macro capa­bil­i­ties make them a good choice for head­shots and close-ups. In con­trast, most por­trait primes reach their min­i­mum focus dis­tance long before the mod­el’s face fills the entire frame and the lens is unable to focus on the mod­el.

“Head­shots” are the native ele­ment of tele­pho­to macro lens­es. Pho­to: hippopx.com

For landscapes

Excel­lent sharp­ness and a flat field of focus can also serve you well for land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, regard­less of focal length. Lens sharp­ness is a real holy grail for land­scape painters. And now add here that this beau­ti­ful sharp­ness is main­tained from edge to edge.

In addi­tion, a macro lens allows you to cap­ture a scenic view, and then, with­out chang­ing the glass, point the cam­era at your feet to take a close-up pho­to­graph of a wild flower, insect or oth­er small ani­mal. With a con­ven­tion­al lens, such a focus will not work.

Land­scape shot with Laowa 15mm f/4 Wide Angle Macro. Pho­to: yarkii.ru

For astrophotography

Do you know what oth­er opti­cal devices often have a “flat field”? Tele­scopes. Like lens­es, some tele­scopes achieve max­i­mum sharp­ness only in the cen­ter of the frame — where we look and where celes­tial objects are locat­ed. There­fore, some­times for astropho­tog­ra­phy, a spe­cial “field flat­ten­er” is added to the tele­scope to help achieve edge-to-edge sharp­ness. When the image in the tele­scope is aligned, the macro lens will help keep all that edge-to-edge sharp­ness.

At first glance, it may seem strange to use a macro lens to cap­ture objects locat­ed at a dis­tance of many light years. But it’s a very work­able option. The main lim­i­ta­tion for astropho­tog­ra­phy is aper­ture, although the max­i­mum aper­ture of f / 2.8 should be enough for bright objects.

Depend­ing on the focal length of your lens, you can shoot both star­ry land­scapes and indi­vid­ual celes­tial bod­ies. Pho­to: thomasshahan.com

Cons of macro lenses for general photography

Macro lens­es have sev­er­al weak­ness­es when used out­side of their pri­ma­ry pur­pose. They are not typ­i­cal for every mod­el, so before buy­ing, you need to study all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the lens.

Focus­ing. First, due to their abil­i­ty to focus from infin­i­ty to a few cen­time­ters, some mod­els, espe­cial­ly old­er man­u­al focus lens­es, require a long turn of the ring to achieve focus. Such a large focus­ing range from infin­i­ty to the min­i­mum dis­tance allows for very pre­cise adjust­ment, which is impor­tant when work­ing with minia­ture objects.

With the fast aut­o­fo­cus sys­tems on the new­er mod­els, this isn’t much of a prob­lem. But if you’re try­ing to shoot a fast-paced scene, a long refo­cus can be a hin­drance. Some mod­els allow you to select the active focus range man­u­al­ly to help keep the lens from doing too much work.

Aper­ture. We have already par­tial­ly touched on the sec­ond draw­back — this is aper­ture ratio. Although there are lens­es with a max­i­mum aper­ture of f / 2, you will not find faster aper­tures. This is not a prob­lem for macro pho­tog­ra­phy, as most pro­fes­sion­al macro shots are tak­en from a tri­pod. In addi­tion, at macro zoom, the depth of field is very small, so a wide aper­ture of such glass­es is use­less.

But if you’re shoot­ing in low light, and hand­held, it’s bet­ter to have a lens with f/1.8 or low­er, so macro lens­es are not the best choice for street pho­tog­ra­phy at night.


Per­haps only a macro lens will allow you to shoot both a por­trait of a per­son and a “por­trait” of a bee­tle! Pho­to: Chris/commons.wikimedia.org/

So, a macro lens is a uni­ver­sal tool, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of which are not lim­it­ed to cap­tur­ing the micro­cosm. You can take great close-up por­traits, sharp land­scape pho­tos and cap­ture celes­tial objects. A macro lens in a bag encour­ages cre­ativ­i­ty, and how you use it is only lim­it­ed by your imag­i­na­tion.

In prepar­ing the arti­cle, mate­ri­als from the resource bhphotovideo.com (Todd Vorenkamp) were used