Last Updated on May 9, 2023 by Photography PX
Macro photography is quite a popular medium in our industry. And it’s all about showing the intricate details often invisible to our eyes. But, if you want to capture the best photos in this medium, it’s essential to find the right lens. A good macro lens not only makes your work stand apart with realism and detail. But, they also provide a true 1:1 magnification ratio, giving you a life-size rendering of the subject. So anything you photograph looks to scale.
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And it’s a stark difference to a traditional lens, which often makes subjects look a fifth their actual size. And this is one of the key separators of this style of photography. Thankfully Nikon offers a wealth of first-party options, which they call Micro-NIKKOR, ready to tackle this medium. And they also have some compelling third-party developers too. With that, in today’s post, we’ll cover the best macro lenses for Nikon. And we’ve also included an FAQ and detailed guide below, outlining the factors to consider beforehand.
Minimum Focusing Distance:
|Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8|
Minimum Focusing Distance:
|Nikon 85mm f/3.5G|
Minimum Focusing Distance:
|Nikon 60mm f/2.8G|
Minimum Focusing Distance:
|Nikon 40mm f/2.8G|
Minimum Focusing Distance:
5 – Nikon 40mm f/2.8G
Nikon’s 40mm f/2.8G lens is the ideal starter option for DX-format cameras. And it’s also the most affordable option too. This lens features a 7-blade diaphragm, a 52mm filter, weighs 235g, and focuses at 6.4 in (0.16 m). Internally, it houses 9 elements arranged into 7 groups, including Nikon’s Super Integrated Coating to reduce ghosting and their Silent Wave Motor system for quiet focusing. As a more budget lens, it does lack optical stabilization. However, weighing only 235g,
it’s ultra-lightweight and a third the weight of many lenses in this category. So shooting handheld shouldn’t be a problem. But, crucially, this lens is dangerously close in focal length to 35mm, the ideal walk-around prime lens for everyday photography. And at 40mm, it’s a surprisingly capable traveling option. But, unlike a 35mm, here you get a true 1:1 magnification ratio for a life-sized rendering of even the smallest subjects. The only potential downside though is the working distance, which means you’ll have to get quite close to the subject and use artificial lighting or technique. So it’s best for capturing still life subjects, like, food, products, or flowers. But overall, the 40mm f/2.8G is an excellent option for beginner photographers wanting something lightweight, versatile, and affordable.
4 – Nikon 60mm f/2.8G
Nikon’s 60mm f/2.8G lens is quite a popular release and an excellent value option. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 62mm filter, weighs 425g, and focuses at 7.3 in (0.19m). Internally, it houses 12 elements arranged into 9 groups, including two aspherical and one Extra-low (ED) dispersion element to reduce aberrations and distortion. This lens, too, does lack stabilization though. But weighing under a pound, it also shouldn’t cause enough strain and shake to be a problem in most situations.
At 60mm, it also sits in the medium telephoto range, offering good compression and a flexible focal length for many types of photography. Together, it’s a good choice for those shooting static still life subjects or flowers, where the working distance isn’t as problematic. And it’s a solid, versatile walkaround lens that can double for other mediums when needed but brings powerful 1:1 magnification all the while.
3 – Nikon 85mm f/3.5G
Nikon’s 85mm f/3.5G lens is an excellent value and the perfect option for those with APS-C (DX) format cameras. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 52mm filter, weighs 355g, and focuses at 11.2 in (0.29m). Internally, it houses 14 elements arranged into 10 groups, including Nikon’s Extra-Low (ED) Dispersion glass and their Super Integrated Coating to reduce aberrations. This model also obtains weather sealing along with Nikon’s second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR II) system, delivering 3-stops of shake reduction.
Yet, at 85mm, this focal length makes it well suited to double for portraiture if you choose to venture that way. And it also yields triple the working distance over the shorter 40mm. As such, it’s Nikon’s best option for their DX-format cameras like the D500 or D7500, despite the slower aperture.
2 – Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8
Tamron’s SP 90mm reigns as the company’s best macro lens to date and one that easily outshines several similarly priced first-party options. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 62mm filter, weighs 600g, and focuses at 11.8 in (0.3m). Internally, it uses a high-end construction consisting of 14 elements in 11 groups, including several dispersion elements and the BBAR coating to combat aberrations, ghosting, and distortion. Yet, it also boasts a waterproof construction, perfect for capturing outdoor wildlife.
Plus, it receives Tamron’s Vibration Compensation (VC) stabilization unit ready to deliver 3.5 stops of shake reduction. Thus, it bests the 85mm G lens in this regard and offers more flexibility when shooting with ambient lighting. And together, it’s an unmatched mid-telephoto lens, perfect for those wanting a high-end build and top-of-the-line optical performance. And one that’s also ready to double for portraiture if need be.
1 – Nikon 105mm f/2.8G
Nikon’s 105mm f/2.8G lens is an update to the older non-autofocusing model, but a worthwhile update indeed. And it’s now the company’s most impressive lens for macro photography. This lens features a 9-blade diaphragm, a 62mm filter, weighs 720g, and focuses at 12 in (0.3 m). Internally, it houses 14 elements arranged into 12 groups, including both the Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coatings for excellent optical fidelity.
Yet, it also brings along weather sealing and was the first in the segment to offer true optical stabilization rather than a hybrid system. Now, it delivers 3 stops of shake reduction. Yet, at 105mm, here you receive more reach and better working distance over rivals. It also means you won’t rely on artificial lighting as often since you won’t unnecessarily obscure the ambient light hitting the subject. Together, these changes make this Nikon’s best medium telephoto lens for macro photography. And the perfect option if you prefer first-party lenses.
Nikon Macro Lens Buyers Guide:
Lens Ratio & Focal Magnification
The first major consideration with these types of lenses is the lens ratio or the focal magnification. This ratio represents the difference between the subject’s size and the size of the camera’s sensor. Over your search, you’ll find that many of these devices offer varying ratios. But, it’s essential to look for options offering a proper 1:1 ratio, also written as 1.0x. You can find this information on Nikon’s specifications tab under “Maximum Reproduction Ratio”.
With a 1:1 ratio, you’ll capture images with a life-size reproduction across the camera’s sensor. Smaller ratios like 1:2 or 1:4 render subjects at smaller increments, and they don’t produce the same effect unique to this medium. Instead, they only produce close-up images at half the size or smaller, which inevitably lack the same level of fine detail. So it’s important to check this specification if you want a genuine macro lens. There are plenty of options that advertise their “macro capabilities,” particularly zoom lenses. But most of them won’t have this particular ratio. And without it, you won’t capture the type of images you’re likely after.
Minimum Focus Distance
You’ll also want to consider the lens’s minimum focus distance (MFOD), which measures how close the lens can focus on a subject. MFOD is what ultimately determines the working distance you have to the subject. And we measure this from the front-most element to the subject itself. Typically, shorter focal lengths like the 60mm f/2.8G lens offer shorter MFODs than longer lenses like the 105mm f/2.8G. In this case, 7.3 inches versus 12 inches. But, sometimes, that difference can be tenfold, where some large telephotos have an MFOD of 3 or more feet. And generally, the MFOD is highly dependent on the lens’s construction and its focal length.
So it’s important to consider this specification beforehand and think about the type of subjects you intend to shoot. The MFOD for still life, food, and plants differ from wildlife and insects. You can get away with a short MFOD for static subjects since getting close shouldn’t be problematic. But for insects, a large MFOD will help prevent scaring them off or disturbing their activities. It will also mean you can shoot with ambient light, as your lens won’t block most of the incoming light onto the subject.
If you’re looking to shoot wildlife, you may want to consider opting for a device with weather sealing. It’s usually a feature reserved for more expensive lenses. But, it’s a must to prevent unwanted damages from dirt, dust, and water when shooting in the field.
Not everyone agrees that stabilization, be it optical or hybrid, is a must for this medium. But it’s a helpful feature nonetheless. If you plan to shoot mostly handheld in ambient lit scenes, consider looking for a device with stabilization of some form. It will help compensate for some of the handshake caused by holding the camera. And you can shoot at a longer shutter speed to help improve image quality or depth of field. It can also reduce the need to use a tripod, which usually adds bulk and weight to your setup.
With this medium, you’ll often work with a narrow depth of field where even minor shifts can change the focus point dramatically. And for this reason, most photographers end up using manual focus. And most also prefer a slow but accurate AF system that’s quiet rather than one that’s fast. But, if you plan on shooting other mediums with these lenses, then consider their AF technology.
Most of these products have internal focusing motors and are relatively apt for slower sports. But, their performance does vary for faster mediums. So consider looking into this beforehand if autofocusing is a priority. Features such as a focus limiter will also reduce hunting by restricting the focus to a certain range. And Nikon Silent Wave Motor (SWM) will help reduce motor noise that could scare potential wildlife.
The last element to consider is the focal length. The focal length you choose will largely come down to the subjects you plan on photographing and the working distance needed. But, below are the general categories and some of their ideal subject matters.
Short/Wide-angle – a short focal length ranges from 40-60mm. These lenses are lightweight, small, and generally the most affordable. But, they offer the shortest focusing distances, usually around 6-9 inches. So they’re best for photographing relatively static subjects like flowers and products. And they’re not ideal for shy wildlife who scare easily.
Standard/Mid-range – standard focal length ranges from 60-105mm. These lenses are the most common and well-rounded. They’re reasonable in size, weight, and price. But, they offer better focusing distances, usually closer to 10 inches. And they’re a better option for shooting insects and some shy wildlife.
Long/Telephoto – long focal lengths range from 105-200mm. These lenses are the most specialized. But, they’re often heavy and generally quite expensive. But, the trade-off is that they provide the longest focusing distance of 12 or more inches. And they’re the best tools for shooting shy or large wildlife like reptiles.
What is a macro lens best used for?
Macro lenses are designed to take sharp, ultra-detailed close-up photos of a subject, like flowers, insects, products, and plants. And they’re ideal for shooting these objects at close distances, usually less than a foot away.
Can I use any lens for macro photography?
Yes, you can. But, most normal lenses don’t offer a true 1:1 magnification ratio, so you won’t get the same life-like realism. And if you want the photo to appear larger than life, an actual macro lens is key.
Can I use a zoom lens for macro photography?
Yes, you can use a telephoto zoom lens for near-macro or close-up photography. But, these lenses don’t offer a true 1:1 magnification ratio, so the images won’t look the same. And you won’t be able to focus as closely on the subject, which means you won’t resolve similar details either.
What is the best focal length for macro photography?
Most photographers agree that 90-105mm is the best focal length because these lenses offer a good balance between features and price. And they also provide a nice working distance to the subject, usually around 10-11 inches.
What is the best aperture for macro photography?
Most photographers agree that f/4 to f/5.6 is the best range for this medium, as it’s generally the sweet spot to capture the most detail from a lens. But, if the depth of field is too shallow, most would suggest stopping down to f/5.6 to f/11 to get the entire subject in focus.
Do you need flash for macro photography?
No. But, having a flash will help you, especially when using short focal lengths like a 40mm. The flash will help improve your depth of field when shooting with ambient light. And that will help get the subject fully in focus in challenging lighting.