Lenses for Macro photography

There is quite a selection of macro lenses available for Canon EOS cameras. I will start with the one that I own. You may find my overall review of Canon lenses useful for background material and definitions of some terminology.

The Canon 60mm EFS macro lens

This is a fine lens, nicely made and quite sharp. I sometimes regret I didn't get the 100mm macro for a bit more money -- for two reasons: the extra working distance and the fact that if I ever get a full frame body I can still use the lens. That aside though, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the 60mm, it is sharp for any kind of photography, stops down to f/32, goes to 1:1 without any kind of accessory and is a nice f/2.8 all around lens. Solid and well built. Nice just as a prime lens even if you do not shoot macro. And if you are not after working distance, it will allow more magnification for the same bellows or tube extension.
Price is about $400.00 Ring type USM.

The Nikon micro nikkor 55mm f/3.5 lens

You think I am crazy having a nikon lens in here, but with the right adapters (mechanical adapters with no cheap crummy optics), this is a highly revered classic macro lens (yes Nikon calls them micro) that you can put on a Canon tube or bellows and use in manual mode. Yes the camera metering will still work, you will be amazed. You can pick them up cheap too.

The Canon 50mm f/2.5 compact macro lens

This lens is well built and sharp (and will work on a full frame camera). It goes to 1:0.5, you need a converter (some kind of extension ring no doubt) to go to 1:1. For this reason some people say it is not a "true macro". A solid non-USM focus mechanism.
The price is right, a bit more than $200.00. Well liked.

The Canon 100mm f/2.8 USM macro lens

This is a very nice lens that will go to 1:1 and give you additional working distance (which can be a really good thing in macro work). See the review by Ken Rockwell who adores this lens! Heavy enough, you may want a tripod ring for the lens. Price is about $500.00. For the money, you may want to consider the Sigma 180EX.

The Canon 180mm f/3.5L macro lens

A real cadillac lens which takes the working distance thing a bit further yet, but the price jumps up to $1200.00. Certainly a superb lens.

The Sigma 180mm f/3.5 EX macro lens

An alternative (and this is the only non-Canon lens in this list) would be the Sigma 180 f/3.5 EX Macro at about half the price of the Canon L lens. The reviews are good, although they admit the Canon 180 is a bit sharper. The Sigma is a monster (and you do get a tripod ring, as you do with the Canon 180).

The Canon MP-E 65mm f/2.8 macro lens

This is something quite out of the ordinary, even in the macro world. This lens will not focus to infinity, but starts at 1:1 and goes to 5x life size. This is a special beast that turns your camera into a microscope. It is a manual focus lens, and beyond 1:2 it is nearly impossible to hand hold. Price was $800.00, now over $900.

See this great discussion about the Canon MP-E 65mm lens.

A recommended accessory is the Bogen-Manfrotto 454 Micro Positioning Plate (focusing rail) ($80.00 at Adorama). However, I now have two reports that device is not the precision thing you really need. Novoflex and Kirk made $300 focusing rails and there is a $100 rail from Velbon, but it is not clear if it is precise enough to work with the MP-E 65.

Also suggested is the Wimberley macro bracket. (I think this holds your flash). (Wimberly makes some good (and expensive) stuff). Most people (but not all!) say you must have a flash, and recommend either a ring light (with its awful flat lighting) or a canon dual flash (MT-24-EX). Other creative folks use a speedlight with a diffuser or good old tungsten studio lighting.

The MT-24EX is a $700 piece of gear, a dual E-TTL macro flash. As expensive as it is, it gets great reviews. Some people call it a ring light, but it is really two tiny flash units mounted on a ring.

Here is a table of what you are dealing with, with the MP-E 65:

Feedback? Questions? Drop me a line!

Tom's Digital Photography Info / tom@mmto.org