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What to think about in terms of features depends on what you shoot
ize really does matter when it comes to macro lenses, with focal length being an important consideration. Maximum magniﬁcation is only available at the shortest focus distance of any lens, and all the models in this test group offer the same highest magniﬁcation ratio, so the minimum focus distance is inevitably shorter for lenses that have a smaller focal length. For example, the Canon EF-S 60mm lens has a minimum focus distance of just 20cm, whereas it’s a more generous 38cm with the Sigma 150mm.
A dedicated macro lens enables you to take ‘life-size’ 1:1 close-up frame-ﬁlling photos of smaller subjects
Too close for comfort
Bear in mind that the minimum focus distance is measured from the ‘focal plane’, which corresponds to the active surface of the image sensor at the rear of the camera body. This means the front of the lens can end up being very close to what you’re shooting, especially with optics that have shorter focal lengths. If your main macro pursuit is shooting insects and other tiny creatures, it’s more convenient to use a lens with a longer focal length, so that you don’t have to get ultra-close and risk scaring them away before you’ve nabbed the shot. All the lenses on test have a fairly ‘fast’ widest aperture of f/2.8, and this means they’re also
useful as portrait lenses, with the combination of a short focal length and fast aperture enabling you to blur backdrops with a tight depth of ﬁeld. For general macro shots, a 100mm focal length is often considered ideal and, on a full-frame camera, this is also a natural length for portraiture. Take the 1.6x crop factor of APS-Cformat cameras into account, and the ‘effective’ focal length of 96mm offered by the Canon EF-S 60mm lens is arguably the most useful. The ﬂipside is that longer-focal-length macro lenses are useful as fast telephoto lenses for general shooting, and this is even more the case if the lens features speedy, ring-type ultrasonic autofocus – this is true of all the lenses in this test group, apart from the Sigma 70mm and the older edition of the Tamron 90mm.
Focusing and sharpness
Depth of ﬁeld is key in macro shooting; image stabilisation less so
shallow depth of ﬁeld is great for portraiture, but at a lens’s minimum focus distance – which enables maximum magniﬁcation – depth of ﬁeld becomes tiny. For example, even when using a fairly narrow aperture of f/16, the depth of ﬁeld offered by a 60mm, 100mm or 150mm lens is only about 4.7mm, 3.6mm and 2.4mm respectively. This makes it hard to keep even small three-dimensional objects sharply rendered from front to back, and also puts a premium on accurate focusing. Indeed, it’s often better to rely on manual focusing, using a magniﬁed preview in Live View mode (see ‘A rock-solid setup’). Another crucial factor in getting sharp macro shots is ensuring that the camera remains absolutely still while shooting. A sturdy tripod is all but essential, not only to avoid camera shake but also because
As shown here, poor substitute here image stabilisation stabilisa ation is is a po p oor sub s stitute for a sturdy tripod when you’re taking extreme close-up shots
any slight forward or rearward movement after focusing will have a dramatic effect on the depth of ﬁeld. When you’re not shooting extreme close-ups, you may be able to get away with hand-holding the camera; the focus point isn’t quite so critical, and using ﬂash can be a big help, as the very short burst of light helps to freeze any motion on the part of the camera, or whatever you’re shooting. Some of the lenses on test here feature image
stabilisation, which is generally rated as giving a four-stop beneﬁt in countering camera shake. The hybrid system ﬁtted to the Canon 100mm IS USM is particularly clever, as it’s designed to counteract ‘shift’ in both vertical and horizontal planes, as well as regular vibration or wobble. However, while stabilisation is useful in general shooting, the advantage drops to about two stops in short-focus scenarios, and is of negligible beneﬁt at the closest focus distance.