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10 Best Macro Lenses for Nikon (Top Picks 2022)

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If you’re thinking about getting into macro photography, we have made a ready-made guide to the best macro lens for Nikon owners.

As a wildlife photographer, I tend to shoot big animals like lions, gorillas, and elephants. But, until recently, I did own a Nikon 105mm macro lens. And I experimented with the flower and insect close-ups both abroad and in my back garden.

This is a shot of a moth I took early one morning in Montana’s Glacier National Park.

Picture of a moth perched on a daisy
© Nick Dale

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What to Look for in Macro Lenses

Macro photography creates the most beautiful and arresting natural world images with maximum convenience. However, most macro lenses’ sharpness and wide maximum apertures mean they’re also suited to portrait work—if you can find one that focuses fast enough!

Here are eight factors to consider when choosing a macro lens:

  • image quality
  • magnification (1:1 reproduction ratio or better)
  • working distance at 1:1 (i.e., the distance from the front of the lens to the subject, which is confusingly less than the minimum focusing distance, measured from the sensor plane!)
  • maximum aperture (for low-light conditions)
  • smooth, circular bokeh
  • quiet autofocus
  • image stabilization (if you shoot handheld)
  • internal focusing

Picking Between Macro Lens Features

Unfortunately, some of these factors conflict. So you’ll have to make a few trade-offs.

For example, longer lenses allow you a greater working distance from your subject. That means you’re more likely to get smooth bokeh and less likely to frighten off any shy insects or block natural light—especially when using a lens hood or if your lens doesn’t have internal focusing.

However, they tend to be heavier with a narrower maximum aperture. If you’re working handheld or in low light, that can be a pain.

It’s also true that a shorter lens is fine if you have an APS-C sensor camera. That’s because it multiplies the effective focal length by the crop factor (1.5 in the case of the DX range of Nikon cameras).

Determining Your Personal Preferences

It also depends on your personal preferences. For instance, autofocus and stabilization are vital if you’re hand-holding, but much less so if you’re a ‘serious’ macro photographer using a tripod and strobes.

In that case, you might be more interested in a lens that supports Nikon’s “focus shift” method of focus stacking. It allows you to take dozens or even hundreds of images at different focus settings. Then you can combine them later to get front-to-back sharpness in your subject.

It’s also important to point out that third-party lenses often flatter to deceive, offering what looks like better specifications at a lower price than Nikon’s range of lenses. But they disappoint in terms of what matters, which is image quality.

10 Best Nikon Macro Lenses

Here’s our list of the best macro lenses for Nikon users.

10. Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1

  • 1:1 magnification (actually 1.05x)
  • 34.5cm (13.58″) minimum focus distance
  • Unstabilized
  • Internal focusing
  • Manual focus
  • 831g (1.83lb)

This macro lens is a bit of a mixed bag. It offers good bokeh. The working distance at 1:1 is longer than most other lenses. Plus, it eliminates vignetting, distortion, and color fringing in the background.

But it’s a big, heavy lens without autofocus or optical stabilization. So it’s not ideal if you want to shoot handheld.

Strengths:

  • Only 0.1% distortion
  • Sharp in center of the frame at close range
  • 17.5 cm / 6.9 in. working distance at 1:1
  • Smooth bokeh
  • No color fringing
  • Minimal chromatic aberration, flare, and distortion
  • Natural color rendition
  • Weather-sealed
  • Well-built
  • A wide, easy-to-grip focus ring, allowing precise adjustment
  • Focus lock

Weaknesses:

  • No autofocus
  • Soft corners at any distance
  • Unstabilized
  • Slight vignetting
  • Big and heavy

A picture of an Irix 150mm f/2.8 macro lens

9. Tokina atx-i 100mm F2.8 FF Macro

  • 1:1 magnification (actually 1.01x)
  • 30cm (11.81″) minimum focus distance
  • Unstabilized
  • Extending front focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 515g (1.14lb)

This lens’s “flat-field” optical design means zero field-of-view curvature. That means images are sharp from edge to edge, and the multi-coatings improve contrast by eliminating flare and ghosting.

In a neat feature, the One-touch Focus Clutch mechanism lets you switch between autofocus and manual focus by snapping the focus ring forward and back. However, the working distance at 1:1 of 4.5″ is a little too close for comfort. (ATX-I FF stands for Advanced Technology eXtra-Interactive Full-Frame.)

Strengths:

  • Excellent bokeh
  • Wide maximum aperture suitable for low light
  • Convenient Focus Clutch mechanism
  • Precise manual focus
  • Smaller and lighter than Nikon equivalents
  • Optics similar to or better than Nikon macro lenses
  • Non-rotating filter thread

Weaknesses:

  • Unstabilized
  • No internal focusing
  • Close working distance

A picture of a Tokina atx-i 100mm f/2.8 FF macro lens

 

8. Samyang/Rokinon 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC Full-Frame Telephoto Macro

  • 1:1 magnification
  • 30.7cm (12.2″) minimum focus distance
  • Unstabilized
  • Internal focusing
  • No autofocus
  • 720g (1.59lb)

This is a Samyang lens sold under the Rokinon brand in the United States. The nine-bladed diaphragm offers attractive bokeh.

The High Refractive (HR) and Extra-low Dispersion (ED) lenses reduce color aberration and light dispersion to improve overall image resolution. The Ultra Multi Coating (UMC) glass is designed to eliminate undue ghosting and lens flare.

Strengths:

  • Excellent sharpness even wide open
  • Low chromatic aberration
  • Minimal distortion
  • Smooth focusing
  • Solid build quality
  • Vivid color
  • Soft bokeh

Weaknesses:

  • No autofocus
  • No stabilization

A picture of a Samyang Rokinon 100mm f/2.8 ED UMC full-frame telephoto macro lens

7. Sigma Macro 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

  • 1:1 magnification (actually 1.07x)
  • 31cm (12.28″) minimum focus distance
  • 2.5-stop optical image stabilization
  • Internal focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 725g (1.6lb)

This third-generation medium telephoto macro lens is an overhaul of the previous version. And the working distance of 14.6cm (6.9″) is decent enough.

It features internal focusing, an extra blade in the diaphragm to improve bokeh, reduced vignetting, and an Optical Stabilizer (OS) to facilitate handheld close-ups. The image quality is also improved.

Special Low Dispersion (SLD) and High Refractive index (HR) glass corrects field curvature and chromatic and spherical aberration. At the same time, the Super Multi-Layer Coating improves contrast by reducing flare and ghosting.

The floating inner focusing system moves two lens groups around independently to achieve internal focus. That means the lens stays the same length at all times.

The Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) makes sure that the autofocus system is fast, accurate, and quiet. However, there is still a full-time manual override.

Strengths:

  • Smooth bokeh
  • Good resolution
  • Excellent correction for all forms of aberration and distortion
  • Minimal vignetting
  • Durable construction
  • Reasonably fast and almost silent autofocus
  • Compatible with Sigma APO teleconverters
  • Extended dedicated hood adapter for use with an APS-C camera
  • Splash-proof design
  • Focus limiter
  • Non-rotating filter thread
  • Compatible with Sigma’s extender tubes

Weaknesses:

  • Sharpness peaks in the aperture range f/5.6-f/8
  • Vignetting in the corners at f/2.8 and f/4
  • Autofocus slow in low light
  • Slight magenta color fringing in the corners of the frame
  • The OS doesn’t work correctly at 1/60 s
  • A little heavy given all the metal components

A picture of a Sigma Macro 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM macro lens

6. Sigma APO MACRO 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM

  • 1:1 magnification
  • 38.0cm (14.96″) minimum focus distance
  • 4-stop optical image stabilization
  • Internal focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 1,150g (2.54lb)

This macro lens is an upgraded version of the Sigma APO MACRO 150mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM. The lens is now splash-proof, and the extra “OS” signals the introduction of Optical Stabilization.

The focal length offers excellent background compression and helps smooth out any out-of-focus areas. The Hypersonic Motor (HSM) means the lens focuses quickly and relatively quietly (apart from faint clicks). Plus, there is a full-time manual override.

Strengths:

  • Excellent bokeh
  • Fast and quiet autofocus
  • Precise and user-friendly manual focus
  • No noticeable color fringing or chromatic aberration, even wide open
  • No significant diffraction effects even at f/22
  • Well built
  • Focus limiter improves focus hunting
  • Extended dedicated hood adapter for use with an APS-C camera

Weaknesses:

  • Heavy (but you can remove the tripod collar)
  • OS makes whirring and clunking sounds
  • Noticeable “focus breathing” means subjects change size as they go in and out of focus
  • No weather-sealing

A picture of a Sigma APO MACRO 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM macro lens

5. Sigma 180mm F2.8 EX APO DG HSM OS Macro

  • 1:1 magnification
  • 47 cm (18.5″) minimum focus distance
  • 4-stop optical image stabilization
  • Internal focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 1640g (3.62lb)

This is the world’s first 180mm macro lens. It offers a wide maximum aperture and a comfortable working distance. It also boasts a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) to ensure fast, accurate, and quiet focusing with full-time manual override.

There’s also an Optical Stabilizer (OS) to minimize camera shake when shooting handheld. The “floating lens” internal focusing system and three “F” Low Dispersion (FLD) glass elements help to eliminate color aberration. And the nine-blade diaphragm creates a beautifully smooth blur.

Strengths:

  • Excellent sharpness
  • Good optical stabilization
  • High build quality
  • Focuses fast
  • Minimal color aberration
  • Compatible with Sigma APO teleconverters
  • Extended dedicated hood adapter for use with an APS-C camera
  • Smooth bokeh
  • Tripod collar
  • Focus limiter

Weaknesses:

  • Heavier than most alternatives
  • Chromatic aberration visible towards the edges of the frame

A picture of a Sigma 180mm F2.8 EX APO DG HSM OS macro lens

4. Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED

  • 1:1 magnification (actually 1.09x)
  • 31cm (12.2″) minimum focus distance
  • 3-stop optical image stabilization
  • Internal focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 720g (1.59lb)

This was the macro and portrait lens I had in my camera bag until recently. As well as offering a reasonable working distance, it comes packed with features, including Internal Focusing (IF), second-generation Vibration Reduction (VR II) to help with handheld shooting, and a Silent Wave Motor (SWM) for fast and quiet autofocus (with full manual override).

The lens also contains Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass to minimize chromatic aberration, nano-crystal coating to improve contrast by reducing flare, and a 9-bladed diaphragm to improve bokeh.

Strengths

  • Very sharp
  • Fast and precise autofocus
  • 15.4 cm (6.1″) working distance at 1:1
  • High build quality
  • Good bokeh

Weaknesses

A picture of a Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED macro lens

3. Venus Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO

  • 2:1 magnification (actually 1.99x)
  • 25cm (9.84″) minimum focus distance
  • Unstabilized
  • Internal focusing (front element moves within the stationary outer barrel)
  • Manual focus
  • 638g (1.41lb)

This has an enormous “zoom” range for a macro lens, boasting a maximum of 2x magnification. The resolution and quality of the bokeh are excellent.

It’s also an apochromatic (APO) lens. That means zero chromatic aberration in either in-focus or out-of-focus areas of the image.

The lack of autofocus might be a problem for some. The short “focus throw” makes focusing a bit fiddly because even a slight turn of the focus ring will dramatically change the focus point.

So, you might need a macro focusing rail. However, the two biggest problems are the short working distance and the fact that it’s an entirely manual lens.

Strengths:

  • Wide maximum aperture
  • High build quality
  • Focus ring allows precise adjustments
  • Solidly built
  • Very sharp

Weaknesses:

  • No CPU chip for recording EXIF data (except on the Canon EF version)
  • Short “focus throw”
  • 7-bladed diaphragm in the Nikon version leads to polygonal bokeh
  • Aperture can only be changed using the aperture ring rather than in the camera
  • Working distance only 10 cm (3.9″) at 1:1
  • Sharpness drops off at f/22
  • No autofocus
  • Aperture must be selected manually in the Z-mount version
  • No weather sealing

A picture of a Venus Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO lens

2. Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD (Model F017)

  • 1:1 magnification (actually 1.02x)
  • 30 cm (11.81″) minimum focus distance
  • 3.5-stop optical image stabilization
  • Internal focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 609g (1.34lb)

This macro lens upgrades the previous version and offers a working distance of 5.5″ at 1:1. It also provides excellent sharpness, electronic autofocus, internal focusing, weather sealing, and a Vibration Compensation (VC) system with XY-Shift compensation that dramatically reduces camera shake.

It is powered by an Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD), making autofocus a lot quieter. The Digitally Integrated (Di) design brings an improved coating, reducing reflections to a minimum in digital cameras. There is also a fluorine coating to prevent condensation and smudging.

Like the Tokina 100mm lens, you can switch between manual and automatic focus by sliding the focus ring forward and back. The lens is also compatible with the TAP-in Console, which allows you to customize the autofocus and adjust other preferences.

Strengths:

  • Super sharp from edge to edge from f/2.8-f/16
  • Outstanding bokeh
  • Minimal chromatic aberration
  • Excellent flare reduction
  • No noticeable distortion
  • Quiet, rapid autofocus
  • Moisture-proof and dust-resistant construction
  • Lightweight
  • Easy to use
  • Well built

Weaknesses:

  • Occasional focus hunting
  • Big and bulky
  • Vignetting at maximum aperture
  • Diffraction softens the image from f/22 onwards

A picture of a Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD (Model F017) macro lens

1. Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED

  • 1:1 magnification
  • 50 cm (19.69″) minimum focus distance
  • Unstabilized
  • Internal focusing
  • Autofocus
  • 1,190g (2.61lb)

This Nikon macro lens has been around since 1989. But we think it’s still the best of the bunch.

The long focal length allows a comfortable working distance away from your subject. And the Extra-low Dispersion (ED) glass guarantees good sharpness and contrast.

The lens also boasts a Close-Range Correction system. That means the lenses have a “floating element” configuration. Because the groups of elements move independently, the lens can achieve higher image quality and an increased range of focus.

The only real problems are the lack of stabilization (if you want to shoot handheld) and the painfully slow autofocus. It takes over a second to go from closest focus to infinity—even with the focus limiter set!

That’s because the lens is quite an old model and doesn’t have the “AF-S” designation. It means it doesn’t have a focus motor in the lens body itself and relies on the camera instead.

Strengths:

  • Outstanding sharpness
  • Minimal chromatic aberration (0.0083%)
  • Minimal pincushion distortion (0.025%)
  • Barely noticeable vignetting except at f/4
  • Working distance at 1:1 of 26cm (10.24″)
  • Easy to set the focus manually
  • Long focal length helps isolate the subject
  • Solidly built

Weaknesses:

  • Narrow aperture range
  • Ugly out-of-focus highlights
  • Painfully slow autofocus
  • Unstabilized
  • Does not support Nikon focus shift

A picture of a Nikon AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED macro lens

Our Favorite Macro Lenses

It’s no surprise that our favorite lens is Nikon’s AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED—despite its slow autofocus and lack of stabilization. However, the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD (Model F017) is a worthy challenger.

Other Macro Lenses to Consider

Our list only includes 90mm+ 1:1 macro lenses currently available for both full-frame (FX) and crop sensor (DX) Nikon cameras—either DSLR or mirrorless. That means we’ve left out a few excellent lenses that might still suit your particular needs.

Discontinued:

1:1:

Less than 90mm:

Z-series only:

DX only:

Conclusion

To misquote the old saying, “Nobody ever got fired for buying Nikon.” In the same way that IBM was a byword for quality and reliability in the 1970s, Nikon lenses are known for macro photography. The AF Micro-Nikkor 200mm f/4D IF-ED and the Nikon AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED represent safe choices for those with Nikon cameras.

However, you’ll usually have to pay a premium. And there are now third-party options such as the Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di MACRO 1:1 VC USD (Model F017) and the Venus Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2X Ultra Macro APO that offer exceptional sharpness, creamy bokeh effects, and even 2x magnification with the latter.

Remember that all macro photographers are unique and have their own ways of working. If you like shooting shy insects, you’re better off with a longer focal length macro lens. However, if you’re a “serious” macro shooter and always use a tripod and a strobe, you might consider sharpness far more critical than stabilization.

The choice is yours for the best macro lens for Nikon users!

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