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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

I’ve been shooting macro photography for more than 5 years now. The most common question I get from people is “what is the best macro photography lens?”.

It’s not only the lens that makes a picture though. There are many more factors that play a huge role in taking an eye-catching macro shot. Image composition or lighting are also important.

Choosing a macro lens is also very much an individual thing where many factors come into play. It all depends on what you want to photograph. For example, insect macro photography requires different equipment than studio macro photography.

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Macro Photograph of a butterfly resting on a flower

Camera Body: Canon 550D, Lens: Tamron 180, Shutter Speed: 1/100, Aperture: f 6.3, Focal Length: 180 mm, ISO Speed: 100

I personally use the Canon Mp-E for achieving macro images. This lens is actually specifically designed for close-up photography. I would definitely recommend it if you want to photograph at higher magnifications.

It is pretty expensive but there are many other lenses for great macro images. This post will give you a variety of options for macro photography, from high-end lenses to budget-friendly ones.

A closeup on the eye of a hoverfly. Taken with a Canon Macro Lens

Camera Body: Canon 600D, Lens: Canon Mp-E, Shutter Speed: 1/160, Aperture: f 8, Focal Length: 65 mm, ISO Speed: 800

Best Lenses for Macro Photography

When choosing a macro photography lens, it all depends on how close you want to get. Some photographers prefer usual magnifications. Others have a fascination for higher magnifications and extreme macro photography.

If you are completely new to macro photography I would recommend to start off shooting with a regular macro lens rather than with one that offers extreme magnifications.

Give yourself time to get used to the new photography world you are about to enter. There is no need to rush. It takes time to get macro photography right. Think big but start small and grow bigger within time.

Regular Macro Lenses

A selection of macro lenses from the Canon camera company.

If you are using Canon, there are several great high-quality macro lenses on the market. The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM, which has an open aperture of 2,8 is definitely the right lens to choose when you are shooting under bad light conditions. It costs about $800, but will satisfy all your macro needs.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM

If you depend on a much smaller budget, I would definitely recommend the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM. It will set you back about $400. It performs greatly in terms of sharpness and image quality for a very fair price.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

If you are using a full frame camera I would recommend to get a macro lens with a longer focal lengths. I have been using the Tamron AF 180mm 3.5 Di LD for 7 years now and I am still impressed by its phenomenal image sharpness.

The Tamron 180mm could also used as a telephoto lens because of its long focal length. Actually all macro lenses can double as regular lenses. This means that you will be able to shoot macro images but also portraits, animals or other subjects.

Tamron Macro and Telephoto Lens

ExpertPhotography recommends: Tamron AF 180mm 3.5 Di LD

Nowadays most macro lenses come with an image stabilizer but that doesn’t automatically mean that you should turn it on. It’s only recommended to turn on the image stabilizer when you are shooting hand held.

If your camera is on a tripod you will absolutely not need the image stabilizer function. Your camera is already stabilized by the tripod. Having the image stabilizer turned on while your camera is on a tripod will create a feedback loop that would cause more blurriness than sharpness. It will also decrease the battery life of your camera.

Lenses for close-up macro photography:

A pile of Canon cameras scattered on the grass.

Canon Mp-E

The Canon Mp-E is definitely not for beginners though. Handling it requires some degree of patience and practice. Before you buy that lens, you should be aware that it will take some time until you’ve mastered its handling. But once you have, your macro photos will improve greatly.

The focus of the Mp-E and can be especially frustrating and even experienced photographers will have their struggles while operating with such a special kind of lens. Be sure to also get yourself a focusing rail, as the Canon Mp-E has no automatic focus function and no focus ring.

The Canon Mp-E costs about $1000, but this is well worth it. You will be blown away by the image quality when using it. This is a fantastic lens, if you want to show breathtaking close-ups and significantly expand your macro skills.

ExpertPhotography recommends: Canon Mp-E

Here are few images that I have taken with the Canon Mp-E:

A ladybug or ladybird, misted and resting on a blade of grass.

Camera Body: Canon 60D, Lens: Canon Mp-E, Shutter Speed: 1/200, Aperture: f 9, Focal Length: 65 mm, ISO Speed: 250

A close-up of a wasp's head and antennae taken with a macro lens.

Body: Canon 60D, Lens: Canon Mp-E, Shutter Speed: 1/160, Aperture: f 8, Focal Length: 65 mm, ISO Speed: 800

A dragonfly head with stunning blue eyes. Beautiful insect photography.

Camera Body: Canon 60D, Lens: Canon Mp-E, Shutter Speed: 1/200, Aperture: f 5.6, Focal Length: 65 mm, ISO Speed: 800

Now that you know what macro photography lenses can help you get that great shot you’re after, take a look at our tips and advice for taking those stunning macro images!

Or if you need advice on choosing more macro accessories, read more on what you need to know here.

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Julian Rad

Julian Rad is an award-winning wildlife photographer based in Austria. His work has been seen in international and national publications such as The New York Post, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Times, GEO, Digital Photographer Magazine, among others. You can see more of his photos here on his website.