How To Get Up Close And Intimate (Part IV) – Dedicated Macro Lenses

It’s a long held belief of mine (and not just as a photographer) that the beauty of life is in the tiny details.

So for as long as I’ve been photographing with intention (since around 2006 with Sony camera phones), I’ve been drawn to photographing up close and intimate.

This is a short series on ways I’ve used cameras to get within breathing distance of that beauty. 

You can see all posts in this series here.

Part IV – Dedicated Macro Lenses

In part one we looked at lenses that focus close anyway, which depending on your needs might be more than adequate for intimate photography.

But then there are dedicated macro lenses which tend to go far closer.

The common definition of macro photography is where the image of the subject being photographed on the film or sensor is life size or greater.

A word of warning first. Don’t assume that any lens or camera with the word “macro” on it will be a dedicated macro lens, or even focus very close at all.

From the 70s onwards, this was a marketing angle to try to sell more lenses, even though some focus less close than other standard lenses not sold as macro.

Google will help you find reviews of genuine dedicated macro lenses, should you be interested.

In my experience, I’ve used only two lenses I would genuinely class as macro.

The Pentax-M Macro 50mm f/4, in Pentax K mount, and the Minolta AF 50mm f/2.8 Macro.

Both are capable of stunning images up close.

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Pentax-M Macro 50mm f/4
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Minolta AF 50mm f/2.8 Macro

Another excellent lens that focuses very close, but is not technically macro, is the Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro.

Again I as highly impressed, though it doesn’t go quite so close as the other two mentioned above (I believe its “macro mode” gives a maximum ratio of 1:4), it gets you closer than most.

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Minolta MD Zoom 35-70mm f/3.5 Macro

All three of these lenses I used as general walk around lenses too, they’re not just for extreme close work.

In my experience, there were two downsides to these dedicated macro lenses, especially the first two.

They’re generally slower than their standard counterparts, as in have a smaller maximum aperture.

This isn’t really an issue in good light, and they tend to be plenty sharp shot wide open, but if you often use say an f/1.4 or f/1.7 50mm lens at its widest aperture and a slow shutter speed, you might find these macro lenses wanting in the speed stakes.

The other potential negative is the cost.

The Pentax and the Minolta AF were probably both amongst the five most expensive lenses I’ve owned.

Not a fortune in the big scheme of things (around £80-100), but when I’ve paid under £20 for a great 50mm lens and a set of close up filters or macro extension rings, paying four or five times that for a dedicated macro lens that then isn’t as fast, might not make economic or practical sense for you.

That said, if you do want to shoot close often, don’t need something super fast, don’t want to be screwing and unscrewing filters or macro rings, and don’t mind paying £100+, these macro lenses can deliver beautiful images.

Have you used dedicated macro lenses before? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking.

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6 thoughts on “How To Get Up Close And Intimate (Part IV) – Dedicated Macro Lenses”

  1. I’ve used extension tubes, reversing lenses, and dedicated macro lenses, and vastly preferred the latter! More expensive, but less faffing about 🙂 I’ve used the Tamron 90mm AF for Nikon, Micro-Nikkor 105mm f2.8 AF-D, Olympus 60mm f2.8, 55mm f2.8 AND f3.5 versions of the Micro-Nikkor AI/S, and Micro-Nikkor 85MM F3.5G AF-S lenses. My favourite of these was the Olympus 60mm f2.8 and 55mm f2.8 Micro-Nikkor, but unfortunately I don’t own them any more. I sold the Olympus at a time when I needed the money and I miss it now, but fortunately my Helios has a similar field of view on my GX7 and also has the benefit of a wider aperture. I still have the 55mm f3.5 macro lens and I struggle to focus with it because the max aperture is so small.

    1. Thanks Mel, yes I remember you mourning the sale of the M43 Olympus 60/2.8 many times on your blog!

      What about with the Helios, does it go close enough without any assistance? I’ve been using mine on my Lumix GF1 with a 10mm macro extension tube that gives that extra bit of closeness I often rely on with other lenses…

        1. Yes, to be honest some of the finer points of macro and the ratios I don’t take much notice of, as long as a lens focuses down to a few cm that’s usually fine!

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