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Once you start looking for a macro lens, you'll probably find that your camera manufacturer provides a few macro options, and that's before you even get to third-party offerings. So, how do you choose a macro lens? As with any lens choice, your first concern when selecting a macro lens will be focal length. Yes, there are longer and shorter macro lenses. And as with any other type of lens, a longer macro lens has a narrower field of view, and lets you magnify more. For example, I have here a 50 millimeter, a 100 millimeter, and a 180 millimeter. These are all macro lenses; 100 and 180 are both far longer than this normal lens, this 50 millimeter, so these are both telephoto lenses. They let me magnify distant objects.
But, all three of these are macro lenses. So, they have very short minimum focusing distances. Now, in terms of macro and focal length, the difference between the 100 and the 180, for example, is that with the 180, I don't have to get as close to my subject, because it's more telephoto. So, for shooting a flower that's set back in a garden, or for trying to get a macro shot of some type of critter without scaring it away, I might have an easier time with this longer lens. For example, let's take this 100, and take a shot of this flower.
I can get a shot with this lens if I turn my camera on. I am going to get right in here, and frame a shot, and get it in focus, and you can see that I can get about right there. Now, I am going to take the same shot with the 180. And here, you can see that to frame the exact same shot, I can be all the way back here. So, I can get the same shot with both these lenses, but with the 180, I can stand much farther back.
Now, it may not look like a huge difference, but in close quarters, the extra reach of the 180 can often mean the difference between getting and missing the shot. The 100 lets me focus on something that's about 6 inches in front of the lens, while the 180 lets me shoot something that's roughly 10.5 inches from the front of the lens. A longer macro lens has another advantage. When you're getting in close to something, you'll often block your light source, and cast a shadow onto your subject. With a longer macro, you can stay further back to ensure that you don't cover your subject with a shadow.
Now, the downside to the 180 is that it's physically larger than the 100, and quite a bit heavier. This lens will tire out your shoulder if you're carrying it around all day, and it's much harder to hold it steady if you're shooting hand-held. In fact, this lens pretty much requires a tripod for most of the shooting you're going to do, unless you have a tremendous amount of light in your scene. Now, one reason I wanted you to practice with lens reversal and extension tubes is that you need to have some idea of what your macro tastes are before you go lens shopping.
It may be that you have no interest in shooting live things, so concern about startling something isn't an issue, and working with a shorter lens will be okay. Or maybe you found that you mostly do your macro shooting around the house, so using heavy gear isn't a problem. As with any lens choice, the best macro focal length for you is going to be heavily impacted by what you like to shoot.
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