What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't?

Started Aug 3, 2012 | Discussions
locke42
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What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't?
Aug 3, 2012

I've been looking for a fast, wide angle prime lens that will give me a normal focal length equivalent on my 60D. My choices seem limited to Canon's 28mm f/1.8 and Sigma's 30mm f/1.4. Both are a little long for my taste (I'd prefer something closer to a 35mm equivalent), but if those are my only choices, then those are my only choices.

However, I see that Sigma has a 24mm f/1.8 lens, but it's labeled "Macro." That fits my focal length need almost exactly (38mm EFL). My worry is the "Macro" label. I realize that this means that it's designed to focus close up, but does this somehow also limit its ability to focus at a distance, as well? I'd very much like this to be my walkaround street lens when I don't have my 15-85mm on, but if it's not great at focusing beyond macro distances then that makes it kinda useless for what I need.

This isn't the only one, of course. Canon has a range of macro primes that match the focal lengths of their other primes, but are slower and more expensive. I'm just wondering what's the difference between a non-macro prime and a macro prime, and if a macro prime can still be used for every day shooting.

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paulbysea
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

Most macro lenses work fine as primes.

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wuxiekeji
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

In general, the mainstream macros tend to also work VERY well as primes, if not actually better than their standard counterparts. However, they will almost necessarily be more expensive, slightly bigger and heavier, and if it has autofocus, it may be comparatively slow, if you care.

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tocar
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

You'll get a big advantage of that being a macro and prime lens. A bit more expensive but worth it.

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Philip Kendall
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

locke42 wrote:

I'm just wondering what's the difference between a non-macro prime and a macro prime

Fundamentally, the macro lens will have a minimum focal distance (MFD) which is smaller than the non-macro one. As others have pointed out, this has consequences for size, weight and price, but the lens is still suitable as a general purpose lens.

About the only exception to this is the MP-E 65mm lens, which cannot focus to infinity (and is manual focus only).

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Jos van Eekelen
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to Philip Kendall, Aug 3, 2012

Macro lenses tend to be flat field as opposed to normal lenses that have a curved field. Check the details of the Sigma lens, 24 mm f/1.8 macro is strange, both with regard to focal length and f-stop.

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photonius
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

locke42 wrote:

I've been looking for a fast, wide angle prime lens that will give me a normal focal length equivalent on my 60D. My choices seem limited to Canon's 28mm f/1.8 and Sigma's 30mm f/1.4. Both are a little long for my taste (I'd prefer something closer to a 35mm equivalent), but if those are my only choices, then those are my only choices.

However, I see that Sigma has a 24mm f/1.8 lens, but it's labeled "Macro." That fits my focal length need almost exactly (38mm EFL). My worry is the "Macro" label. I realize that this means that it's designed to focus close up, but does this somehow also limit its ability to focus at a distance, as well?

It's just a normal prime that can also focus quite close, that's all.

I'd very much like this to be my walkaround street lens when I don't have my 15-85mm on, but if it's not great at focusing beyond macro distances then that makes it kinda useless for what I need.

This isn't the only one, of course. Canon has a range of macro primes that match the focal lengths of their other primes, but are slower and more expensive. I'm just wondering what's the difference between a non-macro prime and a macro prime, and if a macro prime can still be used for every day shooting.

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photonius
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to Jos van Eekelen, Aug 3, 2012

Jos van Eekelen wrote:

Macro lenses tend to be flat field as opposed to normal lenses that have a curved field. Check the details of the Sigma lens, 24 mm f/1.8 macro is strange, both with regard to focal length and f-stop.

These are not macro lenses, just normal lenses that focus relatively close, so marketing slaps a "macro" on it.
http://photonius.wikispaces.com/Close-up+%26+Macro
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Le Kilt
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AF speed can be slower
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

One effect of enabling a lens to focus closer is that it can be slower hunting for focus. Some lenses, macro and others, have a button to limit the closer focusing range when you don't need it to prevent this slower focusing.

So yes, you can use a macro lens for general shooting, and they often give great quality, but you should check reviews to see if the AF is fast enough in non-macro shooting, particularly if you want to be able to snap moments almost instataneously.

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Peter Galbavy
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

Other have eluded to the fact that a Macro lens can focus closer. This isn't quite everything. Most Macro lenses will also employ a "zoom" mechanism even on a prime where the image circle will be expanded when focusing closer than a certain point - usually indicated on the focus ring. This means that the aperture will not, effectively, be as wide at all focal distances. For example both my Sigma 150mm Macro and my Canon 100mm IS Macro are labelled f/2.8 but that is only true up to the point the lens is acting normally.

Macro lenses are also labeled with a ratio which indicate how close to real lilfe the image size projected onto your sensor (or film in ye olde days) is. A 1:1 Macro means that at the closest focus the image on your sensor will be the same size as the physical object you are taking a shot of. A 5:1 Macro will actually magnify the image 5x on your sensor. A 1:2 will only project an image 1/2 the size of the real world onto your sensor etc.

Would love to post links but this is all from my aged memory, sorry.

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photonius
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to Peter Galbavy, Aug 3, 2012

Peter Galbavy wrote:

Other have eluded to the fact that a Macro lens can focus closer. This isn't quite everything. Most Macro lenses will also employ a "zoom" mechanism even on a prime where the image circle will be expanded when focusing closer than a certain point - usually indicated on the focus ring. This means that the aperture will not, effectively, be as wide at all focal distances. For example both my Sigma 150mm Macro and my Canon 100mm IS Macro are labelled f/2.8 but that is only true up to the point the lens is acting normally.

Hmm, I think you are mixing two things here.

First, all lenses in principle, no matter whether macro or not, will loose light as you focus closer. Many lenses extend when focusing closer, and as the lens elements move away from the sensor you loose light according to the inverse square law, this is a continuous effect. If you go to a macro magnification of 1:1, you loose 2 stops of light. A 100mm lens would have an extra extension of 100mm to go to 1:1. Because of the doubling of the distance, the circle of light has doubled, and light loss in term of area is 4 fold, i.e. 2 stops. In between you will have continuous intermediate values.

Second, some modern lens designs with internal focusing actually change the focal length as you focus closer to achiever closer focusing distances, e.g. the Canon 60mm macro, or the 100mm macro. So, I forgot the exact numbers, but the Canon 100mm is more like a 70mm lens at 1:1. Because the lens has a shorter focal length, it doesn't have to extend as much as the "simple" lens in the first example above, so an "internal focusing" becomes possible. Nevertheless, you still have the same light loss rules as above, as the image circle on the sensor increases, you loose more and more light.

Some of the confusion may arise from the fact that apparently Nikon and Canon deal very differently with this light loss. For canon, if the aperture is set to f2.8, it will stay at f2.8 even at 1:1, the automatic exposure of course calculates it all correctly. In the Nikon case (don't have one), it apparently would change what aperture is indicated as you focus closer.

Macro lenses are also labeled with a ratio which indicate how close to real lilfe the image size projected onto your sensor (or film in ye olde days) is. A 1:1 Macro means that at the closest focus the image on your sensor will be the same size as the physical object you are taking a shot of. A 5:1 Macro will actually magnify the image 5x on your sensor. A 1:2 will only project an image 1/2 the size of the real world onto your sensor etc.

Would love to post links but this is all from my aged memory, sorry.

rgds,
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mgrum
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In some cases very little...
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

...other than marketing bs!

The Sigma 24 f/1.8 is labelled as a macro but isn't a true macro in the sense that it can't focus down to 1:1, it only manages about 1:2.7

I wouldn't worry about the macro designation at all in this case as this lens was not designed primarily for close up work, it just happens to focus quite close so they called it a macro.

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Peter Galbavy
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to photonius, Aug 3, 2012

Yeah, that's roughly what I meant - and both my Canon and Sigma show f/2.8 even at minimal focal distance, but the image is clearly darker in the viewfinder. The AE takes care of it

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wolfbane
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

Stepping slightly outside of your immediate interest, I matched my 17-40 f4 L

basic lens with the 60mm EFS Macro - initally with the expectation of using it as a moderate telephoto; which role it plays very well. Find myself using it more often as a macro.

No telephoto is that adaptable.

Alistair

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happysnapper62
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Re: What's the difference between a lens labeled "Macro" and one that isn't
In reply to locke42, Aug 3, 2012

You can also get telezooms labeled "macro" For the same reason, closer focus. They are not true macro lenses though. Many have asked that same question about those zooms. As one poster said, it's a marketing ploy. lee uk

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