[Noob Review] Come for the macro, stay for the bokeh~

Started Mar 30, 2016 | User reviews thread
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CreeDo Senior Member • Posts: 1,619
[Noob Review] Come for the macro, stay for the bokeh~

This lens kinda snuck up on me and became a favorite. I got it on a lark because it was half-price and I thought macro might be kind of fun (it is!) but what surprised me a little is that this is one of those lenses with a unique look that somehow makes everything look prettier. It's got really nice bokeh, contrast, and color.

Note that because some of these pics are taken in my first year of photography, they don't always show what the lens is capable of. I often used less than ideal shutter speeds, and I don't have steady hands. Try to keep that in mind when judging the 100% sharpness.

Those with no patience for a wall of text might want to just jump right to sample images I shot: http://imgur.com/a/2BlFN/all

All shots are processed to taste. Not necessarily good taste I think macro in general needs some work in post... it's tough to overcome shallow depth of field and microscopic camera shake, and focus on aesthetics at the same time. Often you're just happy to get a non-blurry shot, nevermind composition etc.

The basics:

It's a true 1x macro lens (some lenses magnify less but call themselves macro anyway), made for APS-C (aka crop-frame, crop-sensor) cameras. Which is a shame for FF shooters.

By making it for APS-C only, they were able to design it to be smaller and lighter than an equivalent full-frame lens. It's extremely light and looks almost stubby compared to my other lenses.

It can focus to infinity and be used sort of like a standard 50mm prime, except on APS-C it's more like a 100mm. It's a fun walking-around lens because you can shoot anything, and there's usually something interesting to photo at the macro level, even if it's just an ant.

Or in this case a fat cicada sitting on a tree, as I walked to work. They're so big that not only are they not afraid of my lens... I'm a little afraid of them.

Autofocus is good, and silent. But at macro distances you'll be manually focusing anyway. Or in some cases not focusing at all, just leaning forward or back a bit.

Build quality is meh and I doubt there's much weather sealing. But I've used it in the snow with no issue and I dropped it once without it exploding.

It's f/2.8. I own a few fast primes and my first instinct was to wonder why they don't make macro lenses faster than 2.8. But as I started using it more the answer became clear... at typical macro distances, depth of field is tiny. f/1.4 would be useless. In fact even f/2.8 is too shallow. I stop down most shots now.

Working Distance:

There are two ways a macro lens can get more magnification: Longer focal length (zooming in more) and shorter minimum focus distance (allowing you to physically move the lens closer to the subject). This lens is geared towards the latter. Serious macro shooters might not like that - they usually prefer the longer 100 or 180mm focal length that allows you to get magnification without the lens being just inches from the subject. Bugs don't like that.

Yes, being on an aps-c sensor means it's kinda-sorta like a 90mm lens equivalent, but if you buy an actual 100mm full-frame lens instead, you can mount it the same camera, get the same 1.5x boost, so you can get your magnification without getting so physically close to the subject.

On the other hand, a useful benefit of the short working distance and small size and weight: you can grip the lens, extend your pinky, and "anchor" your pinky on the surface your subject is sitting on. This would not be viable if you had to hold the lens further away.

Occasionally you'll get a really tame fly that isn't scared of a lens looming over it. Surprisingly, this cool color tone is close to what it looked like before postprocessing. I dunno if that's because of the lens, but it just seems like a lot of my macro shots get interesting colors, both warm and cool tones.


The sharpness is good, but not exceptional. I know a lot of people care about this... maybe too much (myself included). But I'm learning sharpness isn't everything. A lot of my favorite photos came out of this lens, and it doesn't score that high on DXOmark or other testing sites.

One could argue you're not buying it for the sharp parts, you're buying it for the blurry parts. The bokeh is so nice, and I don't think there's anything wrong with the focused area either. This is probably as good as it gets (1/800th shutter speed, f/5, only 800 ISO, plenty of light, braced against my body, sharpened with DXO optics pro using deconvolution method).

For reference, on DXO it scores same as the nikon version, and a Zeiss f/2 macro on the same camera only scores 1 point higher (and that lens only magnifies half as much).

There's some chromatic aberration that stands out at the closest distances, especially if you have bright white highlights.

One quirk of this lens (and it's common for other macro lenses) is that even though it's a 60mm prime, it behaves like a zoom. When focusing on anything from, say, a few inches away to infinity, twisting the focus ring doesn't change your field of view. But as you get really close to the minumum focus distance, everything zooms in (I wanna say by at least 20-30%) and everything also gets darker (by up to 2 stops). I have to wonder if this doesn't affect sharpness. To me, the lens is at its best at macro distances and not when used for general shooting of people, buildings, etc.

DXO says it's best at f/2.8, imatest charts say f/4 (with f/5.6 being virtually identical). Sharpness is pretty good right up to f/11.

They might be right about best sharpness at f/2.8. The part that's in focus looks great at 100%. This is one of my more recent photos, so the settings and technique are semi-competent. And how about that bokeh?

This is one of my first shots with it, I focus stacked a few shots at f/20. The high f/number is a noob mistake, I didn't realize it hurts sharpness. But being on a stable surface helped. Sharpness isn't bad here at f/20 and woulda been even better if I'd stacked more photos at f/4.

Dat Bokeh Doe

I'm not a bokeh expert, but I've come to notice when it's a little off, or a little ugly. My Tamron super telephoto has ugly onion rings and makes branches look too busy and jittery. The Sigma Art's bokeh looks mostly smooth, but you'll get distracting semi-sharp lines in the middle of the blurry areas, or cut-off "bokeh balls" and cats-eye shapes.

This lens doesn't have those issues, to me this bokeh is really excellent. The transition from sharp to blurry is smooth and looks natural, with no distracting artifacts.

It just makes everything look pretty, even fairly mundane shots. I love what it does to leaves, flowers, etc. at short (though not super short) distances.

Now that's money. Just an ordinary leaf... I didn't even play with colors much.

This is how it looked right out of the camera! Ok, I'm full of it. But I like those semi-hexagon bokeh balls in the background. At macro distances, it's easy to blur the background completely. This is at f/4.

There's another aspect to the lens I like, but I'm not even sure how to put it into words, it's like there's a sort of low-contrast look when you get really close, which actually makes it easier to see details. We see things best in the midtones, you don't necessarily want your lens pushing everything closer to darker or lighter tones, even though most people associate more contrast with more sharpness. Maybe it's the coatings, or the fact that it's the only lens I don't use with a lens hood (creating a little flare). Whatever it is, I like it.

Trying to find an example of the not-overly-contrasty look... I didn't lift shadows or dampen highlights, pretty much just noise reduction and sharpening. You can see the CA / color fringing here, but I kind of prefer to keep it. It's part of the look.

This one DID get plenty of processing, but also shows some of those characteristics I like... not too contrasty, beautiful bokeh that doesn't distract from the subject, and interesting color (gently assisted by ACR and DXO).


When I was still new to photography, I got faint at the idea of spending as much on a lens as I spent on my camera (the first camera being a $500ish rebel). As I got better, I also got a little Gear Acquisition Syndrome and started buying progressively nicer lenses, and eventually a much nicer camera. I might not have bought this lens at the full price of $419 when I was starting out. I got away with murder when they sold it to me in great condition for $200. Now, I'd happily buy it at full price. I'm not serious enough about macro to get an MP-E 65 or some huge 100+ mm lens. But I'd pay $400 for a lens with super bokeh that lets me dabble in macro, and weighs almost nothing. It could even work for street photography as it's discreet and focuses silently.

If you don't own any macro lens and want to just try macro out, this lens is perfect. Not too expensive, doubles as a normal lens, super portable (slips in your pants pocket), and if nothing else you can make some pretty bokeh shots even if you don't do much macro.

More shots can be seen here... some of the bugs are focus stacked, it'll be pretty obvious which ones. The snowflakes are aided by extension tubes so the sharpness sucks, but it's still cool to get such crazy magnification: http://imgur.com/a/2BlFN/all

 CreeDo's gear list:CreeDo's gear list
Canon EOS 7D Mark II Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM Canon EF 70-200mm F2.8L IS II USM Rokinon 14mm F2.8 IF ED MC +4 more
Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Telephoto macro prime lens • Canon EF-S • 0284B002
Announced: Feb 17, 2005
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Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
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