Newbie question: are there trade-offs to using a macro lens?

Discussion in 'Open Discussion' started by Phoque, Mar 18, 2012.

  1. Phoque

    Phoque Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 18, 2011
    Ontario, Canada
    Maybe what I'll use as an example doesn't make sense, but let's say you have two equal quality 45mm lens, one macro, one not macro. Let`s say they sell for the same price.

    Would there be any reasons not to take the macro lens?

    What I'm trying to understand is what are the trade-offs between macro and non macro lens.

  2. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin .

    Oct 9, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Real Name:
    Macro lenses are usually extremely sharp but don't offer a maximum aperture as large as a standard lens can. If we are talking about our own Micro 4/3 choice between the two 45s, the Panny macro does test as being marginally sharper in the centre than the Oly, but softer at the edges so there is no real advantage to the macro lens in that case. If the prices were equal, you would be choosing between macro capability and larger maximum aperture. Pick one.
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  3. Ned

    Ned Mu-43 Legend

    Jul 18, 2010
    Alberta, Canada
    Focus speed, both manual and auto. Macro lenses are made to use precise focus and also have extra distance to hunt through because of their close focus abilities. That's the only thing that makes them less appropriate for use in general purpose photography. As an example, my Kiron macro lens takes a full 2 turns around the barrel to get from closest focus to infinity. That's a lot of turning, which may slow me down if I want to use it as a portrait lens, for instance. Its imaging capabilities as a portrait lens however, are great.

    Generally, price is also a trade-off. Macro lenses are often more expensive and are usually not as bright (wide aperture). But that's something you can see for yourself when you look at specific lenses. Like comparing the m.Zuiko 45mm f/1.8 and Leica 45mm f/2.8 Macro-Elmarit, it's obvious that the Leica is both slower and more expensive. You wouldn't expect the non-macro lens to be as slow unless it has a compromise somewhere else (ie, like pancake vs. full-size). The slower but more accurate focus may not be as obvious.

    Zuiko kinda started a trend of faster Macro lenses by putting an f/2 aperture in theirs back in the OM days, but even then it's still slower than the f/1.2 and f/1.4 lenses. I don't think anybody makes macro lenses that fast.
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  4. ~tc~

    ~tc~ Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Oct 22, 2010
    Houston, TX
    Flat field for the macro vs curved field for the normal lens
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  5. foto2021

    foto2021 Mu-43 Veteran

    Nov 5, 2011
    SE England

    Speaking as someone who has done a lot of social photography over the years - weddings, portraiture, events etc. - one thing that some macro lenses are not good for is portraiture. That's because macro lenses tend to be optimised for ultimate sharpness whereas the lenses most suitable for portraiture are optimised for smooth background bokeh.

    It isn't just about backgrounds; a portrait lens that produces good bokeh will also give a more flattering rendition of a less-then-perfect complexion. With many macro lenses, every blemish will show in sharp relief, probably including blemishes the subject didn't even know about or didn't want to. :wink:

    There is a strong temptation to use macro lenses for portraiture because the most popular focal lengths for macro are similar to the most popular focal lengths for portraiture, typically 90-105mm on full frame or 45 to 50mm on m4/3.

    In setting the criteria for macro lens design, SLR camera manufacturers generally chose ultimate sharpness over smooth bokeh, presumably hoping that photographers would buy a specialist macro lens and a specialist portrait lens. So Nikon and Canon macro lenses, for example, are not usually optimised for portraiture and tend to produce images with harsh background bokeh. However, Nikon and Canon both produce excellent portrait lenses.

    Not all macro lenses have harsh bokeh. In the 70s and 80s, several excellent macro lenses were designed in the 90mm to 105mm range and sold by Kiron, Vivitar, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina. These not only gave sharp results at macro distances, but their smooth background bokeh made them highly suitable for portraiture. These lenses are in strong demand and can fetch high prices, especially the Kiron 105mm f/2.8 which was also sold under the "Lester Dine" brand.

    Of these excellent legacy lens designs, only the Tamron 90mm f/2.8 is still made. Earlier 90mm f/2.5 versions of this lens are particularly popular with m4/3 users because they sell at low prices and reasonably priced adapters are available.

    In m4/3 native lenses, the two 45mm lenses are the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 and the Panasonic "Leica" 45mm f/2.8. The Olympus is a killer portrait lens that is probably worth several times its surprisingly low price. It has good sharpness, very smooth bokeh and a delightful rendition of facial features.

    The Panasonic 45mm is a good but expensive macro lens.
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  6. elandel

    elandel Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 16, 2010
    Milan, Italy
    It's all about your use. Macro and normal lenses rendere in slightly different ways. I saw that with my Zuiko 35 macro, very sharp lens for macro at a bargain price, but not so good for some type of photography due to its sharpness - even if this seems strange.
    So grad which one suits your shooting style and remember nothing is perfect; if there are dedicated macro lens there is a reason.
  7. shnitz

    shnitz Mu-43 Top Veteran

    Aug 25, 2011
    Austin, TX
    Hmmm, what a random example that doesn't whatsoever pertain to our cameras :tongue: As mentioned above, a macro lens at the same price often has a smaller aperture, slower focusing for more precise adjustments (depth of field at macro distances is literally razor-thin), and is optimized for close-focus, whereas a standard lens is often designed for background separation.

    Read these articles on lens design to see an overview of the many design choices that have to go into a lens: - Lens Genealogy Part 1 - Lens Genealogy – Part 2

    And, as mentioned above, there are other considerations, such as overall size, bokeh quality, etc. The beginning of this article is also rather enlightening:
    Nikkor Lens Assessment by Thom Hogan
  8. Phoque

    Phoque Mu-43 Regular

    Sep 18, 2011
    Ontario, Canada
    Thanks for the links, I'll try to find some time to get over that material.