The Long and the Short of It: Wide-Angle and Telephoto Macro Lenses

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Even though macro photography is one of the more dynamic genres of photography, physically it’s also one of the most static. It’s also usually performed in controlled situations, with the option to work from a tripod at whichever working distance is available. For these reasons, and out of convention, most macro lenses available feature normal to short telephoto focal lengths. The focal length of a macro lens typically isn’t one of the special attributes of these lenses, at least compared to their close-focusing, high-magnification capabilities. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule, because there is, in fact, a range of macro lenses available with some more unique focal lengths; there are high-magnification optics outside of the comfortable 60mm to 105mm focal-length range in which most people work.

Before diving into these specific lenses, you might be thinking “why would I want a wide-angle or medium-telephoto macro lens? And why would I want anything besides the 90mm or so lens I already have?” Just like with any other “which lens should I choose?” circumstance, it boils down to what kind of look you’re trying to achieve. The key difference with macro, though, is that you are working at close range or at higher magnifications. This typically leads to the subject filling the majority of the frame, regardless of the focal length with which you’re working. And even with these more specialized wide-angle and telephoto options, you are still likely to fill the frame with the subject, but with a more dramatic focal length, you gain some additional consequences, namely in the realm of depth of field. Just like photographing a landscape with an ultra-wide lens versus a normal-length lens, you’d choose the ultra-wide if extreme depth of field was a concern. This holds true at close range, with wider focal lengths able to produce greater depth of field at a similar focusing distance. And, conversely, telephoto options are there for selective focus, as well as working from greater distances. In the macro world, this might only mean another foot or so away from your subject, but this can make a big difference if you’re trying to place lights in front of your camera or if your subject is a bit more skittish. With these distinctions in mind, here are the macro options at the wide and long ends of the focal length spectrum.

Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro

Beginning with the widest macro lens available, Venus Optics has made a name for itself for making some of the most unique macro lenses available. The Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro lens, for various SLR mounts and Sony E, is a prime example of this because it pairs an ultra-wide focal length with 1:1 life size maximum magnification and 0.2" minimum working distance. This combination gives you the ability to emphasize your subjects and home in on the tiny details while including a wealth of context in the frame.

Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro Lens
Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro Lens

Mitakon Zhongyi 20mm f/2 4.5x Super Macro

Similarly wide, but even more specialized, the 20mm f/2 4.5x Super Macro lens is dedicated to high-magnification, close-up shooting and eschews the ability to focus at infinity. Available for mirrorless and SLR cameras, this wide-angle prime is designed for working within a 4.5:1 to 4:1 magnification range, along with 0.8" minimum working distance—at this range, the wide focal length helps to extend depth of field a bit, which becomes more critical at such close-up distances.

Mitakon Zhongyi 20mm f/2 4.5x Super Macro Lens
Mitakon Zhongyi 20mm f/2 4.5x Super Macro Lens

Venus Optics Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe

One of the most distinct-looking lenses available, the Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe, for SLR and Sony E mounts, is a unique tool for close-up shooting in hard-to-reach spaces. As a “Probe,” the long and slender lens barrel makes shooting inside cups and bottles or just beneath the surface of water a very reasonable possibility. This lens, which boasts a 2:1 maximum magnification ratio, also has the unique trait of having a 0.8" minimum working distance but a 1.5' minimum focusing distance, meaning that even though the lens is close to the subjects, you and the camera don’t have to be. Additionally, the wide-angle focal length makes working at such close working distances a more natural experience, with the ability to include context in shots.

Venus Optics Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe Lens
Venus Optics Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe Lens

Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro

The third and final lens in this list from Venus Optics, the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro is another wide-angle macro option, but this time with a more niche feature set. Available for SLR and mirrorless mounts, this lens can be used between a 5:1 and 2.5:1 magnification range, with a 6.8" minimum focusing distance. The wide-angle focal length, again, contributes to greater depth of field despite the lens offering such a close working distance.

Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro Lens
Venus Optics Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro Lens

Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM

While “only” a 1:2 lens, the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM, for Canon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras, is a unique option that has the versatility of a bright wide-angle prime lens along with a 1:2 maximum magnification ratio and 6.7" minimum focusing distance for working with close-up subjects. It's a really well-rounded lens that combines the ability to work with both near and distant subjects with a comfortable and familiar focal length.

Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM Lens
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM Lens

FUJIFILM XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro

Moving to the long end of the macro spectrum, the XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro, from FUJIFILM, has a 120mm equivalent focal length, making it one of the longer options out there for isolating subjects and working from a more removed, distant perspective. It has a life size 1:1 maximum magnification ratio and 9.8" minimum focusing distance and can also be paired with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters to extend the effective focal length even more, if desired.

FUJIFILM XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro Lens
FUJIFILM XF 80mm f/2.8 R LM OIS WR Macro Lens

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro

Similar to the above option, this M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro lens, from Olympus, is a 120mm equivalent prime with a 1:1 magnification ratio, but is designed for Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras. Despite its longer effective focal length, the lens still offers a close 7.5" minimum working distance due to its compact size, meaning you can have the subject isolation benefits of a longer lens but with a closer working distance for controlling your subjects.

Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro Lens

Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro Tilt-Shift

A standout lens, just due to its tilt-shift design, the TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro also has the unique advantage of being a 135mm focal length lens with a 1:2 maximum magnification ratio. Combine the two assets and you have a truly special lens for working with close-up and tabletop subjects. The close-focusing design, capable of working with subjects as near as 1.6', pairs with the tilting capabilities for greater control over depth of field, with the ability to extend it or reduce it to isolate the smallest area of a subject.

Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro Tilt-Shift Lens
Canon TS-E 135mm f/4L Macro Tilt-Shift Lens

Irix 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1

Better known for its ultra-wide lenses, Irix has recently entered the telephoto and macro realms with the 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1 lens, for Canon EF, Nikon F, and Pentax K mounts. The longer 150mm focal length pairs with a 1:1 magnification ratio and 1.1' minimum focusing distance, which makes it suitable for close-up shooting, as well as a greater working distance when photographing at less than 1:1.

IRIX 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1 Lens
IRIX 150mm f/2.8 Macro 1:1 Lens

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM

The longest macro lens in Canon’s stable, the EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM is that unique bridge between short and medium telephoto focal lengths, and offers a long working distance of right around 1' while maintaining a 1:1 maximum magnification. This extra range gives you more room for lighting or camera positioning and can also just help in separating subject matter from the background with selective focus.

Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM Lens
Canon EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM Lens

Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED

The final lens on our list, and the longest macro lens out there, the AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED, from Nikon, has the 1:1 maximum magnification of other telephoto macro options, but the greater working distance and 1.6' minimum focusing distance make it easier to work with more sensitive subjects. The longer focal length also makes it useful for isolating subject matter, even when working at distance and well outside of macro magnifications.

Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Lens
Nikon AF Micro-NIKKOR 200mm f/4D IF-ED Lens

Regardless, if it’s an ultra-wide-angle or telephoto lens, these lenses have an inherently unique look to them compared to the conventional macro options. This isn’t to say that there isn’t value in working with the more popular options—they are popular for a reason—but it is worth exploring some of these unique fields of view and depths of field in conjunction with macro shooting.

Have you experimented with any of these lenses? What’s your go-to macro lens? Let us know your thoughts in the Comments section.

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