Every photographer, professional or recreational, needs a good lens to get the picture quality they’re truly aiming for. While we were easily able to narrow it down to the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens as the best macro lens for most DSLR cameras, there’s also a variety of other macro lenses that hit the mark.
Some photographers, including some professionals, unfortunately never get a lens outside of the one that comes with the camera. This sacrifices certain features and aspects that you can put into the picture you’re capturing. You can get the best image when you’re using a macro lens from an outside source rather than the default macro lens that comes with some cameras.
We’re trying to show off the importance of different macro lenses, including what they can do to the image’s quality and overall picture. That’s why we offer a detailed guide, uncovering everything from the lingo to understand before purchasing a lens, budget alternatives to the best Nikon macro lens, and much more. This guide is designed to help you learn about different macro lenses, specialized options, and it’s also designed to answer any questions you might have about macro lenses when it’s all said and done.
Understanding the Macro Lens Terminology and Jargon
If you aren’t a professional photographer, you’re not going to understand all of the numbers and letters on the side of every lens you see. It’s an almost sentence-long collection of these numbers and letters, and they affect the quality of the overall image that you produce greatly. Understanding the macro lens terminology and jargon will allow you to pick the best macro lens for your Nikon.
Before getting a macro lens for your Nikon, it’s absolutely vital that you make sure you actually get a lens that will attach to your particular camera. This is called the lens mount, and each camera is different. You need to ensure you have the right lens mount for the macro lens you get or you won’t be able to attach it to your Nikon camera.
Another factor you need to ensure matches up with your camera is the particular format that your image sensor is. Sometimes, you can get an image that’s not big enough to cover the entire image sensor, which messes up the picture overall. Ensuring that you have the right size sensor for your particular camera and camera model is the only way to get the best quality picture possible.
There are a number of ways that the maximum aperture of a camera lens is written on the side of the lens. It could be written as f/1.8, F1.8, or 1:1.8. No matter how it’s written, it will still be in one of these three formats. The maximum aperture determines how much light a camera is capable of capturing. The larger the maximum aperture on a camera, the more light a camera is able to capture at one time. This affects the lighting and overall brightness of each image you take with the camera.
The largeness of the maximum aperture does not mean the large number increases the largeness. On the contrary, and somewhat confusingly, the lower the number on a lens, the larger the maximum aperture actually is. For example, an f/1.8 would be able to capture more light than an f/2.8. This makes it preferred for low-light situations and pictures. The larger the number, the more it’s preferred that you use an outside source of light along with the camera’s flash.
The focal length for your camera just determines how much it can zoom in and if it has a zoom range. The average that comes with cameras is around 35 mm. If a camera is capable of more than 50 mm, that means it can focus well on a smaller frame of the image, so you get a better close-up but lose some of the picture overall. If it’s less than 35 mm, you can see a wider frame than the natural human eye can see, giving you wide angle shots rather than close-ups.
There are a lot of cameras that will have a range, like 24-80 mm or 35-200 mm. The difference is that you get to zoom in or out more the further apart the range is, but it is all down to preference. A lot of the cameras on our list have ranged focal lengths that are visible along the side of the lens, labelled as “35-50 mm” or whatever the range may be. There will be some cameras that don’t have a range for a focal length, just a set focal length, and that doesn’t hurt the overall quality of the camera. Again, it’s all down to an individual’s preference.
How We Picked the Best Macro Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras
Since we actually have professional photographers and experts on our team, uncovering the lens code was a breeze. We were able to find the best macro lens for our Nikon DSLR cameras, which ended up being the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens. We didn’t just come to this conclusion on a whim, though. We spent hours of research, testing, and picture-taking before coming to this decision. Here are the factors that we put into play when considering which macro lens we would select as the best macro lens for Nikon cameras.
Since we learned about all of the different terminology and jargon that goes on the side of a camera lens, we’re better able to decide what we need for our Nikon cameras. The first step is ensuring that we get a Nikon mount that’s compatible with our actual camera.
The maximum aperture and overall aperture range plays a big role in the camera we’re going for. When we’re looking for the best, the ability to zoom isn’t as important as the ability to have a range in maximum aperture. While zoom may not play a role, however, we don’t want a strange number as our focal length. A reasonable set focal length or a focal length with a versatile range is the best way to go, in our opinion.
The features that play into the overall quality and picture that a macro lens can produce are important. How a lens holds up under critique and review says a lot about how it’s going to act when it’s in your hands. A highly reviewed, highly rated camera lens is the best way to go, which is why we narrowed down the results until we only had the highest rated, highest reviewed camera lenses to pick between.
We also took a look at the price while we zeroed in on our number one. Price wasn’t the biggest factor when we decided on a macro lens, but we knew we weren’t looking for the cheapest lens or the most expensive lens. On the contrary, our lens is somewhere right in the middle, reasonably priced so that a versatile amount of people can actually buy it.
Our Pick for the Best Macro Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras
Top Pick: Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens
The Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens came out on top, qualifying with the Nikon F mount that we were looking for in the first place. It didn’t just land in first because it has a compatible mount, though – plenty of macro lenses have compatible mounts. What caught our attention was every aspect that the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens has to offer.
First, the f/1.8 maximum aperture with an f/22 minimum is a distinct and wide range for most cameras. This range will allow you to get just about every type of picture you could be looking for, enhancing the overall image quality while you go. The maximum aperture is a great starting point, and the 35 mm focal length just sealed in the deal. 35 mm is a safe number to go with when you don’t have a focal length range, especially since that’s usually the level the eye picks up on.
How the macro lens did when it was put up on the cutting board is where we can really decide whether it’s a decent macro lens or not.
For a high-quality macro lens that’s the best of its class and one of the best of its kind, the price that comes along with it almost looks like a mistake.
Our Second Pick
We couldn’t just have one macro lens for our second place spot. On the contrary, more than one macro lens actually landed the position. We have two macro lenses for the Nikon cameras that are of equal quality; so similar, in fact, that we had to put them both in the second place spot.
Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Milvus ZF.2 Macro Lens
The Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Milvus ZF.2 Macro Lens packs a punch like you don’t get to see in a lot of cameras, high quality or not. There are plenty of reasons that this particular macro lens could have actually made it to the number one spot. We almost picked it as the best macro lens for the Nikon, just like we almost picked our other second place applicant, the Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED Zoom Lens, as the best macro lens for the Nikon camera. The only problem with this particular lens is the price.
The price can turn away some people, but for those who have the money and are willing to pay the extra cost, either of these macro lenses are the better options to go than our number one. It has an impressive focal length of 50 mm and an aperture range of f/2.0-f/22, an exemplary range that you can capture perfect moments with. Total, you get the front and rear lens caps, the lens hood, and a warranty from the manufacturer, Zeiss, for reassure in the back of your mind that you’re making a good investment. This particular macro lens is a great buy if you’re willing to spend the extra dollar and okay with using a manual focus, which some actually prefer.
Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED Zoom Lens
The problem that we had with the Zeiss 50mm f/2.0 Milvus ZF.2 Macro Lens is the same problem that we have with the other second place option: the Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED Zoom Lens. Unfortunately, it was just outside of our budget range for us to pick it for the number one spot.
We had to give the Nikon AF FX NIKKOR 80-200mm f/2.8D ED Zoom Lens a different spot on the list because it still deserves a spot. In fact, it’s one of the best macro lenses for Nikon DSLR cameras ever made. The exemplary 2.5x telephoto zoom makes it a recommended option for portraits, nature photography, and sports. The f/2.8 maximum aperture allows for a fast and constant stream of quality images, backing it up with a rotating zoom ring that allows for precise zoom operating. This is a big macro lens with a big price tag, but it’s absolutely worth it for those who are willing to spend the extra dollar on a quality lens. In fact, some of the members on our team went with this as their number one, unable to pick any other.
Budget Macro Lens for Nikon DSLR Cameras Alternatives
We have a few frugal members on our team who are experts in getting the best deal without sacrificing quality. We put those experts to the test with macro lenses for the Nikon DSLR cameras, having them find the most affordable macro lenses without having to sacrifice any quality in your image. Not only were we able to see just how affordable you can get when it comes to lenses, we were also able to find two equally excellent budget alternatives for the best macro lens for a Nikon DSLR.
Medium Telephoto Manual Focus 85mm f/1.8 Portrait Lens
The Medium Telephoto Manual Focus 85mm f/1.8 Portrait Lens is compatible with over 30 different Nikon camera models, making it an easy choice for a lot of photographers. It’s got a focal length max of 85mm with a maximum aperture of f/1.8, making it possible to capture the best quality photos. Not only does the lens come with the assurance of a 5-year warranty, but you also get a removable lens hood, rear and front caps, and a pouch to store everything in.
This is our budget alternative, but we didn’t sacrifice any quality to get to the price. For a photographer, whether this is your first macro lens or you one hundredth, it’s hard to pass up such a reasonable deal.
Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SLD DG Macro Lens
The Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 SLD DG Macro Lens is a ridiculously affordable option that puts it in the running for best budget alternatives. It has 14 elements in 10 different groups of the lens construction, giving you versatility when you never knew you even needed it. On top of that, it’s also got a minimum aperture of f/22 with a maximum aperture of f/4.0.
This particular camera lens model has a macro mode for maximum magnification, as well as different angles of view for the best picture imaginable. Both camera lenses are of such excellent quality that we didn’t feel right just putting one on there for our budget alternative selection, so we justified putting both.
Sometimes the best macro lens just doesn’t meet your high-profile needs. Maybe you have something more specific in mind, or you’d like to see the specialized options that are available. We put together some specialized picks for you to browse through, including a summary of each item so that you can get an idea of what that macro lens can individually offer you.
Best Macro Lens for Close-Ups
Nikon AF-S FX Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED Fixed Zoom Lens
The Nikon AF-S FX Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED Fixed Zoom Lens is ideal for close-ups, macro photography, and other pictures where you need to get up close and personal to get the best shot. In fact, it has a minimum focus distance of 8 inches, so it can really get close. With the right lighting and camera model itself, the Nikon AF-S FX Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED Fixed Zoom Lens can help capture things so small, you can even see each individual cell on a person’s face. It’s still a mid-range priced lens that’s just breaching on being priced high. For the right person, or for a person desperately in need of getting the right close-ups, this particular lens is the lens for you.
Best Macro Lens for Close-Ups and Auto-Focus
Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Fixed Zoom Lens
The Nikon AF-S VR Micro-NIKKOR 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED Fixed Zoom Lens takes close-ups to the next level with an auto-focus feature that removes blur from your images unless you’re actively trying to incorporate a bit of blur in. It has a 5-year warranty just like the Nikon AF-S FX Micro-NIKKOR 60mm f/2.8G ED Fixed Zoom Lens so you can have all the reassurance in the world with this lens just the same. The internal focus removes the need for changing the length of the lens and makes for crisp, clear pictures. This one does have better quality than the AF-S model, as we can see from the price. It is certainly worth it if you’re in need of these particular features.
Best Macro Lens for High Rendering Performance
Sigma 258306 105mm F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens
The Sigma 258306 105mm F/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro Lens was specifically designed for use on a full frame DSLR camera. It’s capable of focusing down to a 1:1 magnification, allowing for it to get to a distance as close as 12.3 inches. This macro lens wins out on its high rendering performance, though. The optical performance is breathtaking at all distances, making it perfect for nature photography. This particular Sigma macro lens comes with a hood adapter, a front and rear lens cap, and a lens hood. It’s worth every dollar to those who are wanting a high rendering experience like they’ve never seen before.
Best Macro Lens for a Bit of Everything
Tokina 12mm – 24mm F/4 PRO DX Autofocus Zoom Lens
The Tokina 12mm – 24mm F/4 PRO DX Autofocus Zoom Lens is compatible for most Nikon DSLR cameras, optimized for those particular models to make them even better. The minimum to maximum aperture is f/22 to f/4.0 with an 11.8-inch minimum focus distance. Not only does it have an excellent focal length, aperture range, and a reasonable focus distance, it also has 13 elements that go in 11 groups of the overall optical construction. Fortunately, we were right.
Best Macro Lens with a Micromotor
Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP AF/MF 1:1 Macro Lens
If you’re looking for a micromotor for the focus type of a macro lens, the Tamron AF 90mm f/2.8 Di SP AF/MF 1:1 Macro Lens is the best place to start looking. This particular lens has a 35 mm focus length and a maximum aperture of f/2.8. The lens isn’t zoomable, but it does come with a case and a hood. It also comes with free shipping, so that price is all you’re going to be looking at, excluding taxes and other accessories.
Best Macro Lens for Distance Shots
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM AF Standard Zoom Lens
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM AF Standard Zoom Lens is a DSLR camera that combats all of the contenders on the list. The aperture is controlled by the camera, allowing you to not have to think about it as much, and it’s got a ring-type ultrasonic focus type for your convenience and preference. The optical zoom can get three times up that of the normal picture, so it’s a great camera lens to get wide shots with. They’re also great for hunting or other activities where you’re going to have to stay a far distance away initially. The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM AF Standard Zoom Lens is the perfect companion.
Best Macro Lens for Versatile Use
Samyang 100mm F2.8 ED UMC Full Frame Telephoto Macro Lens
The Samyang 100mm F2.8 ED UMC Full Frame Telephoto Macro Lens is constructed out of an impressive 15 glass elements within 12 different groups to make up the optical. It boasts the minimum focus distance being just one foot, and the Samyang 100mm F2.8 ED UMC Full Frame Telephoto Macro Lens has an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/32. f/32 is actually not often seen in a lot of lenses, and this particular photo lens has the best aperture range that we’ve seen. It’s certainly got the widest aperture range on this particular list.
Commonly Asked Questions About Macro Lenses
It’s reasonable to have questions about macro lenses, especially if they weren’t already answered throughout the rest of this guide. We’ve compiled a short list of questions that a lot of customer seem to have when they start looking for a macro lens.
Does the Aperture Have to be f/2.8?
It’s a common misconception that you have to have a camera lens that has the maximum aperture of at least f/2.8. This is actually based on an individual’s preference, so you can get whatever aperture range you’re actually wanting.
Is it Better to Have a Longer Focal Length?
Another common misconception that comes with macro lenses is that the long the focal length of a macro lens, the better the overall picture is going to be. This is only true is some circumstances, and should certainly never be held as a rule.
Are Macro Lenses Only Good for Macro Photos?
On the contrary, macro lenses can be used for virtually any type of photo you’re in need of. Different macro lenses offer different specializations, and certain lenses will work better for your particular needs than others do. However, macro lenses are not only good for macro photos – they’re good for all of them.
Wrapping It Up
This guide was designed to help you understand everything that goes into finding a good camera lens. Not only did we provide tips for how to find a good one, uncovered the list of factors we had in play when we were choosing the best macro lens for us, and so much more, but you also got a variety of recommendations that you can use if you don’t want to research any further or find one that you genuinely like.
In the end, whether you choose the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens or a different lens altogether, now you understand everything that goes into deciding whether a macro lens is actually good or not. You can determine if a macro lens is high-quality for yourself using the terminology and jargon that you uncovered in this guide. If the macro lenses on our list don’t fit your particular needs, you’ve at least walked away with the knowledge to find an excellent macro lens on your own.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.