I'm often surprised that photographers these days seem to think that macro lenses can only be used for closeups. That's far from the case; macro lenses can be used as all-purpose lenses easily. John Loengard, the former LIFE magazine photographer and picture editor, used a Nikkor Micro lens for portraits (I don't know exactly which one, but I believe one of the 55mms). Leica even stated at one time that the best normal lens for the R (film SLR) system was the 60mm Macro-Elmarit-R. It had very high resolution for its day and was a very consistent lens at the normal evaluation distance of 50•ƒ or about 10 feet, with negligible performance variation up and down the aperture range and from corner to corner. And some portrait photographers prefer macro lenses because it means they never bump up against a close-focusing limit.
The Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar T* 100mm ƒ/2 ZF.2 Lens for Nikon, one of the absolute best lenses you can buy.
A very hard choice
So, a question: if you owned one moderate wide-angle lens, and you were going to buy one medium-telephoto lens as your second lens, which would you choose or advise someone else to get: a fast portrait lens, or a slower but closer-focusing macro lens? Assuming you could only get one. And, for you, what would be the main considerations in making a choice? Would it depend on the actual lenses available in your system, would cost be most important, or maximum aperture, or usage considerations for the particular kind of work you do most, or...?
The Olympus M. Zuiko Digital ED 45mm ƒ/1.8 or the Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm ƒ/2.8 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S.? (I chose the latter in Micro 4/3, after trying both)
If you've already had to make this hard choice, which way did you go?
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Joe Kashi: "It's worth recalling that some very respected lens testing sites such as slrgear.com/imaging-resource.com use high-grade macro lenses as their reference standard when testing new cameras because the resolution of these lenses can often exceed that of the sensors. I believe that the Sigma 70mm macro was used as a reference standard for APS-C and full-frame systems and the Olympus 50mm ƒ/2 with Micro 4/3 auto adapter as the reference standard for Micro 4/3 cameras. Some sites use the Pentax 50mm ƒ/2.8 FA Macro as their reference for Pentax cameras. I've found all three of these macro lenses have been excellent for general use."
MarkB: "Macro, Makro, Macro-Elmarit...however they write it. I have five macro lenses for two systems, and I rarely even shoot close ups."
Marcin Wuu: "Fastest possible 85mm your system will take. Otus 85mm for Nikon, 85mm L for Canon, 56R for Fuji, etc. Main consideration—shallow depth of field capability. But I'm first to admit that I'm a bit particular in this regard.
"Setting aside the DOF, I would consider macro lens for portrait work only for male portraiture. For females, the extremely precise detail rendition of macro lenses tends to be too harsh, especially if you're not into the gritty realism. In my experience women in general don't like to be reminded of all the little flaws of their visage :-) "
Adam Lanigan: "With regards to the 'ahem'.... While I can't say anything about the 60mm—never having touched it—I have to say that the 56mm is wonderful. Even wide open it is a dream to use—solid build, a good heft, and buttery smooth focus on the outside; magic and pixie dust on the inside. I'd have to check the spec sheet to be certain, but I think the lens coating may consist largely of pureed fairy wings. You may want to check out what Zack Arias has to say on the subject in his buyer's guide to Fuji lenses."
David: "I've have both the Fuji 56mm and Fuji 60mm. I'm probably going to put the 56mm on Ebay soon. The 60mm is significantly smaller, and I don't need the faster autofocus of the 56mm, nor the aperture. Resolution wise, I don't see much of a difference. My only problem with the 60mm is the small filter size that makes using grad filters a little tricky, but at this focal length, for landscapes (scenics, oh no :-)), I am hoping to soon be using the Fuji 50–140mm."
John Robison: "The Olympus 45mm or Panasonic 45mm? Might be a no brainer if the Panasonic were not 2.6X the price. And no, having Leica engraved on the lens does not excuse the price. Ah, but there is the Olympus 60mm ƒ/2.8 macro at only 1.4X. That could be tempting and would give a little more room to work with."