With practically all compact cameras offering close-focusing capabilities, and an abundance of lenses to suit all budgets, getting into macro photography today is as easy as it is enjoyable.
Thanks in part to the availability of cheap filter-like lenses, extension tubes, and other accessories, photographers are able to dabble with close-up shooting with minimal outlay, before they decide whether to take things more seriously with a dedicated macro optic.
The eight macro lenses on test here are all respectable candidates for that next step up, and each combines a useful medium telephoto focal length with a wide maximum aperture, making them suitable for more than just close-up flower and insect shots.
Before we pit them against each other to see which is the best macro lens, though, let's take a closer look at the technical aspects of macro lenses.
A true macro lens is one that can capture frame-filling images of subjects that are the same size as the sensor itself. Manufacturers often show this by stating that a lens has a reproduction ratio of 1:1. Today, the term 'macro' is more widely used to describe equipment with some sort of close-focusing capability, and lenses with up to 1:4 magnification ratios (quarter life size) are often billed as having macro functionality.
Whether a macro lens is used on a DSLR with a full-frame or a cropped sensor, its magnification ratio remains the same. The subject is still, after all, being captured on the sensor at the same size; it's just that the smaller sensor has the effect of cropping the image. Therefore, to fit it into the frame you have to compose your shot further away from the subject.
Unlike macro zoom lenses, which attempt to offer close-focusing together with an expansive focal range, fixed focal-length macro lenses are optimised for only one focal length, and specifically for close-up shooting, which makes them a more desirable option.
These typically fall into one of three focal-length ranges, the shortest being around 40-60mm and the longest comfortably in telephoto territory at around 150-180mm.