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Macro (or Micro for Nikon) lenses come in different focal lengths, however looking through the current list of canon Macro Nikon Micro lenses they mostly have the same f2.8 apeture. (apart from the 85mm Nikon and 180mm Canon)

Which would be considered entry level and which would be professional, What makes this difference (apart from focal lenth)?

As a comparison to help understand what I am looking for;

The Nikon 24-120 f3.5-4.6 would be entry level whereas the 24-120 f4 is considered a higher quality professional lens (by Nikon NPS)

This also applies to the 50mm f1.8 and the 50mm f1.4.

But what defines the step up to professional quality in this range?

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I don't think there is a big difference between consumer grade and professional grade when it comes to macro lenses, since as you say they are mostly f/2.8, prime lenses, and all very sharp. With zooms you have big differences in maximum aperture, fixed aperture vs variable, and so on.

For Nikon:

  • the DX lenses (40mm and 85mm) could be excluded on the basis that they won't work on professional FX bodies

  • the PC-E lenses would certainly be considered professional due to the tilt-shift capabilities (and cost!)

  • for the most part, I'd consider the lenses with ED glass to be pro lenses. This includes the PC-E lenses mentioned above, the 200mm f/4, the 105mm f/2.8 VR (but also the 85mm f/3.5 VR DX lens)

Nikon Professional Services requires ownership of two pro bodies, but the lens requirement is not specific (can include DX lenses), so I'm not sure Nikon themselves categorise their lenses as consumer or pro grade.

For Canon:

  • probably easier to differentiate. The L-series lenses, with UD glass and USM would be obvious "pro" lenses.
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Thanks, note that a D300 is a DX camera but classified as pro grade, which is why some DX lenses are in the line up. Nice answer tho! –  Graeme Hutchison Jan 4 '12 at 8:56
    
Good point, that's an embarrassing slip! –  MikeW Jan 4 '12 at 10:18
1  
Not sure if I agree that only the "L" glass is professional grade in the Canon lineup. Until the recent 100mm L came out, the only pro grade macro would have been the 180mm L then. I think that the 100mm non "L" and MP-E 65mm probably qualify as professional grade, but do not get the L designation either due to age or specialty. –  dpollitt Jan 4 '12 at 15:05
    
I agree, these are all generalisations. "Pro" features like ED glass and AF-S will start finding their way into consumer grade lenses. –  MikeW Jan 4 '12 at 21:30
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I know you asked about the differences, but if I may make a recommendation:-

If you are after a really good quality Macro lens, and have a good budget, consider the Carl-Zeiss Makro Planar T* 2/100. If you have a Nikon, you want the ZF.2 version (Nikon mount). I own the Canon-mount ZE version. At 100mm, and with an f/2 aperture, it takes some truly STUNNING photographs.

See here and here for examples.

Of course, you have to work for it. The lens does not auto-focus, so it's all manual, but the throw on the focus ring is so silky smooth it is a joy to use. You can also take advantage of the AF confirmation light in the viewfinder to know when it's focussed.

It's built like a brick, with a solid metal body, making it a weighty lens, but comfortingly so.

At f/2 the depth-of-field, even on my crop-sensor EOS 7D is razor thin, and as a friend of mine is fond of saying "Breath, and it goes out of focus", and you will end up with a lot of out-of-focus pics where the plane of focus is just out from where you wanted it to be. So to take good pics close up does take practice, and it can get very frustrating. But practice, practice, practice. And if you are able to use a tripod then that issue goes away.

It can be used as a nice portrait lens too, with it's shallow depth-of-field being able to isolate your subjects well, with high contrast. An example is here.

It's also a very expensive lens - I paid just over £1500. (Ouch, but I had wanted it for over a year, and saved specially for it).

Really, the negatives of this lens (heavy, no AF, expensive), all seem to become utterly insignificant when you see the results of what it is capable of. Bokeh is dreamy, whilst subjects are pin sharp.

Here is a link to the official Carl Zeiss site for that lens.

My complete set of pics taken with it on Flickr is here.

I'd say this is what defines the step up to professional quality in the macro lens range. I can't recommend it enough. Worth saving for...

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