What is the difference between a 100mm lens and 100mm macro, or 50mm and 50mm macro?

Can we use a macro lens to shot portraits? If yes, what focal length is the best? Please suggest a Canon macro lens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Relevant info here, here and here; also maybe here. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 10:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ This really is a duplicate...of probably all of the questions @koiyu linked. If you have something discernibly distinct from those four you need to ask about macro lenses, could you update your question to more specifically reflect them? If not, I'll probably merge this into the most relevant of the questions koiyu linked within a day. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 3:36

2 Answers 2


The macro lens is capable of focusing on things that are really close.

How close? (Magification ratios explained)

A 1:1 magnification means that a lens can focus on something so close, its image on the film/sensor is the same size as the subject itself, so you can imagine that's probably about as close to the lens as the lens is long (depending on the lens design). A lens with a 1:1 magnification ratio or greater is clearly a macro lens. Just to give you an idea, this level of magnification should allow you to get close enough to a 50 cent coin so it fills the frame, and still focus on it correctly.

Macro lenses don't only do macro

Macro lenses are designed to be able to focus close, but that doesn't mean they can't focus out to infinity as well, and they may serve as a good portrait lens too. You don't have to use them for actual macro photography (that's something I never realised when I was new to SLRs).

Properties of macro lenses in general

A macro lens of a similar quality and design will typically be more expensive than a lens with otherwise similar specs and no macro ability, because its ability to focus so close requires a few design considerations. It may also be slightly more bulky. It is likely, however, to have better image quality in some respects, even when not taking macro photographs. These are generalisations only and each lens is going to be different.

Lenses for portrait photography

Traditionally, portrait photographers tend to like to minimise perspective distortion ("big nose effect") so they choose longer, rather than shorter, focal lengths and stand further away. For this reason, 100mm/105mm and 135mm primes are popular focal lengths for lenses marketed as "portrait" lenses, but this won't stop you using something as wide as a 35mm or as long as a 300mm for a portrait - it's about the look you want to achieve. Without knowledge of your budget or other requirements, this is one example of a Macro lens that should be good for portraits.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for answering all common questions about macro lenses \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 11:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ A macro lens also has a very flat field of view making it suitable for photographing things like documents. And it makes a very good prime lens for general purpose use, which is why I have a 50mm macro.. \$\endgroup\$
    – labnut
    Commented Apr 6, 2011 at 8:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ How about 1:2 magnification? I just bought a Sigma 70-300 DG Macro, and the macro works on the 200-300 mm area with closest focus distance being 95 cm. Is it only a marketing term, or could we say a 1:2 magnification counts as macro? \$\endgroup\$ Commented May 17, 2013 at 7:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ 1:2 is less magnification than 1:1. A common definition of a macro lens is a lens capable of 1:1 magnification so if you accept this definition that 1:2 lens is not a "true" macro lens. However the term "macro" is commonly used in many lenses that don't reach 1:1. See also cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/macro-lenses.htm \$\endgroup\$ Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 2:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are macro lenses that are not capable of infinity focus or even any focus distance less than the MFD. The Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5X Macro is one. It only is capable of a single (very close - ranging from 0.78-1.02 feet) focus distance at any magnification setting. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Aug 25, 2017 at 23:23

A lens designated as 'Macro' is designed to allow you to focus really close to the subject, usually to the point that the image on the sensor or film is the same size as the subject itself (which is described as 1:1 macro). Apart from that there is no difference in principle; you should still be able to use it for portraits and landscapes etc as it will still focus to infinity.

The best focal length for portraits is the 35mm equivalent of around 85mm or above. If you're using a cropped sensor camera this means you should use a lens of about 60mm focal length or longer. Lenses wider than that tend to distort the features, especially on a full-frame close-up. However a macro lens is not a requirement for portraiture.

Canon make a 60mm Macro lens with f/2.8 maximum aperture which would be suitable for portraiture on cropped sensor cameras (i.e. all but the 1Ds and 5D series of Canon cameras). But you should check the reviews on Fredmiranda.com to see which lens would be best for you.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks Nick... But is it worth buying a macro insteat of regular lense? As I see that macro fast lenses are much cheaper than a fast lens of similat focal length... \$\endgroup\$
    – PRK
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 10:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ Can you give examples of such comparisons? I can't see which lenses you're referring to. \$\endgroup\$
    – user456
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 10:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ I mean is it possible to substitute a macro lense in place of a standard lens of same focal length? \$\endgroup\$
    – PRK
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 10:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Macro lenses are much better-corrected than ordinary lenses, because at the extreme closeup distances they're designed for many of the flaws that are common to all lenses are greatly magnified. Those corrections, along with the focusing mechanism (which has to cover a much greater variation) make macro lenses more expensive by their very nature. You can usually get a conventional prime lens that is as fast as or faster than a macro of the same focal length for less money that will be as good or better for portraiture, but you need to buy an extra lens for macro work. (cont'd) \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 10:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ (Damned wifi...) That's why macro lenses have traditionally doubled as portrait lenses at the same focal length -- no photographer wants to buy the "same" lens twice if he doesn't have to. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Apr 5, 2011 at 10:32

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