This is a follow up to my first query about photographing artwork. There was a consensus that I go with a macro lens: Is Canon T2i and kit lens good for shooting (2D) artwork?

I think I'm finally ready to purchase. I found this lens and I wonder if anyone has an opinion on it as a macro lens: Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 DG Macro Telephoto Zoom Lens

it has excellent reviews and is inexpensive. Or should I just get a standard non-zooming 50mm or 60mm macro lens?

And if you have any other thoughts in reguards to photograhing artwork please let me know.


5 Answers 5


Like any other zoom with the word "macro" in it's name, the Sigma is quite simply lying. No ifs, no buts. Misleading marketingspeak.

When you were recommended a "macro" lens it was implicitly meant a prime lens that can focus to 1:1 magnification, or at least 1:2. Canon has these in 60, 100 (2 flavours) and 180 mm focal lengths, a 1:2 50mm "compact macro" that requires an extra doo-dad to reach 1:1, while Tamron, Sigma and Tokina will be more than happy to sell one to you in 60, 90, 105 or 150mm varieties. At least; those are the ones I remember off the top of my head. All of the above are quite splendid optically, focal length being the main difference. The Canon ones that are equipped with USM focus motors are probably a bit better than the third-party ones for all-round use simply because they focus faster. While macros are purpose-built for macro photography they also tend to be extremely well-behaved in other ways, such as minimal distortion, good sharpness and very flat field of focus, which makes them excellent for reproduction and other non-macro purposes as well.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I got the camera but still never made a choice on the lens. I plan to take picture from my laptop tethered. It seems I can operate the autofocus from the laptop, but with the USM, would that alle me to manually focus? Or do I not even need USM; can I manually focus tether without USM? \$\endgroup\$
    – kelly
    Feb 8, 2011 at 2:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, I wonder if there is any zoom lens that can offer distortion free edges? I have about 1000 pieces to photograph, and if I could zoom in as well from the laptop I wouldn't have to tough or move the camer at all for at least much of the work. I'm only concerened then with just centering the artwork on my stand. (I may create a new question for this). \$\endgroup\$
    – kelly
    Feb 8, 2011 at 3:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ Live view with an external monitor may be a good way to ensure good focus. My camera is too old for this so do not have personal experience with it but it sounds good at least. No, there is no zoom that will do the job as well as a macro. Zooms are very, very complex optical constructions with a lot of design tradeoffs. \$\endgroup\$
    – Staale S
    Feb 8, 2011 at 8:53

From the review it looks like while the Sigma is pleasantly clear of any weird distortions, it's not excellent in terms of resolution and color fringing. If you really want top quality I'd suggest to go with a true macro like Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 macro.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ The 60 is probably going to be your best bet unless you absolutely need it to double up for other uses. You can always get closer to the artwork (there's no need to zoom in) but it's really hard to get further away when you're already up against a wall. A shorter focal length, combined with the flat field of focus and rectilinearity of a good prime macro, will get you where you want to go. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Jan 25, 2011 at 22:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another option beside the EF-S 60mm might be the EF 50mm with some extension tubes. That would reduce the MFD, and increase magnification. The wide aperture on the 50mm would help in indoor situations where light may be lower. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jan 26, 2011 at 18:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista: I don't think the extension tubes would help much in this case, because reproduction this isn't about extreme closeups but rather high resolution and image quality. \$\endgroup\$
    – che
    Jan 26, 2011 at 23:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ Extension tubes will allow a closer focus distance, though. If a fast 50mm can't focus in the distance available, and extension tube can help you get past that limitation. \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Jan 27, 2011 at 0:08

I have this lens in the Nikon mount and compared to my other lenses, it's INCREDIBLY soft. I'm comparing this both to the 18-55mm kit lens and the Sigma 50mm 1.4. It's the lens I only use when I just have to have the reach. If I was getting it again - I wouldn't.

At 300mm, its quite soft and the pictures lack contrast. Below 200mm, its significantly better, but still significantly lacking.

My recommendation is to go with a real prime, 50-60mm.

And realize, the lens is only pseudo-macro larger-than-normal-magnification (1:2) at 300mm.

(Also note there is an APO version and non-APO version of that lens, the APO is supposed to have much less chromatic abb.).


Have you considered the EF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM?

I own one, and it's a great lens.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Good lens, but it may be too tight, especially on a crop camera. He wants to photograph artwork, and I guess there is a wall behind him that he wants to stay in front of :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Staale S
    Jan 26, 2011 at 10:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow such great info but I'm getting a bit overwhelmed. This should be a separate question, but what does the 100mm refer to, and the f rating? (I haven't looked at these numbers in 20 years) I was looking at the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens. It's just $119, but they have another 50mm lens that f/2.8. It cost $400. I guess it captures more light? And I'm not sure whether to go with a 50mm or 60mm or 70mm? I think the smaller mm they are the closer you can get? But I also take it that they would all be good for artwork because of the fine flat construction of the macro lenses? \$\endgroup\$
    – kelly
    Jan 28, 2011 at 16:36

As most people reccomend above, i would also suggest a true macro lens, preferably from Canon.

Personally i own a Nikon camera and read very bad reviews from generic lens manufacturers (Sigma, Tamron, etc). Most people recomend Nikon/Canon lenses for Nikon/Canon cameras.

Also, recent cameras have built in lens faults correction (for aberrations and such), which only work with their specific brand of lenses.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Macro lenses pretty much have no aberrations to speak of, so this is not much of an issue. Besides, it only works for JPG anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Staale S
    Jan 26, 2011 at 16:49

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