Macro Lens - What to Buy?

Hello All 

I am thinking about investing in a macro lens and am totally confused by the variety available so could use some help and guidance. 

Immediate use of one: My wife is currently trying to digitise all our old slides and she is currently using my EOS90D with an 18-135mm canon lens at full zoom on a tripod and the slides on a light box so they are back light . It works ok but the pictures need a lot of cropping to get rid of the slide holder plastic/cardboard.

After this job I would probably use it for macro work in the garden on insects/flowers etc.

Do I go for a fixed lens or a zoom with macro. Some thoughts and suggestions would be very helpful. 

Thanks for feedback


  • Hi Tony, I just copy/pasted this from Top 10 Reviews after doing a "digitise your slides" google search, which I imagine will be less pfaff than your current set up. (I don't know as am too young to remember slides   and haven't read any details on it!)

    If you own a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera, consider digitizing slides using a slide copier or duplicator. Sometimes called dupers, these devices fit on the front of your camera and allow you to take a high-resolution photograph of each slide. It's best to shoot in RAW format rather than JPG to give yourself maximum control over the final image in post-production.

    As for the macro part of the question, I don't have a dedicated macro lens, but I think Nige does, and WJ too. Not sure if they shoot Canon, but they'll be able to advise you on technical doodah I imagine

  • In reply to PimperneBloke:

    Thanks for the information PB, we have an old slide scanner but since we both went from windows to MacBook it is no longer supported, it'll be on its way to the tip in due course. I Hadn't thought of your idea but have seen them in the past, will have a look online, cheers. You don't know what your missing with no Kodachrome 64, such brill colour. Nostalgia ain't what it used to be..


  • In reply to tony:

    Tony T said:
    You don't know what your missing with no Kodachrome 64

    And I thought everyone except me used Fuji 50 Mind you the kids these days can just adjust saturation on screen, not that I've ever done it … ahem!

    I guess dedicated copiers will be best but obviously they have no other use when you're done, whether it's a standalone unit like a Plustek Scanner or a lens-like attachment for the camera. You can also get it done professionally so it may be worth comparing prices depending on how many you have to do and whether you want to save the faff of doing it yourself.

    If you still want to look at your original plan then a genuine macro lens will give you 1:1 magnification, whereas most zooms don't get that far. I may be out of date but they only used to give ca 1:3, which means your slide would only fill 1/9 of the frame, so you'd still have the cropping issue that you have now. Zooms are not as good as prime macros either in overall quality or edge to edge sharpness. I guess a 60mm will do just as well in a studio (ie copying) but a 105mm (or longer) is better for outdoor work as you are further away and disturb less. Of course, the same argument applies - how much use will you get out of either option when you're done (although you could just re-sell whatever option anyway). Personally I have a 105 macro and it just has amazing image quality - I wouldn't want to be without it but I like photographing dragonflies, butterflies, and just insects in general. It's also a fabulous portrait lens!

    I digitalised my slides and negatives two years ago and did it with a dedicated scanner … but at the time I also wanted a major distraction that would keep me occupied at home and was prepared to pay just for that! Should have held off until now!!!


    Nige   Flickr

  • A proper macro prime lens will make a much better job of the slides - not only will it be "proper" macro (most zoom lenses that have "Macro" printed on the barrel are not true 1:1 (or anywhere near)), but it will have a decently flat plane of focus.  Most lenses are sharper in the middle than on the edges, which is fine for most images, where your subject is in the middle and the edges don't matter, but when photographing slides that flat plane becomes important to get the best quality from your flat slide.

    I'd agree with Nige in that a ~100mm macro lens is the best choice for an all-rounder.  Shorter is fine for product photography, longer can be a bit unwieldy unless you're used to it (though does let you hang back a bit further from the subject).  All macro lenses tend to be good and sharp - it's what they do (it'll certainly blow away the 18-135 zoom) so look at what other features you get.  Although macro purists will tell you that macro should all be carefully controlled on a tripod, my personal preference is to chase bugs hand-held and for that, a stabilised lens is a real boon.  Of all of the stabilised versions, the Canon 100mm f/2.8 L is probably the Rolls Royce.  It will work with the camera's AI Servo AF mode to stabilise in all three dimensions (they call it Hybrid stabilisation).  Many macro lenses are not only unstabilised, they are manual focus (back to that purist approach again), but that might be a step too far if you want to be able to roam around the garden chasing bugs and flowers.

    I digitised some slides last year when researching the Havergate History presentation (they were hiding in the Havergate Island archives).  I knocked together a stand for the camera and slides, sat outside on a sunny day (ie used the sun as a light source behind the slide) and photographed them all.  It was surprisingly successful and fast once set up.  I used the full frame 5D, so the slide and sensor were identical size, although that did give me the odd bit of mount in some images (I was planning on tweaking any image I used for the presentation anyway, so that was fine).  With the 90D you'll be able to lose those edges should you prefer by getting a little bit closer.  I'll see if I can find the setup later (I think I left it in the shed) and attach a pic

    Perhaps I should add a bit to the Macro Masterclass thread on what I did!


    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • In reply to Nigel O:

    Thanks Nige for your comments and feedback very helpful, we do have an old Plustek scanner but since we went from Windows to Apple and Apple scrapped all 32bit apps it is no longer supported. Hence trying the current set up and thinking about a macro lens.

    This is how its set up at present. We recently bought the lightbox from Wex for this project.

    I've also been using the same kit setup in the garden on bees and flowers so I'm thinking a dedicated macro lens rather than a replacement scanner now. 

    I've been looking at the Canon EF100mm f2.8 USM Macro Lens at Wex for £448 down from £519 not sure I can justify the IS version at £899. This is my wife lockdown project for the next few weeks. And occasionally she lets me use my camera. 

    I guess the big question is, is an extra £450 for IS worth paying for, possibly as I get older and a bit more wobbly on my feet or I guess I could use my old monopod. Time to give it some thought now but thanks again for your feedback, much appreciated.


  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    Hi WJ, thank you for your information and feedback, very helpful. I was originally thinking a zoom macro lens but yours and Niges comments have made me rethink and look at a 100mm fixed prime. Not sure spending £899 on the canon R-R version is justified but the non IS version looks a good alternative. You can see in my response to Nige how we are set up at present with my 18-135mm zoom over a lightbox.
    As we have 1000's of slides to digitise a macro will get longer term use around the garden than a dedicated scanner.
    Thanks again for your feedback.


  • You could purchase a good 2nd hand Canon 100mm f2.8 IS  macro  Tony,   this is only an indication of what is available as I haven't looked at this particular one in detail.     HERE


    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • This is the setup I built

    The slide drops into the slot between the two pieces of wood.  I also used a remote release so I didn't have to actually touch the camera when taking each pic.  I've used it with sunlight shining through the slide, and also with a small LED spotlight (when it was gloomy and I had to do a couple of odd ones!).  The normal (non-L) Canon macro is still a good lens (it's what we had before the L version came out & we swapped).  It's just that the IS is sooooo lovely to use :-)

    Example result from the Havergate slides


    Find me on Flickr / All about your camera - The Getting off Auto Index

  • In reply to HAZY:

    Thank you for the heads up Hazel, I will have a good look at what they have to offer.


  • In reply to Whistling Joe:

    Thats very neat WJ and the result looks pretty good. It would be great to get out to Havergate this year. I'm having a look at a used canon IS model. Thanks again